Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Rico Diamante, dapper in a fedora and silky red double-breasted suit, steps from behind the curtain of the small stage of Roxy’s Lounge in Sam’s Town.
IF YOU GO
When: 8:30 p.m. Thursdays through November
Where: Roxy’s Lounge, Sam’s Town
Also: 7 p.m. Saturday; Cabo Lounge, Fiesta Rancho
The vocalist struts and glides through the Temptations’ “My Girl,” backed by the seven-piece band SRO.
Rico Madrid, the group’s founder and leader, plays bass and trumpet, sometimes at the same time. It’s a novelty, but he carries it off. Dennis Calitri plays drums; Dana Barry, guitar; Donn Wade, keyboard; Greg Brown, sax; and Steve Scheck, trombone.
If you’re counting, that’s six musicians. But with Madrid playing two instruments, it’s seven pieces.
Roxy’s is less than half-full when the music begins, mostly fans of the musicians. But the group’s full sound draws intrigued spectators and the room slowly fills. Some sit and drink. Eventually the small dance floor packs with people who can’t sit still as the place starts to rock.
SRO plays blues, soul, rock and rhythm and blues — everything from Tower of Power and Aretha Franklin to Prince and Billy Joel.
“We do it all, from the ’50s, the ’60s, through 2000,” Madrid says. “We’re so diversified, any age group will be happy to sit out there. We don’t just cater to the older crowd.
“Everything is changing so much that if you just do one kind of music, you’re limited in how much you’re going to be able to play.”
Madrid, who is a booking agent as well as a musician, has lived in Vegas for the past 16 years and has performed here for 35 years. A Chicago native, he moved to California and eventually found his way to Vegas. He toured with the backup group for the comedy team of Marty Allen and Steve Rossi when he was a teenager and performed with the legendary guitarist and lounge performer Mary Kaye. “She taught me jazz,” Madrid says.
His first gig in Vegas was at the Sahara’s Casbar Lounge. “That’s where I got integrated in Vegas,” he says. “When Vegas was Vegas.”
Now, it’s a struggle for talented musicians to find a gig.
Diamante is the heart of the group, the man with the strongest chops and the most energy. He’s been in Vegas for years, but out of sight for a while, cleaning up his act.
“No more alcohol. I don’t want it,” he says. “I grew up with bands. That stuff is gone now. I’m going to move up, clean and sober. Too many bands don’t take things seriously.
Most of the other band members can sing too. Madrid says he’s been putting together the band for three years. “I’ve been after Rico that long to join us.”
For now, SRO is happy to perform in the lounges. “Our goal is to open for acts in the big rooms,” Madrid says. “We’re building our act. Right now we’re a great lounge show band, but we’re going to build it into something bigger. With Rico, we can do it. He’s still got the spirit.”