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2018 shaping up as a great year for The Whole Band

By Charmaine Engelsman-Robins

   January is that otherwise-unassuming month that so many of us believe denotes a chance for a fresh start. Musician-composer Callie Chappell is no different, sailing into 2018 on a wave of not just optimism but certainty, based on the prospect of working with what she describes as “the best band I’ve ever been in.”

From L: Dave Pearce, pedal steel; Callie Chappell and Kevin Thompson, guitars and vocals; (behind singers) on stand up bass, J.P. Coley; RT rear edge, Steve Apolisto, drums. Photo by Joel Freid

“I’ve been in some great bands,” Chappell enthuses, “but this one is really just it.  This is the best mix of the best musicians I’ve ever played with and I’m so excited.”

   She has been in some great bands, as evidenced by her long-time loyal following that has always known they would hear something wonderful whenever they went to one of her gigs. If it was The Callie Chappell Band, a splendid time was guaranteed for all. But guess what?  Now, by her choice, it isn’t the Callie Chappell Band anymore.  

“I didn’t want to call it ‘the Callie Chappell Band’ this time,” she explains, “because it’s the combination of all of us together that make it so good.”

   Communicating that synergy is important to Chappell. Which is understandable; perhaps the only thing better than the thrill of finally capturing lightning in a bottle is the rush of sharing it with others. And now, after about a year of not knowing what to call this unique combination, a name has popped up too.

“We had taken to making up outrageous fake names when people asked what we called ourselves,” Chappell confesses, adding as an aside that “one of the best was ‘Super-Callie and the Flaggelistics,’ contributed by (band member) J.P.

   Following a period when the band tended to be short one member or the other each week due to vacations and such, they finally all came together again and local celebrity/Callie-fan P.D. Meyers jokingly noted from the audience “Oh look! It’s the whole band tonight!” Something immediately clicked and the group agreed: “The Whole Band” it was; this would be the official name of the group. Thank you P.D., aka Phill Phunn (and PS – WHEN is local cable going to bring his TV show back? We’re still waiting and missing it!)

Here’s the rundown on the extraordinary individuals who make up this amazing band:

   Pedal steel player Dave Pearce has worked with Chappell lots of times in the past, including playing on her Nashville CD (my personal favorite so far) In the Wind. Now just to be clear, a lot of people hear “pedal steel” and immediately think “country band,” but that’s not the deal here. While there are some country-tinged tunes, Pearce is a player described by Chappell as “an amazing, artistic player of all genres, including rock and other groovy things!”

   Bassist J.P. Coley has been seen and heard among many bands, playing pretty much every style of song you can imagine and sounding on each as if that style is his specialty. From 20’s blues to jazz jumps, on stand-up or electric bass, his style is unmistakable.

   Drummer Steve Apostoli is the other half of the Whole Band rhythm section. In 2013, he and JP joined Chappell’s longtime duo partner Michael Corley, vocalist Leah Wann, and late great fiddle player Willie Royal to record what would (shockingly) turn out to be Royal’s last recorded contribution before his untimely death, Chappell’s  “Live at Spirit Ranch.”

   Guitar player/vocalist Zac Yoder is the youngest in the group but the more seasoned players have got nothin’ on him; his voice blends in on last set songs at the Blasé for some of the sweetest three-part harmonies you’ve ever heard, and his guitar solos sound as if they come from a mega-talented player of many more years experience than Zac’s even been alive.

   Chappell glowingly refers to The Whole Band’s guitar player, vocalist, and songwriter, Kevin Thompson, as her “wish come true.”  He had been one third of the Willie Royal Trio. And Chappell knew she’d be working with him even before she knew who he was. “I just knew …” she explains. “Not ‘had a feeling,’ but knew” that someone perfect was waiting in the wings.

   “I was convinced that the perfect person was going to show up, and when I told Steve (Apostoli), he believed it too because he’d seen these things come true for me in the past.” And perfect playing partner he is for Chappell. Kindred spirits, they are equally matched in their playing, vocals, and songwriting abilities, as well as like-minded, totally compatible co-leads of the Whole Band.  Chappell feels especially thrilled with the purity of the harmonies she and Thompson make together, and when Zac contributes the third part, it’s almost as if they’re related; they have that “familial groove” that you hear among related-by-blood voices… brothers, cousins, etc.

   The Whole Band has already put together one CD that is in the finishing stages of spiffing up (just the art work and such).  Recorded live over a five-week period at a Siesta Key venue it is appropriately titled “Live at the Blasé Café.” If all goes as planned it should be available in time for Valentine’s Day gifting.

   Meanwhile, after those two live albums, they’ve decided to now return to the studio and record an as-yet-untitled CD that will be primarily original tunes written by Chappell and/or Thompson, and is much anticipated.  An ambitious undertaking, Chappell doesn’t see it interfering with their regular live gigs at the Blasé Café every Friday from 6 -10 p.m., and every other Sunday at SKOB from 7-11 p.m., performing their unusual mix of originals and “sometimes sort of exotic,’ covers of Fleetwood Mac, Zeppelin, Beatles, and one-never-knows what else.

So here’s to 2018, The Whole Band, and what’s shaping up to be a year of great music for their fans.  

Charmaine Engelsman-Robins is a Chicago-born, award-winning writer of screenplays and articles, including a 10 year stint writing for the Sarasota Herald Tribune. She has lived in SW FL most of her life and, as an animal rescuer, has occasionally been forced to support this work with temporary straight jobs that she lists on a secret “resume” titled “My Little List of Things I Never Want To Have To Do Again.” She won’t have to if you keep reading her articles, and she thanks you all very much for saving her from that horrible fate. 

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