The HooDoo Loungers are in the Talkhouse

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Keyboardist Dan Koontz, second from left, is the newest member of The HooDoo Loungers. Here he is with from left, guitarist Michael Schiano, drummer David Giacone, vocalist Dawnette Darden and vocalist, acoustic and electric bass player Joe Lauro. Courtesy the artists.

The New Orleans R&B and blues sound has long defined the music of The HooDoo Loungers, an East End nine-piece band that knows how to get fans out of their seats and up on their feet.

Now on the heels of a very busy summer season filled with gigs around the region, this Saturday, November 13, The HooDoo Loungers hit Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett for a release party to celebrate the launch of their newest CD, “So Beautiful.” The group has also come out with an old-school vinyl 45 RPM recording of one of the songs from that album, “HooDoo Time Machine.” The band also recently signed with Paradiddle Records, a label with a mission to promote the talented musicians of Long Island.

As is true for many groups, the past year and a half has been a time of challenge and transition for the band. HooDoo vocalist Marvin Joshua is also a working actor, which meant that during the pandemic he had no work at all, so he moved back to his native state of Texas. Meanwhile, the band’s drummer, David Giacone, has relocated to Virginia because it’s so difficult to afford to live in this area, and David Deitch, the keyboard player and a resident of Huntington, found he had less time to dedicate to the music this past summer when both the number of gigs and traffic problems increased on the East End.

“It’s been 11 or 12 years,” said the band’s front man, acoustic and electric bass player and Sag Harbor resident Joe Lauro. “It’s difficult to have a band. Getting along is one thing, but then life gets in the way.”

Marvin Joshua of The HooDoo Loungers gets the crowd moving in a concert at Bay Street Theater in February 2020, right before the pandemic shut it all down. Michael Heller photo.

But on the plus side of the line-up column is a valuable new addition to the group — Sag Harbor musician Daniel Koontz, who has officially joined The HooDoo Loungers to replace Deitch.

As a musician, Koontz is well-qualified to step into Deitch’s shoes. As the longtime director of music for Christ Episcopal Church in Sag Harbor, Koontz is not only an accomplished keyboardist, but he also a classically trained composer with a Ph.D. to boot. And while the organ may be the instrument he plays most often at Sunday services, his talents include a comfort level with keyboards of all sorts, as well as guitar and vocals. He also has a wide ranging knowledge and interest in all sorts of musical genres. Along with his brother Andrew Koontz and father Warren Koontz, he is a third of “Edna’s Kin,” a family-inspired Americana roots band that recently performed at the Sag Harbor American Music Festival.

“We’ve known Dan for a long time,” Lauro said. “He started subbing with us maybe four summers ago. In The HooDoos, unlike many bands, we’re very specific and have charts. I can’t get a piano player off the street. Dan is willing to put his time in.”

For Koontz, it’s been great to work in a setting where his specific skillset is so critical.

“It’s a treat to play in a band in a rock setting where keys are central to the sound, as opposed to some rock bands where the keyboard is an accessory,” Koontz said.

When asked how The HooDoo Loungers sound differs from what is normally in his wheelhouse, Koontz notes that it’s actually a style that goes back to his early years in music.

“My closest association to New Orleans music was I learned to play Leon Russell growing up and rock and gospel piano in general,” Koontz explained. “I had certainly done my fair share of keyboard playing in that style.

“There are certain licks like Professor Long Hair and Dr. John-style playing,” Koontz added, referring to the late New Orleans bluesmen Henry Roeland “Roy” Bird and Malcolm John Rebennack Jr. “Long Hair established the style and Dr. John took it to the next level. Dr. John is the virtuoso. I would never be able to play like Dr. John, but I can do a rough approximation of that style.”

Because as a band, The HooDoo Loungers are on the large size with a full horn section, it’s now Koontz’s job to write the arrangements for those instruments. As Lauro and Koontz point out, unlike some bands, they can’t just wing it.

“In rock and roll, you can play incredibly complicated virtuosic things that are not written down anywhere. It’s a complex style of music and wouldn’t work as well if it was written down — you wouldn’t have the flexibility,” said Koontz. “The thing is, horns can’t be spontaneous, they have to act as a unit. There has to be someone to make an arrangement or work out the horns. Over the last couple years, I’ve acted in that capacity to provide horn arrangement. I never got to do that before.”

