The story of the Blood Orange Martinis, the Winterport-based blues trio that’s been playing in eastern Maine for the past few years, is as much a story of how guitarist Trent Souder and harmonica player Lauren Williams got together, as it is about three people that love that blues. It’s also a story about Winterport town manager Phil Pitula, who when he’s not running the town has been playing bass for area bands for more than a decade.
The band, which will play next at the Thirsty Whale in Bar Harbor on Friday, Sept. 6 and at the Big Easy at the Charles Inn in Bangor Friday, Sept. 13, is a labor of love. They’re also top notch blues musicians.
“We just love to play,” said Williams. “It’s pretty simple. That’s why we keep doing it.”
Souder and Williams met in California in the late 1980s. Souder, a Hampden native, had just finished up a stint in the Navy and was playing guitar in both rock and blues bands, and Williams, who grew up in Memphis, Tennessee, had just finished college and was just starting to get into the blues.
“Trent was in a blues band, and the woman that was the singer had this fabulous CD library. I just fell in love,” said Williams. “I was flying by the seat of my pants with the harp. I was playing it with the wrong hand for the first two years.”
Eventually, Souder and Williams got married and in the early 1990s moved back to his home state of Maine, where they dabbled in playing here and there but hadn’t yet put together a serious band. Williams was still learning her instrument, and harp players like Lil Walter, King Wilson, Annie Raines and, in particular, Lester Butler, sealed the deal for her love of the blues.
“Hearing Lester Butler for the first time was one of those moments where I remember exactly where I was,” said Williams. “We were in Calais. It was like a training coming through. I didn’t know the harmonica could sound like that. I thought, ‘Even if I’m a middle-aged woman, that’s what I want to do.’”
By the mid-1990s, the pair were in a band called the Taildraggers; by the early 2000s, they had become blues duo Souder and Williams. Three years ago, they began playing with bassist Pitula and needed a new name. After a gig at the Charles Inn, they were tired of being asked what the new name might be. They looked up at the chalkboard above the bar with the nightly drink specials on it, and picked one at random.
“So, we’re the Blood Orange Martinis,” said Souder. “Yes, it’s probably a little silly. Sometimes people think we’re a drink and not a band and try to order it. But it’s distinctive.”
Another distinctive thing about the Blood Orange Martinis is that Souder plays the snare drum in addition to the guitar, giving them more oomph than an otherwise drummer-less band might normally have. Williams’ brash, gutsy harp playing and Pitula’s bass playing make them one of the best blues bands around.
“The music scene has been catching on the past few years, around these parts,” said Souder. “You have to work a little harder to get people to like the blues, but it comes in waves. We’re having a blast right now.”