A guitar is a chunk of wood with, most of the time, six wires running over it. There's some electronics in it, some metal and plastic knobs or switches. They come in different shapes and sizes, with subtle differences in sound texture, but they all correspond to the same notes. It's what any given artist does with it that makes the instrument a conduit for magic. Phil Varca is a magician, know that up front.
The SlamJammers, who consist of Varca, bassist Ray Drake and drummer Russell Stone, are about passion and fury, about joy and pain, about magic that begins with a guitar. Taking the stage at the spacious Main St.Cafe in front of a healthy crowd of accepting ears, The SlamJammers demonstrated what music sounds like when you pour real emotions into it.
Blistering through a menu that ran from Jimi Hendrix to Stevie Ray Vaughan, Varca, Drake & Stone showed that they give nothing away in skill to the masters that they draw from so well. A crunching version of the Doors' "Roadhouse Blues" got the large crowd stomping while Varca's inspired wailing on Hendrix songs brought the most animated reaction. Varca continued to reach deeper and deeper into the well of emotion as the night progressed, seeming to effortlessly find a more inspired solo every song out. When the trio turned to originals, there was no drop-off in intensity or quality. "Shotgun" was an energized boogie reminiscent of George Thorogood and again, there would be no gap between Varca's style of work and the kind of playing Thorogood built his legend on. The rhythm section of Drake and Stone get the job done with cool precision and Varca handles the frontman duties with a sense of purpose. Want to cut loose, rock your hind-quarters off and forget about your troubles for a while? Think SlamJammers. In the world of the blues, The SlamJammers can play with anybody and a record is the obvious next step. A rare and precious group for sure.
- John Blenn
Spankys Mineola, NY
Phil Varca & The SlamJammers, a legendary Long Island trio comprised of local guitar hero Varca, bassist John Dunn and drummer Russell Stone, held court and made Spanky's seem like a rocking roadhouse of blues somewhere down south.Decked out in jeans, cowboy boots and tatoos, The SlamJammers certainly looked the part and through their bluesy whirlwind sets, they proved they were the genuine article when it came to tight cohesive sound and soulful emoting.
Together for six years, with two demos under their belt and another recording on the way, The SlamJammers have carved themselves into legend status on the Island and are finally getting their deserved recognition with the sudden resurgence of blues.
The covers played ran a gamut of great blues including ZZ Tops "LaGrange", Joe Cockers "The Letter", and Hendrix's "Redhouse" but The SlamJammers really impressed with their inspired originals including the rollicking "Runaway Shuffle", the sexy "Skin On Skin" and the soulful "Rain".
.....the jams worked beautifully, as The SlamJammers have perfect band chemistry - reflecting their experience and eliminating any improvisational sloppiness, yet they still maintain a loose, unrehearsed feel.
To look at Phil Varca perform during one of the band's exciting. guitar driven jams, it's obvious he loves what he does, and is so clearly involved emotionally. His passion for playing gives his music a lot of soul and rises The SlamJammers sound well above any average, pedestrian blues jam.
And Varca's influences - Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, etc...- clearly come through in his playing. He manages to incorporate the best elements from each while still creating his own distinct bluesy sound with a lot off power and emotion.
And while so much of music seems obsessed with gimmicks and flash, it's refreshing to see a band that can carry off great jams and bring forth classically-tinged blues.
- Jim Haggerty
Arizona II Lindenhurst. NY
Phil Varca & The SlamJammers give new meaning to the cliche, "the calm before the storm." An unimposing group of three, The SlamJammers turn out raw unadulterated blues which would make Stevie Ray Vaughan proud.
Playing to a packed house of blues addicts at Arizona II, Varca led the charge with rich, throaty vocals in addition to masterful guitar playing. Bassist John Dunn and drummer Russell Stone complete the act like pieces of a puzzle, once you lock them together, quite a picture takes form.
Mixing originals with overs, Varca & The SlamJammers muscled out a vigorous set. When they speed up the pace, it's a runaway train spouting flames and the audience is standing on the tracks. I think I can guarantee that getting hit by a train will NEVER feel quite as good as it does here. On the other hand, when they slow it down in the show, the evocative playing could make most people weep with the sensitive leads that Varca effortlessly pulls off.
Phil Varca and The SlamJammers are one of the main reasons that the blues scene has reawakend on Long Island and they've been key in awakening slumbering blues fans. This group is so good that you could hate the blues and you'd STILL love them. Now that's saying something.
- Tina Anfuso
The Branding Iron Wantagh, NY
There seems to be a resurgence of sorts regarding blues-oriented music on the Island, and if Phil Varca & The SlamJammers have any say in the matter, it's a trend that will continue to expand. After reviewing their debut CD, "Ready,Willing & Able",a few months ago, I knew I had to track these guys down. I had the opportunity to take in a full set at one of their recent gigs at The Branding Iron in Wantagh, so I can confirm what appeared on the CD review once again:
This is one fucking hot blues band!
Even though the majority of the set consisted of blues covers, guitarist/vocalist Varca, bassist John Dunn and drummer Russell Stone succeeded in transforming them into unique renditions. Whether it was an Allman Brothers tune, something from Stevie Ray Vaughan or the venerable Albert King, the trio displayed a finely attuned ability to listen to and play off of each other so that the interplay of musical ideas was a constant flow.