Lauro notes that Koontz’s background in religious music is another benefit to the band. At the 2019 Sag Harbor American Music Festival, The HooDoo Loungers performed a tribute to the late Aretha Franklin and Koontz brought in an African American choir to take part in the performance.

“It took it to an amazing level,” recalled Lauro. “The HooDoos have always tapped into African American gospel music, having two African American singers who come out of the church. Dan understands that. On the new record, we have ‘I’ll fly away,’ which is a traditional tune with interplay between piano and organ. We’re kind of moving away from New Orleans music, and really going in a soul and funk direction.”

Koontz notes that he learned how to play soul piano by listening to the music of Aretha Franklin as well as Ray Charles, both of whom came from the church tradition.

“Both of those are especially a gospel style from the ’50s and ’60s that were almost wholesale lifted and turned into a popular secular style,” he explained. “By learning to play Ray or Aretha, I was learning gospel piano.”

The HooDoo Loungers are fortunate in that some of its members area also songwriters — Koontz is just the latest among them, joining the likes of guitarist Michael Schiano and his predecessor David Deitch. Among the Koontz tunes included on the “So Beautiful” album is “Hit The Ground,” “Fast and Loose,” “Watch Your Mouth,” and the aforementioned “HooDoo Time Machine” which is on the CD, the 45 and is the subject of a new video by the band.

“It was one of these songs that I just woke up with a kind of groove going on in my head and came up with the chorus,” Koontz said. “It’s a take-off on dance hall lyrics. Once I had the chorus going, basically it wrote itself. It didn’t require a lot of thinking and percolating. I made a demo of me playing all the parts and sent it around. Joe and Michael liked it, Joe said let’s record it.”

“We’re lucky to have three great, strong songwriters, and that’s a band to me,” Lauro noted. “I usually arrange or rearrange the traditional songs. It’s tough to have a good record with one writer doing everything. When you have three, you can pick and choose.”

While The HooDoo Loungers are front and center this weekend with the release of the new CD, it turns out that Lauro and Koontz are also instrumental (pun intended) along with Michael Schiano in another East End band that will play at Bay Street Theater in December —The Moondogs.

Unlike The HooDoos’ focus on soul, funk and the New Orleans sound, The Moondogs are all about the British Invasion and purely about the Fab Four. The band’s members have been faithfully covering the music of The Beatles since 2014, when they performed at Bay Street Theater to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles arrival in the U.S. In subsequent years, the band has continued to mark the major musical milestones of the band, performing shows that celebrated the half century anniversary of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” in 2017, “Let It Be” and “Abbey Road” in 2019, and in 2018, a concert of George Harrison’s music to honor what would have been his 75th birthday.

On Saturday, December 11, The Moondogs will be back at Bay Street Theater to perform The Beatles’ “White Album” in its entirety from beginning to end. Lauro explains that this concert was originally scheduled for 2020, but was derailed by the pandemic. Other players in the band include Fred Gilde, Mick Hargreaves, Jeff Levitt and Howard Silverman, but to truly pull off the “White Album,” additional musicians will have to be brought in for the show.

“This album is all over the map,” said Lauro. “There are orchestral swirly things, ‘Helter Skelter,’ classical stuff like ‘Piggies’ and ‘Revolution Nine.’ Some of the cuts are three or four people, but some are 11, with horns, tenor sax, clarinet and flute, even fiddle.”

“We probably could have gotten away without a real violinist, except on ‘Don’t Pass Me By,” added Koontz, whose brother Andrew played those parts when The Moondogs performed “The White Album” at the Patchogue Theater in September. “The goal of the band is to play the songs as closely as the record as possible.”

The HooDoo Loungers CD Release party at Stephen Talkhouse (161 Main Street, Amagansett) is Saturday, November 13, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25 at stephentalkhouse.com and include a free CD.

The Moondogs perform The Beatles’ “White Album” at Bay Street Theater in Sag Harbor on Saturday, December 11, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $30 ($35 day of) at baystreet.org or 631-725-9500.

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