by Adam Wiltgen
Originally published 07/24/11 at: driftlessmusic.blogspot.com
General B and The Wiz is a gritty blues rock band led by Luther College seniors Seth Duin and Quincy Voris. I hesitate to use the phrase “gritty blues rock” here, because their sound is so much more compelling than your stereotypical white-boy-on-a-slide-guitar dive bar act, or ubiquitous gang of nappy-haired garage rock wannabes. While their sound is indeed evocative of bands like The Black Keys, Cream, The White Stripes, Led Zeppelin, and The Doors; it’s their flawless execution and songwriting prowess that jumps out and rattles your cage like a good rock band should.
As evidenced in the video below of the band performing at my Driftless Music Showcase back in June, vocalist and rhythm guitarist Quincy Voris possesses a surprisingly mean falsetto and a smooth, commanding wail. The timbre of Voris’ voice–along with a vulnerable, yet confident demeanor and a small, yet forceful stature–brings to mind comparisons to actor/musician Mr. Jack Black. In fact, Voris and Duin started out together as a duo that covered a lot of Tenacious D songs. While the band is fun, I don’t want to pigeon hole Voris–a native of Alaska–as a “yuk-yuk man” here, because his lyrics and vocal style also carry the credibility of someone like former White Stripes front-man, and Third Man Records “music mogul,” Mr. Jack White. Lastly, I think a portion of the band’s originality also stems from the fact that Voris is huge fan of fellow Alaskan-reared band Portugal. The Man; a rock group with a wholly original Psychedelic / Indie / Glam / Art sound that signed to Atlantic last year and has only recently started to receive mainstream attention.
Lead guitarist Seth Duin is a nimble-fingered man trained by a true jazz cat; and he certainly has the guitar chops to show for it. He is also a voice student and does provide contrasting vocal harmonies throughout the band’s debut self-titled release. A self-professed fan of Beethoven and Bach, Duin is also the current student station manager of Luther College radio station KWLC and is well versed in both classical and contemporary rock music. This virtuosity is key to General B and Wiz’s sound, which incorporates both interweaving blues riffs and flourishing lead licks. Of course, having a consistently killer guitar tone never hurts either.
The band is rounded out by a talented and versatile rhythm section, but Duin and Voris are definitely leading the charge. In fact, the two leaders’ nicknames during their days as a duo is what give the whole band its namesake. As the guys told KPVL in an interview back in April, Voris had returned from time spent commercial fishing in Alaska with a beard that he first styled in the fashion of General Ambrose Burnside, before shaving it off entirely. Alternately, Duin’s technical guitar skills earned him the the nickname “The Wizard” from Voris. And when the rest of the band members joined, they liked the name “General B and The Wiz” so much that they opted to keep it.
For a small Iowa town of approximately 8,000 people, Decorah certainly has an attractive live music scene. Solid traditional folk acts like The Foot-Notes, Contratopia, Switchback, and Maritza are complemented by unique singer-songwriters like Michelle Lynn, Ember Schrag, Amalia Vagts, and Mike McAbee. Damsel Fly, Done Doin’ Laundry, and Joe & Vicki Price are also talented local groups. Furthermore, touring acts of all stripes come through town as part of either the The Baker London Presents series at Art Haus, the Luther College Center Stage Series, or the healthy house concert community.
Despite these assets, a lack of talented, original ROCK bands can not be avoided. There are many things about living in the Twin Cities that I miss, but being taken by surprise and having my mind melted by a hard-hitting rock group, playing their own songs, is certainly toward the top of the list. The random jam / cover bands that play the Haymarket can no doubt be fun, but there is definitely something about the tasteless, predictable depravity of those shows that leave me feeling flat. Judging by the mythic nostalgia some locals regard Baker London‘s 2007-2008 shows in Decorah, I’d like to think I’m not alone here…
So, thank goodness for the gentlemen in General B and The Wiz! They have effortlessly attracted an audience in Decorah and have also made promising in-roads into the Twin Cities music community. They will be performing a pair of shows in Decorah during Nordic Fest, including a show on Friday July 29th at Club Pyramid with Michelle Lynn & The Bad Passengers. Their new album is available via bandcamp for download on a pay-what-you-want basis. Choice tracks include “There Was a Time”, “In The Trees”, “Desperate Woman”, and the epic “The Wind”. You owe it to yourself to check it out.