Blue Hand Luke – The Long Note Goodbye
Written by Amy Modesti on May 30, 2019
An abridged version of this article appeared in the June 2019 Issue of Xperience Monthly.
“Things always come in threes.” It has been a saying that my mother would tell me whenever any event, both good and bad, would occur. Although some may deem it a superstition, others might believe that saying to be true.
Within a month apart, our music community experienced three giant losses that left a huge hole in our hearts; the passing of bluegrass artist, Caroline “MotherJudge” Isachsen (March 9), the sudden passing of Nippertown co-founder, Greg Haymes (April 10), and the ending of local rock and roll cover band, Blue Hand Luke, on Saturday, March 16 at the Rustic Barn Pub.
For over twenty-three years, Blue Hand Luke set the bar for being one of Capital Region’s rock and roll cover groups. No matter who was set to perform in the band’s lineup on any given evening, they always put on a stellar show. You could usually see Blue Hand Luke perform at events and venues as “Rockin’ On the River” (held at Ryan’s Wake Parking Lot), the Cooperstown Blues Express, “Power’s Park Summer Concert Series”, Nanola, Dango’s, and Rustic Barn Pub. Even composing an original song that one can hear sometimes during “On 6 With Vito” every Friday night, the group stuck to playing good ol’ rock and roll, blues, and country from bands as “The Rolling Stones”, “Led Zeppelin”, “Z.Z. Top”, “The Doors”, “J. Giles Band”, and many more that had you dancing all night.
Nine years ago, my friend, Charlie Morris, introduced my parents and I to Blue Hand Luke when he was a co-worker at Parkway Music. Charlie would encourage us to watch him perform in this band that he was involved with. My first time seeing Blue Hand Luke was at the 2010 “Rockin’ On the River” concert series, held inside Ryan Wake’s parking lot, and at the British Invasion Uncle Sam Jam held at Knickerbocker Park when they opened for Billy J. Kramer, Jerry Molland (Badfinger), and Terry Sylvester (The Hollies). Even though I wasn’t familiar with the songs that they performed back then (now I am familiar with their songs), they were a great band. They were a group I knew I wanted to see any chance I got.
From the days of bringing my parents to Rockin’ On the River to attend their shows, over time, I grew to enjoy this band and its evolving lineup. Every year, their band lineup changed. The first lineup I saw featured veteran musicians, Joe Mele (guitar), Tony Perrino (piano/vocals), Pete Vumbaco (drums), James “Jimmy” Cappello (bass), Luke McNamee (saxophone), Charlie Morris (guitar/vocals), and Tommy Love (vocals/harmonica). With old members leaving, new members would emerge into place. 2011’s lineup featured blues guitarist, Ike Izadian, in place of Mele. From 2012-2014, the band was a hybrid of both “Blue Hand Luke” and the old lineup of “Sly Fox and The Hustlers” (featuring both Donna and Mark Tritico and current bassist, Dylan Storm), Their final lineup from 2015-2019 featured Matt Mirabile on guitar, along with Morris, Love, Cappello, Vumbaco, and McNamee (with occasional fill ins from Jason Maloney, Frank Daley, Josh Bloomfield, Gary “Sly” Fox, Jeremy Walz, Johnny Rabb, and Randy Staats). Each lineup brought in their own unique spin into their songs that they performed for their true fans.
In 2014 and 2015, I followed Blue Hand Luke more heavily. I met the other band members gradually at each gig that I attended with my friends and peers after their shows. Over time, I got to know these members who became my new friends. Eventually, they became my close friends. They treated me like I was in their “family”. Through attending their shows when I could, I also met other music fans and local musicians that became my close friends that I continue to spend time with periodically at various music shows and community events.
Listening to Blue Hand Luke expanded my musical knowledge greatly and I enjoyed hearing their songs that they had brought into their performance sets. Their songs had me dancing on my feet within the growing dance crowd at some of the most memorable gigs that I had attended within the 9 years. Their most memorable gigs, for me, was both the 2018 & this year’s St. Patrick’s Day concert, the “Farewell to Tommy Love” Halloween show at the Rustic Barn Pub (2015), the Italian Community Center gig featuring Johnny Rabb and Randy Staats in 2016, and their Rockin’ On The River shows in their varying lineups.