Dunn & Stone (does this sound like a law firm?) provided Varca with a foundation of blues bedrock that set the guitarist free to put his instrument through the kind of workout that practically burned the frets right off of the fingerboard. Time and again throughout the set, the room erupted in applause after a particularly astonishing display. Varca has absorbed the nuances of his many guitar idols, but his real talent shines through in the way he's able to place his own stamp on his influences. Personally, I feel that Varca could be on stage or in the studio with any of his heros and he wouldn't be out of place in either environment. Then again, the vibe that's happening with The SlamJammers is one that could well spead outward in giant waves. Oh yeah, they did throw in a couple of tunes from their album, "Maybe" and "Come & Get It", and both tracks were well up to the standards of the classics they covered. Guitar fans, blues fans, music fans: Go see this band!
- Roy Abrams
The Downtown Farmingdale, NY
It's often said that the simple things in life are the best. Phil Varca & The SlamJammers gave an extraordinary demonstration of that concept during their recent performance at The Downtown. The band's form and function is simple - they are a blues/blues-rock trio. Don't be deceived, however, for in the talented hands of Varca (guitar/vocals), John Dunn (bass) and Russell Stone (drums), these simple ingredients produce music of extraordinary emotional power and complexity.
This band plays electric blues with intensity that would be difficult to surpass - not suprising, considering they are the inheritors of a style which took it's present form in the hands of artists such as B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Guy and which became a strong contemporary musical force through the work of musicians such as Stevie Ray Vaughan. Lead guitarist Varca is clearly a descendent of the Hendrix/Vaughan tribe, but his outstanding skill and technique have allowed him to forge a style all his own. In short, Varca is, without question, a must-see talent in the local blues scene. As both a player and a singer, he becomes completely engrossed in the music, and any who watch and listen, judging by The Downtown audience that night, are immediately swept along for the ride.
Behind Varca, Dunn and Stone form a perfect rock-blues rhythm section. Solid and versitile, they anchor the band with style without intruding on the emotional space and impact of the lead guitar and vocals. The three form a unit of mutual respect; I noticed a good deal of wordless eye contact and smiling going on between all three, an emotional understanding which flowed within the music which I'm sure comes from their nearly 10 years playing together.
Most will be familiar with their repertoire as they drew heavily on the classic rock-blues canon. Howeve, every one of the songs' performances inspired two words: dynamic and intense. On songs such as Vaughan's "Cold Shot" and "Pride & Joy", Hendrix' "Angel" and "Voodoo Chile", The Allman Brothers "Whipping Post" and "One Way Out", The Doors "Roadhouse Blues", Claptons "Crossroads", and a host of other tunes, the pure energy put into the performances by the band was only surpassed by that which was put out. They also included great slowed-down versions of Dave Mason's "Feelin' Alright" and Chuck Berry's "Nadine", and, as an added surprise, performed some fine originals including "Maybe" a straight-ahead blues rocker which was heavy on soul, and the funky "Don't Push Me".
Phil Varca & The SlamJammers have a forthcomimg CD entitled "Ready,Willing and Able" on independent GrooveTone Sound Recordings label, which I would venture to guess will prove highly satisfying to any blues fan. However, make it a point to catch this band live as well - if the electric side of blues moves you, you won't be dissappointed.
- Michael Leuci
The Branding Iron Wantagh, NY
The Branding Iron is a nice little place just in the shadow of the Jones Beach Causway in Wantagh......Having only caught glimpses of this band at Callahans Muscular Dystrophy Benefit and later abbreviated sets at the L.I.M.F. semi-finals and finals, it was a pleasure to finally get to hear them play a full set on their own equipment.
Working through a deeply blue shaded set, opening with Rufus Thomas' "Walkin' The Dog", given the full Austin, Texas treatment. Moving on to a powerful original from their just released CD "Ready,Willing & Able" called "Maybe".
Phil demonstated his signature tone, use of effects and just plain damn good guitar playing. The band has a large following built up over nine years, and Phil responded to many requests with "Sure. We'll play it if it's on the set list." The good natured banter as well as top shelf musicianship are just part of the formula for the band's success........the version of the Allman Brothers' "Whipping Post" was [a high point to my ears]. This is not an easy tune to cover as a trio, and the secret of this band was revealed to be John Dunn. Putting out a sound as big as he is, his ability to follow Phil while keeping the link with Russ was the ingredient that jells this trio into one of the tightest units on Long Island. Russ Stone could change his name to Rock Solid, and still keep the same initials. He uses a pretty basic set, and with a mastery of dynamics and a deadly right foot, he makes the most out of very few instruments...... a classy club with top shelf music, who could resist?
- Joe Grandwilliams
Rum Boogie Cafe Memphis, TN
.....Saturday started with Phil Varca & The SlamJammers putting the pedal to the metal and going straight to afterburn. Guitar slinger Phil impressed the locals as he did it all. Joined by long time drummer Russ Stone and Tom Porter filling in for John Dunn on bass, the band was smokin'. Let me sum up his perfomance by quoting a local man from the club: Two words, Da-mn!
