SOULidified is the brainchild of leader and arranger Rick Blechta. While his playing experience covers virtually every music genre and kind of ensemble, the soul songs he played as a teenage hold a special place in his heart. He figures it’s now time to share it with a wider — and younger — audience. Otis Redding, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Sam & Dave and many others were all giants of this special music. It’s the goal of SOULidified to play this music with the passion these artists brought to their stage performances, and with the authenticity that is so often lacking when these classic tunes are occasionally performed today.
“Anybody who can hear this music and not at least tap their foot – let alone be overwhelmed by the urge to get up and dance – is either not listening or dead. You can’t help but be captured by the potency of it. Fifty years after it was created, the original examples of Soul Music haven’t lost one drop of their power. Whether you’ve heard these songs or not, we guarantee they will not leave you unaffected.”
RICK BLECHTA, trumpet, has been a musician for more years than he cares to think about. Raised in the small town of Mamaroneck, just north of New York City, he began his professional career at 15 playing in bars with Gene Sayles and the Soul Salesmen, so you could say he goes way back with this music. He studied music in university, graduating with a BMus from McGill, then immediately restarted his playing career with Devotion, the legendary Canadian Prog Rock band of the mid-’70s. After that, he taught French Horn at the Royal Conservatory for many years and conducted the RCM Wind Ensembles, and kept his playing career going with jingle work and freelancing. Rick also plays with the Advocats Big Band and the Big Soul Band in NYC. As well, he’s one of Canada’s top writers of crime fiction. His novels are available at any bookstore or online. Check out his website rickblechta.com and also his page on Facebook.
RYAN BARKER plays tenor sax for SOULidified. He has worked with various jazz and R&B groups in and around Toronto for the past 15 years. His most recent projects have included the Megacity Swing Band and the Monster Rock Orchestra.
DANIEL KÖLSCH, tenor sax, was born and raised in a small town in the beautiful Black Forest in Southern Germany. He studied clarinet & saxophone with some of the leading instrumentalists and performers in the country. Growing up, Daniel formed and joined a broad range of orchestras, bands and ensembles with performances and concert tours all over Europe. Daniel is a certified conductor for symphonic wind orchestra and has frequently featured as a soloist throughout his career. Following his move to Toronto Daniel has started to arrange, compose and produce his own music. He has studied jazz improvisation with Jim Odgren and Gary Burton through Berklee's College of Music Online Program. He performers in various big bands, bands, theatrical productions and as a studio musician. Among others, Daniel plays tenor sax with the Toronto Mambo Project, the Big City Big Band and Le Mardi Soir Jazz Orchestra.
PAM FONG plays baritone sax for SOULidified. Originally from Cleveland, Ohio, she came to Canada to attend university (which is where she met Rick). After graduating from McGill, Pam worked in Montreal for a number of years, performing in many musical groups, including Sax Plus, a quartet that toured all over Canada and Europe, Tropic Band (salsa), the Valentino Orchestra and many big bands. She's also done recording sessions on flute, alto sax and tenor sax for rock bands and jingles. Since moving to Toronto, Pam has been performing in the Advocats Big Band, the Bob Cary Orchestra, the Wychwood Clarinet Choir, and DMSQ saxophone quartet.
YETRO ÁVALOS, guitar, is from Mexico City. He arrived in Canada in 2012 and has been very active in the Toronto music scene ever since. Previous to that, he spent four years working as the lead guitarist in show bands on various cruise ships, playing several times weekly in huge Vegas and Broadway revue-style productions. During this time, he also played for several headlining singers, in a variety of genres including Rock, Jazz, Motown, Pop, and R&B, including Marcus Anthony and Jerome Dabney and Canadian impersonator Karen Grainger. In Mexico City, after graduating from a top music college, Escuela Superior De Música, Yetro played in many Jazz and Blues festivals around the country. Yetro is a full-time musician, and currently teaches privately lessons, works as a very active freelance guitarist, as well as composing for his own projects. Visit his Facebook page.
TOM MELVILLE, keyboards, is a Toronto-based keyboard player, and proud to be part of SOULidified. Unable to stay away from 60s R&B (Tokyo Giants, Dr. D and the Midnight), Tom nonetheless has performed, toured, recorded and co-written in many genres. Besides time with 70s rock/original band Big Deal and singer Charlotte Melby, Tom was a founding member and recorded with regional roots bands Reverbs (Guelph) and Needy Fingers (Toronto). He has also worked with the Skydiggers (Toronto indy roots), Back Roads Band (new country), Promissory Notes and Thin Skulls (’70s and ’80s punk, new wave and pop), Swing Upstarts (jazz combo), Bananafish (roots original), Atomic Cocktail (small jazz ensemble), Tannis Slimmon (new CD In and Out of Harmony), and an exciting new project with co-writer and vocalist Dawn Duvall.
ERIC SOOSTAR, electric bass, is a well-known veteran of the Toronto Music scene, performing, producing, touring and recording with the likes of Kevin Breit, Jesse Cook, Figgy Duff, Robert Michaels, Shakura S’Aida, Jaymz Bee and the Royal Jelly Orchestra, Philip Sayce, Rob Tardik, Art Maiste, as well veteran acts such as The Drifters, The Tokens, Billy J. Kramer, Lou Christie, Terry Sylvester, The Crystals and Freddie Cannon. He was also part of the JK Jazz house band, with Adrean Farrugia and Terry Clarke. Eric is an honours graduate of the Humber College Jazz Music Program and is adept at just about every style of music.
JON FEDORSEN, drums, spends his time behind the band, laying it down like they did back in the day. Having spent the last decade playing the circuit and travelling the country alongside the likes of Collective Soul, the Goo Goo Dolls, David Usher and Our Lady Peace just to name a few. Jon has now resigned himself to a life of building drums and playing over sax solos.
Last but certainly not least is SAM S, the SOULidified’s dynamic vocalist. Raised in gospel music, Sam started learning piano at age 7. Growing up in a very musical family, he began dabbling with and loving drums, alto sax, trumpet, electric guitar and mostly bass guitar. Near the end of that experimental 10-12 year span, a few serendipitous and unexpected turns of events lead him to his greatest musical passion of all — singing. Having never actually sung until age 20, it was time to play a little catch up. After performing in a few acts around Toronto and completing various recordings over the last few years, Sam is now excited to head up the vocal and footwork department for SOULidified.
Band Photos: Bruce Redstone
Band Photos: Bruce Redstone