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"We're moving into our second phase"
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It’s been just over eight years since local R & B guitarist and singer Eric Culberson released his first album, Blues Is My Religion.

That record, on the small but established King Snake label, was warmly received as a solid effort from a fresh face on the national blues scene, and helped Culberson (also known around his native Savannah as EROK) grow his following beyond our immediate region.

But no matter how many fans he’s earned through that first CD, or his ‘98 follow-up No Rules To The Game, it’s his concerts that make the sale. That’s where folks see him at his best, in an element which suits his boisterous personality.

It’s no surprise then, that many converts have long pestered him to bottle up some of that onstage energy so they could take it home after the gig.

“We’ve heard a lot for years from people who liked our studio CDs, but enjoyed our live shows more,” says Culberson during a break in his roadwork. “People have been asking us to get some of that on tape for a long, long time.”

Now, he’s finally agreed to do just that. Culberson, along with bass player Rodney Smith and longtime drummer Stuart Lusk, recently cut a live album in front of a standing-room-only crowd at Lake Worth, Florida’s acclaimed Bamboo Room – a venue whose name sounds like some musty Tiki Bar from days gone by.

“You’d think it would be,” he chuckles, “but it’s a beautiful, renovated music hall. It’s got a state-of-the-art PA, and the caliber of bands they book is outrageous.”

After selling out their last few appearances there, Culberson had finally found the right environment in which to document his live show. He’d also found some enthusiastic fans there, who offered to bankroll the undertaking.

Faced with such a high-pressure assignment, Culberson asked around and eventually settled on Big Mo Recording – one of the most respected production teams in the industry, who’ve worked with everyone from The Cure and Garbage, to Sheryl Crow and “Gatemouth” Brown.

Even though Eric knew they were hiring some of the best in the business, he was still unprepared for the level of technology they brought down from Maryland in their 48-track mobile recording truck, saying, “I walked in that van, and it looked like something the FBI would have!”

Although he was a bundle of nerves for days leading up to the big night, once the show began, Culberson’s worries faded away.

“I just did what came natural,” he reflects. “I just let it all go and hoped for the best – and it turned out great. You just hope you’re playin’ well, and you hold on by the seat of your pants (laughs).”

Eric and his bandmates spent a few weeks revamping some of their favorite tunes from his earlier CDs.

“We also played a few obscure things that we don’t normally do every night. We try to keep things fresh anyway, and leave some room for improvisation.”

He says the album should be ready for release by February 2005, and now – more than a decade into his career – Culberson and his current band (including new bassist Nate Saraceno) are viewing this live album as a kind of turning point.

“I personally think this record will open up a lot of doors,” he offers. “Now that we have some people excited about backing us financially, we’re moving into our second phase. We’re about to break out of the mold a little bit and not just play straight hardcore blues all the time.”

Culberson attributes at least some of this personal rejuvenation to the drastic change he experienced when Savannah Blues – the basement bar in City Market owned by his wife Ginger (and his band’s “home base” for many years) – was sold awhile back, and he was forced to jump back into the local club scene.

“The comfort zone is not always the best place to be. I started to play at the Mercury Lounge, and at Cagney’s and Malone’s... Basically, wherever I wanted to, and I think it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”

The Eric Culberson Blues Band plays Friday & Saturday at JJ Cagney’s.