I didn’t hear the doorbell. And Melody the Golden Retriever, who normally senses visitors when they’re a mile away, didn’t perform her normal ritualistic freak-out to alert me. So by the time I opened the front door, Hayden Fogle and Vin DeRosa had been standing in the cold for a good five minutes.
An inauspicious start to our scheduled hang, then, but I’ve known both of these talented musicians for a while, and if there’s one trait that most of us in the Buffalo music scene share, it’s a refusal to sweat the little stuff. So Fogle and DeRosa followed me -- and Melody -- downstairs to my basement studio, guitars in hand, ready to share the newfound musical symbiosis that helped them win the recent local round of the Western New York Blues Society’s 19th annual “Memphis Bound” competition, and ensured their spot as representatives of our region at the International Blues Challenge, to be held in Memphis, Tenn. between Jan. 31 and Feb. 4.
Fogle and DeRosa are in good company – past winners of the local “Memphis Bound” competition include the likes of soul-blues powerhouse Divehouse Union, guitarist Tommy Z and his band, and singer Patti Parks.
Halfway through their first tune, I understood why the duo had convinced the judges of their worthiness as ambassadors of Buffalo blues on Beale Street. The two simply ooze soulfulness. DeRosa’s voice is an eminently flexible and agile instrument, as anyone who has heard the man sing would have to attest, whether it was fronting an ensemble of prime local talent commingled with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra as part of 2015’s “Tribute to Stevie Wonder” at Canalside, or leading his Vitamin D crew through its funky paces.
DeRosa brings a funkiness to Fogle’s already storied blues phrasing. The guitarist is only 16, but he has already made a name for himself as one of the finest and most mature blues musicians in the region. (“Fogle plays the electric blues like a seasoned journeyman. His depth of soul, incisive phrasing and tendency to favor subtle nuance over flash suggests a musical maturity that belies his tender age,” I opined in The Buffalo News after my first encounter with the young maestro.)
Fogle was playing alongside the legendary Buddy Guy at the age of 12, and in the years since has led his own ensemble, and shared the stage with blues royalty in the form of James Cotton, Tom Hambridge, Robert Randolph and Donald Kinsey. The kid, to further abuse the popular phrase, is simply a beast.
Listening to the pair jam in my studio, I was struck by the natural alchemy they summoned. Fogle and DeRosa sound like they’ve been playing together forever, but in truth, their union is a fresh one.
The two shared their recollections of their first musical meeting, when Fogle arrived at Vitamin D’s then-ongoing residency at the now-closed Shadow Lounge, eager to sit in with the band. “His maturity – the way he listened, the way he offered commentary on what the other musicians were doing, the way he fit into the music while adding to it – it was pretty astounding,” DeRosa said. “You meet people who have been playing for 30 years who don’t have that maturity, and Hayden was, like, 15 at the time.”
"Vin's reputation as one of the great singers in town is something I knew about," says Fogle. "He's got an awful lot of soulfulness in what he does. And it seemed like it could work - his R&B influence with my blues thing. Also, I keep working harder and harder to incorporate new influences. I want to stretch out, and not be thought of as a musician who only does one thing."
It seemed a natural fit, then, for the two to agree upon the duo format for their partnership, rather than filling things out with a rhythm section or auxiliary players. Both express the belief that this format allows their individual contributions room to shine, while also creating an intimacy that listeners might find difficult to resist.
"There was something there from the first moment we jammed together," DeRosa recalls. "It just felt natural, immediately. Now, we just need to recreate that feeling for the listeners in Memphis."