Rockit88 Blasts Off In A New Direction

Rockit 88

By Lenny Stoute

It’s been six years since this country’s had “Too Much Fun” and that’s not Rockit88’s fault. Core members Bill King (keyboards, vocals) and Neil Chapman (guitars, vocals) stay busy making music. So busy they’ve not had the time to get back to Rockit88 until now.

Six years later, the boys are back in town with new members, a new sound and a whole new persona, several steps away from the deep-dish blues of the debut album. The new album’s Sweet Sugar Cane, the new backline’s Lionel Williams on bass and groove merchant Jim Casson working the skins and our host is the smooth-talking Bill King.

“ The first album, being that it was all covers, was more about the playing, with emphasis on the piano and guitar. This one is more focused on the songs and maintaining a consistency of style across 12 tracks”.

That style would be swampy country blues rock, cut with essence of the Rolling Stones and Little Feat at their most down home. Those are tough sailin’ shoes to fill, but Chapman and King found themselves well up to the task. Another daunt about this style of music, it can be a tough row to handle the vocals credibly. The vocals on Sweet Sugar Cane get their authority from King’s uncanny ability to locate the appropriate period nuances for each song. Vocal output is further boosted by the recent addition of Stacey Bulmer.

“ We’ve done some gigs with her and like her energy. She’s really into the material; with the choruses on this kind of music, it’s good to have the extra vocals to fill them up. Neil and I talked a lot about coming back with Rockit88. We wanted to do something different and we settled on doing an album of our own material, written just for this band” says King.“Getting that material written wasn’t the easiest; I’m in three different bands plus other projects and Neil always has a slew of things on the go, including his TV work. Plus he lives out of town which made it tricky getting together. So we’d write separately and tweak them together. We started with a rootsy Cajun sound, and built it up from there. Our first gig was actually in a Toronto Cajun restaurant, Southern Accents. Right from there it felt good, felt like something we could roll with”.

“ When we started working on the songs it began to feel special and now it just feels right for both of us. This is the sound we want to put out and these are the people we’re going to do it with. With any band it’s important that the personnel be right and this is the right lineup for Rockit88”

There’s a sense of establishing a brand here and King wants its identity to come across loud and clear, which made the decision to co-produce the album themselves the correct one. The album title might seem a touch alien coming from a Canadian band until King clues us to his primal relationship with the ‘cane’.

“ As a kid, visiting Florida, I’d see the Haitians working in the fields cutting the cane and then burning the cane thrash; blistering hot, sweaty, gritty work. In Barbados, I’d go out at night to the sugar cane fields. The air was always so sweet and sensual. Plus I knew what the teenagers were up to in the cane fields. It’s all come together like this sound of rolling from Memphis to Mississippi through the rural south along the back roads, juke joints and landscape of a music and sound that never lets go”.

Sweet Sugar Cane had its debut July 25 at the Beaches International Jazz Festival, blowing away the crowd at Kew Gardens. King says they’ll take Sweet Sugar Cane indoors for the club release at T.Dot locations The Mod Club or Hugh’s Room somewhere around mid-August.

Stay tuned for further deets.