MARQUETTE - Three veteran local musicians have banded together to form Blue Champagne, a group that brings sometimes-forgotten music to life.
With Bob Buchkoe on keyboard and keyboard bass; Warren MacDonald on drums; and Mary Lou Pesola as the singer and guitar player, Blue Champagne offers something a little different when it performs everything from swing to standards to rock'n'roll.
The members are lifelong musicians.
From the left, Bob Buchkoe, Warren MacDonald and Mary Lou Pesola perform as Blue Champagne during a gig at the Dance Zone in Marquette. (Submitted photo)
"We formed about a year ago and we specialize in swing, old standards and easy listening jazz," Buchkoe said. "But we occasionally do some rock'n'roll and most any style of music, including polkas, waltzes, novelty instrumentals, Latin tunes and pop tunes."
The band has played for dances and has a semi-regular gig at Harley's Lounge in the Ramada Inn in Marquette.
Blue Champagne also played the International Food Fest in Marquette in early July.
"With certain settings, we are able to approximate the sound of a full swing band," Buchkoe said.
Classically trained pianist Buchkoe has been playing most of his life - and teaching almost as long, some 50 years in the Marquette community.
MacDonald, meanwhile, grew up in a musical family. His father, Robert, opened MacDonald Music in Marquette on Oct. 3, 1949.
"I started taking piano lessons back in kindergarten," MacDonald said. "I started performing in 1964 and was in my first band in 1965 at 12 years old. We were a rock band called The Bantams. I have a Mining Journal clipping here by the phone (in the music shop) from when we played in 1965."
Warren's father, Robert, played both in the Marquette City Band and in the pit band at the Delft Theater, so the MacDonald music heritage goes way back in the city's history. So it was natural Warren carried on the tradition.
He wasn't alone.
"I usually played with the same crew including my older brother Gordon," Warren said. "We had a band called French Church that released a 45 and were the opening act for the McCoys ("Hang on Sloopy") and later for Gary Puckett and the Union Gap ("Young Girl")."
MacDonald has continued to play in bands locally through the years.
"I was born and raised in a musical family," he said. "The more you practice, the better you get and the more fun it is."
Pesola, who hails from Negaunee, has had a popular solo act that led to her being in Blue Champagne.
"I did a program at the (Presque) Island and Bob had been on right before me," she said. "He asked me then if I'd like to sing with them. It's great. It has been so much fun."
Pesola, who lists now-retired Negaunee High School vocal teacher Mary Trolla as her biggest influence, said the band's name came a bit by chance.
"I was looking through music to work on when I came across this song called 'Blue Champagne.' I had never heard it but Bob knew it. I suggested it as a name for us. You get the idea of what kind of music we do."
MacDonald is amazed at Buchkoe's range.
"Bob can play any song from the past 500 years, I think," MacDonald said. "And I can go on anything. Mary Lou has a great voice."
Her favorite song to perform, Pesola said, is a classic.
"My very favorite right now is 'Body and Soul.' I love that song," she said. "I love to be signing again."
For Buchkoe, this new band affords the chance to bring certain styles of music to people.
"Blue Champagne is keeping alive the music of the 1920s through the 1950s, though we have a lot of later music we play," Buchkoe said. "Our real identity, though, is the music from the swing era, including fast and slow standards which deserve to live on despite the current tide of music.
"Anyone who attends one of our performances can enjoy such classic songs like 'Ain't Misbehavin',' 'Don't Get Around Much Anymore,' 'Sentimental Journey' and instrumentals like 'In the Mood,' 'One O'Clock Jump" and even 'Tequila.'
"Even people too young to remember some of their repertoire really enjoy the songs, which is very gratifying to the musicians. It is nice that some music is indeed timeless."
Renee Prusi can be contacted at 906-228-2500, ext. 253. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.