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The Little Memphis Blues Orchestra :: LiMBO
by Shirley Kennedy

The Little Memphis Blues Orchestra (LiMBO) has experienced a whirlwind year. Shortly after Taylor Hicks, the band’s leader, took off for stardom on a little talent competition called American Idol, the band decided that they could no longer call themselves the Taylor Hicks Band and began the search for a new name. Keyboardist Brian Less’s wife, Staci, is credited with the band’s new name:

Brian: : My wife came up with the name. My nickname is Little Memphis.... And we were in limbo when Taylor went to Idol, okay?
Sam: : And his wife said, “What words can fit those letters?” Little Memphis—
Brian: : —And she added blues and orchestra. Y’all are in limbo, so be LiMBO.
While Taylor’s absence left the band in limbo, they were very supportive of his desire to go onto the show.

Shirley: : So, were you guys surprised about Taylor going to Idol?
Brian: : Not at all. We all had meetings about it before he went.
Zippy: : When he told me he was going to do it, I was like, “Yeah, right.” He said, “No, really. I’m going to do it.” I was like, “Whatever.”
Brian: : We totally support whatever he does. Once he went on there, we all knew he was going to go far. I didn’t know he was going to win it, but I knew he was going to go far because he’s talented.
Sam: : I just told him that the only thing—whatever opportunity is there, you’re going to regret not taking that opportunity. He is a natural performer, and he’s also very intuitive and very smart and very savvy—business savvy—to be put in that situation, especially something like the hunt for a musician. I mean, it’s just—he’s got everything there, you know, the smarts, the product, the talent, everything. The full package.

As the cliché goes, the rest is history for Taylor, but what about LiMBO? Don’t count on them remaining “The Band Formerly Known as The Taylor Hicks Band” forever. The band released its debut, self-titled album on November 21, 2006, through iTunes and now holds title to the number one downloaded blues album for the first three days following its release. The album sat in the number two slot for the remainder of the week, behind Stevie Ray Vaughn.

The members of this band are completely fascinating, and their interactions with one another during our interview left me in tears—from laughing. I liken them to a group of brothers who obviously love each other but not enough to refrain from teasing each other mercilessly; no such love exists between siblings. When I asked the guys if they still have “day jobs,” the exchange gives but a hint of the journey this interview became:

Shirley: : So, do you guys still have day jobs?
Sam: : Nope.
Shirley: : You’re doing this full-time now?
Brian: : This is a full-time job now.
Shirley: : That’s awesome. So, I guess you’re all kind of realizing a dream, then, to be able to do this full-time.
Jeff: : Absolutely.
Sam: : I haven’t had a day job for so long, I don’t even—
Brian: : That’s because he’s slack though.

Brian Less is the “class clown” of the group. He’s the youngest member of the band and acts very much like a younger brother who is just waiting for the right time to pull a practical joke on his siblings. Quick witted, sarcastic, and incredibly funny, Brian leads much of the interview, regardless of what I, as the interviewer, might have had planned. I’m not complaining. Sam Gunderson (lead guitar) is Brian’s alter ego.

The first time I saw Sam in Richmond, he immediately intimidated me. I hope Sam doesn’t take this the wrong way, but upon seeing him, the words “Hell’s Angel” popped into my mind, from a visual perspective. He’s a big, imposing man, but he flashes a smile that can only be described as warm and welcoming, leaving me wondering how I ever received that initial impression. Sam is quiet, but when he speaks, he is eloquent; his responses to my questions were always extremely well thought out and on point, much like the responses I received from Jeff Lopez, who plays the sax (among other instruments).

Jeff is, first and foremost, a family man, and he is apparently a brave one, with five pre-teen children in the same house. You’ve heard the cliché, “the patience of Job?” Jeff’s middle name must be Job. One of these children was adopted by Jeff and his wife, but they are all equally loved. Jeff is not hesitant to discuss his Christianity and his devotion to his family, which certainly endeared him to me. In fact, everything Jeff does and says reflects positively on that devotion. The word that comes to mind for me about Jeff is “stoic,” though he certainly added his share of humor to the interview, and he is the group’s patriarch. Again, moving in contrasts, the last member of LiMBO present was Zippy Dieterich (drums).

Zippy is the other cut-up of this group and the only single member of the band. Now, I’m sure that’s not a bad thing for Zippy, and for the right price, I might be able to hook you up—but only if I deem you good enough for him. When I think of Zippy, the first word that comes to mind is “trip,” because that’s exactly what Zippy is—a trip. Just when you think Zippy is going to give you a straight answer, he says something that can totally throw an interviewer off her game.

Shirley: : Okay, where does that come from: “Zippy?” I know that’s not your real name.
Zippy: : I’ve just had it forever.
Shirley: : You mean there’s not a story behind it?
Zippy: : Not one worth telling.

