Stay­ing true to New Or­leans mu­si­cal roots

Stamford Advocate - - Weather - By Mike Ho­ryczun For more in­for­ma­tion, visit oti­sandthe­hur­ri­canes.com or peach­es­nor­walk.com. Mike Ho­ryczun’s Sound Surf­ing col­umn ap­pears ev­ery Satur­day in The Hour. Mike can be reached at [email protected]

When Chris “Otis” Cross founded Otis and the Hur­ri­canes two decades ago, his goal was to pur­sue the mu­sic of the greater New Or­leans and Louisiana re­gion.

With set lists fea­tur­ing mu­sic by the likes of Fats Domino, Pro­fes­sor Long­hair, Lit­tle Feat, The Funky Me­ters, Alan Tous­saint, Tab Benoit, C. J. Che­nier, Del­bert McClin­ton, and Chuck Berry, the band re­mains faith­ful to its orig­i­nal mission as it cel­e­brates the mu­si­cal roots of Amer­i­can rock ‘n’ roll it­self.

“The his­tory of the mu­sic is won­der­ful,” Cross said. “It’s ba­si­cally the blues for­mat, but a lot of it has to do with the rhythm, be­cause New Or­leans’ mu­sic is based on rhythm. So much of it has that Cuban-Afro syn­co­pa­tion, so it’s very rhyth­mic and it just grooves. There’s some­thing that feels good about it to us when we play it. Some­times in our sets, we’ll ven­ture off. We’ll go off to Mem­phis and do some funk and go a lit­tle West into Texas and do a good shuf­fle. It’s re­ally all part of the Amer­i­cana style.”

Otis and the Hur­ri­canes is cel­e­brat­ing its 20th an­niver­sary in 2019, and over the years it has be­come a sta­ple on Fair­field County’s fes­ti­val and club scene. The band an­nu­ally head­lines at the Le­vitt Pavil­ion in West­port and Waveny Park in New Canaan, plays fre­quent dates in Stam­ford over the sum­mer at the Crab Shell and in Red­ding at the Road­house and Hide­away. It ven­tures out to Blue Mon­day in Mys­tic and has been head­lin­ing Block Is­land’s “Blues on the Block” for the past 15 years.

Satur­day, lo­cal crowds can catch up with the band at one of its reg­u­lar gigs in Nor­walk, Peaches South­ern Pub & Juke Joint, 7 Wall St. It re­turns there March 2, April 13, and May 4.

The band has a long his­tory at Peaches and was one of the groups fea­tured dur­ing the restau­rant’s open­ing week­end in April 2016.

“Greer has a won­der­ful restau­rant and a smokin’ juke joint,” said Cross, about Greer Fred­er­icks, who runs Peaches. “She has al­ways sup­ported the mu­sic com­mu­nity and has a great feel for get­ting things mov­ing.”

Cross, who was raised in Nor­walk and at­tended lo­cal schools, in­clud­ing Brien McMahon High School, brings a long his­tory of per­form­ing to his role as leader, singer and gui­tarist in the band. The Fair­field-based mu­si­cian is an orig­i­nal mem­ber of Paul Gabriel’s Blue in the Face and toured with blues great Deb­bie Davies. He also works with River City Slim & the Zy­deco Hogs.

The cur­rent Hur­ri­canes con­sist of New Canaan’s Smokin’ Joe Na­jmy on key­boards, ac­cor­dion, and vo­cals; Wil­ton’s Chris Bishop on bass and vo­cals; Fair­field’s Doug Bern­stein on tenor sax and vo­cal; and Rick Quinti­nal, from Sandy Hook, on per­cus­sion, plus an en­tire fam­ily of subs who oc­ca­sional sit in.

“Joe Na­jmy, the pi­ano player, and I got to­gether 20 years ago,” re­called Cross. “We met on a gig, and it was just like in­stant bond­ing, and the band took off from there. Joe and I are the only ones from day one, but ev­ery­one else has been with us be­tween 10 and 15 years.”

Be­sides the mu­si­cal chem­istry Otis and the Hur­ri­canes brings to the stage, there’s a per­sonal bond.

“We get along to­gether so well,” Cross said. “Ev­ery­one’s been on the road. The cre­den­tials the guys have are quite im­pres­sive. When we play, it’s a very re­laxed thing, mu­si­cian to mu­si­cian. It’s a groove, it’s a feel. It’s five guys who know how to have a good time. There’s no ego try­ing to out­gun some­one else.

“When we play, it’s a very re­laxed thing, mu­si­cian to mu­si­cian. It’s a groove, it’s a feel. It’s five guys who know how to have a good time. There’s no ego try­ing to out­gun some­one else. We re­spect the mu­sic. We let the songs do it.” Chris “Otis” Cross of Otis and the Hur­ri­canes

We re­spect the mu­sic. We let the songs do it.”

The band has one CD out and plans to record an­other with Paul Opalach at Longhill Record­ing in Shelton. Orig­i­nal songs can also make it to the set list, as all the mem­bers write.

“We all con­trib­ute,” Cross said. “If the song feels good and gets peo­ple danc­ing, it makes the list.”

Over­all, Cross says that he and the Hur­ri­canes feel for­tu­nate to be where they are right now in their mu­sic ca­reers.

“We are very lucky and very ap­pre­cia­tive of the op­por­tu­ni­ties that we have at this point in our lives,” he said, “and God bless the wives that let us go out. It’s all good.”

Con­trib­uted photo

Otis and the Hur­ri­canes, from left, Rick Quinti­nal, Chris Bishop, Chris “Otis” Cross, Smokin Joe Na­jmy and Doug Bern­stein. The band plays at Peaches South­ern Pub & Juke Joint on Satur­day night.

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