John Sacheli has always wanted to be Genesee Johnny. He's bopped around Rochester for the past 15 years in various bands — most notably the song-centric group, The Spirit of Ontario — but the man's resume reads more like a detour until Sacheli began to play the blues. The Spirit of Ontario went down in flames, along with his marriage, and Sacheli started fooling around with bluegrass along with bassist Ryan Griffith.
"Ryan and I started playing together as a duo two years ago," Sacheli says. "And we got like five tunes together. There was a Grateful Dead song, a Crosby, Stills and Nash song, some early rock 'n' roll, a Buddy Guy song..." It was Buddy's blues that really sunk in. The blues thing really worked. Sacheli was jazzed ... or rather, blues'd.
"We were like 'Wow,'" he says. "'That really connected. We should pursue this blues thing.' So finally I got to play the blues. Every band I was in, the guys always bitched if it got too bluesy. 'Because we're rock' they'd say.'" But Sacheli needed to be honest with himself. It's like the lyric in his song "Dirty Secrets": "You can't please nobody, if you can't please yourself."
Soon the band got fleshed out with the addition of drummer Joe Myers and utility man (who has since split from the group) Mike Pavone.
Sacheli had dipped his toes in bluegrass waters, but took the plunge when it came to Delta-inspired blues. He credits local slide blues guitar aficionado Gordon Munding.
"Thanks to Gordon Munding, I started getting into resonator guitars, open tunings, learning slide," Sacheli says. "Gordon was really supportive of us, helping get us some shows at The Beale, and it took off from there."
When Munding needed a break from hosting the Son House night/open blues jam at The Beale, the torch was passed to Genesee Johnny & the River Rats.
Besides the difficulty in learning the style, Sacheli is keen on avoiding gentrification. In other words, "Not sounding like a white kid playing the blues," he says.
Not to worry, Sacheli's treatment of the blues is as reverential as it is referential. No, he doesn't sound like Howlin' Wolf, but he does sound natural and at home singing and playing the blues. He is an honest artist. The man tells it true, even in the face of the blues' liberal sharing policy, which Sacheli describes as "Whatever riff and licks you can steal and sneak in."
Genesee Johnny & the River Rats recently snuck into the studio with knob-twiddler Gary Holt in Mt. Morris, emerging a few days later with the band's first 15-track long-playing lacquer cracker "National Grid." The sound is bluestastic and not unlike RL sideman Kenny Brown's take on the blues, with a dash of John Prine Americana thrown in.
The guitar is a slippery and sinister slither of slide-borne evil over the band's tasty grooves. It's all original except for two cuts from Son House and one from Muddy Waters. The band shines particularly when it leans into its own stuff, especially Sacheli's seasoned voice when it's his story being told. The band recorded live in the studio to preserve the rhythmic variables synonymous with the human condition; imperfections captured perfectly.
Sacheli elucidates: "Stuff speeds up, stuff slows down," he says with a grin. "It's raw and I love it."
Genesee Johnny and the River Rats would like to hit stages a little further out in the region, preaching the blues to blues fans as well as jaded rock 'n' rollers.
"At the root level," Sacheli says. "If you're into rock music, it's all there. It's that basic raw element, that driving backbeat. And no matter what genre you're into, that's in there somewhere."
However, touring may have to simmer on the back burner a spell as Sacheli and his wife are expecting a visit from the stork next week. So besides being a dad, the daddy-o of the dobro, gets his wish.
"It's really cool to finally be doing what I've always wanted to do," he says. "I've always wanted to be Genesee Johnny."
The band is the pistol-packin' ruler of Western swing and all the genres that lead up to it.