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The Lights Out Blues Band will shine at Jasper Hill

From left, Gary Bernath, Brian Rost, (former member) Dave Baker, now replaced by George Dellomo, and Clay Brown. [Courtesy photo/Bill Wilson]

By Ed Symkus, Correspondent

Posted Jan 17, 2019 at 4:00 AM

Gary Bernath has loved the harmonica since, many decades ago, his father gave him one so he could learn how to play “Silent Night” during the Christmas season, and “Red River Valley” the rest of the year. These days, fronting the Lights Out Blues Band on harmonica, vocals and tenor sax, he sticks mostly with traditional harmonica-driven blues sounds, keeping alive old chestnuts from Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells and others, along with some of his own original tunes.

The band is set to perform in Jasper Hill Restaurant at its new Millis location, on Jan. 19. Framingham resident Bernath will be joined by his regular bandmates Clay Brown (guitar, vocals), from Attleboro, and Brian Rost (bass), from Northborough, along with newest member, Brookfield drummer George Dellomo.

Bernath admits that he didn’t take his early harmonica playing very seriously and that his grade school musical listening diet was mostly Elvis Presley, which later morphed into the Stones, the Grass Roots and the Supremes. Though by the time he got to UMass-Amherst, he started gravitating toward the blues-edged sounds of the Yardbirds and the Animals, it wasn’t till a friend turned him on to the Butterfield Blues Band’s groundbreaking 1966 album “East-West” that he became smitten by the blues.

“That was at the end of my freshman year,” said Bernath. “That fall, on Dec. 6, 1968, [harmonica player] Paul Butterfield played at the Curry Hicks Cage at UMass. I went, and that changed everything. That’s what started me on the road to dig into Butterfield’s roots, which led me to Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker and Otis Rush and, of course, Little Walter Jacobs.”

Bernath was soon playing harmonica again, but now with a passion. By his senior year, he formed what was initially a straight-ahead blues band, featuring covers and songs he wrote. The band came to be called Big Screamin’ McGrew, after its singer Billy McGrew. But with different members having so many different influences, the set list started including blues with rock, funk and soul, and there was eventually a three-piece horn section, with Bernath doubling on his newly acquired tenor saxophone. Bernath stuck with that outfit, playing music full time, for about five years.

“I’ve had a lot of bands under my own name over the years,” he said. “They were always blues-influenced, but we also played some classic rock, blues rock, jazz rock. But I always had some Little Walter in there because he was such a big early influence for me. Then about seven years ago I decided that I wanted to have a side project of just playing Little Walter. I wanted a Little Walter band because that’s the music I really like. I also wanted to sprinkle some originals in there. The trick would be to find some people that felt the same way I did. That’s how Lights Out started. The lineup went through some changes over the years, but Clay and Brian have been with me for the past three.”

A typical set now, and certainly the one they’ll be doing at Jasper Hill, will focus on material from artists who recorded on the legendary Chess Records label, including pieces by Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and Howlin’ Wolf.

“We might also do eight or nine originals, some of them brand new, some from my earlier albums,” said Bernath, who usually keeps a tray of about 13 different harmonicas onstage with him along with a duplicate of each in case he blows out one. “I try to put a show together for each set, and I try to keep it all moving from one thing into another.”

The Lights Out Blues Band

WHEN: Jan. 19, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Jasper Hill Restaurant, 270 Exchange St., Route 115, Millis


INFO: 508-794-1567;

Asked if he ever dips into the blues-rock side of things anymore, he said, “No, I’ve been there and I’ve done that. We’re a trad blues band.”

The Lights Out Blues Band

WHEN: Jan. 19, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Jasper Hill Restaurant, 270 Exchange St., Route 115, Millis


INFO: 508-794-1567;

Live at Jasper Hill 2016 video

Lights Out Blues Band at Jasper Hill - August 2016

The Lights Out Blues Band playing at Jasper Hill Cafe & Bistro in Holliston MA.

Lights out hosting the 2015 blues jams at the Boston House Of Blues  

Sun Chronicle May 19, 2016

SunChronicle.pdf (PDF — 694 KB)

Lights Out At Jasper Hill 10/1/2016

Lights Out at Jasper Hill

Clay Brown mastery

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