30 years of blues

For more than 30 years, Youngstown’s acclaimed Sacksville Rhythm & Blues Band has rocked venues throughout the Mahoning Valley and beyond.

In its heyday, the band has opened for acclaimed acts such as Bob Dylan, Southside Johnny & the Asbury Jukes, NRBQ, Satan’s Satellites and Michael Stanley and played such popular area festivals like the Canfield Fair and the Bavarian Fun Fest in Sharon, Pa.

Sonny Hrehovcik, Sacksville R&B vocalist and guitarist, said he started the group in 1981 out of a passion for the blues.

“I was hanging out with some friends of mine and playing music together,” he said. “We wanted to play the blues stuff because we did not want to practice too much. We liked the blues because it’s the same chords and you can improvise and it’s a nice comfortable format. That’s why we call the band Sacksville Rhythm & Blues Band.”

The band had a “swinging door lineup,” especially during the 1990s, Hrehovcik said. Joining him in the current lineup is Joe Rongone, saxophone;, Tony Armeni, trombone; John Plaskett, bass; Mike Klanica, drums; and Darryl Balestra, guitar.

Last year the band lost an important member, harmonica player Bill “Fish” Conner.

“Bill ‘Fish’ Conner used to always say that Sacksville Rhythm and Blues Band was like a Chinese takeout menu, because if one band member couldn’t make it to practice or a gig, there was always another guy there to fill in,” Hrehovcik said.

“Our band membership was very flexible, this made the live performances more interesting. For example, our trombone player, Tony Armeni might play something abstract, you never how our music is going to come out. Our music is not programmed and we approach the idea of our songs with ‘here is the basic structure and then we will improvise with experimental jamming.”

The band’s earliest gig in 1981 was at Cedars Lounge, where the band opened for the Youngstown new wave act The 8-Balls.

Hrehovcik recalls that 8-Balls drummer Sandy Naples was doing his internship at the hospital and didn’t get off until 11 p.m. and The 8-Balls needed an opening act, so Hrehovcik and the boys jumped on the bill. Today, Hrehovcik and 8-Balls vocalist, Tim Gilliland, play in the acoustic act The Guilty Pleasures.

Sacksville released several cassettes in the 1980s and two full-length albums, “Let’s Have A Drink, Let’s Have A Toast” (1987), and “Playtime” (1989).

“The first album, ‘Let’s Have A Drink Let’s Have A Toast,’ was recorded live in the studio and was what we sounded like live,” Hrehovcik said. “We made ‘Let’s Have A Drink Let’s Have A Toast’ to have a recorded product to send out to clubs to represent the band.”

Before the days of Sacksville Rhythm & Blues Band, Hrehovcik played in the Youngstown power pop outfit The Todd. The group disbanded in 1975, which was the year Hrehovcik decided to open a record shop, Underdog Records.

Originally in Boardman, Underdog now is located at 6181 Youngstown Hubbard Road in Hubbard.

“The Todd played up until early 1975, and we did nine years of playing shows on the road. After The Todd broke up, I was going to get together to form another band with Michael Gismondi (who played bass in the Michael Stanley Band from 1979-1987) and Nick Testa, drummer from the 1970s Youngstown rock act Coconut. This band was going to be the same as The Todd, but at the same time, I decided to start a record shop instead, Underdog Records, with my business partner and soundman for The Todd, Ed Rupeka,” Hrehovcik said.

Hrehovcik said he is happy to share the stage with The Jellybricks on Saturday. The Jellybricks includes Larry Kennedy, a one-time member of The Infidels.

“Larry Kennedy used to come into my store Underdog Records when he was a kid. Mara Simon, owner of Cedars West End, called me and said that The Jellybricks wanted to play with Sacksville Rhythm and Blues Band in the summer. We couldn’t play that date, but we are excited to play this show. In Sacksville Rhythm and Blues Band, we are always excited to play together, and when you put us up on stage, it’s exciting to see what happens.”