Brides of Jesus
When Bill Iuso put together his band Brides of Jesus, back in 1992 in Providence, R.I., there wasn’t a jam-band scene as we know it now. New York bands like the Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler were becoming massively popular, with major record deals and extensive radio play. But the H.O.R.D.E. tour, which pushed the jam bands into wider popularity, was still a few years away. Phish and the Dave Matthews Band were still largely regional acts, making their names nationally with relentless touring in smaller venues.”There were the Spin Doctors and Blues Traveler,” said Iuso. “But as far as the ground-level bands, there were few.” For a start-up jam band in Providence, keeping a steady lineup wasn’t the easiest thing in the world. So after a few years of regularly shuffling members, guitarist Iuso decided to go where the musicians were. His first choice was Athens, Ga., which had experienced a musical surge in the footsteps of R.E.M. and the B-52s. Soon enough, though, Iuso heard the call of New Orleans, the promised land for performing musicians. “It was the music, the quality of musicians there was what brought me,” said the 33-year-old Iuso, who brings his current Brides of Jesus lineup to Aspen, for a gig at the Double Diamond on Saturday, March 9. “I’d always had a rotating group of players, so being in New Orleans was a great way to keep that going.”Also instrumental in bringing Iuso to Louisiana was the New Orleans axis of funk, including the Funky Meters and the Neville Brothers. When the Brides of Jesus were a Northeastern band, they would often serve as the opening act for the Meters and the Neville Brothers (as well as such groups as WAR, George Clinton and Widespread Panic). It was at the urging of Funky Meters drummer Russell Batiste that Iuso finally made the move south. In his first night in New Orleans, Iuso crashed on Batiste’s couch. (The very next day, Iuso moved into the Mid-City neighborhood house, two blocks away from Batiste’s, where he has lived the past six years.)When Iuso established the New Orleans version of the Brides of Jesus, he gave Batiste a part-time job in the Brides of Jesus. Batiste was the band’s drummer when the Funky Meters weren’t touring. But after a few years, the tables turned, and Batiste gave Iuso a part-time job, as road manager for the Meters. Iuso filled the rest of his time working as road manager for the Neville Brothers. It was a convenient setup: Singer-keyboardist Art Neville was a member of both bands, and thus the two bands’ schedules never overlapped. But it also meant putting the Brides of Jesus to rest for three years, which was OK with Iuso. “We worked a lot,” he said, “about 200 shows a year in 1995, ’96, ’97.” Over the last few months, Iuso has put the Brides of Jesus back together. “Now the music’s more popular than ever, so I guess it’s time.”The Brides of Jesus remains a rotating cast of characters. The current tour features Batiste in drums, as well as keyboardist Charlie Dennard, who plays in the New Orleans-based Moore & More, a side project of Galactic drummer Stanton Moore; and Japanese-born bassist Nori Naraoka. For the next tour, Batiste will be unavailable, so Iuso will have to settle for Neville Brothers drummer “Mean” Willie Green.”Who else gets to share Russell Batiste and Willie Green? Just me and Art Neville,” said Iuso. The shifting home base, and the rotation of players, has had a major effect on the Brides of Jesus sound. Iuso grew up a big fan of the Grateful Dead, and the early Bride of Jesus music was out of that second-generation jam-band mold. But Iuso – who was raised all over the country, a result of his stepfather’s employment with an airline – always had a Southern strain to his music.”The Grateful Dead and that whole scene” was a big influence, said Iuso. “But not so much the music. I grew past the music. Not that I don’t still like it. But I started getting into the music behind them, the whole New Orleans thing, and Motown. I tried to mix all that without being phony about it.”When the Brides of Jesus recorded their first album, 1995’s “What’s Gonna Set You Free?” it was an interesting mix of elements. Guesting on the album were the Muscle Shoals Horns and Col. Bruce Hampton, a sort of godfather of the nascent jam-band scene. Producing was Johnny Sandlin, who had worked with such Southern rock bands as the Allman Brothers Band and Widespread Panic. When Iuso moved to New Orleans, the sound got even funkier. The band’s second album, 1997’s “For Real,” featured Batiste on drums, which immediately gave the sound a distinct New Orleans flavor. The Brides of Jesus’ latest recording, “Saints and Sinners,” due out later this year, is even deeper in New Orleans tradition, with contributions from Theresa Anderson, Willie Green, and Ian and Ivan Neville.Though he notes that the road can be an unforgiving beast, Iuso is happy to be back playing onstage, rather than setting it up for others.”I’ve been wanting to do it,” he said about regrouping the Brides of Jesus. “I’d been putting it off because I was comfortable working with the Funky Meters and the Neville Brothers, which are two of my favorite bands of all time. They’re like my extended family, the only family I have in New Orleans. But the whole intention when I came to New Orleans was to keep it going.”Iuso has seen some big changes over the last 10 years, since the days when the Brides of Jesus were charting new territory. “We were one of the first bands at our level carrying a B-3 organ, after the synthesizer revolution,” he said. “We played Meters songs, and nobody knew what they were. Now, that’s what everybody requests.”Iuso doesn’t think his band will have another relocation in its future. “I fell like I’ll be [in New Orleans] awhile,” he said. “I’ve had a lot of good things happen to me here, with friends and music. There’s nowhere like it in the country. It’s like New York, but not really. It’s got a Third World quality to it. “And it’s just gotten better. It’s on the upswing. [And the music scene] speaks for itself. You can go out every night of the week and see world-class musicians.”
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After nine months of being shuttered due to the COVID-19 crisis, the Wheeler Opera House will reopen for local acts. A touchless reservation system will be open to 53 people for in-person at the venue. Online live streaming also will be available.