- Joe Grandwilliams
Riverhead Blues Festival Riverhead, NY
Phil Varca & The SlamJammers need no introduction to the readers of Good Times. Having finished in a very close second place in 1997's Long Island Music Festival, they are even better than they ever were. Their high powered electric blues rock shook the cobwebs out of everybody's eyes, and in a great example of the good feelings that permeated the festival, used their final number, "Whipping Post" to salute the Kerry Kearney Band who were opening still another show for the Allman Brothers that evening. Great job guys and a really nice gesture too.
- Joe GrandWilliams
Changing Times Pub Farmingdale, NY
Well I don't need to tell anybody how warm it's been this month, we've had a cumulitive tempurature hot enough to melt steel. With the end of the month, what better way to cool off than with some hot rock?.....And then there's the crowd. I don't remeber the last time I saw such an eclectic group. Bikers, and Jocks. Gorgeous women, young bloods looking for a good time and old farts settling in to hear some great music. They were all there and there was the place to be. Phil Varca & The SlamJammers were on stage and ready to play.
Like a race track bugler calling the horse to the post, Phil's strong vibrato snapped out the opening lines of B.B. King's "The Thrill Is Gone", and all eyes were glued to the stage. They didn't move for the entire set......Phil stepped it up with "Walkin' The Dog". The team of Smilin' Russ Stone and Tom "The Harbormaster" Porter on Drums & Bass respectivley, knit like a pair of Chinese Handcuffs. Porter weaving a deep dark framework while Stone threw in more fills than coupon day at the Dental Academy. This is just the platform Varca needs for his six string prestidigitation. Stopping only to exchange greetings with a whole lot of old friends, the band was non-stop for the entire set......
After plowing through a set of originals and covers, they were about to take a well earned breather when a fan asked for a Stevie Ray Vaughan cover. Nobody would have blamed them for promising next set, but they picked up their instruments and flailed into another ten minute version of "Mary Had A Little Lamb". That extra ten minutes showed the reason these guys are well into their second decade as one of Long Islands most popular bands. A lot of bands will tell you how they live to and love to play. These guys deliver. Phil will be appearing at the Riverhead Blues Festival. Check them out. It will be well worth the drive.....And if your not up for a drive, keep an eye on the Good Times calender, no matter where you see them, it will be well worth the trip.
- Joe GrandWilliams
McCormacks Pub Westbury, NY
Every first Friday of the month for the past three years Phil Varca & The SlamJammers have been burning down the house with a healthy dosage of blues at McCormacks Pub in Westbury. There are plenty of guys out ther that believe in playing the flavor of the day, yesterday it was Ska, today it's Swing, tommorow - who knows? But Phil and the boys have been faithful to their form for close to  years. The form being "The Blues" which at any given time can be a number of diffent things to a variety of different people. Playing most of the songs off the CD "Ready,Willing & Able", which by the way is just entering it's third pressing. Phil and The SlamJammers have become house favorites and regularly play material off older CDs that will soon be re-released.......
Phil plays six string and sings , Russ Stone on drums has been by Phil's side for many more years than they care to divulge and the newest member of the trio Tom Porter on bass joined them just over a year and a half ago. Together they sound larger then the three of them apart. They are all at once tight, melodic and raw. When they choose to do a cover tune like "Feelin Alright" or "Whipping Post", The SlamJammers make sure to put their own stamp on it. Never really playing the same set or the same song the same way twice.
Phil and the boys have learned from and emulate the masters. Albert King, Buddy Guy, Gatemouth Brown, Hendrix, Clapton and SRV. They have taken the best of what these forefathers have to offer and added to the concoction their own brand of blues
There seems to be a lot of guitarists out there that talk trash but when it comes to bad mouthing others, Phil lets his guitar do the talking.
.....The SlamJammers never disappoint and you can reach them for bookings or for information on the CD at the Kelly Agency (631) 588-2109, ext. 22
- V.J. Calone
THE LONG ISLAND ENTERTAINMENT PAPER
Painters Bellport, NY
....the only way to follow that would have been a total 180 and thats Phil Varca and The SlamJammers gave us. They slammed the crowd with guitar pyrotechnics inspired by SRV and Jimi and the 3 pieces were the equivalent of Union Pacific's Big Boy steam locomotive. Roars of passion, growls of primal power and ground out heat were produced surrounded by face bending, spine arching, ear tingling, male parts to the wall in a wall of sound that was undeniable. Wow!
- Dr Blues
Mr. Beerys Cystic Fibrosis Benfit Bethpage, NY
......and speaking of playing, nobody does it better than Phil Varca and The SlamJammers. From the first notes of "Walking the Dog" till the ringing chorus of "Voodoo Chile", Phil, Russ and Tom showed the world how to play. Look for them to return to the Riverhead Blues Festival in July, where they earned their reprise slot.
Riverhead Blues Festival Riverhead, NY
....Phil Varca and The SlamJammers always raise the bar and this performance was one of their best. I've seen this band dozens of times and there is a reason - They are THAT good!