‘Josh Vowell and the Rumble bursts into national scene

Ryan Ogle / Washburn Review

With his guitar slung over his shoulder, Josh Vowell walks casually up to the microphone and utters seven simple words that set the tone for an entire night, “We’re gonna play some blues for you.”

And that’s exactly what he, harmonica player Justin “J” Shelton, bassist M. Boyd Brown and drummer Dave Spritzer – along with a slew of other musicians who joined in on the fun – did for the next several hours. Tucked away in a tiny corner of Topeka’s Pigskin’s Sports Bar, Josh Vowell & The Rumble wowed the crowd with their skilled brand of the blues and immediately recognizable, yet customized cover tunes.

One of Topeka’s most celebrated blues acts, Josh Vowell & The Rumble, who has shared stages with blues greats like Johnny Lang, Tab Benoit and Robert Randolph, was formed in late 2007 when Josh, who had just parted ways with another local band, crossed paths with Brown during a jam session on his uncle’s property outside of Carbondale, Kan. Starting out as a trio, the band honed their skills by gigging around town and taking part in more Carbondale jams; which soon led to Spritzer and Shelton joining the fold.

While Spritzer and Brown had already established themselves in various local bands throughout the years, Shelton’s involvement came through a sort of trial by fire after jumping in on a few open jams and bar gigs. Picking up his first harmonica at age 18, Shelton was taken under the wing of a few Kansas City-based harp-blowers and cut his teeth by showing up in bars with a harmonica in hand and ready to jam. Since hooking up with Josh Vowell & The Rumble, Shelton’s passion has turned into a way of life.

“These guys push me to the limit,” said Shelton. “They really test me. I’ve been driving real hard for the last three years and feel like I’ve come pretty far with it. I want to go further. It’s been a blessing. This band has changed my life in a lot of ways. I used to build cabinets for a living, now I play blues. I’m truly blessed.”

Vowell’s ascension as the front man of one t-town’s most popular bands was a natural one. Born into a musical family, Vowell has been carrying around a guitar as long as he can remember. He was influenced early in life by his guitar playing uncle and grandmother who sang and played keyboards.

Aside from a few years of lessons, Josh is primarily a self-taught player who developed his style via instructional books and online videos. Though the young axe-man soaked up a wealth of knowledge, it was the influence and inspiration of blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughn who saw Vowell blossom into the skilled lead player he is today. The unmistakable fingerprints of Vaughn’s distinct Texas blues can be heard throughout Josh’s playing.

Vowell’s sphere of influence doesn’t revolve completely around the late, great SRV, as The Rumble encompass sounds from the entire spectrum of the blues, as well as a bit of the genre’s younger cousin, rock n’ roll; as evidenced by their second release, “Brickhouse Sessions.”

Recorded at Brickhouse Studios in Wichita, the album showcases the natural ability of the musicians involved and has also helped them climb to the top of the local music scene. The humble and amicable band leader is quick to point out that they’ve had plenty of help along the way, crediting friends and family, along with the Wichita Blues Society and The Blues Foundation for helping them along the way. It doesn’t hurt that they’ve found a sort of second home in the popular nightclub Uncle Bo’s as well.

“We are very fortunate for Suki at Uncle Bo’s and the Topeka Blues Society. Since Topeka is on Highway 75, a lot of these bigger name, pro blues acts that pass through, come to Uncle Bo’s,” said Vowell. “People here know a little more about things than other towns; aside from the bigger cities like Kansas City or Chicago. In that sense, Topeka is pretty hip to the blues. On the other side of that coin, Topeka is a huge classic rock cover band, karaoke and sports bar town, so it’s not an easy road at all.”

More music and time on the road is exactly what band has in mind for 2012. With a third album planned for this summer and sights set on national touring, it’s only a matter of time before the name Josh Vowell & The Rumble extends their grasp beyond the Midwest and bursts into the national blues scene. In the meantime, it’s not difficult to catch Josh Vowell & The Rumble at any one of the area’s music hotspots. This highly in-demand quartet can be found wailing away on any given Friday or Saturday night, as well as their twice-a-month open jam sessions at Pigskin’s.

Those who want to end their weekend with a solid dose of the blues are encouraged to head out to Abigail’s Grill & Bar at 3701 SW Plaza Dr. on Sunday nights between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. for what is quickly becoming one the hottest open jams in the area. Vowell encourages musicians of all ages to come out and take part.

“Don’t be afraid to come out at jam. Our open jams are acoustic and electric,” said Vowell. “We’ve let young bands come in and play their stuff. That’s a big deal to them because they’re up there in front of people instead of stuck in the garage. If you’re sitting on your couch or you’re a drummer who’s stuck at home practicing, come out and play a couple of tunes with us.”

For more on Josh Vowell & The Rumble, visit www.facebook.com/JoshVowellandTheRumble.