Dennis Wilmott talks about the blues as if the music genre has grabbed his soul.
His boyhood home in Cambridge, Mass. provided an early classroom for an abiding passion that has remained with the Hinesburg resident through the seven decades of his life. “When I was little, my mother played the guitar and sang a bit. She sang everything from the blues to opera,” Wilmott recalled.
Taking that childhood influence with him, Wilmott turned his attention at age 14 to playing the guitar. He remembers the background of the late 1950s through the early 1960s as a renaissance period, a time when many of the African-American pioneers in the world of blues was discovered again, experiencing resurgence in popularity. “They were paraded through Cambridge, and I got to see them,” Wilmott said.
As Wilmott moved on through his early adolescence, he and his brother and a friend formed a band, playing in coffeehouses. He calls the genre of music folk blues, and he recalls that by the time he was 17 years old, he assumed the mantle of performer. The memories of those gigs in the venues and watching other performers display their talents are still clear. “You have someone sit in a chair (in a coffeehouse) before 50 people and deliver the most beautiful music,” he said.
As Wilmott’s life unfolded, marriage, family and a career in architecture and planning became his focus, but his passion for the music-the blues- never waned, he said. Wilmott renewed his musical focus in 1991, and now is the driving force behind the Left Eye Jump Blues Band.
Wilmott provides vocals and plays guitar. He’s joined on stage by Kenny B on bass; saxophonist Joe Moore and Jeff Salisbury hitting the drums. Formed in 1997, the band is the opening act for Friday’s Local Legends Concert set for 7pm at Champlain Valley Union High School. The musicians’ set usually runs three to four hours, but Wilmott and his group have to pare the playlist down to 30 minutes, he said, noting he figures he and his bandmates can perform six to seven songs in that timespan. Also sharing the bill are Pete’s Posse and Patti Casey.
Proceeds from the third annual concert will go to Responsible Growth Hinesburg, a citizen-led group opposed to the building of a Hannaford Supermarket on an area known as Lot 15 in town, said Mary Beth Bowman. Bowman, who’s spearheading the concert fundraiser, said tickets are $20; the cost drops to $15 for people 18 and under, she added. Food will be available and for a donation of $50, home-made wool mittens and potholders are available.
“It’s just a wonderful mesh of great community and great camaraderie,” Bowman said.
The concert also proved to be the right synthesis for Willmott’s interest and talent. “We agreed to do a benefit for a cause I believe in and it’s a way to give back,” Wilmott said.
When asked to discuss the influences on his music, Wilmott is quick to discuss a trip through Austin, TX. New Orleans and the Memphis Delta to the sites linked to the legends of blues’ music. His time spent playing with and just “hanging out” with Big Joe Burrell also made an indelible impression. “He kept me going,” he said.
Moore, who has known Wilmott for a decade, is amazed by the depth of Wilmott’s passion for music. “He’s right deep into the blues,” said Moore. “He lives it 200 percent. He’s my man.”