Do you love to hear that sweet soul music, 'played the way Motown intended it — with a horn section? Run C&W (a bluegrass ensemble noted for playing Motown tunes bluegrass style) notwithstanding, the Motown Sound was about a funky rhythm section with horns and great vocals. It was about dancing slow and dancing fast but dancing most of all.
That was the thought behind the formation of Midnight Hour, named after the Wilson Pickett tune. Put together by Bob Yuell and Curtis Essig in 1984, the group began its existence as a six-piece ensemble and has remained at that tsize, whie undergoing the kind of personnel changes common to the club band business.
"We had three horns when we started," Essig said, "but it has evolved to just two horn players."
"We wanted to play dance music," said drummer Bob Yuell, "particularly the Motown tunes. We were after that live sound, not the synthesized sound that was popular." The group's playlist reads like a list of Number 1 hits from the sixties through the nineties, but only those chart topping tunes that were danceable.
A drummer for over thirty years, Yuell and Essig, who plays trumpet, keyboards and writes the horn charts for the band, set about to do the material they loved and that would allow them to work.
"You can't make a living playing [music] and be married," Yuell remarked ruefully. "You can make good extra money, though."
"[Being in the band] is like having another family," Essig said. "It's about commitment, one night a week to practice and jobs on the weekend. Sometimes it's hard, but you would miss it if it weren't around."
Yuell has been playing basically the same kind of music throughout his musical career. He and Essig are unapologetic about the fact that the band is a cover band.
"We play the sixties stuff the audience likes, the Motown sound. Blues Brothers, Memphis Horns, that kind of stuff," he said. "The crowds like that great dance music, the kind they can sing along to."
"We even play 'Brown-Eyed Girl, ' although it's not on the playlist—we know someone will request it before the night's over."
Essig agreed. "We try to imitate the original artist's version as closely as possible."
Essig is the one member of the band whose day job is related to the music business — he is the associate director of bands at the Youth Performing Arts School.
"I teach music," Essig laughed, "to six bands a day."
"I've enjoyed playing in this group. Most of the guys were in their forties and fifties when I joined at eighteen, so I got in with a group of mature people and it's been fun. They kept me from all that running around and drinking."
Bob Yates is the primary vocalist. Yates was a founder and leader of the Mersey Beats USA, the sixties Louisville band from which Steve Ferguson and Terry Adams left to form NRBQ.
The other members of Midnight Hour include Jim Alfred, saxophonist, who has aday job in the advertising field. Charlie Wozadlo handles the bass and. manages Louisville Pizza Company in Jeffersontown.
Carl Bramel is the guitarist. Bramel is in the audio/video field and worked for Channel 32 for many years. He has a small studio in his basement, where the group records tunes and "saves them," according to Essig. He was hesitant about saying why they're "saving" them, but admitted that the future could hold something different for them.
Perhaps he's awaiting for the return of that sweet soul sound. ln the meantime, Midnight Hour is happy to be able to maintain the live Motown sound and earn at little money. Just the way Berry Gordy intended it.