Bob Pace is one of the great blues men in the city. He has been performing around town for years, and has a large and devoted following. For the past two years, one of his most popular gigs has been down at Gas Lamp on Friday evenings, at the venue's weekly “Work Release” event.
Originally, the event was hosted by another legendary local act, Sumpin Doo. They were looking to take a step back on their weekly work load, and recommended Pace and his outfit, The Dangerous Band, to Gas Lamp co-owner Frankie Farrell. Neither Pace nor the venue has looked back, as Work Release continues to be one of the most popular events on Gas Lamp's schedule, thanks in large part to Pace's understanding of his audience and his ability to cater to them.
“Between me and (guitarist) Tom Murphy, we've been doing this for 40 years,” Pace said. “We know a lot of songs. And we're playing for a demographic that's mostly in our 40 and up age bracket. So I talk to people during set breaks and ask them what they want to hear, and we take that to heart for the next week.”
Each week's set is an intricate balance of careful planning and devil-may-care improvisation, as Pace sits down and completely rebuilds the band's stable of songs from week to week, keeping things fresh. Once he has got a loose structure together, however, the actual live set list will fluctuate depending on how the audience reacts. And what Pace feels like trying out at any given moment.
“It's kind of our challenge to ourselves,” he admitted. “We might do a Joe Cocker tune, and I'll think 'I wonder if I can put this other song inside it'.”
“It's not easy being in my band,” he continued. “I'll turn on a dime. (But) Tommy's so damn good, I can just say 'Tommy...' and he'll look at me like 'OK, bring it'.”
But life is not just about the covers for Pace. The band has a new album out, called “Slow Burn,” which Pace describes as being written with his Work Release audiences in mind. One thing is certain: whether live or on CD, Pace will make sure you walk away happy.
"If you come up to me and say 'great guitar playing', well, that's nice. But if you say 'you really entertained us tonight', that's what it's all about," he said. "That's the best compliment you can give me, man."
Originally appeared in Cityview February 11, 2015