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On the blues circuit with Joe Zuccarello

(The Trenton Times-Sunday Times Magazine, January 2, 1979)

These are troubled times, even for the blues.

Joe Zuccarello, who leads Blues Deluxe, has a definite flair for creating a scene of his own. He does make things happen.

But carrying his brand of electric guitar blues beyond Trenton is a nut still waiting to be cracked.

"It just feels bad sometimes when you're in an empty bar and you know you've got a job to do," he says. "You can cop an attitude real fast. But then we're at the White Horse (in Mercerville) and 350 people are" all pounding the table for an encore, and that's so, so good."

"Our time is coming," he adds, "But it won't happen until it's supposed to."

About a year and a half ago, Zuccarello turned Billy D's Rumrunner, a small East Trenton club, into something unique. A scene created, it seemed at times, almost by sheer will.

BLUES DELUXE - meaning Zuccarello, drummer Ed Kwiatkowski and bassist Frank Skwara, (since replaced by Bill Holt) began its stint at the Rumrunner on New Years Eve '77, and for a few months the band rarely brought more than a few dozen people down on a weekend night.

By early spring, you needed a shoehorn to get into the place. The band was playing there almost exclusively four nights a week before moving on to new pastures earlier this year when the Rumrunner was briefly, but unsuccessfully, put up for sale.

During the mid '70s, Zuccarello had created the same kind of stir sharing the stage with guitarist Paul Plumeri in a blues-rock band called Hoochie Cooch at Chick DiNatales, another Trenton club. Plumeri went on to Duke Williams and the Extremes. Zook had other scenes to conquer.

"I remembered Joe from Hoochie Cooch and I decided to bring the blues back to" Trenton," explains Billy Dowd, the owner of the Rumrunner and, certainly, a patron of sorts during the band's early months together. Zuccarello had played at Dowd's Village Tavern on occasion.

"When we first started the thing," Dowd adds, "It took four and half months before we could turn any kind of money. The money was one thing, though. What we had was altogether different. Ask nine out of ten blues fans where the scene was, and the answer would have been the Rumrunner."

ZOOK HAS CONTINUED to build his following and he undeniably reigns as one of the most popular musicians on the local scene. Fact is, Joe Zuccarello, without too much effort, could blow the fingernails off any number of blues guitarists on the national circuit.

But he's still here.

At this point in his career, his tale mirrors 'the state of the blues. But it's just the continuation of a long story.

After graduating from Ewing High in 1970, Zook's first important stop was the Lizard Brothers, a venture that included fine area rock players like drummer Steve Mosley and bassist Jody Giambelluca.

"Those guys were always in love with a young guitar player with a bag of hot licks and a good voice," he says. "Playing with them really rounded me out. That was a true players' band."

Then came Hoochie Cooch, born of the Allman Brothers' twin lead guitars. For a while, by all accounts, Zuccarello and Plumeri were the perfect combination as they waged their nightly guitar battles.

By late 1975, Hoochie Cooch had run its course and Zuccarello joined Hara with pianist Jim Cheadle, playing originals and jazz-style tunes.

"Hara broadened my scope a lot," Zuccarello remembers. "And at the same time I was doing some acoustic playing at the Turning Point on Roebling Avenue with Clyde Ethridge on rhythm guitar, all Robert Johnson stuff, and some new tunes.

"SOME OF THE stuff I'm doing now, I experimented with then, more jazz lines, new chords and more melodic playing. I was getting away from screeching, playing one high note over and over."

Finally, by mid '76, he decided to take some time off. But not for long. By the beginning of the new year, he was playing guitar with Chrome Waterfall, a lounge band that worked the circuit from Maine to Florida.

"It was the right place at the right time," Zuccarello says of his stay at Billy D's. "It just happened spontaneously. It was something different. To tell you the truth, I was pretty sour on playing at the time. It gets disgusting, you come back from Florida with 20 bucks in your pocket."

Still, an eventual move would have been inevitable.

"I began to realize it's necessary, it's important to get around," Zuccarello says. "The more people that hear you, the better off you're going to be."

Which brings us back, as always in the story of Joe Zuccarello, to the marketing of the blues.

"I seem to run into a lot of dead ends," he admits. "Maybe it's the stigma of the blues. It's easy for somebody to get excited about an act coming up in popular music, but it's hard to get excited about a blues act. There's so many of them , the promoters know they're not going to make much money from it. It's still a cult thing. But, we're booked through April and you can't argue with that."

During the early days at the Rumrunner, Blues Deluxe remained true to the raw, stripped down power of basic Chicago blues.

