Music snobs could easily write off Sugarwall as another adult contemporary pop band in the vein of Train and John Cougar Mellencamp, but those hipsters would miss one of the best live bands to grace the Tidings Café in recent memory. And, besides, why should everyone else have all the fun?
Sugarwall consists of singer Ronnie Dee, bass player Rick Barrio Dill, guitarist Mitch Mills and Jonah David filling in for drummer Joey Lowe. The quartet passed through Ashland on their way from San Jose, Calif., to Seattle, and the band will soon relocate their home base from Los Angeles to Nashville, Tenn. They describe their sound as "Rock 'n Roll with country soul."
Singer Ronnie Dee has the charisma and stage presence that comes from being the fifth generation of a family of musicians. His father is Joey Dee, of the pop group Joey Dee and The Starliters, known for their 1961 hit "Peppermint Twist."
"It's a family-run business," Dee said on their way to a show at Stillwater. "I started playing music professionally when I was 14, and I'm 39 now."
The way Dee sings "Home is Where the Heart Aches" is the result of his 2 1/2 decades of experience. He made performing look easy as he moved away from his keyboard to sit on a stack of newspapers, then stood up at the climax of the song while belting a falsetto scream that wouldn't sound out of place on a U2 album. Dee's compatibility with show business was further displayed when he improvised a fake phone call during the band's uptempo pop song "Video Star."
Dee isn't the only band member with a wealth of experience in the industry. Bassist Rick Barrio Dill was 7 years old when he first taught himself the chords to the Beatles' "Let it Be," and guitarist Mitch Mills has well over a decade in the Los Angeles music scene. In short, these guys quit their day job long ago, and they know what they have to do.
"I'm enjoying trying to win over a room who has no clue who you are," Barrio Dill said.
Technology should help Sugarwall find new fans, as the band is certainly one of the more tech savvy groups to visit the Daily Tidings. People can become a fan on Facebook, friend them on MySpace, follow them on Twitter, watch their YouTube channel or buy their debut album "Find a Way" on iTunes. "Google Sugarwall, and you'll get a huge dose of Sugarwall," Mills said.
What their polished music videos, well-designed Web sites and cleanly layered tracks don't quite capture is the fun these four guys seem to be having. Between takes, Dee sang Michael McDonald songs and quoted Ricky Bobby from "Talladega Nights."
"Everything comes at you fast," Dee said. "I came here to have a good time."
Check out Sugarwall's Tidings Café performance at dailytidings.com or join the Tidings Café group on ConnectAshland.com.