Terry Sullivan has been around long enough to know the score. The legendary Buffalo rock 'n' roller has fronted some of the area's most important bands during the past two decades, including the Jumpers, the Restless and the Headhunters. Yet he's facing one of his biggest musical challenges entertaining audiences used to the fast-paced world of music videos and blockbuster movies.
"There is a void because this is the generation for video. When you go out now, people want more. They want to see and hear more," he says. That's exactly the challenge he relishes every time he takes the stage with his new band, the Dollywatchers, featuring guitarists M. Lee Jackson and Mikel Doktor, bassist Kent Weber and drummer Howard Fleetwood Wilson II.
Sullivan says a Dollywatchers performance is the burlesque of the '90s. "We have a well-rounded show," he says. "You may come to one of our shows and see a comedian up there before we play. And when the audience is toasting each other, we want to show them we are with them."
He doesn't just mean that figuratively. During one performance, Sullivan handed Jackson a glass which he drank with one hand while playing guitar with the other. This sense of levity and good old rock 'n' roll is important. "We want to make it interesting for the band and we want everyone in the audience to have fun," Sullivan says.
In addition to new original pieces, the Dollywatchers are taking songs from Sullivan's backlog of material. "I'm trying to recall, without being retro, the things that people love to hear," he says.
That means pulling songs from Sullivan's own music catalog and giving them the Dollywatchers' musical stamp. "These songs lend themselves to the guys who are playing them now. They have an urgent, fast rock 'n' roll flavor," Sullivan says. "It's fun to do it with these guys because they inject new energy into the songs without taking away the original feel."
That's thanks in part to the history between the band members and their longstanding ties to the local scene. "Kent, Howard and I have been playing alongside each other and admiring each other for years," Sullivan says. Individually, the lineage is impressive: Bassist Weber was in Celibates, Electroman and the Pinheads; Wilson played with the Cheeks and the Real McCoys; Jackson, formerly with Urban Sturgeon, now fronts Animal Planet, and Doktor played with Jack Jimmy Hoodlums. Whatever the band name, it's the spirit of rock that binds the musicians together.
"There's nothing alternative about our band. We're trying to be as honest as we can with the people out there. We're not afraid to do a song that lasts 10 or 15 minutes," Sullivan says. "We just want to make it interesting and fun."
Upcoming: Tonight at Mohawk Place; Jan. 3 at the Continental.
LOCAL RECORD PICK
"Evil Rufus Kay," by Evil Rufus Kay. The band's polished full-length debut has 10 hard-rockin' tracks with a penchant for melody. Proof is in the easy transition of "Carousel," a song with slick lead guitar and heavy rhythms, into the smooth, acoustic version heard as a hidden track (No. 13). The catchy rock songs, driven by the sharp rhythms of bassist C.J. Thompson and drummer Joel Quinlan, are tempered by Kay's smooth vocals that carry just the right edge against the wild beats of the great "Memphis Belle" and the mesmerizing "Blind."
-- Toni Ruberto