AS THE CROWDS grew, so did the music. Zuccarello's guitar work became more thoughtful and more exciting, his solos began to flash with imagination and thrilling technique. The jazz and rock 'n' roll began to creep out of his past, adding a new dimension to his blues interpretations.

"I've tried to grow all the time," Zook says. "I think we sound pretty original, but we're not as good as we could be. I use a lot of licks, but there's a way of playing them, a myriad of things you can do, phrasing, inflections, attack.

"I have my way of doing things, and I try to stick by them," he adds. "I just won't compromise us. What we're doing is dead serious. You don't see us smile very often, but the only way it gets good is by bearing down. When we do something that we know is good and connect just right, we know it and we smile inside."

Band delivers a righteous dose of the blues

Inside The Rock
(Bucks County Courier Times)

Wednesday night, Vernon's on Woerner Avenue in Levittown received a righteous dose of the blues at the hands of Blues Deluxe, tie Trenton based band headed by local notable Joe Zook.

Blues Deluxe, currently in a four piece configuration - drums, bass, guitar and saxophone - can really kick out the blues from the variety offered up by B.B. King, to the crying blues of Freddie King.

It will take you from an up-tempo shuffle to a down-and-dirty gut wrencher but through it all, the group can take pride in the fact that it is maintaining an authenticity to it's source material.

Musically, the group is highlighted by the stinging lead guitar lines of Zook, which are matched in spirit and intensity by the squealing saxophone interludes of Bo Parker.

For those blues enthusiasts and fans of Blue Deluxe, the group will be on the upcoming bill of the Bucks County Blues Society when it presents Johnny Copeland and Jimmy Johnson at it's next show, April 15, at the Knights of Columbus Hall on Woodbourne Road in Levittown.

For those in attendance at Vernon's Wednesday, Blues Deluxe gave more than a fair sampling of what people planning to attend the upcoming show will receive - blues as it was meant to be played.

As A Culturally Underdeveloped Country Again Puts It's Bored, Deprived Head Down To Rest, Some Actual Culture Steals Into The Night

BLUES FESTIVAL '84 / City Gardens / October 12

TRENTON. NJ.- The Fall Blues Festival at City Gardens was hopefully the beginning of a long and meaningful relationship between first rate blues artists and loyal followers among the culturally deprived around the state capital.

Opening the festival to appreciative applause. Joe Zook and company waded through some classic blues numbers with an inspired sax solo from Bo Parker on "Good Mornin' Blues".

Bass player Bill Holt's well seasoned pipes were use to full advantage on lead vocals throughout the set which ended with a most energetic version of "Everyday I Got The Blues" and a juicy encore of "Got My Mojo Workin' ". I must mention drummer "Snuff" who can beat the skins with the best of em'.

If blues is your bag, you can have a capital time every Tuesday night with Jersey's own Joe Zook and Blues Deluxe at Trenton's City Gardens. With their mixture of Chicago Blues, fusion and real blues rock it's hard to categorize them. Just take it from Steve Arvey of West Side Heat, "I've played all over this country and these guys are one of the best I've heard-no bullshit!"

Blues Revue

Blues Bites - December 2000

   Another that jumps from the speakers and grabs you: Blues With a Capital B from the pride of Trenton, NJ., Joe Zook & Blues Deluxe. Joe Zuccarello is blessed with the rough-and-tumble voice many strive for. For him, singing the blues sounds natural and credible. His guitar playing is funky-tough, too, covering contemporary (the Handy-nominated "All I Can Hear Is the Blues"), Muddy slide ("Double-time Drinkin' ") and Stax-ed soul ("One Good Morning") with equal aplomb. A good rhythm section heats it up for the horns (gotta have 'em for this stuff!). "Kidney Stew" and "Just a Dream" are the lone reruns, with all other tracks original.

Living Blues

CD Review, May-June 2001

   Trenton, New Jersey, is home base for Joe Zook and Blues Deluxe, a tight blues and blues/rock band that has been performing their tough blend of original tunes and classic covers since 1979. Slow blues like Double-Time Drinkin' and saucy, horn-heavy dance tunes like Eddie Vinson's' Kidney Stew Blues reveal the band's hard blues credentials, while their soulful strutters (All I Can Hear is The Blues) and rip-off-the-knob, full tilt rockers like One Good Morning suggest the breadth of their repertoire. In guitarist Zook's hands, Bill Broonzy's Just A Dream is a slow, belly rubbin' invitation to smoky romance. Blues With a Capital B is the band's first full CD in their 20-plus year existence. It's a shame we had to wait this long. -PRA

Ben Jammin's Blues Review

Jersey Style - February 2001

   Joe Zook & Blues Deluxe have been together for over twenty years, and their new CD, "Blues with a Capital B" is finally out. The first track, "All I Can Hear Is The Blues," was nominated in 1987 for a W.C. Handy Award as "Best Blues Single of the Year!" The title track is perhaps the best tune on the disc, and it's dedicated to Joe's brother, Fran.

