There is a reason beloved local rockers, the Gunboat Kings, have been entertaining music lovers for over a decade; they never fail to deliver in a big way! Based in Orange County, California, the Gunboat Kings opened to sold out crowd, at the famed Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. Maybe the crowd came to see headlining act, Blue Oyster Cult, but they certainly ventured out early enough to catch the Gunboat Kings. When the lights went up and GBK started their set, the venue was already filled to capacity and our local talent did not disappoint.
This, well-seasoned, six piece, predominately original rock ensemble, has captivated crowds in some of southern California’s most famous and infamous, intimate capacity venues for more than 10 years, with no plans of slowing down. Consisting of six professional artists, Nick Calandrino (lead guitar and lead vocals), Tom Bellone (keyboards, Hammond B3 organ and lead vocals), Elden Lisalda (guitar, saxophone and lead vocals), John Sleeger (bass), John Wilkerson (drums) and John Gulack (keyboards), the band produces a rich full sound that grabs their audience and keeps them engaged throughout their set. It is not uncommon to look around the room and see their fans singing along and considering that GBK is not known as a cover band, that in itself tells the story of how much fun these gentlemen are to watch perform. The original music they bring forth is a variety of classic rock, jazz, blues and R&B and according to their website; they toss in a bit of “Philly soul” just for good measure. This is not just your average and commonplace band. They are not satisfied with one of this or one of that. One keyboard player is not enough, so they enhance an already great thing but adding another! It’s not enough for lead singer, Elden Lisalda to just sing so he adds his guitar and mind blowing sax skills to the mix. John is nothing short of perfection sitting behind that drum kit especially when it comes to a drum solo. Mid set, no advance notice just lets loose and keeps the audience engaged for a perfect amount of space and time. There is neither over achievement or underdoing, just a simple and timely placed solo and then back again.
GBK opened their 45-minute set with two of my favorite originals; “Love is Pure” and “Those Green Eyes”, a beautiful song that was written by Elden Lisalda in honor of his lovely red haired, green eyed wife, Jeanette! Not willing to just perform and then leave the stage, GBK is in constant interaction with their fans and audience. They bring the room completely into the experience by way of storytelling and mentions of the musings that inspired their songs and music. By the end of each performance, you walk away knowing a touch of personality that lives within each one. Throughout the set, they took the time to say “hello”, introduce the players, and maybe tell a bit of the backstory that influenced their songwriting. Mid-set came the song “Two Dozen Years”, beautifully vocalized by the songwriter, GBK’s, keyboardist, Tom Bellone. “Two Dozen Years” tells the story of how Tom came to know his adult son two dozen years after he was born. It is a lovely tribute to a father and son and as a spectator it was hard pressed to find a dry eye in the audience. I have heard this song many times over the years and the story never fails to hit me in the heartstrings and Mr. Bellone delivers it with eloquence and grace! A sampling from “Two Dozen Years” speaks of the sadness and regret that lay within a parent that was robbed of knowing his child for so long; “Two dozen years, my son is grown. You think perhaps I should have known. Enough regrets to call my own, wishing I could turn back time”. You can find the full version of “Two Dozen Years” and several other original GBK songs on YouTube and various other reputable music service websites.
Before relinquishing the stage to the headlining act, GBK ended the set with a wonderful rendition of Jack Bruce’s, “We’re Going Wrong” and Vanilla Fudge’s, “Set Me Free”. The talented musicians that are the Gunboat Kings are everything that makes independent artists the real powers behind the thrones. Yes, you may come for the headliner, but sometimes the opening act shines just as bright!
I had the opportunity to interview members of the band via email. Here is their response to our questions:
Interview with BackStage360 and Gunboat Kings
360 – The core of GBK has been playing in the public for many years. What is the dynamic that keeps the group together and moving forward?
Nick – Simply, the need to create music as the mood strikes. No box, no limits. AND the absolute desire to connect with our audience. Above all to have FUN!
Tommy – The fact that we’re doing original material. like Nick said, “no box no limits” and the rush of pleasing an audience. I’ve never had more fun in my entire life as I do with these guys.
Elden – We all love to play and perform music, especially our own. This band has been built on the ability for us all to bring what we can to our music individually, causing a blend of both styles and emotional content. Our listeners tell us that when the band performs it comes alive and the majority of people can connect with at least part of songs because we try to reach out to everyone
John – The love of playing original music to a live audience.
360 – For the most part, GBK plays originals song and music, but is there any one artist or genre that inspires you to play covers and if so, can you name a few?
Nick – For me it would be Jack Bruce. We do a cover of Jacks “We’re Going Wrong”, we remodeled the rhythm but stuck to the pure vocal style as Jack sang it.
Tommy – Any HAMMOND B3 player…dead or alive.
Elden – I have always followed bands like Toto, Ambrosia, Fleetwood Mac, Pink Floyd because of the multiple layers the bands offer. Playing multiple instruments in this band has forced me to expand my thinking into multiple genres of styles because of what we have available to us with instrumentation. Having two keyboard players offers us the ability blend with non-sequenced music adding a real depth and fullness to our sound.
