With summer here, the best place to be is out on the patio with a slight breeze, a cold drink and a great band. When thinking summer vibes, none of Tulsa's bands capture the essence quite as well as Sam & the Stylees, the group that has become perhaps the city's premier Reggae force since forming in 2002.
As of late, however, the band that never seems to stop has been conspicuously quiet, so a call was in order to catch up on the latest. When I got hold of guitarist Lance Reynolds, he explained that drummer Charles "Chachi" Butler had departed the band amicably to concentrate on his family, putting the group in a state of transition over the winter.
Fans of the Stylees need not worry, though, as a replacement has already been found and the group is now working with Jason Booze, whom Reynolds had met while working special events at Elote. Reynolds said that as a result they've done a lot of practicing, but haven't had many show. "Of course," he said, "we've played Mercury Lounge and Hunt Club because we really appreciate them and like playing there and they like us, but mostly, we've just kept practicing."
Reynolds also revealed that the Stylees have another CD recorded and complete (with Butler playing drums), but the transition in membership has added to prolonging its release. "After all, who buys CDs anymore?" he asked. "I mean, I love CDs and want something in my hand, but most people just download, so we're trying to figure out if we really want to deal with getting them printed and packaged or just release it on iTunes and other digital outlets."
Ultimately, he admitted that "Right now, we're really just worried about getting the songs down and making them right before we move along with anything else. It's not like this is anything new to us, though. Jason will be our fifth drummer since we started the band, so we've been through this before. At this point it's just starting to feel a little ridiculous at times."
According to Reynolds, the transition has gone smoothly, even if it was unexpected, and the group has found a great addition with Booze behind the drum kit. "The way he vibes with Eric (Hartley) on the bass -- I think this is probably the best I've ever heard our drums and bass sound together," he said.
"Chachi was great and left some big shoes to fill," Reynolds continued. "We tried four other guys and they just couldn't make the energy that he did. Finally, we tried Jason and brought the kind of life and energy that we were looking for and needed."
Although the band has been rather quiet locally while working through the transition, it has continued to play shows and work Booze into the position. Aside from a couple of shows at Hunt Club and Mercury Lounge, the band went on a short tour in early April that took Sam & the Stylees to Santa Fe, Albuquerque and Durango before heading back home. Besides serving as a good initiation for Booze, Reynolds said the trip "really kept us going and was a good experience with the new lineup."
Over the years since the band formed, Sam & the Stylees has transitioned from strictly a reggae band to reggae-rock act. Reynolds shared that working with Butler influenced that a bit as he had more or a rock and metal background, but the band enjoyed the heavier edge and energy that came with it in the live performances. With Booze, the band has found a happy medium as he can drive the band in a rock direction, but at the same time, Reynolds told me "Jason just really hits the one beat, that drop beat really well, so it's really got that Reggae beat down." As a result, the band can transition between styles, bringing a more rock oriented set to the clubs and more of an island beat to festivals, like its annual appearance at the Oklahoma City Reggaefest or last month's Backwoods Bash.
Looking forward, Reynolds shared that the band is looking forward to playing more this summer and setting up more mini tours, with an eye towards heading more northeast from Tulsa, towards St Louis and Chicago, to draw in more regional gigs.
"We want do some easy trips that take us just a little further out and draw more attention to the band," Reynolds said. "We want to play to people who don't know us because we know we've got a good product and if some different ears hear us, the opportunities are endless."
"We do some silly things on stage and are real playful with our live shows, which counters some of our really serious lyrics," he continued. "Reggae can be kind of militant at times, but we want people to know that we're also about having fun and it's not just serious militant all the time. Reggae is a religion to some folk and we want to respect that, but at the same time, we also want it to be fun and I think we do that."
Mostly, Reynolds stressed that the band does everything on its own, which puts a world of opportunities ahead of it. "We're not a on a big label and we play all original material and book our own shows. We really are an independent band in every aspect," he said.
"We lost a band member and it takes time to get tight again, but we're getting there and are confident with this lineup," Reynolds said. "We've been very fortunate. We all miss Chachi and are still friends and still keep in touch, but he had to do what he thought was right. Finding Jason has been great and we think it will work out well for us."
As the summer rolls in you can catch Sam & the Stylees at Hunt Club on July 6 or Mercury Lounge July 14. The band also opens up this weekend's Reggaefest at Veteran's Park with a set at 3:45pm on Friday afternoon, June 29.
Reynolds admitted the band was a little disappointed with the early slot because "We know it's early and people will still be at work. I mean, really: Who doesn't want to play in the evening? But we're not worried about it. We always give 100 percent. Every practice is a gig for us and every gig is a practice. We give it everything every time and this Friday will be no different. We'll still give them our hardest set and hope some people come out to hear it -- So tell people to come out at 3:45!"
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