Originally founded as a way to get Tom Paronis out of the house in 2007, the 69th Street Band has evolved into an "only in New York" outfit that offers up a unique mix of old school Chicago Blues and R&B, some jazz (particularly of the Acid Jazz variety popularized by Hammond/Sax combos of the 1960s), country, rockabilly and bluegrass and an overlay of percolating African rhythms. Tom cut his teeth on the South Side of Chicago in the late 1980s with the illustrious Buddy Scott clan playing a wide variety of blues, funk and R&B while also taking lessons with revered instructor Reggie "Guitar" Boyd. After moving to Europe in 1990 he played in various clubs in Frankfurt, Germany. Upon moving to New York in 1992 he played in various blues clubs (the late, lamented Dan Lynch's being the most frequent). When impending parenthood led him to give up gigging in 1998 he assiduously taught himself the fine art of Travis/Atkins picking and began listening to a wide variety of African music and old Studio One reggae. When the urge to play out reared its ugly head once more he wanted to find a way to incorporate these rhythms into his blues/country/R&B repertoire. The natural choice for the bass chair was old chum Lenny Nelson, who has arguably played with every blues/R&B outfit in the greater tri-state area during the last few decades, including countless gigs with late, great Rolling Thunder drummer and pianist Howie Wyeth. On percussion the band calls on the services of two of the planet's premier African drummers. Ivory Coast native Abou Diarrassouba first came to the US with the great Alpha Blondy and liked it so much he decided to stay. Since then he has become a "go to" drummer and djembe player for numerous African and reggae bands, among them The Wailers, The Easy All Stars and Angelique Kidjo. Other drummer Joseph "Jojo" Kuo played with Fela Kuti and Manu Dibango for a number of years and spent a decade in the studios of Paris and touring worldwide with legends such as Peter Gabriel, Salif Keita and the Gypsy Kings. Jojo decamped to the warmer climes of Orlando, Florida in order to lead the band at Disney World's African Pavilion six days a week in 2012. In 2016 he returned to the Big Apple and can reliably be seen gigging with or sitting in with his old compatriots on a semi-regular basis. It is also worth noting that he infused the band with some remarkable players, such as the great Tony Cedras who logged a wonderful two and a half years with the group before returning to Cape Town, and hard grooving Cameroonian bass player Freddie Doumbe who Tom jokingly refers to as "Richard Bona's bass player" (it's true but you'll have to ask Freddie about that).
The 69th Street Band has been fortunate to find a number of homes in Manhattan over the years such as Bar Nine, Boom Restaurant in Soho, Tagine Restaurant, the late Uncle Mike's in Tribeca (justly shut down by the police for a number of excellent reasons but we still miss it), Sasa's Lounge and various other venues. For the last 5 years the band's home base has been the wonderful Paris Blues, the last true juke joint in Harlem. Every other Saturday the band can be seen laying it down for a host of neighborhood regulars, tourists, Columbia students, hipsters (a relatively new addition to the Harlem scene) and assorted musicians who drop by to sit in. The band's musical family has also expanded significantly as a result of this residency and one of the new members has been producer and multi-instrumentalist Phillipe Allaert, who has a long list of producing and recording credits to his name; most notably the Belgian bands Vaya Con Dios and Zap Mama among others.
Tom had long been urged by his picking pals to make some recordings and finally, in a bucket list sort of way, took the plunge in 2016. The result is not one, but two, CDs, both produced by Phillipe Allaert. The first; "A Brooklyn Afternoon", is a highly polished and contemporary affair that manages to present the band's songwriting in a way that will hopefully appeal to both fans of roots music and followers of modern urban and dance music. The other CD; "The African Hillbilly Sessions; Volume 1" came about in one afternoon in Peter Karl's studio in Brooklyn. The original idea was to capture 2 or 3 tunes in the style the band jokingly referred to as "African Bluegrass" but, upon listening to the recordings, it became clear that everything the band laid down was usable so an executive decision was made to overwhelm the marketplace by releasing two CDs. If you chance to see the band in its guitar/djembe/bass configuration you'll probably hear more blues and jazz but, since the idea was to present the hillbilly side of the band's music, that will have to wait; hence the "Volume 1" in the title. The CDs were unleashed on an unsuspecting world in November of 2016.