A little over a year ago, in July of 2019 to be exact, I first contacted the Maine-based blues band known as the Juke Joint Devils because they were coming to the Johnson Hall Waterfront Concert Series. The Jump Blues/Swing combo’s lead singer and harmonica player, Tommy O’Connell, was a lot of fun to chat with. When I discovered that he and the rest of the guys (Steve Lynnworth on guitar, Mark S. Horn on drums and Andy Buckland on upright bass) were going to be playing live at the Somerset Abbey on Sept. 18, I reached out to O’Connell to see if he was willing to have another conversation — his answer was a definite “Yeah!”

Q: Now, I’m able to keep up to date with your band thanks to the Bluz Junky’s weekly postings of performances in Maine (www.bluzjunky.com). You guys have been relatively busy during this pandemic — how’s that going?
O’Connell: Well, we’ve been very fortunate that we’ve been busy, probably one of the busier bands playing. … I think there are some solo and duo acts playing out, but not too many bands. Yeah, we’ve been very lucky in that we’ve been playing outdoors pretty much. The Frog and Turtle (in Westbrook) is a usual haunt for us once a month. Playing there we’re outside on a deck on the second story in the corner, so we actually fill the upstairs room and have people on the left and right of us at tables. They’ve also blocked off the street below and have picnic tables set up on it so they can hear us there, as well. And most of the other venues, too, have been mostly outdoor shows.

Q: Has social distancing been an issue for you guys?
O’Connell: We’ve been really lucky, and we haven’t had to worry about that social distancing. Everybody’s been respectful of each other.

Q: That’s good to hear. There’s hope, then.
O’Connell: I hope so (chuckle). I try to be optimistic, too, but it must be hard for some owners — brutal, really — and for some musicians, too. I know that some people depend on the income. They don’t have a day job or another way to create income.

Q: That’s so true. Ever since mid-March I’ve been hearing from folks in the music business and one common thread in our chats has been COVID-19 and the worldwide pandemic. Like you said, there are some musicians out there that are really, really hurting at this point.
O’Connell: Oh, absolutely. And I can feel for those people, too, and I feel for the club owners that can’t have (their income).

Q: Have you had any close encounters with the virus?
O’Connell: I haven’t been around anybody with it or who has tested positive. I have three kids that work at the local hospital, too. I do know some people’s parents that have got it, but they’ve been asymptomatic. It’s weird times. I think the only thing you can do is continuing what you’re doing, put your head down, try to find ways to make it work out, and just keep busy, … keep busy and not fret.

Q: Now, have you ever performed at the Somerset Abbey before?
O’Connell: We have not. I think Andy Buckland, the bass player for the band, has; he was our contact there. He’s pretty much taking over much of the booking, taking a load off of me for booking. I’m not familiar with the venue at all.

Q: So, this will be a venue debut for the Juke Joint Devils up there in Madison.
O’Connell: It will be; it will be.

Q: Oh, just out of curiosity, are you working on a new album?
O’Connell: We’re still trying to finish up the CD that we have started. It’s pretty much finished, and I’ve got a ton more tunes ready to roll. Actually, I’m one of these guys, I don’t even care about putting a CD out, I just want to go in and record some more songs — just get them in the cans to cherry-pick for whatever comes out.

Q: Well, back to your upcoming central Maine gig on the 18th — seeing you’ve never been to this venue before is there anything, Tommy, that you’d like me to pass on to the readers of this article?
O’Connell: Yeah, come out and support all the bands that you love when they do play, and support the venues, too, if you can when they reopen. They need you to come in, say “Hey!” and spend a little money. Also just keep positive. It’s pretty easy to get depressed and stuff, I know that, but just keep positive. Listen to music; it opens up your mind and puts you in a better place. … Music is like a healer.

Lucky Clark has spent over 50 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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