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Soledad Brothers

The dark blues duo Soledad Brothers began in early 1998 after guitarist/vocalist Johnny Wirick (a.k.a. Johnny Walker) asked drummer Ben Smith (a.k.a. Ben Swank) if he wanted to play a show. Since then, they have recorded for Detroit's Italy Records and Bellingham, Washington's Estrus label. Wirick and Smith's partnership can be traced back to their days in the Toledo, Ohio blues group Henry and June, which existed from 1994 until 1996. After that group broke up, Wirick continued playing with drummer Doug Walker in the two-piece blues outfit Johnny Walker. Before one of the band's shows in early 1998, Walker decided to leave the group. Looking for someone to fill in for the gig, Wirick turned to Smith, who agreed to play. Developing from what was supposed to be a one-off show, Wirick and Smith decided to continue as the Soledad Brothers. After a few performances around the Toledo, Ohio and Detroit, Michigan areas, Dave Buick, owner of the Detroit-based Italy Records, approached the Soledad Brothers about cutting a single. This turned out to be their first 7", released in late 1998. Around the same time as the release of the single, the national independent label Estrus began distributing some of Italy's catalog. Upon hearing the Soledad Brothers, Estrus signed the group in early 1999. With the label, the band recorded their second single, which was released late that year. Jack White, a member of the Detroit band White Stripes, produced the 7". White had known the Soledad Brothers since their first gig and was a labelmate of the group during their time with Italy. White also assisted the band for two years recording their self-titled debut. It was during those two years that the group opened a show at Cleveland, Ohio's Pat's, located in the famous Flats, for legendary MC5 manager John Sinclair. He enjoyed the Soledad Brothers so much that he invited them to be the backing group for his part of the performance. This led to a friendship with Sinclair that resulted in him writing the liner notes for the band's 2000 debut album. Their sophomore effort, 2002's Steal Your Soul and Dare Your Spirit to Move, added several new instruments, including a second guitar, and a new group member in multi-instrumentalist Oliver Henry. Like many other Detroit bands, The Soledad Brothers became unexpected beneficiaries of the surprise international success of The White Stripes, which brought new attention to the city's blues-rooted rock scene, and in 2003 they released their first major label album, Voice of Treason.
© Stephen Howell /TiVo
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