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Super group PGH combines musical strengths of headliners

| Wednesday, April 17, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Jeff Swenson
The PGH band is Sputzy Sparacino, Shari Richards, Tony Janflone Jr.

The female vocalist looks like a hip schoolteacher, but can belt out a blues tune that makes your hair stand on end.

The male singer has a commanding personality that complements his show-stopping vocals.

The guitarist tends to be quiet until he picks up his instrument and channels his inner Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Meet Shari Richards, Sputzy Sparacino and Tony Janflone Jr., blending their talents in PGH, the area's newest super group. PGH will debut April 20 at Silks Lounge at the Meadows Racetrack and Casino, Washington County.

PGH grew out of a benefit concert Sparacino and Janflone played together in late 2012. What could Janflone do, Sparacino wondered, with a larger ensemble? A few weeks later, at another charity show, Sparacino found himself onstage with Richards.

“I'm looking at Shari and thinking ‘I'd love to see her with a big band,' ” Sparacino says. “Then I thought, ‘Wait a minute, I should have a big band, too.' ”

Sparacino says Richards and Janflone signed on almost instantly when the idea was broached to them, even though such collaborations have inherent pitfalls. When three principals are used to being headliners, friction is often an unfortunate and unavoidable byproduct.

Not in this group.

“It's one of the greatest things I've ever done, and the reason is the whole thing isn't on my shoulders,” Sparacino says. “We get to throw it around the stage, we're having so much fun.”

Richards' range extends from Etta James and Koko Taylor to Melissa Etheridge and Joni Mitchell. Janflone is one of the region's most dynamic musicians and possesses an unlimited musical palette. Sparacino, in groups including Modern Man and Sputzy & the Soul Providers, leans more to R&B and soul.

At first blush, it seems the collective talents might clash. Instead, the rehearsals have been nothing but harmonious.

“We all respect each other massively,” Janflone says. “We've worked well together from the start. ... Shari and Sputzy have distinctive voices. Honestly, I find that's the mark of an artist. If I'm walking down the street and hear something and go, ‘That's Sputzy, or that's Shari,' that's what I look for.”

And Janflone's talents?

“He's on another level,” Sparacino says. “Tony's not your normal musician. He's a world-class player who has played all over the world.”

PGH also features keyboardist Jeremy Olson, bassist George Elliott, drummer Joe Kluchar, percussionist Derrick Edwards and the horn section of Curtis Swift (saxophone), Mark Custer (trumpet) and Bob Matchett (trombone). The group will concentrate on cover songs initially — notably selections by Sam Cooke, the Neville Brothers, Etta James and The Commodores — but is open to writing new material.

In the course of her solo career, Richards admits she's had to make adjustments in order to make a sustainable living.

“Out of necessity, you need to become a bit of a chameleon,” she says. “I take pride in that ability to be what the gig requires. But this band allows me to be me. After being a chameleon for so long, you don't get to be yourself as much.”

“That's the great thing about this,” Janflone says. “The strength of it is we are all doing our own thing.”

Rege Behe is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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