After twenty-three years, Luke McNamee made the announcement on Facebook a few days after the benefit event for Caroline MotherJudge that B.H.L. were going to be performing their final show at the Rustic Barn Pub during St. Patrick’s Day weekend. I was both surprised and sad to find out that they weren’t going to be performing anymore for whatever reason. I had grown to enjoy watching this group perform over the past nine years and they became my favorite cover group in the Capital Region. Blue Hand Luke always put on a great show in town, no matter who was taking control of the music. They were always entertaining, and I am thankful and grateful that I was able to attend their shows and become their friends that I have for life.
Despite it being their final gig ever, I knew in my heart that this was a show that I didn’t want to miss at the Rustic Barn Pub. Their final show was one of their best, and memorable shows that I was able to witness and be a part of in Blue Hand Luke’s musical history. And with St. Patrick’s Day being held the next day, I was able to watch McNamee get dressed as his holiday alter-ego, “Paddy O’Sax”, as he walked through the Rustic Barn Pub door, and began playing some Irish tunes. At times, he walked around the dining area to greet his cousins that had arrived from Rhode Island to see him perform one last time and mingled in with the rest of the crowd playing music. As he ended his Paddy O’Sax set, he rose to the stage and the band began performing the start of their epic show.
Each member stepped up their game and delivered each song perfectly to the delight of their fans that didn’t want this night to end. From the sizzling guitar soloing on their rendition of “One Way Out” (The Allman Brothers) from Mirabile and Morris, the rocking rhythm section of Cappello and Vumbaco in “Dragging The Line” (Tommy James), Love jumping off stage to place himself within his sea of fans to belt out the lyrics of “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” (The Rolling Stones), to McNamee’s solo performance of “Cherry Pink (And Apple Blossom White)”, everybody did a great job keeping up the momentum and delivered a rousing two sets of music (and an encore) that night. The dance floor was crowded full of fans that were dancing or recording songs on their cell phones to remember this magical moment.
Once I heard their covers of “Miss You”, “Roadhouse Blues”, and “Tequila”, their show would end forever. Love, the showman that he is, knelt to his knees and motioned McNamee to take his turn to shine and play the saxophone to the opening of “Tequila” while singer, Brian Kane, randomly placed a small St. Patrick’s party hat on Love’s head for a brief second. As the music slowed down with each verse, McNamee ended his soloing and began to give his official final remarks about the band.
“I don’t know what to even say right now since we’ve come to the end of the show. We got no more. We’re done. This is the moment in time at night… We got to the Rustic Barn many, many times and we love you more…I love Speigletown right here with you guys. And you guys are putting Blue Hand Luke on the map for 23 or 24 years…We love you guys. Thank you very much for being with us for 24 years. We wouldn’t be standing on this stage without you guys. We love you very much.”
“It’s been a great ride,” continued McNamee and with the drop of his shamrock hat, he continued to perform the last verse of “Tequila” with the band until its very end.
Upon listening to his speech and watching the band perform the song’s final notes, it finally hit me that Blue Hand Luke was officially over. It was an end of a memorable era of local music that had come to a sudden close. I embraced my good music friend in a hug and began to tear up as she consoled me and reminded me that the band was loved and if I felt sad, that there were people in our community that loved me. I was sad when it was done. I even had tears in my eyes when I walked upon the stage at the end of their song and snapped a photo of the entire band together on stage one final time.
The fans, too, were sad that this night had to end and wanted them to return to perform an encore. The band came back on stage to perform a cover of “Dead Flowers” (The Rolling Stones), a song that they always started performing with to kick off their first set of their show. Although it was great to see them perform their encore, their departure was bittersweet, even though they had an amazing show and a great 23-24 year run as Blue Hand Luke.
Thank you to all the members of Blue Hand Luke, past, present, and their special guests, for performing great songs and always entertaining the Capital Region with your music for as long as you did. Thank you, Charlie, for introducing my parents and I to Blue Hand Luke. I am thankful to have watched this band perform for nine years! Thank you for always putting on great shows and for your kindness and friendship. This band certainly had a great ride and will be greatly missed by us all. It won’t be the same in our music scene without you and other “local legends” that we have lost recently that have contributed so much to the music scene. Thank you for everything. Love you Blue Hand Luke.