John – Not really.
360 – I have seen GBK (under a different name) play The Coach House many times over the past 10 years, but where and what are your favorite venues to play?
Nick – Actually, The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano is like our home but we have favs like the Fox Performing Arts Center or the Yost Theater in Santa Ana.
Tommy – The Coach House.
Elden – The Coach House had offered us the most continued notoriety for the band here in the southland. However, we performed with Credence Clearwater Revisited at the Fox Theater in Riverside and because of its overall size capacity and stage, it was to date my most favorable stage and performance.
John – Right now, The Coach House. Looking forward to other concert and festival settings.
360 – Who is the best known national touring act that GBK has opened for and what was the crowd capacity?
Nick – Damn that would have to be the great Johnny Winter. We’ve opened for Leon Russell, Eddie Money and Lou Gramm even his brother Edgar but Johnny Packed the house and killed ‘em all! The House was pushing the fire code 😉
Tommy – Terri Nunn and Berlin/Dave Mason/Leon Russell, and the list goes on and on; sold out shows.
Elden – I’m not sure I could state the ‘one’ best known artist, because there have been multiple well known artists but in different era’s. Some of the most recognized would be Lou Gramm of Foreigner, John Mayall, Eric Burdon, Mitch Ryder, Berlin, Eddie Money
John – Our last show at the Coach House opening for Blue Oyster Cult comes to mind for me. I think capacity is 450 (not sure though).
360 – Can you give me a quick rundown of each member’s musical history and education?
Nick – Well my mom was my first teacher. She sang with the Stan Kenton Orchestra back in the 40’s as Sweet Rita B. As a kid, I would lay under her baby grand piano while she played and just drift away with the music. She had a voice like an angel too.
Tommy – Some of the guys have schooling….me (?), I grew up in back alley bars and street taught. I listened and stole ideas and licks from everybody.
Elden – I started playing music at age 9 in band with sax. By the age of 12 I had my first guitar and shortly after that started lessons with is. By age 14 I was in my first band we were playing school dances by the time I was 16. I had and performed with a few local bands and started singing until I was 20 and then played with a local popular band call BackStreet. It was at that time my music talents really started to expand. In my mid-twenties I stopped playing to pursue the career efforts. However, around the New Year Millennium I started playing with a small 3-piece Latin band combo. From there I started going to local blues jams and it was then the current showcase band offered me a way back the stage, but this time with all my favorite legacy artists. I have been very blessed with this bucket list ride. I love all the guys I play with, and my heart is very sensitive to my two players that have stood by me since we started this band.
John – Have played music since high school, first as a drummer, then started keyboards/piano during college. Played in original bands GI and LifeSpeak with Nick Calandrino in the 80’s. Have played in many bands over the years doing a variety of styles: Rock, Soul, R&B, Funk, Jazz, Pop, and Country. Have a Bachelor and Master’s degree in music from CSULA.
360 – I enjoy sitting behind the stage or on the direct sidelines watching audiences from the performer’s point of view. Have any of you ever seen anything in the audience that was just so outrageously funny, ridiculous or heartwarming that you remember it? If so, can you tell me an incidence or two?
Nick – I’ve been flashed a few times and had my butt pinched getting off stage fights and pepper spray (haha) the usual. One night we played the Yost and I could see the audience singing along with “Angelina” but they were adding Jolie to the lyrics.
Tommy – Some people in the audience crying after 2 Dozen Years, then I get choked up.
Elden – Yes, at our first ‘headline’ concert we performed one of our longest standing tune called ‘Those Green Eyes. When I started to sing it, I saw people mouths singing the words along with me. For a singer/songwriter there is no better reward.
John G. – I’m afraid the only one’s worth mentioning are not worthy of publication (a bit unsavory).
360 – I expect that we will continue to see GBK out in public for some time. Can you tell me if there is anything new and exciting sitting out on the horizon we can look forward to?
Nick – Yes, we are developing a whole new show for our fans all new songs as if we’re starting all over…who knows what will happen. We are also recording at Multiverse again, getting more recordings for our fans in Sweden, Netherlands, Mexico and the U.S.
Tommy – More recording and putting them up on internet download sites; want the world to hear it.
Elden – Yes, more recorded music. The current band tackled our first recording sessions as the new formed band this past year. We pushed and got five songs up on the music internet sites like iTunes and Amazon.com. It was a great landmark for us and we have several more we will be starting on soon. Our next performance looks to be at the ‘Day of Music’ in Fullerton. We will be opening for the 80’s band “Missing Persons”. We recently performed with them and they asked us back to do this performance.
John – We will continue to record music, try to find larger venues to play and reach larger audiences.
Keep up with Gunboat Kings’ happenings and concert dates on social media, on their website, www.gunboatkings.com.
Gunboat Kings – The Coach House March 31, 2017