WGLT headliner promises swinging time

Any group that takes its name from a Bugs Bunny cartoon, packs a Marx Bros. tune in its repertoire and is "God's favorite rhythm & blues band" can't be all bad, can it?

That's the insurance policy attached to any Gas House Gorillas show, promises head simian Rick Fink, a former rocker who transferred his punk edge to the world of jump blues, rockabilly and whatever else gets tossed in the pot.

That would include "Everybody Says I Love You," the ditty Groucho Marx sang to Thelma Todd in a rowboat in 1932's "Horse Feathers" ("every time the cow says moo, she makes the bull-a very happy, too," etc.).

Direct from New York City, the Gorillas have vowed to infuse the 10th annual GLT Summer Concert this weekend with ample supplies of (to quote more Marxist philosophy) monkey business.

The free show begins at 5 p.m. Saturday in downtown Bloomington with local favorites Hip Pocket, then segues to Dallas bluesman Andrew "Jr. Boy" Jones before the Gorillas throw their weight around the stage.

"We're the most fun you can have keeping your clothes on," says Fink, who isn't deterred by a forecast that promises sultry temperatures skirting 90.

"Let's just say it will be a thick night," he adds with an obvious enthusiasm for anything that heats up the action.

So who are the Gas House Gorillas and what are they thinking of doing to us after swinging in?

Their name, for starters, pays homage to the Looney Tunes spirit that Fink and the band love to channel, hailing from the 1946 Bugs Bunny classic, "Baseball Bugs."

But the Gorillas' tunes are beyond mere loony.

"We play, basically, jump music," begins Fink, "but we attack it as if it's rock music."

"Attack" being an operative word where the Gorillas are concerned, along with "aggressive."

"For most people, the term jump blues suggests a certain type of laid-back swing band," he continues. "That's not us. We attack the audience a little more."

Well, make that a lot more.

The band made its area debut a year ago at Peoria's Illinois Blues Festival, and it was a coming-out to remember, remembers Fink, vividly.

"That was the show that gave me a chance to crowd-surf," he recalls of the episode in which he left the stage and was passed along, semi-airborne, over the crowd.

"I like to be in the crowd a lot, as a matter of fact."

Wish granted.

"It takes some holding back on my part to keep myself on stage," Fink avers. "We are a band that really values that connection between music and crowd. We give 'em a hard time, and they throw it right back at us."

So why the jump from rock to swing around seven years ago, when the still-youngish Gas House Gorillas were formed?

"I wanted to do something where I could grow long in the tooth with a little more dignity," Fink laughs. "I'd done the rock for a long time, and I'd always had a picture in my head of a band that played this sort of music."

Originally, Fink thought in terms of a big band, but decided something smaller would be more practical.

The Gorillas began swinging on their own several years after the swing dance craze of the late '90s and early '00s had peaked and waned.

"People thought we were nuts for trying this after the whole swing thing was over," says Fink. "But we weren't trying to be a part of that. Actually, that whole scene -- you know, a bunch of guys in matching mustard green zoot suits -- made us cringe."

Instead: "We just want to see regular people having a good time."

They've been seeing it ever since.

And if there's a little attacking and aggression going on from either side, so much the better.

"The more we get from a crowd, the more we can throw back at 'em."

Dan Craft - Pantagraph (Jun 10, 2010)