Since the early 1980s, the Butanes have been widely recognized as without peer among Minnesota-based blues bands. With relatively few personnel changes over the years, the band plays with an easy authority forged by decades of gigs at bars, concert halls and festival stages. Each member of the band is an acclaimed master at his instrument, as witnessed by the numerous nominations and awards each has received. As a unit, having played together over the years, this combination of talents delivers professional performances that leave space for the spontaneity and invention that are the essence of this music.
The blues, and particularly the post World War II Chicago electric variety of that genre, is at the core of the Butanes' repertoire. The band was formed in the early 1980s by guitarist/vocalist Curtis Obeda following his apprenticeship in the legendary Hubert Sumlin's Chicago band. Sumlin, of course, made blues history as the ingenious guitarist for Howlin' Wolf. The Butanes emerged just as the blues revival of the 80s blossomed, providing a steady diet of bar gigs during which the band honed its craft and developed its now encyclopedic songbook. Along the way, they became recognized as the first call backing band for visiting blues legends. These include John Lee Hooker, Little Johnny Taylor, Johnny Copeland and Bo Diddley, to name but a few. Over the years, the band's personnel stabilized to include its current line-up of Obeda, John Lindberg (bass/vocals), Robb Stupka (drums) and Virgil Nelson (Hammond B-3, other keys.) Minnesota arts and entertainment weekly City Pages routinely recognized the Butanes as the area's Best Blues Band, including for five consecutive years ending in 2009 (City Pages has since ceased recognizing bands in this category.) When it comes to the blues, whether it's a brisk shuffle or a down and dirty slow blues, the Butanes deliver the goods.
The Butanes' interests (and its songbook) have never been confined strictly to pure blues. The blues' first cousin, the soul music emanating from 60s Memphis and other primarily southern locales, became an added focus for the band's passion. That passion exploded into life in December 1987 with the debut of the Butanes Soul Revue, a ten-piece aggregation that augmented the band's "core four" with lead vocalist Maurice Jacox, two backup singers, and a bootin' three-piece horn section. The Revue established a weekly residence at Minneapolis's Cabooze bar, which became the place "where the hip slip to sip" on Wednesdays for five glorious years. While regular appearances by the Revue ceased in the mid 90s, it still re-assembles to play southern soul for occasional special engagements. Additionally, the Butanes began working with Memphis born soul singer Willie Walker, who had previously recorded for the legendary Memphis label Goldwax. This collaboration yielded two widely acclaimed albums featuring original compositions by Obeda: 2004's Right Where I Belong and 2006's Memphisapolis. Interest in these albums resulted in European engagements for Walker and the Butanes. With this background, it is unsurprising that soul music finds its way into Butanes' sets, nor that the Butanes have backed such soul legends as James Carr, Laura Lee, Otis Clay and Ben E. King.
New Orleans / Louisiana
From early in its existence, the Butanes have explored the music emanating from the southern end of the Mississippi River, the music of New Orleans and Louisiana. In early 1990, the Butanes were retained to back New Orleans legendary singer, guitarist and songwriter Earl King at a Twin Cities engagement. A mutual respect and friendship developed between King and the band that lasted until King's death in 2003. The band backed King at his annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival appearances, on his European tour and at various gigs both in the Crescent City and elsewhere. During this time the Butanes became steeped in the unique rhythms, phrasings and attitudes that distinguish the music of New Orleans. Their friendship with King resulted in other New Orleans connections, and the band has played with the likes of Tommy Ridgley, King Floyd and Mighty Sam McClain, to name but a few. Meanwhile, the band has also become conversant in the idiosyncratic music of Southwest Louisiana: zydeco. This resulted from the band's bond with renowned zydeco accordionist Al Rapone, who requested the Butanes' backing on tour and on record. With this background, it is unsurprising that the Butanes' most recent album, 12 Frozen Favorites From The Upper Bayou, is brimming with original songs which smack of New Orleans and Louisiana. Whether it's the nasty syncopation of New Orleans funk, or the Louisiana backbeat of classic New Orleans R&B, or, indeed, the accordion-driven two-step of zydeco, the Butanes play the music of the "lower bayou" with seasoned authenticity acquired from decades of performing with artists from those locales before audiences of those locales.