The Adventures of Zippy continued throughout the course of this interview. In the midst of giving me his background in music, including a stint as leader of the University of Alabama Crimson Tide drum line, without missing a beat Zippy says, “Roll Tide,” and the room erupts with laughter. Are you getting my drift?

I unfortunately did not have the pleasure of meeting the bass player, Mitch Jones, but after spending almost three hours with Zippy, Sam, Brian, and Jeff, I understand how they “work” as a band, and I can only assume that Mitch fits right in. A 14-year age gap exists between the oldest and youngest members of the band, but you would never know that. They are so in tune with each other, and their good relationship is clearly evident. When Jeff describes how he first became a part of LiMBO, he makes the relationship quite clear:

I had worked with Taylor three and a half years ago, but when my band wasn’t working, he would put up a mic for me and say, “Jeff, you want to go up?” Half the time I would, half the time I wouldn’t, but then, these guys were gracious enough when Taylor started to do the Idol thing—right before—they let me into the circle because they knew my association with Taylor before, and they’re my new brothers.

Indeed, even as each new member joined the band, bonds were formed and relationships established. While both Jeff and Brian worked with the band around the same time, Sam came on board later, and Zippy joined last. Each discusses his personal journey to this point in his career with fond memories.

Sam: : For two years we were the Taylor Hicks Band. We’re the band that he put together.
Shirley: : Okay, so how’d you guys all meet and start working together?
Zippy: : Well, me and him [Brian] have been together for years.
Brian: : You want to hear the story of how he [Taylor Hicks] found me?
Shirley: : I absolutely want to hear the story.
Brian: : I was playing with a band called the Ground, which me and Zippy were in, in Tuscaloosa. The University of Alabama is where we met. Zippy and I have played together, probably seven or eight years now. We were playing a bar. His [Taylor’s] band was down in Mobile. He walked by where we were playing, and he heard me playing the piano. And he made a comment to one of his buddies, “Man, I want a keyboard player like that in my band.” Two weeks later, cause I was living in Nashville at the time, he was playing in Nashville, and his bass player knew me. So, the bass player goes, “Taylor, this keyboard player really wants to sit in.” And Taylor’s like, “No. We’re in Nashville. We want our game to be on. Nobody’s sitting in.” Then, finally, Clay Connor, his bass player at the time, convinced Taylor to let me sit in. So, I show up in Nashville. I set up, do sound check, and Taylor goes, “Were you in Mobile two weeks ago playing at this bar?” I was like, “Yeah.” He’s like, “Join the band.” I said, “I haven’t even played yet.” And he’s like, “I don’t care. I heard you play. You’re what I want,” and then, the rest is history. That’s how it happened. And then, down the road, with Zippy, I was like, “Dude, you’ve got to get this drummer because I’ve played with Zippy forever. He’s an awesome drummer,” and Taylor says, “Nah. Nah.” I’m like, “Let him sit in.” We basically did the same thing. Zippy came, sat in, and bam, he was like, “I want you to be the drummer.”
Zippy: : By the time I learned the third song, he goes, “The job’s yours if you want it.” We rented out a practice room. We were practicing. After the third song, he goes, “The job’s yours if you want it.” And I’m here.
Jeff: : And that’s kind of the same way it happened for me. I was playing about four years ago at a club called Marty’s, and he told his buddy, I guess whoever was in the band at the time, his buddy came up and talked to me. He said, “That’s Taylor Hicks. He wants to talk to you,” and he said, “I want you in my band.” I was like, “No, I already have a band” because I was playing with another band at the time because we’re all kind of hired guns, aside from being a band. And I started to work with them periodically after that.
Sam: : I had heard through the grapevine that Taylor was looking for a guitar player. So, I went down there to sit in with these gentlemen, with the exception of Zippy, who hadn’t joined the group yet. Then, after that—that went well, and I got a call to come down and do some shows. My first show, actually, with y’all was Nashville that night.

As we reminisced about the group’s formation, each member of LiMBO shared with me how he began his musical journey and how those journeys impacted who they are today as musicians and performers. LiMBO has had the pleasure of opening for several well known acts, trailing the Idol tour this year, and gaining a whole new set of fans along the way. Many of LiMBO’s performances support several charities, as these great musicians are really just all-around great guys.

The band’s new website will be fully operational on December 1, 2006, but the newsletter sign-up is active now. Go to official LiMBO web site to be among the first to receive breaking news about this band. The members of LiMBO are living out their dreams. Recently named the Best Local Act by The Birmingham News and with the top downloaded blues album for three straight days to their credit, this band stands to take the music industry by storm.

Photo by What's Up VIP

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published 28.11.2006 © 2005 jazz news :: home page

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