Begonias Return to Jazz Depot Sunday
Rick Bentley has long been a musical innovator. Some longtime observers of the area music scene may, for instance, remember a time years ago when he played banjo with vocalist E.G. Kight and fiddler Rick Morton, creating one of the most unusual blues bands to ever take a stage.
For The Begonias, a group that also features his wife, vocalist-bassist Terry Bentley, and drummer David Blue, Bentley put aside his banjo in favor of an acoustic guitar. (“Quite honestly,” he laughs, “it’s a lot lighter and doesn’t hurt nearly as much when you get older.”) But he’s continued to experiment with new sounds because, as he says, “If you don’t change up a little bit, you’ll just always be playing the same thing.”
Sometimes the changes he and Terry have made in the band were relatively simple, like adding a percussionist or having their old friend Morton come in on fiddle. Other times, however, it’s been a little more complex.
“I experimented with a guitar loop for awhile, and it was fun, but boy, if you kicked it at the wrong time, all of a sudden you’d be playing something and it’d be playing something else,” he says with another laugh, referring to the technology that allows a musician performing live to create a track and play it back onstage. “I’d record a rhythm loop while we were playing, and then when I got ready to take a lead, I’d just kick it and hopefully it was where you wanted it to be.
“Sometimes,” he adds, “it was not pretty.”
The band’s experimentation with loops ended about three years ago, when Blue came aboard.
“That guy is a phenomenal drummer,” says Bentley. “With him, everything fills up nicely, and he’s so much fun to play with. So you don’t have to worry about the rhythm falling down, because Blue’s got that covered, and then Terry’s got the top of it. So it’s back to doing basic music again, and it’s a whole lot more fun.”
Eighteen years ago, Rick was playing in the bluegrass group the Sons of the Boutineers, while Terry was in the duo Sisters of the Sun. Then they got married, and they soon had joined forces for a new band, initially called Ruby’s Begonia, in reference to a famous line from both the Amos ‘n’ Andy and Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-Intelevision shows. That first trio included Terry’s son Levi Dennis, then a college student, now a Nashville-based musician who’s toured with the likes of Sara Evans and Gary Allan.
At first, Ruby’s Begonia played bluegrass festivals and similar events, familiar to Bentley from his gigs as a banjo player. But as the act continued, it took a turn away from bluegrass and toward other forms of music.
“When we started, I was playing maybe 25 percent banjo and the rest of it was guitar,” he recalls. “Now, I very, very seldom pull out a banjo and play it with our stuff, which is more jazzy. We used to say, `We do some songs by Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin, and Bobby Darin,’ but we do so much different stuff now. Terry’s always out there looking for new tunes, and right now we’re looking at a lot of [songs from Texas songwriter] Guy Clark. Of course, we always want to do duets, so we’ve gone back and picked up some Everly Brothers tunes – just something a little different, to add more flavoring.”
Although Bentley had played the Jazz Depot with the likes of Shelby Eicher andCow Bop, The Begonias’ first job at the venue was last September. He’s glad to be back.
“I love the room,” he says. “The acoustics are good, and the guy who runs the sound has always done a fabulous job.”
He also enjoys the listening-room aspect of the Depot, although he notes that Terry had to get used to that part of the experience.
“She likes playing in a restaurant or a bar, where the crowd’s not sitting and watching her play,” he explains. “But she didn’t have any problems at all when we played [the Depot] last time,” says Bentley.
“Now, me, I like that,” he adds with another laugh. “That’s kind of the reason you play music, you know – to act a fool and show off some.”
The Begonias are set to begin at 5:00 p.m. Sunday, March 23, at theOklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame, located in downtown Tulsa’s Jazz Depot, 111 E. First Street. Tickets can be purchased at the Depot, from www.myticketoffice.com, or by calling Bettie Downing at 918-281-8609. General admission is $15, reserved table seating $20. Seniors and Jazz Hall members are admitted for $10, and high school and junior high students for $5.
The show is a part of the Jazz Hall’s 2014 Spring Concert Series.