The Sonoma Posse rides into town

Sonoma Posse is a rockin’ band, soulful and funky, then sweet and warm.|

This town, this place at the end of the “El Camino Real” (The Royal Road), was once on the wild side. In the olden days, when the Plaza was full of grazing cows and there were no tourists, Sonoma had its share of petty crimes, drunken brawls and horse thefts.

Occasionally, the local sheriff had to round up a posse to find a horse thief. Those posses were usually comprised of the men who were not drunk. The sheriff armed this random, rotating group of men and charged them with enforcing the law.

Nowadays, the word “posse” has a much less minacious meaning, and can refer to any large group gathered with a common interest, such as architects designing a new city.

There is another posse in town these days. Called the Sonoma Posse, it gathers with the common interest of playing music. There is nothing minacious about these guys either, unless you call blowing the roof of a place minacious.

The Sonoma Posse formed recently. A lifelong musician, Michael Blakeman, started going to the open mic at Murphy’s Irish Pub.

“I knew there was some live music there,” Blakeman said. “One night, I asked (host) King Daddy if I could bring my keyboard, and he said, ‘Sure.’ And that is how the whole thing started.”

From his experience on stage at the Mondays at Murphy’s open mic, Blakeman realized the event draws some pretty good talent. He then did some cherry picking from the ranks of the open mic-ers.

In Sonoma Posse, Blakeman plays keyboards and sings. Mario Ramirez, one of the “Ma’s” in MaMaMa, plays guitar and sings. John “King Daddy” Murphy, who has played with practically every band in town, handles the percussion duties and sings. Assisting with his tasty percussive chops is John “white Cloud” Marshall. Sax man Alex Garcia, also a member of the fledgling but excellent Pete Floyd band, is the one most likely to blow the roof off the place. If Garcia can’t pull that off, vocalist Charles Thomas will.

Blakeman calls this lineup “the core group.” In case the complicated schedules of these busy guys do not allow them to play a particular gig, Blakeman holds some other cards in his hand. For example, their gig at the Speakeasy on Friday, Dec. 16 will consist only of Blakeman, King Daddy, and wonderful keyboard player Bruce Gordon.

“The last time we (as a trio) played, we called it Duelling Pianos, and it was really fun, a really big success, and the place was packed,” Blakeman said.

With this flexibility and interchangeability, perhaps he should simply call the band The Sheriff and his Posse.

Garcia was a plum pickup for the Posse.

Blakeman explained, “Alex started coming to Mondays (at Murphy’s) to jam. He was such a good player. I said, ‘I want to handcuff (he really said that, a sheriff reference) you whenever you are available, to come play with me when I do my thing.’ So, he came one night to the Speakeasy and just blew the roof off. This guy is a great player.”

He later added, “He sounds bigger than life.”

Blakeman says that in his music career, he has been very lucky to play with some very iconic people.

“When I first moved to Marin County … Van Morrison was my next-door neighbor, and Jesse Colin Young was his neighbor and Phil Lesh was his neighbor,” he said. “So, I was in the middle of all these great players.

“I went on tour with the Sons of Champlin and the Rowan Brothers. I played for many years with Bud Cockrell, the lead singer for Pablo Cruise. I became sort of a hired gun in the studio.”

Blakeman has composed music for television shows, including more than 100 shows on the Discovery Network, and TV commercials. He was awarded a Clio award for the Levi 501 commercial “I Must be in Levis Heaven.”

The successful musician and composer later moved into a different kind of “commercia”--commercial real estate. Also successful in that endeavor, he is now “free in terms of doing music without having to try to make it (as a professional).”

The band is a rockin’ one, soulful and funky, then sweet and warm. They turn on the hits and the dance floor fills up. Thomas sings and the crowd swoons. Garcia blows the roof off, yet again.

Sonoma Posse plays at the Speakeasy on Saturday, Dec. 3 and on Friday, Dec. 16 with different personnel. The band then play on Sunday, Jan. 29 at Murphy’s. Mondays at Murphy’s is often a time to catch a portion of the band just playin’ and jamming. Catch the Sonoma Posse before they catch you.

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