It's hard to imagine the Boston Horns playing a sit-down concert. The seven-piece band has been burning up stages with high-energy, hard-grooving funk and soul for more than a decade and has developed a reputation for, well, burning down the house, for getting folks off their seats and onto the dance floor or into the aisles. And that's exactly what they're planning on doing next week, when the band pulls into the Port for their first local gig in years. "You'd better tie the roof down," says Horns frontman Garret Savluk. "We're going to mix it up, we're going to do our thing, we're going to blow this place up." But, as hard as it is to imagine people sitting in their seats, politely clapping like it's the US Open, while the Horns tear it up onstage, it's even more difficult to imagine Savluk up there doing it without saxophonist Henley Douglas at his side. They've been playing together for better than two decades, from the early days with The Blues Meanies, which had them backing the Del Fuegos, among others, to the years as the conceptually outrageous Heavy Metal Horns, which put them on the road with then-chart-toppers Extreme, to their work over the past ten years as the Boston Horns, opening for monster funk acts like the Tower of Power and bringing the band, and its powerhouse sound, to a headlining tour in Japan. But that's where the Horns are these days. They're still together, but the Douglas-Savluk partnership is done.
There's no animosity, it wasn't a bitter break. Douglas left earlier this year, saying he wanted to focus his energy on new music. He's working two bands these days: Soul Force V, which has been around in one form or another since 1998 and, these days, features vocalist Christina McGhie, and HD R&B, a new project that teams the Salem saxophonist with one-time Heavy Metal Horns vocalist Doug Gimbel, and is quickly gaining traction locally. Savluk will soldier on with the Horns. "The band," he says, "is stronger than any one individual." Was Douglas's departure a surprise? "Yes and no," says Savluk. "In a way it came out of the blue, but the writing has been on the wall for a while. In the end all change is good. The band, the Horns, it's bigger than any one of us. It's all good. It's just life. There's no denying all we did, but it's a new era."
The split came in April. The band has been slowly transitioning, mixing new, or relatively new, elements to a proven formula: Squanch, the trombonist from acclaimed jam band Topaz and acid jazz gurus The Groove Collective, is on the front line, and Nephtaliem “Nephrok!” McCrary, whose style makes you think James Brown, is handling vocal duties. ("I swear, I don't know where they come up with these names," says Savluk.) Guitarist Jeff Buckridge, who has been with the Horns, proper, since the beginning, is still on board, as is bassist Dave Walker and drummer Peter Maclean. And, for now, it will be "sax by committee," says Savluk. They've been filling in the sax slot with local aces like Mike Tucker, but, right now, the committee has not decided who will blow at the Firehouse or if the band will have to go with a two-horn attack — trumpet and trombone.
They have not played in the city for years, turning up five or six years back, at the Grog. "It's been a while. Lot of fans been wondering about us." For the Firehouse show, they play a mix of originals and covers, like James Brown's "There It Is," Sly Stone's "Remember Who You Are," Maceo Parker's "Got to Get U," maybe even a cover of Jimi Hendrix's "Crosstown Traffic."
JUST THE FACTS, MAN: The Boston Horns perform at 8 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Firehouse, 1 Market Square, Newburyport. Tickets are $20, or $18 for members of the Society for the Development of the Arts and Humanities, the non-profit organization that manages the venue. For more information, call 978.462.7336. For more information about the band, log on to the Boston Horns' web. Wanna watch them in action? Click here.