Ernie White plays guitar on track nine, and he also produced, engineered, and mixed the CD. Steve Guyger plays a mean harp on a couple tracks, and the horns do a great job, bringing a fat sound to this recording (Bo Parker's sax is awesome!) If you want a mix of delta blues, rock, Latin, funk, swing, and jazz, it's all here.

The Music Scene

The River Reporter - April 2001

Joe Zook’s Blues Deluxe, Blues With a Capital B, Bluesamongous Records

   I get hundreds of blues CD’s every year, many by white-boy blues wannabes who’ve gone the DIY route: Do It Yourself. In other words, record your stage show, press it up and sell it at gigs. No harm in that. Truth is, many of these local blues bands aren’t worth listening to. I could name names, but what’s the point? I’d rather talk about a fine local blues band than flame 50 fakers. 

Joe Zook and Blues Deluxe, natives of Trenton, New Jersey, are among the very best area blues bands this writer has ever heard, most definitely on a par with any nationally known act I can think of. Featuring the sometimes soothing, sometimes frantic and always compelling lead guitar and vocals of Joe “Zook” Zuccarello, Blues Deluxe (which eschews keyboards for a trumpet/sax horn section), burn from start to finish on eight originals and two covers. One will hear traces of roots rock, soul and jazzy instrumental workouts mixed in with the down-home blues sounds that have made them a favorite in their home area of New Jersey/Pennsylvania/Delaware.

Get a copy by emailing Joe at Highly recommended!

Big City Rhythm & Blues

CD Review, October/November 2003

   It was 1973 when the irrepressible Joe "Zook" Zuccarello made his living playing his unique mixture of well-crafted originals and juiced-up covers in the blues clubs and college coffeehouses around his Trenton, New Jersey home-town. Over the decades since, Zook and his steaming, horn heavy Blues Deluxe Band (formed in 1978) have shared the stage with Muddy Waters, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy and James Cotton among others, yet have resisted touring, probably because of the often harsh indignities he saw his mentors (add Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Johnny Copeland and Hubert Sumlin to the above list) have to suffer through on the road.

Zook plays a variety of guitars, from a Gibson Trini Lopez to a Rickenbacker "Electro" Lap Steel crisply and indignantly and has a great, multi-hued, exclamatory vocal approach. He particularly puts the point across on originals like the topical "Jersey Blues" (a song Springsteen should cover), the Peter Gunn moody, danger-jazz of "Ya Might Hafta Suffa," the country blues con-temporary "Head Start Shuffle and the fiery title tune.
Joined by Billy "Bluesboy" Holt on various bass guitars, James Cheadle's inspired keyboards (especially the electric organ), the multi-reed sax attack duo of soul/blues studio vets Angelo DiBraccio and the portly Steve Kaplan and lively drummer Rick Lawton, Zook also treats the ears to fifties-embellished covers of Vinson's earthy "Old Maid Boogie" and Percy Mayfield's prescient 'The Danger Zone."

Big band, R&B feisty blues straight out of the back-alley barrooms, after- hours jam sessions and smoky clubs in the New York, Philadelphia and Jersey Shore area that must have the dance floors jammed. I know it had my friend Tim, the Wheelchair Man, spinning in circles.

Jump into Zook's world at or e-mail the Zookster at  - Gary von Tersch

   The First Annual Old Fashioned Horseshoes, Blues and Barbeque Festival(held at Freehold's VFW Post 4374) was anything but a washout, even though (to put it bluntly) the weather that day really sucked! As usual, the JSJBF lined up the very best bands (as we always do), so at least those who braved the rain were treated to top-shelf music. "Big Nancy" Swarbrick agreed how the horseshoe tournament was a great premise, and she hopes to do it again. "The weather won't always be against us", she said, "The bands were great it was consistently great music all day", she added. Her drummer, Ron Howden, had just returned from a Europe tour with Nektar and also in her band (Supreme Court) that day was John Hawken on keyboards-maybe you remember John played with The Strawbs, and also with Renaissance. Yolanda Briggs belted out some powerful vocals that day too, and I don't think anyone knew Yolanda was terribly sick-never let 'em see you sweat, baby.. .you go girl!

