Felix and the Hurricanes are a melodic mainstay.
Storming onto the local music scene 20 years ago, the three-member southern-style blues rock outfit has exemplified what it means to endure as a musical force - and what it means to be a working band.
"Part of why the Hurricanes can be considered one of the area's hardest-working bands is that ... for them, the line between music as work and play blurred a long time ago," said Jim Price, disc jockey for area music station Rocky 104.9 (FM) and writer for Pennsylvania Musician magazine.
Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec
Felix and the Hurricanes (from left, Felix Kos, Jeff Clapper and Bobby Watters) perform June 13 at the Gallitzin Sportsman’s Association.
"Work and play are one and the same in this band," he said. "They maintain their busy schedule because they love what they do. It's easy to be a workaholic in an endeavor if you are passionate about and enjoy doing that endeavor."
And passionate they are. The band's founding member and namesake, Felix Kos (guitar and vocals), Bobby Watters (drums and vocals) and Jeff Clapper (bass and vocals) - the band's lineup since 1998 - have thrived not only on a fierce playing schedule, but also on expert musicianship, spontaneity and the fine art of showing audiences a good time.
"This group knows how to read crowds and improvise on the fly to give any audience what they want music-wise," Price, 48, of Altoona said. "They can lean their sets toward country, older rock and roll, jams and improvisation or barrelhouse southern rock ... even within the songs, there's a fun and spontaneous vibe going on."
The Hurricanes play every week at 10:30 p.m. at Shaw's Bar, 331 N. Fifth Ave., Juniata. Pat McGuinness, 51, of Altoona, stands in on bass for Jeff Clapper.
"Jeff had started working a traditional job and didn't want to out late on Sunday nights," he said. "They posted on the Rockpage that they needed a fill-in, so it was an on-and-off thing for about a month.
"I'd played a couple of times with them, and it worked out well enough that we started playing on a regular basis. ... Felix and Bob are great guys, on top of being great musicians - it's therapeutic for me to do this," McGuinness, who also performs locally as a solo act, said of the weekly gig.
The band does around 200 gigs a year, playing up to six and seven times a week, Kos, 45, of Altoona said - sometimes performing multiple gigs in a single day.
"It's just what we do ... it's second nature," Kos, a self-employed construction worker, said of the band's work-horse ethic. "It's just something I've always wanted to do, and when you get with good people, you just keep workin' and workin' ... I always say, 'We're just a working band.'"
Described by Price as "three seasoned players executing like a well-oiled machine," the Hurricanes are known for never using a set list, preferring instead to feed off the vibe of a particular crowd on a particular night - and inviting guest musicians on stage to jam with the group.
"It's sharing your art ... we've always done that," Kos said. "Most of the time people fit - sometimes they don't - which makes it a real challenge for us. ... It's like throwing a hammer in a cement mixer sometimes, but you just gotta keep it goin.'"
The group issued its first studio album, "The Feeling," in 2001; and released its follow-up, "Travelers Not Forgotten," two years later, Kos said. A new album "has been in the making" for the last two years.
"The songs I write come from real things that have actually happened to me," Kos said. "'The Feeling' was pretty much a collaboration between Jeff and (my) songs - songs that had been balling up inside of us for the last 20 years - bits and pieces.
"Jeff is like the songstress, as I call him - he just writes song after song," he added, "whereas I'll come up with one or two every six or eight months."
"I live alone, and I have a lot of time to think. And after all these years of playing music and living the life I've lived, the songs just seem to be coming to me easier," Clapper, 59, a self-employed painter from Bedford, said. "It's all about what you experience in life. And that takes years."
Through the years, the band has amassed a large and dedicated fan base throughout the west-central Pennsylvania area. Each summer and fall, the trio does several performances aboard the Proud Mary at Lake Raystown - an event known as the "Blues Cruise."
Watters, a self-employed graphic designer nicknamed "Thunderfoot" by Kos, said it's the emotionality of a Hurricanes gig that keeps people coming back.
" The intensity of it is what we try to get out to the crowd - taking a song from down here to up here," Watters, 43, of Altoona said. "People feel it a lot more when the whole band's groovin' to a certain dynamic."
He cited the band's recent winning of the 2009 International Blues Challenge for western Pennsylvania bands (held on April 26 in Pittsburgh) as one of his proudest moments as a Hurricane. The band won a $1,000 prize, a slot at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival opening for blues stalwart Robert Cray on July 25, and will compete in the IBC finals on Beale Street in Memphis, Tenn., in February.
But he made it clear that this band takes such accolades in stride.
"We try to keep it as humble as we can," he said. "We're not gonna be bigger than life - we're just gonna be us, and do what we do."
Added Kos: "Everybody's like, 'You'll get your turn, you'll get your turn' - but we have our turn right now - we're turnin,' man, we're turnin."
Staff Writer Jimmy Mincin is at 946-7460.