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Songwriting is what sets superb bands apart from merely good bands and The Hightones feature not just one, but four stellar songwriters who have honed their craft in numerous ensembles in Chicago. Lead singer and guitarist Bill Pekoc was a founding member of Southpaw and worked extensively with the Rawl Hardman Group, lead guitarist and singer Lee d’buddah is best known for his inspired work with Bohemia and The Blue Watusis, singing drummer Roman Zabicki provided the driving beat for both Phil n’ the Blanks and the Fabulous Equitables, and bassist extraordinaire and vocalist Evelyn Bremner has contributed her vast talents in styles ranging from country Southern Comfort to progressive rock bands including Logarythms and DGenerations. Rounding out the lineup is baritone/tenor saxophonist Barbara Gillies who is known for her work in bands with a wide range of musical styles including world beat band Hidden Colors, new wave jazz American Taboo, and R&B band Smoking Section.
lead guitar, vocals
The Hightones live at Moe's December 26 2019
More than a few people have asked about it so here it is: the video about Chicago mayoral politics we made in 2011 to go along with Bill Pekoc's Big Boss Blues (song recorded at House of Sax)
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Review of Crossin' the Blue Line in November 2019 issue of Blues Matters Magazine (London, England):
THE HIGHTONES CELEBRATE 20TH ANNIVERSARY WITH NEW CD ON WHOLLY ROMAN EMPIRE RECORDS
CROSSIN’ THE BLUE LINE SHOWCASES THE VETERAN CHICAGO BAND’S UNIQUE AND EXCITING BLUES/ROCK SYNTHESIS
Most bands can only dream of surviving and thriving for two full decades. For Chicago’s own Hightones, that enviable goal has been met. They’re celebrating their 20th anniversary with the release of a new album, Crossin’ the Blue Line, that spotlights every facet of the group’s musical arsenal, from tough, no-nonsense Windy City blues to joyously engaging rock and even a touch of Americana. Blessed with no less than four powerful lead singers, the Hightones are particularly strong when it comes to original material.
“We don’t fall into any specific genre. You can’t say we’re this, because we’re also that,” says Barbara Gillies, whose baritone sax solo on “Strange Things Creep in The Night” opens Crossin’ the Blue Line. “So it’s kind of hard to pigeonhole us.” That standout number is sung by its composer, guitarist Bill Pekoc, who wrote three songs for the set. Drummer Roman Zabicki, one of the band’s founders, penned and fronts two tunes, as does lead guitarist Lee d’buddah, who came in shortly after the Hightones’ launch. Bassist Evelyn Bremner, who joined in 2015, brought “Lonesome Sad & Blue” to the party and splendidly vocalizes the set’s only two covers, Big Maybelle’s “Ocean of Tears” and Little Johnny Taylor’s “If You Love Me Like You Say.”
“If you look at everybody in the band, we all have pretty extensive histories going way back,” says Lee. “It’s just like a collective of people who have a pretty colorful past playing in the Chicago scene.” d’buddah’s decades on the Chicago circuit include stints playing lead guitar with hard-rocking Bohemia as well as the Blue Watusis. Zabicki was a member of Phil ‘n’ the Blanks, like Bohemia a staple of the ‘80s Chicago new wave scene, and backed bluesman Linsey Alexander. Pekoc has also been with Southpaw and the Rawl Hardman Group, while Gillies previously played with Smokin’ Section, Hidden Colors and American Taboo and Bremner with Southern Comfort, Logarhythms, and Mental Insect (she played drums in the latter).
The Hightones proudly avoid limiting themselves to just one musical genre. “We’re not a straight blues band,” says Lee. “We’re willing to go beyond just being a blues band and take it a little step on the outside.” That explains the title of the new CD. “We’re like on the other side of that blue line,” says Barbara. “It’s like Crossin’ the Blue Line!’”
When the Hightones first started gigging, they were fronted by the formidable Jim Desmond and also included saxman Rawl Hardman, another founding member who returns to play tenor on two tracks on Crossin’ the Blue Line, Lee’s “Blues Hwy” and Bill’s “Boulevard” (another longtime musical ally, harpist Frank Raven, also guests on the set). Desmond’s vocals and harp were featured on the Hightones’ 2000 album 7x7, but on this CD, done at BobDog Studios in Oak Park, Ill., the vocals are spread around, giving the band four distinctive voices. “Pretty much whoever writes the song sings the song,” says Lee.
Holding down their longtime monthly residency at Moe’s Tavern on Chicago’s Northwest Side, the Hightones represent the very best in Chicago roots music. Crossin’ the Blue Line, on producer Zabicki’s Wholly Roman Empire label, showcases the best of the Hightones.