New CD reflects 30-year career of metro Detroit’s dynamic Sun Messengers

By: K. Michelle Moran | C&G Newspapers | Published February 16, 2011

 The Sun Messengers — pictured performing live last June — will celebrate their 30th anniversary with CD release party concerts at the Blue Goose Inn in St. Clair Shores Feb. 18-19. They’re also the house band for the Detroit Pistons.

The Sun Messengers — pictured performing live last June — will celebrate their 30th anniversary with CD release party concerts at the Blue Goose Inn in St. Clair Shores Feb. 18-19. They’re also the house band for the Detroit Pistons.

Photo courtesy of the Sun Messengers

METRO DETROIT — For a CD to mark the band’s 30th anniversary, the Sun Messengers chose a mix of originals and a cover that band founder and saxophonist Rick Steiger said reflect their past as well as their current sound.

The result is the fittingly titled “Get On Up and Dance,” whose release will be celebrated in concerts Feb. 18-19 at the Blue Goose Inn in St. Clair Shores.

“Even though we’re known for doing a variety of styles, at our core, we’re a funk/R&B band,” said Steiger, a Grosse Pointe Woods native who now lives in Harper Woods. “That’s the music the guys in the rhythm section cut their teeth on, and our instrumentation lets us capture that James Brown/ Earth, Wind & Fire sound.”

And in their 30 years together, they’ve recorded that sound on vinyl, cassette tapes — kids, ask your parents to explain — and now CD; Steiger said “Dance” marks their second CD release.

“Our goal for the CD was to capture our live sound,” Steiger explained. “With four horns and four rhythm (players), we’ve got people power and want to showcase that. Even though today’s dance music — and much of current music in general — is produced using drum machines and sequencers, we are kickin’ it old school, and we’re proud of it.”

Bandleader Steiger and vocalist John Paxton of Royal Oak have been with the Sun Messengers since the beginning, but most of the remainder of the lineup is seasoned as well, having been with the band for 14 or more years. That includes keyboardist and vocalist Arthur “Speq” Colden of Harper Woods, who authored “Let’s Juke” and “Groove City” on “Dance.” The newcomer of the bunch is trumpeter John Douglas of Troy, who joined last year, after longtime member William Elijah left to front his own band.

Steiger said Douglas, who co-led Jazzhead and had been subbing with the Sun Messengers for several years, is “one of the best trumpet players in town” and has been “a great addition.”

The band also includes saxophonist Gary Kwek of Waterford, guitarist Dan Mayer of Royal Oak, bassist and vocalist Termon “Tipp” Hayes of Mount Clemens and drummer/vocalist Terry Hughley of Detroit.

Hayes said he auditioned for the band in 1996 and “worked as a roadie as I learned all 300 songs that they gave me.” He started playing with the Sun Messengers officially in January 1997, but hasn’t forgotten his humble roots: “I also will do some truck repairs when needed,” he said.

Steiger, said Hayes, is “our Crazy Glue” — the guy who has kept the Sun Messengers together for three decades, which is no easy feat in the music business. But a “great road crew” and “the greatest fans ever” have helped keep them going, as well, he said. Steiger concurred, saying he’s grateful to all of the people who’ve supported the band over the years.

The Sun Messengers are known for being able to cover songs and make them their own — everything from Motown classics to more modern fare by John Mayer and the Black Eyed Peas. But as this CD demonstrates, they’re equally capable songsmiths. The title track is by Steiger, who also co-wrote “Talk is Cheap” with Sylvester McCrary. “Dance” also includes McCrary’s “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby,” among other originals.

“These guys write great grooves,” Hayes said of his bandmates.

The CD release party concerts promise to be memorable.

“Our plan is to showcase the songs on the CD both nights, and we’ve invited some of our many alumni to come by and sit in, so it should be lots of fun,” Steiger said. “The Blue Goose is actually one of our new clubs, even though people have been telling me for years how many times they’ve seen us there! The Goose has championed live music, and we appreciate their dedication to it.”

This marks the Sun Messengers’ 15th season as house band for the Detroit Pistons, and the band can also be found playing everything from casinos and clubs to outdoor festivals and private parties throughout the year. Over their long career, Steiger said, there have been a lot of highlights, from appearing on local TV shows like “Kelly & Co.” and “Good Afternoon Detroit” in the 1980s to performing at what was formerly the Montreux Detroit Jazz Festival and at legendary clubs around the country, including CBGBs and the Bitter End in New York, The Cubby Bear and Fitgerald’s in Chicago, and Sloppy Joe’s in Key West. In 1998, he said they recorded in the Motown Museum’s Studio A for a television tribute to The Temptations. More recently, they opened for Jay Leno’s “Comedy Stimulus Tour.” They’d love to tour Europe and Japan, and hope the new CD paves the way for possible appearances there.

“But what I’m most proud of is the consistently high level the band has performed at for all these years and how much joy we’ve been able to bring to so many people along the way,” Steiger said.

The Blue Goose Inn is located at 28911 Jefferson in St. Clair Shores. There will be a $5 cover for the CD release concerts. For directions or more about the venue, call the club at (586) 294-0690. For more about the Sun Messengers, visit www.sunmessengers.com.