Craft Brew: Local Rock Band The Legendary Brewmasters

By James Gass

Many of you might remember me as a naturalist for the Audubon Society of Rhode Island, when I managed Smithfield’s Powder Mill Ledges Wildlife Refuge and the Fort Nature Refuge in North Smithfield back in 2000-2004. But I’m also a musician, and there might be some of you who have seen me perform with my all-original rock band, The Legendary Brewmasters. I’m the lead guitarist.

The Brewmasters play gigs throughout Rhode Island and Massachusetts. This past summer we played alternating Sunday afternoons exclusively at Coach’s Pub here in Smithfield. Our music is straight up rock influenced by many styles and genres. Think of an original band that has a classic rock vibe (but with a twist) and you get the idea. Each musician brings his own unique sensibility to the mix, blending different musical styles seamlessly. We feel it is a completely unique sound that is unlike any other on the local music scene.

The Brewmasters were formed back in the summer of 2015. I answered an ad on Craigslist from a start-up band in Mansfield, MA seeking a lead guitarist. When I arrived at the audition I was greeted by guitarist and songwriter Mike McCullough, an Australian transplant that had been working in Rhode Island for about 6 years who was trying to get something going musically. The drummer was Cranston native Dennis DiMauro, a buddy of Mike’s from work. They didn’t have a bassist or even a band name yet, but Mike had a huge catalogue of tunes he had written with his brother Simon back home in Australia, and I saw promise. Mike also had an amazing singing voice, rich and powerful.

The audition went well and we agreed to forge ahead. We would rehearse at Mike’s or Dennis’s place on Sunday afternoons while writing songs and looking for a bassist. I eventually suggested my friend Rob Alho, who is a gifted songwriter and bass player. Rob agreed to join us and we started to write more tunes and play out, usually at AS220 in Providence, The Common Pub in Bristol or The News Café in Pawtucket, which are all great venues. The News Café became our favorite place to play.

After about a year Mike and Dennis unfortunately had a falling out and Dennis left the band. We replaced him with an excellent drummer I had worked with previously, Mike Minisce, who had already been on the New England music scene for over 20 years in a cover band called The Name. He was a polished professional and it greatly improved the band’s sound. We began to build a solid repertoire of original tunes and began to record them informally at Mike McC’s place.

We still didn’t have a band name that everyone could agree on. For a while the working moniker was Thunderbug (Mike McC hated it). Since we all enjoyed a taste of the finer things in life including good bourbon, we tried to come up with a name that incorporated the word “whiskey.” However, it was nearly impossible to think of a band name with the word whiskey in it that hadn’t already been taken. Whiskey Jack, Whiskey Republic, Whiskey Rebellion, you name it, it was already being used. One day Rob was looking at the label on a beer can and it said “hand crafted by our legendary brew masters,” or something to that effect. We loved it. The name stuck.

The next few years would see more personnel changes and an evolution of the Brewmaster’s sound. Throughout it all, Mike McC and I would remain the core of the band and its primary songwriters. Rob eventually left and was replaced briefly by local impresario and Smithfield native Ray Parsons, who had a dynamic and entertaining stage presence. Mike Minisce left and was replaced by North Scituate drummer Ethan Thurber. When Ray left he was replaced by Dante Sanchez from Colorado, who is majoring in Physics at URI. This is the current lineup, with ages ranging from 22 (Dante) to 59 years old (me). It makes for a very interesting and unique musical amalgam. The differing tastes and influences stretching over forty years, ranging from Primus and Metallica to the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, combine to make something utterly new musically. With the addition of Dante on bass and especially Ethan on drums, the band has become a rocking rhythm machine.

The Legendary Brewmasters are stepping back from performing for a few months and will be focusing on recording some new songs at Newcastle Sound in Bristol, RI. Look for local shows, including some all-acoustic gigs, to be announced later this spring. To get a taste of the Brewmaster sound check out Songs are also available for purchase on Amazon, Spotify, YouTube and ITunes.