In July, Bo Bice, the runner-up on the fourth season of “American Idol,” got an unexpected phone call.
It was from the legendary jazz-rock group Blood, Sweat & Tears, saying vocalist David Aldo had returned to his solo career and telling Bice, “We’re interested in having you come out and possibly do a couple of shows if you’d like to.”
Bice’s career was rolling along just fine – perhaps not at the 2005 level when sales of his recording of the “Idol” coronation song “Inside Your Heaven” nearly matched winner Carrie Underwood’s, and his debut album “The Real Thing” hit No. 4 and went gold. His last album, his third, broke the Top 200 and he continues a strong touring schedule.
That solo touring schedule will bring him to the region for a show in April at Black Oak Casino in Tuolumne.
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Still, Bice says the offer intrigued him. He sang Blood Sweat & Tears on “Idol.”
“I think that they did their homework on me. Because I did (the song) ‘Spinning Wheel’ on ‘American Idol,’ people could kind of gauge – you know, ‘Can the cat sing this stuff?’ ” Bice says with a laugh by phone from his home outside Atlanta.
“But I’ve done my homework on them just through the love of their catalog over the years. They’ve had some really great hits. And so what drew me in was just that catalog of music and the great folks that came before. I kind of said, ‘Yeah, man, I’d love to do that.’ ”
The union was announced Oct. 30, and after about a dozen shows together, the group decided it worked so well that it would put out its first disc of new material in more than 30 years – since 1980’s “Nuclear Blues.”
“It turned into, ‘Wow, this is a lot of fun. Do you think you’d be interested in doing a new album and being a part of that with us?’ ” Bice says. “So that kind of tumbled into a whole new thing for me and, I guess, for Blood Sweat & Tears. It’s really turned into something that grew some legs.
“So I just signed up to really do some new music for them and if they want to keep me out on the road doing some gigs with them, man, I’m loving doing that, too. You can’t complain about having top-notch musicians to play with every night and drawing from an incredible catalog of music.”
Blood, Sweat & Tears does, indeed, have an impressive musical history: a dozen charting albums with five gold or platinum and five Top 30 hit singles. Its 1968 self-titled disc went four times platinum and won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year as well as another Grammy for “Spinning Wheel.”
Even more important is the group’s groundbreaking and influential mix of jazz and rock, as well as the roster of important musicians who were among the 145 people who have played in the band over the years, including founding members keyboardist Al Kooper and trumpeter Randy Brecker, and vocalist David Clayton-Thomas.
Bice counts Clayton-Thomas among his influences.
“I’ve gotten a lot of compliments from folks that I sound similar – I imagine that’s why (the group) wanted me to come and be a part of this,” Bice says.
It also was the group’s fluid lineup that appealed to Bice. Within 10 years of the group’s founding, all its original members were gone. None of the current members of Blood, Sweat & Tears has been with the group longer than nine years, although founding drummer Bobby Colomby remains the band’s owner.
“That’s what more interested me in the first place in doing this project … it wasn’t about having to come in and shut down what I’m doing. I guess you kinda could look at it as a little side project for me,” Bice says. “I like being able to go out and be Bo Bice, and it gives the people the incentive to want to come and see Bo Bice when they want to hear Bo Bice music.”
It will be that Bo Bice music, done acoustically, at the Black Oak show.
Similarly, Bice says he won’t bring his solo music into Blood Sweat & Tears.
“When people come to see Blood Sweat & Tears, I didn’t really want it to be a ‘Bo Bice’s Blood Sweat & Tears,’ ” he says. “When you come see the show, you’re seeing the songs that Blood Sweat & Tears made famous. I wanted to keep the two worlds different – not only out of respect for their brand and the people that came before me, but also wanting to keep my brand intact.”
But Bice says he has brought into the band a willingness to try other music. He says the group is playing an Allman Brothers song he suggested – he won’t say which, but reports online say it’s “Midnight Rider.”
“People love it when we play it, but they kind of scratch their heads and go, ‘Wow, I never thought Blood Sweat & Tears would play that one.’ And so that’s kind of something I guess I’ve already brought. I wouldn’t call it the Bo Bice era of Blood Sweat & Tears or anything,” he says with a laugh.
But when Blood, Sweat & Tears records the new album, Bice says, he’ll “throw my hat in the ring for doing some writes and throwing some of my songs in there, but they wouldn’t be previously released songs. It would be new material.”
Working with Blood, Sweat & Tears continues the broadening of the music Bice has undertaken since “Idol,” a journey made easier by the fact that shortly after the show he started his own record label, Sugar Money.
While “The Real Thing” was pop-rock, his second album, “See the Light,” the first on the Sugar Money label, was more Southern rock, and “3” was more country. Bice says he hopes to next do an album of covers by acts that influenced him, such as Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniels.
Bice’s latest album, 2010’s “Soul Revival,” is Southern gospel, with songs such as “Hard Times Come Again No More,” a Stephen Foster song covered recently by Mavis Staples, standards such as “I’ll Fly Away” and even a song Bice wrote with partner D. Scott Miller, “I Had an Enemy.”
The album really is “just rhythm and blues … if your dog didn’t get killed and somebody didn’t steal your car and your woman didn’t leave and you were sober,” he says with a roaring laugh. “It’s the blues with that kind of message.”
But Bice, the father of four children, concedes the music reflects his embracing the Christianity of his youth and his effort to lead a better life.
“I think so many people out there do enjoy that aspect,” he says. “I don’t wear my Christianity out on my sleeve. I believe my mission is to be a good follower of Christ, and in doing that it doesn’t mean to push things down people’s throats. ...
“So that’s how musically I’m able to relate to people and tell them, Hey, man, I don’t have to be out here sleeping around with every woman in town and doing all the rock ’n’ roll cliché and music business cliché stuff. I’m happy being a dad and a husband and follower of Christ and I just choose to sing about it instead of some folks who preach about it.”
Bice carries that family feeling to his thoughts on “American Idol.” He says that after all these years, he has watched the show grow and change and understands why it did. He said the only time he ran afoul with “Idol” was last year, when he tweeted that Nicki Minaj disrespected the show by arriving late to the live broadcasts.
“We got into, like, a Twitter war where her fans were mad at me and sending me all this bad crap,” he says. “You know what? Don’t be bad to my family. Don’t disrespect these people who worked hard to give me and so many other people a career.”