The Gas House Gorillas are jumping around Jersey

Rick Fink is generally a rather amiable guy. But there's one sure-fire way to rile him: Call The Gas House Gorillas, the musical act he founded, a "swing band.''

"Those are fighting words,'' Fink says. Although he's joking about the "fighting'' part, he's serious about his intent. The Gas House Gorillas, for which he is lead vocalist and songwriter, specialize in jump blues in the style of Louis Jordan and Wynonie Harris, with a dash of rockabilly.

The five-piece band is playing tonight at Pavinci Grill in Hopatcong and Saturday night at Ocean Place Resort in Long Branch. Fink admits that The Gas House Gorillas' music is "swinging,'' but he asks that people refrain from calling it "swing.''

"I think of swing as what Benny Goodman played,'' Fink says. "We play jump blues, but not as if it's the 1940s. We're a little more aggressive, a little more rocking.''

The Gas House Gorillas are proud of their New Jersey roots. Guitarist Dean Shot, who joined the band in 2010, hails from West Orange. Another new addition, drummer David Moore, is a Belleville resident, while sax player James White is from North Brunswick. The only non-Jerseyite: bassist Jerry Scaringe, a resident of Yonkers. Though he now lives in Brooklyn, Fink was born in Irvington.

Growing up, he loved listening to musicians like Cab Calloway, and he knew he wanted a group of his own. "I always thought I'd have a big band,'' he says. "But when I got older, that seemed a little daunting.''

In 2003, he decided to get together with some of his musical acquaintances to record a demo, which he then used to book a live appearance for the band. He chose the name Gas House Gorillas from a 1946 Bugs Bunny cartoon. From the start, Fink became almost obsessed with jump blues. "I immersed myself in the music,'' he says. "I consider myself a student of music, and I wanted to learn as much as I could. I started out not knowing much, and then went further and further down the rabbit hole.''

Though they play some covers, most of The Gas House Gorillas' repertoire is original. "We're not like cover bands that play Top 40,'' Fink says. "What's worked for us is that we're not classified in one genre. We get the rockabilly audience, the blues audience. We're pretty eclectic.''

That freewheeling approach has led to performances in venues ranging from New Jersey bars to large outdoor festivals, such as the Budweiser Blues Festival in Peoria, Ill. Along the way, the group has developed a devoted following.

"We love the music we play, and people respond to it,'' Fink says. "It's danceable, and the fun we're having is infectious.'' Over the years, The Gas House Gorillas have changed personnel, but Fink believes the current lineup is particularly strong. "In a way, our sound is more rock 'n' roll now, in the style of Little Richard,'' he says. "We're a little bluesier, a little more rootsy.''

The next challenge for the band is to capture the sound on disc. "It's been a couple of years since our last record,'' Fink says. "We're looking to have a new Gas House Gorillas CD out before the end of the year.''

BILL NUTT - Asbury Park Press & The Daily Record (Feb 11, 2011)