It was really surprising to see my buddy Bemie Brausewetter kick everyone in the ass that day. Who else but "BB" could bounce back from near-fatal bout, tell the grim reaper to get lost, and return to the stage with even more fire then before! Big Nancy said to me, "Bemie never ceases to amaze me. I've almost come to expect that he'll do something over the top. There's always a point in BB's playing, where I'm struck by the miracle of his presence. Though he's not 100%, he's getting stronger every day-it's just great to be with him. "You could have fooled me Nancy, because as far as I could tell, BB played with 110%.. .the way he sang and played guitar that day, I thought somebody had a gun to his head! Supreme Court is the kind of band that just puts it out there, they let the audience decide. Their show is anything but predictable.

Bemie brought his band, The Stingers, to Stirling, N.J. on Sept. 5th at Orphan Annie's. He called it "A GIG FOR MY HEAD". BB explained to me, "I need to remind myself of what it's all about. I've done some open-mike nights, and some gigs with Supreme Court. I'm currently working on a new CD it will probably be all originals." By the way so if you got the "chops" give BB a ring. Unfortunately, Bemie got sick just before was to compete in the International Blues Challenge, put on by The Blues Foundation (in Memphis). "I just want to get back to Memphis, and try it again," Bemie said, "Wow I can't believe how close I came to not doing this anymore. It really comes down to desire-not what got me through in the past, but the desire to play the music right now. I can't thank the JSJBF enough for all the help they've given me." You got it wrong Bemie, we thank you. Just get healthy my friend, and stay healthy. God bless you Bemie.

For over 30 years, Joe Zook has been payin' his dues to the blues, that is. In fact, he still does... and his newest CD, "Still Payin' Dues" is a killer. Joe Zook & Blues Deluxe are a band that never got lost in the shuffle of life, or the music scene. Taking the stage at the Horseshoes, Blues & BBQ fest was a pleasure for Joe and his band. But the real pleasure was to the audience listening to Joe & his roving minstrels, they were awesome. It's a new band, with a new CD and yes; they've improved.. .and proved that the new show (and the new disc) has a much bigger, fatter sound. The songs they play truly showcase the talent of the band members. Heavy on the homs? You bet! That's how I like it, Joe.. .the horns really shine, so grab those sunglasses everyone.

"Still payin' Dues" is a recording that mixes a variety of styles into what is primarily a blues project. Joe co-produced it with Ernie White and as a musician, Ernie understands music on a deeper level, he's not just a technician, Ernie's ear for sound has made this disc unusually crisp, clean, yet natural. Back in the mid 90's, Suha Gurl won a Grammy for re-mastering a box set.. .but his mastering on this CD has got to be on that Grammy Award winning level too. The typical problem in mastering a record is overloading it, the single becomes "too hot", but not on this CD. Compressing the sound properly means squashing loud spots, yet bringing out the soft ones "Still Pain Dues" is a textbook example of doing it just right.

Joe's original songs draw from his personal experiences in life, not just the achievements, but the mistakes also. There're all in this CD, all over it. That snappy Memphis horn sound really accents the spots that need it, the rhythms are varied, and the vocals are raspy where they have to be. It's not a predictable record by any means, and the cuts are indexed in a way so as to never let you get bored, great sequencing Joe! Hey man, you really got a knack for slipping soul, funk, rock, R&B, and more into a blues disc right on Joe, keep 'em guessing buddy (they're all going to talk anyway so give them something to talk about). Re -ooling some old songs from decades ago wasn't a problem for Mr. Zook, in fact; track #9 ("How Long") is a perfect example. Lyrically, its funny, but relationships can be. Musically, there's a range of style in the song too. finger soloing like Dickie Belts, slide guitar work like Duane Allman, even a lap-steel section. Another cool track is #2 ("Jersey Blues"), beginning with a Chicago-style slow blues, lyrics that will amuse any Garden State native, a special song. It's all in here gang, shuffles, rhumbas, boogie-woogie piano, guest artists (like Steve Guyger, on the harp), even a clarinet solo on track #3 ("Old Maid Boogie".

Joe, you paid your dues! P.S. Go to for a CD .

Trenton Times - September 21, 1996

Twoj Blues Magazine (Your Blues Magazine) Poland 2004

Living Blues

CD Review, Summer 2004 - Issue #173

Still Payin' Dues
Bluesamongus Eclipse Records JZBD9325

This band has been in the business for 25 years, and its experience shows on each of these 12 horn-driven R&-B tracks. At the core, Blues Deluxe is a six-piece act, but two special guests appear on this disc. Bandleader/guitarist/singer/songwriter Joe Zook has been involved with the blues for 30 years. He and his band mainly gig around New Jersey and Pennsylvania. The large horn section of the group includes alto, tenor, and baritone sax plus flute, clarinet and trumpet.

The album includes only three covers, but the originals borrow riffs from Jimi Hendrix and Albert King. The sound here is polished but not fabricated. These first-class fellas deliver the big sound and big noise of a joyous party.


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