by Eric Stearley
For the Thursday Night Blues crowd, the Boscoe France Band has become synonymous with the genre. The Kentucky virtuoso closed out the blues series in his third appearance at Eagles Theatre. Jimmy Cummings provided the beats behind his four-piece drum set, while a new face, John Rochner, completed the rhythm section, replacing John Gillespie on bass.
“John’s a life long bass player like I’m a life long guitar player. The other bass player was not that way,” said France in a post-show interview. “He was a guy that had done really well for himself, so he was wealthy, and that’s a hard pill to swallow.”
France makes no claim to wealth or fame. He isn’t in music for the money, which is a good thing, because he doesn’t make much. He admits that he struggles to provide a decent life for his kids on a musician’s income, but he does what he loves to do, play guitar. Winning Guitar Center’s Battle of the Blues has provided the musician with nearly any instrument he desires, but doesn’t exactly pay the bills.
As the newest member of the band, Rochner seems to sincerely mesh with France and Cummings. He provides a more entertaining performance on bass without Gillespie’s pomp offstage. Like France and Cummings, Rochner sincerely loves talking with fans. France’s down-to-earth demeanor has solidified the musician as a favorite of the Wabash audience.
When interviewed last fall, France said that his band has the songbook to play three four-hour sets without repeating the same song, and those lucky enough to catch all three appearances at Eagles can vouch for that. While certain fan favorites have been repeated, the blues trio has rewarded its audience with three truly unique performances over the course of the last year.
France plays to the audience, as any great musician should. His heavy southern accent, a result of his upbringing in Madisonville, Ky., is faint when he sings and unmistakable when he speaks. The ease with which his fingers appear to caress the fret board of his Gibson Les Paul mask the fact that he is playing with seemingly impossible speed and accuracy. For the aspiring musician, his skill is both inspirational and discouraging; it’s a fantastic display of what is possible with a guitar and a showcase of the mountain most musicians still have to climb. At the same time, he’ll be the first to tell you that the best guitar players he knows are the one’s jamming in their garage.
At times, he’s all smiles as he strolls across the stage, playing off of drummer Jimmy Cummings and bassist John Rochner. Other times, he’s so deeply set in his own world, his eyes roll back in his head, movement restricted to his fingertips and wrist. It’s a delicate balance between adrenaline-pumping chords and paralyzing solos. One thing is sure; the audience is never ready for the show to be over.
The bands performance is a display of the many styles above which the blues flag flies. From Muddy Waters to Jimi Hendrix, from clean, crisp amplification to heavily distorted, screaming notes, from ear-ringing volume to the barely audible notes, variety is the name of their game. With only three musicians on stage, there is a lot of room for error, but it is rarely found. The three play in unison, with such precision that a live performance could be mistaken for a professionally remastered studio album. Fittingly, the bands sole album for sale is a live recording from a show earlier this year.
France has the uncanny ability to satisfy diehard blues fans while simultaneously convincing the skeptics of its virtues. Accustomed to playing in small bars and deserving of a stadium, France seemed to find his comfort zone in his third appearance at Eagles, the first large venue the band ever played.
But for anyone who has taken the time to get to know the artist, he doesn’t play guitar to please an audience or make money; France plays guitar because he has to. Put in a room with a guitar, no matter what the quality, he will lose himself in the music. Each time he has traveled to Wabash, he has spent a brief period of time at one of several local watering holes. After that, he goes back to the guitar, playing to a small group of newfound friends, or just himself, for the remainder of his night into the morning. When you watch him play, you’re not watching a musician or an artist, but a man doing the thing that he loves, the thing that he is compelled to do from within.
The Boscoe France Band will undoubtedly be back to one of their favorite venues, Wabash’s Eagles Theatre. When they return, the crowd will surely follow.