If the blues is your genre of choice, and if you enjoy local musicians doing what they love, then you can’t do much better than Waterville’s own Southside Blues Band. This quartet is made up of Steve Woodard on bass, Jimmy Demmons on drums, Toby LaCroix on harmonica and Rory McQuillan on guitar and vocals. In a recent telephone interview, McQuillan — who was born in Waterville in 1955 and grew up there until he and his family moved to Sidney when he was in high school — was kind enough to fill me in on his band.

Q: How did all of this get started?

McQuillan: Back in the early 90s, 1993 I think, I was in a band called The Blueprints. Later, after Don Giordano left to start another group, we became a quartet with guitar, harmonica, bass and drums. We decided to be a blues band because that was kind of my deal more than anything, so we became the Bluescasters. We had about a seven-year run. We played the pub crawl one time down at the Rockland blues festival, opening for one of those artists. We played various clubs that were around during that time in Gardiner and Auburn. It was never a very big, active thing, but just us staying alive playing once or twice a month typically.

Q: What happened to that band?

McQuillan: It broke up around 2000. After that I played as a guest star at the Friday afternoon happy hour at the Wharf in Hallowell, so I kind of kept my hand in the game there. They were using Steve, the bass player that had been my bass player in the Blueprints, so I was playing with him again. Eventually, I fell in with my current harmonica player, Toby, and the drummer, Jimmy, back when Dave Mello was hosting blues jams at Mainely Brews in Waterville. So our band really formed at (that venue). We’ve played there pretty much ever since. Oh, and we have the fourth Friday of every month at the Wharf for their happy hour from 5:30 to 8 p.m., as well.

Q: Will it be the quartet of you, Steve, Jimmy and Toby when you play on the first of July there at Mainely Brews?

McQuillan: Jimmy’s not going to be around for a little bit this summer so Ron Perkins is picking up the slack. He was our regular drummer a few years ago for a while and then he had some better offers from other people. He’s just a real solid drummer. He’s played with a ton of people. We’ve had a few other people in the band: we had Neal Shepard from Randolph. He’s a blind piano player with perfect pitch. We’ll have the occasional saxophone player sit in with us, but the core of the band, the normal set-up, is the blues quartet. That model was pretty well laid down, to my knowledge, by Buddy Guy and Junior Wells in the late 50s and early 60s. They would occasionally have a horn or a piano but most of the music they put out seemed to be centered on the guitar-harmonica-bass-drums-vocals format, so what we do is pretty much in that vein. We’re not leaning too heavily on any one particular artist’s repertoire or anything. I’m a big blues fan and I have a ton of albums.

Q: What do you draw upon for your band’s repertoire?

McQuillan: It’s a mixture of standards that people would recognize if they listened to blues at all. Some of them have been performed by the likes of Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Paul Butterfield and the like, but then we have some of the obscure nuggets we’ve picked up here and there, as well. None of them do we treat absolutely religiously. This thing is light on the polish and heavy on the improvisation.

Q: I like it.

McQuillan: Yeah, we just have fun with it basically and most of the time we seem to find some people in the audience that are having fun, as it is a good music for dancing. The Wharf does it great down there. Oh, can I tell you a little story about Mainely Brews?

Q: Sure you can, go for it.

McQuillan: I get a big kick out of playing at Mainely Brews because when I was very, very young I was in a ukulele band that played some of the Maine talent shows that were on TV, and I would go to the Waterville Post Office to buy a whole pile of post cards to give to my family and friends to vote for us. And that post office was the upstairs of what is now Mainely Brews. So 50 years later I’ve got a gig there. It’s like, how cool is that?

Q: That is neat, for sure. Now, how do you go about picking the songs that you cover?

McQuillan: In this genre you could play the same song with different words all night long and I really try to avoid doing that, you know? So we pick songs with different feels to them and get different grooves going. To us it’s pretty much all about finding that groove. Like I said, it’s not a lot of work and polish on arrangements or anything, it’s like, I’m gonna do this thing in the key of E and it goes kinda like this. But it’s the variety, so some of them are standards and some are not well-known, but we mix it up and not have every song sound the same. It’s that old, Chicago blues style and I did grow up in this area with the Blues Prophets band.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?

McQuillan: Yeah, just if they like this kind of music they owe it to themselves to get down and check it out because we always have a fun time and they should have a fun time, as well.

Lucky Clark has spent 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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