For more than 20 years, local musician Gary Oliver and his band the Relatively Jammin’ Blues Band have played in and around Akron, including opening for national acts at Lock 3. But Oliver, 56, doesn’t depend on the availability of stages in local venues to get his band gigs. Instead, he and his wife, Yvette, make their own.
At 7 tonight, Oliver and the RJBB band, singer Marilyn “Akron’s Own Queen of the Blues” Oliver (Gary’s daughter) and emcee DJ Silk will be the stars of the self-organized and promoted third annual Stone Soul Ball happening at the Italian Center Ballroom in Akron.
Oliver, who also produces a summer outdoor concert called the Stone Soul Rock and Roll Music Festival, said last year’s ball attracted about 350 people and he’s hoping to top that number tonight.
The “Relatively” in Relatively Jammin’ Blues Band isn’t an indicator of the band’s relative jamming abilities, it’s because The RJBB is a family band.
That generational mix includes the newest and youngest member, 11 year-old drummer Royal Oliver, Gary’s grandson.
“I got myself, my daughter, her kids and my great-great nephew, I got four generations of the Relatively Jammin’ Blues Band on stage Saturday night,” Oliver said.
The band’s repertoire should be familiar to R&B and blues fans and is designed to get folks out of their chairs and moving.
“We’re doing some different things,” Oliver said. “We’re doing quite a bit of Michael Jackson stuff, for the kids and some different blues artists.
“I believe the people are going to be real happy with the material we’re doing. They know what they’re going to hear when they come to see the Relatively Jammin’ Blues Band, they going to hear old-school soul and blues and a little jazz,” he said.
In addition to a couple hours of good, classic music, the Stone Soul Ball also includes a few contests to further engage the audience, in the form of a Down Home Blues singing contest, a best-dressed contest and a Soul Train line dance contest. Prizes include tickets to an upcoming style show at the Akron Urban League and a dozen tickets to upcoming shows in March and April at the Akron Civic Theatre donated by the venue’s executive director, Howard Paar.
“They’ve been unbelievably nice to us, I’m almost scared of them,” Oliver said of Paar, whom he considers a good friend.
Oliver said the Soul Train line dance contest is by far the most popular of the night, likening the contest to the excited crowd that quickly forms around a schoolyard fight.
“People were actually standing up on chairs trying to see over the crowd while DJ Silk was officiating that Soul Train line dance. I’m not a tall person, so I was standing on a chair trying to see myself,” Oliver said chuckling.
“People really participate [in the contests], a lot of people come just to see … their friends get up there and try to sing down home blues or see them do old dances from Soul Train,” Oliver said, noting that one of last year’s contestants shook and shimmied her way down the entire line with her oxygen tank in tow.
“Can you imagine that?” Oliver said.
Oliver isn’t getting rich off his annual labors of love, though he believes he may actually turn a bit of a profit this year. Oliver simply enjoys playing music and he enjoys playing music with his family.
If the RJBB plays a good show and he breaks even, he figures he’s done a good job and sent plenty of folks home with memories of a fun night and a good band that will ideally spread the word and bring more folks to next year’s Stone Soul Ball.