Author: Lindsey Hawkins | Photographer: John Brackett
Talk about a complete sell out, no negative tone intended! Because if you want to see Deas Guyz, you are going to have to book a reservation at the Jazz Corner two weeks in advance!
Your name better be on the guest list to pass the hostess stand and enter into a dark candlelit corner of canoodling couples swaying to “I Loved Her First,” tipsy ladies weaving around tables doing the conga to “Hot Hot Hot,” and people from ages 26 to 66 holding up their table candles to “Purple Rain.” The aroma from the Boursin-Crusted Rack of Lamb and the intoxicating sound from Deas Guyz is enough to pack the house every Sunday night and keep the champagne and martinis flowing from a crowded bar.
The performance by this dynamic group of seven is a regular Sunday event for all ages at the Jazz Corner, and they play from here to Savannah and everywhere in between around four to five times a week, including private events. They are Motown and R & B defined with a touch of all your favorites in between. And you better believe that talent and true soul are understatements when it comes to describing this nine-year-old fine-tuned jam session.
After a sit down with the Guyz, it comes as no surprise that true musicians come from a saturated musical upbringing in an era where music really spoke simply to the masses about life, love, and loss. An era where there was philosophy behind the art of sound and a passion to lift people up instead of bring people down.
Let’s discuss the players, starting out with band leader and lead vocalist Reggie Deas. One of two original members and creators of Deas Guyz, Deas is no stranger to the dedication and triumph gained by being a performer. Having started in a church choir as a child, Deas learned quickly that singing was his outlet and way of relaxing. He does it because he loves it and it puts a smile on people’s faces.
“I love playing weddings because people have asked you to join them on their special day and be a big contributing part of their intimate celebration,” he said.
Deas, whose musical influence comes directly from Luther Vandross, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye, Earth Wind & Fire, and Frank Sinatra, has a vocal depth that could have been signed by Berry Gordy. His band mates consider him a true leader, someone who gets the job done and makes it easy and fun. Deas, in return, has found that working with his Guyz has been a great collaborative effort of musical influences.
In his day life, Deas teaches physical education and health to middle school students. He hasn’t found a way to incorporate his music into gym class, but encourages the path when asked about it.
“If this is what you really want, you have to dedicate a lot of time, spend money on what you love and find people who love it too,” Deas said.
You can spot Arnell Beyrd behind the electric guitar and microphone. One who can play the guitar with his teeth, his own solo spots and hit a high note that could shatter crystal while flames are shooting out of his guitar is easily remembered. But behind all the smoke and lights sits a well educated, deep thinker who understands the philosophy of music.
Beryrd, who began his musical ventures at age 12, started playing by ear at first. He, too, was in school choirs and jazz groups throughout high school and college.
“Music is therapy, more cathartic when playing alone because you can play anything you want,” Beryd said. “You can enjoy the instrument itself and not worry about the entertaining.”
Artists including Sting, Seal, Peter Gabriel, Paco De Lucia and Steely Dan have influenced Beryd’s craft. He writes music, obviously enjoys playing covers and just so happens to bring the house down in standing ovations after performing spotlight solos.
Every member of Deas Guyz has such a unique personality, it’s no wonder the band chemistry sizzles. But with every group there is always one that stands out as the one you could just hang out with. Bass guitarist, Abdul Sabur Bismillah will tell you his favorite gig would be the one that pays the most money, and then he’ll laugh and tell you about his musical background that started at age four.
“It’s a release like nothing I’ve never known,” Bismullah said.
Bismullah grew up in a household where his mother played three instruments, his brother played the bass, and his sister and aunt played the keyboards. In the first grade, he was the lead singer for his school in a choir that was kindergarten through twelfth grade. Since age nine, he has tried the trumpet, the trombone, the clarinet and the guitar and finally settled for the bass, a perfect fit found in a pawn shop, at age 19.
“I fell for it and was self taught with a few tips from musicians and a little formal musical training from friends from Berklee College of Music,” he said.
Bismullah, who tried to emulate Sam Cook as a child, gets his musical influence from artists such as Bobby Womack and Curtis Mayfield. He writes as well as he performs covers and currently has a personal CD out called Manna’fest Destiny.
“I am a student of substance in music, clear messages that help and uplift people rather than that which is vulgar and demeaning,” Bismullah said.
And he says he likes the gigs that pay the most. Right.
You might say the next guy from Deas Guyz adds a little flavor by playing a little instrument called the drums. Maurice Putrello started with the band just last August and also gets the crowd roaring with his solo percussion act.
