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Diggin' the blues masters

The breeze kings got blues if you want it

As a teenager growing up in south Florida in the 1980s, Carlos Capote listened faithfully to Casey Kasem's "American Top 40" countdown every Sunday and, at any given moment, could very likely name the "Top 10" tunes in order.

Then a high school friend loaned him a B.B. King tape, and life was never the same. Capote, whose band, the Breeze Kings, performs this weekend at Chip's in Winder and Darwin's in Marietta, began collecting the recordings of electric blues masters like Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson and Elmore James, as well as the acoustic blues of Mississippi Delta guitarist Robert Johnson. His search often would begin with covers of blues tunes performed by the Allman Brothers (Sonny Boy's "One Way Out") or the late Stevie Ray Vaughan (James' "The Sky is Crying"), which Capote then would trace to their original versions.

"I thought it was the coolest, the most soulful music that I'd ever heard, this weird mixture of pain and joy," recalls Capote, who is the band's vocalist and harmonica player. "It really seemed personal — more real, more tangible. You could picture in your head [the music] being performed in some club."

When Capote arrived in Atlanta in 1990 to attend Georgia Tech, he discovered Fat Matt's Rib Shack, Blues Harbor, Blind Willie's and, later, Northside Tavern. By 1994, Capote was interested in performing himself. It was a humble start. He invested $9 in a harmonica starter kit of sorts — an instructional book and tape, along with a harp.

"I played in my dorm room, every day and night, reading that book, trying to learn these little basic campfire songs," Capote says.

Capote soon was sitting in around town, frequently at Northside Tavern, with Mudcat, Stoney Brooks, Ju Ju Root and others. By the time he graduated from Georgia Tech in 1996, his involvement in the blues scene had altered his original plan to return home to Florida.

"I felt like I would be leaving this wonderful part of my life that I had found. It obviously had gotten a good hook in me because I didn't want to go back home to where my family was," Capote says.

Capote formed the Breeze Kings after landing a weekly Thursday night gig at Northside Tavern in October 1997. The band — Capote, Jim Ransone on guitar, Dave Roth on bass and Joe Caprara on drums — was named CL's critic's choice as best blues band in 1999, and won the reader's choice award last year. The group released a CD, Tying One On ... For the People, in 1999.

Throughout, the Breeze Kings' objective has been to "dig into those classic forms," Capote says, mining the recordings of such first-generation electric bluesmen as Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters, Magic Sam and Otis Rush. As the band develops a steady diet of regional work, however, it faces the challenge of writing the original material essential to attracting the attention of record labels and others in the business. Thus far, it's been a bumpy road.

"We're trying to hold on to something and preserve something — the roots and essence of this Chicago electric blues sound. You compare everything that you write to this standard that's incredibly high, and no matter what you write, you don't feel like what you're doing is up to par," he says.

As a result, the Breeze Kings continue to rely primarily on cover material. It's a dilemma they've yet to resolve, but whatever solution the band reaches, its original commitment to early blues will remain undiluted by pop or rock 'n' roll influences.

"I want to make music for the people that like to listen to blues the way I listen to it, in which there's no question about what it is," Capote explains. "I don't know if that's the best philosophy, but that's part of the personal nature of it. That's the way I want it to be."

The Breeze Kings perform Fri., June 1, at Chip's in Winder and Sat., June 2, at Darwin's in Marietta. For more information, call Chip's at 770-307-2840 or Darwin's at 770-578-6872, or visit www.breezekings.com.

This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.??