“Six foot, seven foot, eight foot bunch!”
“Daylight come and me wan’ go home.”
Ahh, does it get much better than Harold George Bellanfanti Jr.? Not so sure it does. And as most know by now, the beloved calypso singer, activist, actor, and more passed away last Tuesday on April 25th at age 96.
And as many performers will do virtually on the spot shortly after a monumental artist passes away, Jeff Tuohy and his band performed Belafonte’s hit, “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song),” to a smiling audience last Wednesday at The Underdog in East Nashville, about 24 hours after the news broke.
First walking through the threshold and into The Underdog, greeting my ears was a most delightful version of “Six Days on the Road” performed by Frankie Boots, the act before Tuohy and co. It was then I knew it was going to be a good night.
And after a few beers and a few shots courtesy of a generous certain act on the bill, it was only getting better for this gonzo journalist.
While dressed quite casually in a black T-shirt, jeans, and a ball cap, one might not have necessarily known Tuohy was the front man for the main event of the evening.
But what he lacked in front man fashion flair, he made up for in pure unadulterated rock and roll energy when he hit the stage. With lots of arm and leg movements as if he were including an aerobics routine, Tuohy joked he was doing “drunken PT” on stage.
Tuohy told me prior that he had a theater background, and it showed.
He attended Boston’s Emerson college to pursue degrees in both Theater and PR/Advertising, all while releasing his debut album in 2005. Witnessing the downfall of a record deal and the economy in 2009 following his sophomore album, Tuohy notes, “I had a choice: make good on my professional degree, or double down on art. I chose the latter.”
With the power of his band, he delivered his signature theatric energy when belting out lines, grooving heavy to instrumental breakdowns, and overall putting on a dynamic show from start to finish.
Woven within Tuohy’s originals, which included arguably his biggest hit, “The Devil’s in New Orleans,” (not according to Spotify, however) he and his band shredded through several much enjoyed covers, including Zeppelin’s “Rock n’ Roll,” and the aforementioned Belafonte classic among others. He told me after the show they learned it on the fly, but I’ll be damned if they hadn’t had it tucked away in the catalogue for years. The harmonies – which are paramount in the track – were on point, and gave the room the warm fuzzies big time.
“Sexy band! Sexy band!” A woman shouted between songs. After a brief pause, Tuohy retorted, “They stay sexy, I eat and drink what I want.”
But admittedly, Tuohy could not do what he does without the help of his New York City band, who delivered all kinds of feels from funk, country, soul, rock and roll, and more. They ripped with versatility and kept the crowd hungry.
The band traded off solos after their introductions a ways into the show, which is always a calling card of tightness and camaraderie all bands should have. I did want to hear the steel guitar a little more prominently at times, but there were a lot of musical mouths to feed.
Tuohy is known for his wide-ranging genre-fusing sound, but in particular he has a great New Orleans sound to a chunk of his songs, despite not being based there. (not that you have to be) From “Bourbon Street” to the aforementioned “The Devil’s in New Orleans,” he brings a certain soulful if not dark and brooding energy behind the NOLA-vibe tracks.
His latest album, 2021’s Hudson Delta, – in which “The Devil’s in New Orleans” was featured – was well-received, and he’s since been gigging and plugging away writing songs behind the scenes. Co-produced by Latin Grammy-winner, Brian Forbes (Emily King/Fernando Otero), Hudson Delta “transports audiences between the pulse of The Big Easy, open skies of Hill Country, Irish pubs of Manhattan, and jagged mountain paths where Tuohy sleeps when hiking across Appalachia,” says his website. “Once in a while, you arrive at a peak, look back on where you’ve been, and it all feels worthwhile. This record is one of those summits,” he notes.
“I’m married now, but I still get high as fuck,” Tuohy said before blasting into the countrified tune, “All My Friends are Getting Married (I’m Just Getting Stoned), which is also featured on the album.
Tuohy is a clear-cut performer, acting as a vessel of possession for the music to naturally take over him. And when this happens, most everybody wins and feels they got their money’s worth. There was no holding back throughout the night, and he gave the impression it doesn’t matter if it’s a small East Nashville musician’s club or Carnegie Hall, he’s going to give 110%. The beer and whiskey shots might’ve given him a boost, but it always does.
With a most familiar chord progression delivered by the man with the Telecaster, the band soon launched into their final song, “Stay With Me,” the 1971 classic by Rod Stewart and Ronnie Wood’s Faces. It was a strong, fiery finish to an electric night of live music.
The NYC Americana rock-fusion songsmith put on a hell of a show under the roof of The Underdog, and props to him and the band for keeping people less eager to check their phones, and perpetuating experiences that help make us feel better about the world around us.
Surprisingly, this was Tuohy’s first romp in Nashville, but surely it won’t be his last.