Right out of Utica, NY, Putrello has been keeping the beat on the drums since he got his first set at age three—an interest spawned at a young age because a marching band rehearsed right around the corner from his house. His dad, obviously being a fine judge of talent, still has the first recording of his young prodigy, who has since played though high school and has performed in bands since the sixth grade.
Unlike some of his Deas Guyz colleagues, Putrello has a taste for the contemporary music. His early influences were the Beatles, R&B, The Temptations, sounds from Detroit; but as he’s matured as a percussionist, he has a huge respect for the stronger and faster drummers of today. His guilty pleasures are the hits that sell millions, and we’re not talkin’ Britney. He respects the drummers of major rock bands of today and has an ear for vocals and melodies that come from artists such as James Blount.
Music is Putrello’s life and career. His soul’s advice is that if you are going to play, “play from the heart.”
Frank Barron started playing keyboards at age four and began performing with Deas Guyz two and half years ago. So, what has he been doing in between? Let’s see.
For starters, Barron plays keyboards, piano and saxophone and sings. He had a father who was a sax player in a band, and started playing in clubs at age 12. The talented Barron played keyboards with Janie Fricke at age 18 and followed it up loudly by playing on tour with The Impressionists for eight years, not to mention playing with The Temptations in 1992.
Barron has learned a lot, touring his whole life, from smaller venues to venues in Las Vegas and The Bahamas. Music has been his career since birth and he has been truly influenced by the bands he has played with as well as by artists including Ray Charles and, of course, Curtis Mayfield.
“Music is a great thing,” Barron said. “You get out of it what you put into it.”
Deas Guyz play well with each other said Barron. He believes that if you can operate as a team then music is smooth; no one oversteps. As for today’s sound, Barron thinks music is going right back where it began. He likes everything from Usher to Kenny Chesney and appreciates all genres.
I love playing in venues like the Jazz Corner, said Barron. Everyone knows everyone, everyone has their tables and it’s always sold out.
Now let’s talk about Mike Allen. His take on Deas Guyz is exactly how the band should be seen from a fan or future fan.
“[Deas Guyz] is so dynamic it keeps the audience’s attention; it crosses enough boundaries to attract a group of people out there from babies to senior citizens,” said Allen.
Allen was the other band originator. He has seen the band grow for the past nine years and truly appreciates the hard work and dedication that goes into building something truly great and entertaining, though his long career path all began in the womb.
Coming from a musical family as well, Allen got his first drum set at age three and progressed to the guitar by age nine. Allen recalls racing home to his house after school to try and play every instrument in his mom’s band before they got home to tell him no. And you better believe it has paid off. Musical influences ranging from Parliament, Earth Wind & Fire, Sam Cook, Otis Redding, Bob Marley, Art of Noise, etc. have molded Allen into the musician he is today.
“If you are covering music, learn it like it was recorded, then augment the music from there and you can never go wrong,” said Allen who plays the congas and sings with Deas Guyz.
Allen, a definite man of the fans, said his favorite moment of performing is at the end of the night when the crowd wants to hear one more and it becomes a movement because we are doing something spontaneous.”
And last but certainly not least is the extreme saxophone talent of Kenny Alexander. Alexander is definitely an artist for the musician. He is sage in his music, playing professionally for 53 years. With a laid back, quiet demeanor, Alexander is the same on stage as he is in an interview: attentive to what is going on as if he is completely in the moment.
Alexander started out musically by watching a friend play the clarinet at age 14. The sound grabbed him he said. So, in his early school years, he played the clarinet and transitioned to the tenor saxophone as a junior in high school. The band director of his high school noticed his talent early on and invited him to play some gigs, and this is where he never looked back. Alexander played flute and obo in the concert band in college in Savannah as well as saxophone in the marching band, while playing club gigs on the side.
“Whatever I am playing I will make sure if I know the correct way to play it and that I play it that way,” said Alexander.
The unique soul who says the greats include Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Dexter Gordon, also has great insight himself on music today.
“There is a lack of real substance in today’s music,” he says. “It’s thrown together to appeal to the masses without anything to get your teeth into.”
However, he says, there is still great talent out there and he would like to see some appreciation for real music.
“Ultimately, it’s demanding; it takes discipline and persistence,” Alexander said. “But in the end, there is so much satisfaction in oneself to be able to do it correctly—not a means to an end, but an end. I am surprised I get paid to do it.”
I think all Deas Guyz would agree.