By Chris Parker
Music is so contagious, you’d think they’d regulate how much children can have. It caught Rory Malloy when he was young, by way of his brother a decade older, who introduced him to the Beatles and the Stones. Then Malloy got a taste of it himself and he was gone.
“I grew up in Queens, and my brother had a band,” Malloy recalls. “That was when the bug bit me. So I got a Led Zeppelin cover band, Kashmir in 1977. I started playing when I was 16. Those days they let anybody play – that was the whole thing. You got $100 for the whole band and we played every Sunday a bar like that during the summer.”
Sometimes that story spins off into a tale of chasing the dream, whatever it took, and how they found success. But after graduating from Providence College, Malloy allowed himself to be diverted in the worst possible way: He went to Wall Street.
“I worked right down at 30 Broad on the New York Futures Exchange for five years,” he says, and he hated it. “When the market went, and I lost the position I had, I could have gotten another one but I said, I think this is enough of that. I came up to Rhode Island in ‘87, and a friend of mine started a company called Liquid Blue. He made Grateful Dead T-shirts and bumper stickers. I worked for him and started playing again.”
A few years later, in 1995, he started the Blues Hounds with Jack Moore and Peter Breen. “Jack had just returned from Austin playing with Stevie Ray Vaughan and he came back here because he had family here,” Malloy says. “He wanted to get into a little blues trio, so Jack, Pete and I put the band together.”
The Blues Hounds have undergone a number of personnel changes in the intervening years. Many are now familiar with Moore from his present combo, Jack Moore & the Western Stars. Several female singers have come and gone, but Lisa Kay has had staying power of over 15 years, and now she’s even drawn the Blues Hounds into her own orbit through the Amy Winehouse Project, which started six years ago.
“We started covering Amy Winehouse songs and we just kept adding them,” Malloy says of the genesis. “Then it just got serious. Lisa was so into Amy Winehouse with the costumes and the hair and the look and everything, so we got a horn section and backup singers. Now we take the Blues Hounds and the Winehouse projects and kind of put them together.”
Indeed, it’s truly come full circle in that Breen, who had left the Blues Hounds, is now a member of the Winehouse Project. Malloy cautions that the backup singers won’t be able to make the Updike Room show but the horns will be there, as well as Kay, obviously, though without the Winehouse makeup and costume changes.
“It’s almost the best of both worlds in that you get the Blues Hounds to get to with the horn section, and you know, we play a lot of Amy with that,” he says.
After more than a quarter-century of playing the area, the Blues Hounds have become something of a familiar face to locals. With that in mind, Malloy rather welcomed the sustained break that Covid offered to reconsider and retool the band.
“I said, this is great, I can really hit the reboot button here,” he says, and reports much the same from the audience post-pandemic. “There seems to be a very good resurgence right now. I am seeing a lot more people in the bars than I have in 10 years.”
He also enjoys how open the audiences have become to different eras and genres of music. “The audiences expect you to play like Pandora,” he laughs. “You know, you get, ‘Oh I forgot about this song,’ or ‘I haven’t heard this one in years.’”
For Malloy a good show features a measure of looseness and interplay with the audience. They aren’t there to deliver a statement, they’re there for the good time, and that can only be had together.
“If you go see the Blues Hounds, you’re gonna see ‘Dancing in the Moonlight.’ You’re gonna see, if somebody requests, ‘Brown Eyed Girl,’” says Malloy. “I’ll play whatever people want to hear, you know, as long as everybody’s having fun in the room.”
If you can’t make it down to the Updike for the show this weekend, you can catch the Winehouse Project in Taunton at the District Center for the Arts on June 9, and the Blues Hounds at one of their old stomps, the 133 Club in East Providence, where they used to play every weekend for almost a decade. Otherwise, you might consider picking up an instrument, or revisiting one like an old flame. It’s never too late to trade something you endure for something you love.
“I’m a big fan of that statement. It’s never too late,” Malloy reiterates. “Am I as good as some of the people that play, and didn’t go to work? No, I’m not. But I get a Social Security check for retirement every month, because I put my nine-to-five in for 20-30 years.”
Now he plays for the pleasure of it, and that’s something you’ll never cure, nor would you want to.
Rory and the Blues Hounds with Lisa Kay & the Winehouse Project Horns, Saturday, April 15, 9 p.m.(ish). $5. Updike Room, at the Greenwich Hotel, 162 Main St.; 401-884-4200; www.updikeroom.com.
Chris Parker is a freelance journalist (The Guardian, Undark, Daily Beast, Billboard) and author of the book, King James Brings The Land a Crown, about the Cleveland Cavaliers’ 2016 championship. He lives in Providence.