Ask any of the five members of Sly Joe and the Smooth Operators what they play, and you’re guaranteed to get the same simple but all-encompassing answer: earthy soul with a funky stroll.
It’s a catchphrase that works for the Fox Valley band whether they’re expanding to a 13-piece complete with a horn section and backup singers or paring down to the founding trio (guitarist and lead singer Joe Slyzelia, drummer Mike Underwood, and bassist Dave Jerabek) for a more intimate performance, as they’ll do for their March 19 show at Door County Brewing Co.
Changing up their “cast of characters” on a regular basis is part of the charm of a band that has built a solid local and national reputation with its optimism-invoking enjoy-the-moment lyrics and layers of funk, R&B, soul, folk and reggae.
“It’s fun to be able to do all those things, mix it up,” said Joe Slyzelia, the “Sly Joe” of the operation. “It keeps it fun for us and it keeps it fun for the audience too. The people that have been coming out to see us, they know when they see us it’s going to be a mix of familiar songs that touch them in their heart and soul, but there’s always going to be something a little different and unexpected too. We all have a little bit of a background in jazz and improvisation too so even within the songs that we know and they know, we might from night to night explore new places with songs and take it in a different direction.”
Those songs range from their originals, steeped in simple imagery and positivity, to the covers of their biggest inspirations, like Etta James, The Rascals and Stevie Wonder. With more than a thousand gigs under their collective belt, Sly Joe and the Smooth Operators are comfortable showing up for any gig – be it weekends at a bar or mornings at a farmers’ market – without a set list. But once they’ve settled into the venue, it’s all about discovering the mood of their audience and playing to it.
“The bar crowd on a Friday night, they’re fun and they’re uninhibited and fun and ready to dance and party, but the sober Saturday morning crowd is very discerning and maybe listening a little more carefully, which is kind of nice because we definitely put a lot of time and effort into crafting these songs and practicing them and presenting them as well as we can,” Slyzelia said. “So to have it go over in a sober environment like that is pretty gratifying whereas in a late night crowd it might be more about keeping the groove, keeping it easy, keeping it danceable. It hits so many variables and I think that’s why we’ve lasted so long – they’re all good and we have fun with all of them.”
The Sly Joe trio will kick off the party at 7 pm on Saturday, March 19 at Door County Brewing Co., 2434 County Road F in Baileys Harbor. For more on the band, visit SlyJoeMusic.com.