This story was published in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette on Jan. 12, 2006.
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StoneCrazy comes full circle with its first CD

By Scott McLennan/Entertainment Columnist

With the debut release from the band StoneCrazy, singer and harmonica player Babe Pino can now be heard on record.

"It only took 30 years," Pino said during a recent conversation.

That's about how long Pino has been a fixture in the regional blues and R&B scene, playing haunts, halls and juke joints all around the East Coast while making Worcester his home.

The talented front man is surrounded by equally gifted players in StoneCrazy, making this project more than a routine vehicle. Babe's brother Ken Pino plays guitar, and before joining StoneCrazy was a member of Johnny Clyde Copeland's band and later Debbie Davies group. Danny Klein, who put down so many memorable grooves during the heyday of The J. Geils Band, has taken his immense talents as a bassist into StoneCrazy. And drummer Mark Hylander, formerly of Duke and the Drivers, came on board a few years ago, just in time to be at the start of a three-year cycle of work put into the making of the band's self-titled debut album.

StoneCrazy has actually been around for about 10 years. Babe Pino had been playing with guitarist Mark Marquis in northern Worcester county and heard that Klein, who pretty much retired from music after the Geils band broke up, was a chef in Fitchburg. So Pino looked him up to see if Klein wanted to jam. The Pino brothers came of age musically in the early '70s, just as The J. Geils Band was also shaping up and playing regular gigs around Worcester. All the musicians playing a souped-up brand of R&B invariably crossed paths and made lasting connections.

"It really feels like it has come full circle," Pino said.

Pulling the circle tighter is the fact that Jay Geils stepped in to produce the StoneCrazy album, which came out on the Black Rose Records label out of Nashville. He and J. Geils Band keyboard whiz Seth Justman also play all over the record.

"There was a point where Jay was talking about having Magic Dick and Peter Wolf come into the project and I just thought that would be way too over the top," Pino said of having the harmonica player and singer from the Geils band in the mix.

Though it stopped short of becoming a quasi J. Geils Band reunion, the StoneCrazy record has sparked the interest of J. Geils Band fans around the globe.

"With the J. Geils Band fans around the world, this record has turned into an event for them," Pino said. "I've gotten e-mails from all over the place from people wanting the record. I just got one from the Czech Republic."

Closer to home, StoneCrazy will be on hand with CDs when it plays Saturday at the Union Blues nightclub inside Worcester's Union Station. The disc is also available online at the Web sites www.stonecrazyblues.com www.CDfreedom.com.

To its credit, StoneCrazy never loses its own identity as Geils and Justman wander in and out of the music (and organ player Al Wilson is another guest fattening up the sound on the record). Even when StoneCrazy tackles the Otis Rush tune "Homework," long a staple in the Geils band repertoire, there's a sense of hearing the song in a fresh setting.

At Ken Pino's urging, as tribute to his late boss, StoneCrazy included four Johnny Copeland songs on the disc, each an opportunity to explore the more sinewy blues textures within StoneCrazy. The band's original compositions run from the rockin'-rhythm-and-blues style of "Fooled Myself" to the jazzy "Woulda Coulda." The band's originals also cover the steely cold hipster vibe of "Mr. Blue" and swampy sounds of "Buttercup."

Yet no one StoneCrazy song stays stuck in single-minded pattern. The band's strength is its ability to draw upon many loves and influences - gospel, rock, funk, whatever - at various points within the performance of a given tune.

Pino said that making the record has given him the urge to record more songs, particularly originals.

"A CD was something I never wanted to pursue. This one took an enormous amount of work. Just tracking down copyrights was a big job," Pino said. "A lot of things came together to make this happen. But it did happen. And it's out now, and I really like."

Hopefully it won't take another 30 years before we get to hear StoneCrazy's sophomore record.