Saturday, April 9, 2011

Chicago band Head Honchos shaking it up with energetic blend of rock, blues


Rocco Calipari has already made his presence known as the man behind the commanding guitar licks in Chicago band Howard and the White Boys.

Now he is taking on a new role as the frontman of the hard driving group Head Honchos, which recently released a seven-song CD. Joining him on guitar in the band is his son, Rocco Calipari Jr., who first sat in with Howard and the White Boys when he was 15.

Head Honchos,, will be playing throughout the region in the coming months, including a April 22 show at Kendall Pub, 209 S. Bridge St., Yorkville,

I had the chance to talk to Rocco about his new project.

Q - How long have you been thinking about doing this?

I've always kind of had side projects. But this one I got serious with because of my son's involvement.

Q - How did you bring him into the project? Was he wanting to be part of it?

He started playing. He started getting more serious with it, and then he went away to school. He came back, and he showed a lot of interest and wanted to play. So we decided to put a band together. And here it is.

Q - Did you ever push him to get into music?

No, not at all. If I pushed him to do anything, it was to play the bass. There's a lot of guitar players out there, and I told him that if he was a good bass player, he would work a lot more.

He played bass for a little while, but then he really wanted to play guitar. 

Q - What do you think he brings to the band?

His youth. He has a lot of the influences that I turned him onto, but then he has a lot of his own influences, guys like Buckethead.

Q - What were your ideas for Head Honchos? How did you want it to be different than Howard and the White Boys?

We have more of a rock edge. I grew up listening to more rock than I did blues, although I love the blues. Growing up, I liked everybody from the James Gang to Van Halen.

Q - On a couple of the songs I hear a ZZ Top influence.

Yeah, I'm a huge fan of them.

Q - So you really wanted to make more of a rock album than a blues album?

Yeah, rock and blues. We wanted to try and mix the two, in a way that we felt was cool. I think there are elements are both, but it is definitely leaning toward the rock.

Q - How do you think the album turned out?

I didn't really know what to expect at first. I figured it would come out sounding OK. It was just supposed to be a demo at first, to help us get jobs. As we recorded it, it felt good. I felt the end result was great, right to the point and rockin' out of the gate.

Q - Of course, it has a couple of originals along with some covers, like Albert King's "Going Down" and Wilson Pickett's "99 1/2 Won't Do." How did you go about choosing the songs?

That comes into where like I say, it started out just being a demo for jobs. We just wanted to kind of show our influences, so we took a few covers from the long list we do and some of the originals we had written at the time.

Q - Both Head Honchos and Howard and the White Boys have a full schedule these days. How do you juggle being in both bands?

I drive to this one, and then I drive to that one. I book both bands too, so I just make sure that I don't book on top of each other.

Q - Could you ever see Head Honchos opening for Howard and the White Boys?

Oh, sure. I could probably do that anytime I wanted to. I'm keeping it kind of separate right now. And I'm not opposed to it. I'm sure eventually we will. 

Q - In this project, you are the frontman. How do you feel about that role?

I like it a lot. The more I do it, the more I enjoy it. When you are the guy singing, you get to pick all the songs.  It's getting more comfortable as I do it.

Q - What should one expect at a Head Honchos show?

We're high energy. It's rock, blues, funk and soul. We kind of mix it all up. We try to cover all genres. There's a lot of interplay between the two guitars.

Q - You've played with the likes of Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, B.B. King and Chuck Berry. Who would you say has been the biggest influence on you?

I started playing guitar because of the song, "Johnny B. Goode" by Chuck Berry. And when I finally played with Chuck Berry, to me that was the greatest thing in my life.

Q - What was it about that song that made you want to become a guitar player?

It was like one of those things, like the first time you hear rock 'n' roll or something. Just that intro and the way it went along, I just couldn't believe it. I thought it was the coolest thing I ever heard.

My parents bought me a guitar, and on the 45, I learned the song. I kept moving the needle back and forth a thousand times. To this day, it is still my favorite song.

Q - So you are really liking this project?

It is the most fulfilling thing that I have ever done, doing this with my son and playing songs that I really love, songs that I grew up with that I never played with a band before.

Q - What's next for the band? Are you going to do a full CD?

It will be all originals this time. We have more than enough songs, but we have to pick which ones we want to use. Probably in mid-summer we'll start recording.

Q - Can we expect any new material from Howard and the White Boys? Your last CD, "Made In Chicago," came out in 2006.

Howard, you know, he's a teacher. He teaches fifth grade in the Chicago public schools. Our drummer, Jim, he's married now and has little kids. 

We can't really tour and do the things we used to do. We do have new songs written, but not enough for an album.

We know we have to do that, but there is no exact date yet. But it will happen.

We've been doing it so long, we're content with the way things are right now with us anyway. We still love playing each other. It's still all good.

Q - Is Head Honchos a project that you see lasting a long time and continuing to grow?

Yeah, I hope so. I'm into the longevity thing. Howard and the White Boys, I've been with them for 17 years.

We're not trying to be famous rock stars. We're just trying to get to the point where we can make a decent buck and have fun and play cool shows and travel.