Blue Olives marinate well—and rock—over the years

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Monday, January 7, 2008
— Janesville's Blue Olives have rocked on through it all over the last 14 years.

Through swings in music and fluctuations in live venues, through band member turnover and through personal issues and even aging.

In fact, sole original member David Turner figures the members' only downfall might be their health.

"We're all getting older," Turner said.

But they're also getting better.

Over the years, the band has had several reincarnations, first playing fusion rock and then mostly blues. Now, the band is anchored in classic, funky rock with a blues-tinged groove.

Over the years, the band picked up the formidable Johnny Payne, who pulls his voice deep from his gut.

It added horns for a fuller sound. With them, the Olives can play arrangements that others can't touch.

The band put its drummer front and center. He is a quick, talented showman who prances, sweats and twirls his sticks.

The band plays mostly covers but also has original material.

The Blue Olives grew out of jam sessions, and the band's strength is its ability to improvise. Members never play the same song the same way twice.

"We try to breathe our own life into each song," Turner said. "Otherwise, we'd just be another cover band."

Don't get too attached to any one song. A Rolling Stone song might morph into the "Leave It To Beaver" ditty and then end with a tune by Santana.

"Everybody has to be able to improvise and do it well," Turner said. "There are times we will change the genre of a song in the middle of a song, and it will come without notice.

"It's all about a feel, a groove. We play what we feel."

Band members don't waste time or paper on set lists because they don't follow them anyway.

Drummer Sully Siben describes their play as "controlled chaos."

"There is a method to the madness—most of the time," Siben said. "When we go off into la-la land, it's to follow someone else's solo—trying to either enhance them or drown them out."

"One person can do a little lick, and we all know exactly where they're going with that lick," Payne said.

The Blue Olives started by spontaneous combustion in a recording studio owned by Turner, now 44, near Dubes Jewelry.

Turner, on guitar and bass, and studio musicians Chris Rose on drums and Don Janes on bass were messing around and took their instruments down to the Main Street Saloon.

The three got 10 jobs that night and had to find a name. The Blue Olives came from an old George Carlin bit about blue food.

Since then, band members have come and gone and even come back.

Payne hooked up with the Olives in the late 1990s when he met Turner at the old Silver Moon.

Turner figures the Olives have had more than 3,000 jobs in southern Wisconsin and five other states.

"Which is a lot," he said. "Most bands are lucky if they can get in."

Today, the best places to catch them are at their regular jam sessions at Bad Brad's on Thursdays or at Finn's Bar & Grill in Newville. During summer, they play Sunday afternoons on the beach at Finn's.

Some band members are married. Some have kids. Most have day jobs. One fixes garage doors in Chicago. Another is an architect. Turner is student teaching.

They're close, like family. Sometimes, they live in each other's basements.

They know they won't get rich playing, but music is something they have to do.

There's not much ego.

"There's no delusions of grandeur that we're going to be a big rock star," Turner said. "We do it because we love it."

The band members' favorite gigs include playing at Summerfest and sharing stages with Santana, Lynyrd Skynyrd, James Taylor, Sting and Steve Winwood.

The band has lasted so long that Turner figures health will be what takes the Blue Olives down.

"Those of us who are over the 40 barrier, we're wearing down," he said.

Turner has arthritis in a hip, while Payne has osteoarthritis in his hip and knee. His ankles kill him, so he's content to sit while he plays and let Siben handle the theatrics. The pain pretty much goes away when he plays and harmonizes.

"One of our jokes is, we'd play for free," Turner said. "It's carrying all this gear someone's got to pay us for."

The younger band members are good about paying their dues, Turner said.

"At the end of the night, they're humping the gear out."

Payne said he will continue with the Blue Olives as long as the band will have him.

"I'd come in a wheelchair and play. It's not even playing in front of 5,000 people or 30 people in a small room. It's us in the moment of the music, in the moment we're creating it.

"It's therapy, man. It's my therapy."

Said Turner: "There are times when all of us know the chemistry is working and you're on top of the world.

"We're blessed that we get to do this, to have this kind of artistic satisfaction and have those moments. And for somebody to pay us money for something we love to do, that's a blessing.

"You can't buy that kind of happiness."

For more information about the Blue Olives and the band’s schedule, go to www.blueolives.com or to www.myspace.com/theblueolives.

Last updated: 9:49 am Monday, December 17, 2012

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