Familiar blues

Locals have a yen to see Deja Blues again and again

Halfway through Deja Blues’ renditionof B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby,” my friend leans over to me and whispers, “You know, if anyone else sang this, it would be absolutely obscene.”

Lead singer Wanda Cobb, however, pulls it off brilliantly; the crowd hoots and hollers for her at nearly every line as she masterfully plays it, throwing her head back and shaking her hips suggestively. Perhaps this is a sign of a great blues singer: Only someone like Cobb can sing a raunchy song about sex, and be described with no words harsher than “sultry” or “soulful.”

For the next several hours, the band takes us through their interpretations of Eric Clapton, Etta James and Credence Clearwater Revival. The crowd recognizes most of the songs, and cheers for their favorites.

“You’re stuck with doing covers until you’re real well known,” explains bass player Warren Coleman.

“We do other people’s songs, but we tend to put our own flavor into it. … It’s not going to sounds like everything you’ve heard,” clarifies Cobb.

In fact, a common misconception about Deja Blues is that their name reflects the familiar nature of their songs. The band doesn’t mind that interpretation—but, actually, the name was an observation that the four musicians were recognizable to so many local music fans, who would approach the band and ask, “Haven’t I seen you before?”

Reno’s music scene is tight-knit—some even describe it as “incestuous"—and so it’s common to find bands whose members have played with one another before in a variety of projects. Deja Blues is no exception; before forming last November, various combinations of its four musicians appeared together in bands including Red House, Voodoo You and The Aristocats.

Individually, each musician has a lifetime of experience as well. Cobb has performed with Mahalia Jackson and Karen Carpenter. Beyer was given his first drum by his aunt when he was three years old—a present intended to annoy his father—and has been drumming ever since. Coleman, who has played with Little Richard, Ray Brooks and the Righteous Brothers, has been on the scene for decades.

“When I started playing, we had one string on a stick and a tub,” he jokes.

The sole exception is guitarist Gordon Bulcock, who never played in a band until five years ago.

“We used to joke that Deja Blues has had over 100 years of experience, and with me, we’re up to 101,” Bulcock says.

Despite Bulcock’s lack of experience, his natural talent shines through. He manages to instill exceptional emotion into his leads.

Their musicianship aside, Deja Blues also looks the part of a seasoned blues band; so much so, in fact, that they were approached for a part in The Cooler, a movie filmed in part in Reno and starring William H. Macy, Alec Baldwin and Joey Fatone of ‘NSync.

“Originally, they wanted Warren—they liked his look,” Bulcock says.

If you want to see Deja Blues play, chances are you won’t have to wait long. The band averages more than three shows a week; in just shy of 10 months, they’ve played more than 100 shows.

And, between the familiar songs and familiar musicians, don’t be surprised if you experience a little Deja Blues yourself.