Rusty Yates band plays the Varsity Theatre
Rusty Yates, a Baton Rouge singer, songwriter and pianist with a natural gift for all kinds of music, including pop, rhythm-and-blues and soul, and his younger brother, Jeff, are on a mission.
Friday’s launch for Rusty Yates’ new album, “Passion,” at the Varsity Theatre, featuring Yates and his seven-piece band, is part of the plan to take his career level.
After performing for more than 30 years, Yates experienced an epiphany after he attended a 2010 concert by Tommy Emmanuel, the internationally popular, Nashville-based Australian singer-guitarist. Before the Emmanuel show, Yates believed that the chance to work as anything more than a local entertainer had passed him by. He’s been playing a solo gig, for instance, at cigar bar Churchill’s for 14 years.
Yates enjoys playing at Churchill’s, not to mention smoking cigars. But something Emmanuel said in concert inspired the then 50-year-old musician to renew his ambition.
“I had been going by the old way of doing things, when the record companies decided who gets signed,” Yates said. “And you don’t get anything released unless they release it.”
The rise of digital distribution of music, a technological development that devastated the traditional recorded music-business model, left record companies much less powerful than they once were.
“The independent movement is so big now,” Yates said. “Tommy Emmanuel is one of the pioneers in that.”
Rusty and Jeff Yates and their gospel singer father, Charles, all attended Emmanuel’s 2010 concert in Baton Rouge.
“We sat there and it was almost as if Tommy were talking directly to me,” Yates recalled. “He stopped the show and said, ‘I’m blessed to get to do this. If you’re out there in this audience, and if you know you’ve got what it takes to do what I’m doing now, that’s the key. If you have the talent, you don’t need a record deal or a publishing deal. You need your talent and you need YouTube. Hone up on your business skills, get someone involved with you who has business skills. Go after it and don’t stop until you get there.’ ”
The next day, Yates thought: “I’m supposed to be doing that, regardless of my age.”
The Yates brothers, without each other’s knowledge, wrote business plans the next day.
“We put them together and they were almost identical,” Yates said.
In the brothers’ partnership, Rusty Yates takes the creative and performance spotlight. Jeff Yates, himself a talented musician and songwriter, handles business and promotion.
The Yates brothers come from a historically musical family. In addition to their gospel-singing father, their late uncle, Bill Yates, was a Sun Records artist and regular performer in Las Vegas and Memphis. Their late aunt, Carolyn Yates, also a singer and songwriter, composed the Ray Price hit, “I Won’t Mention It Again,” a No. 1 country song in 1971.
Beginning in January 1980, Rusty Yates played drums for his Uncle Bill at the King 8 Casino in Las Vegas. He later worked with other Vegas acts, including Gina Eckstine, the daughter of jazz singer Billy Eckstine. He led his own band, too, and worked as a solo act.
“I grew up with gospel music and that means a lot to me,” he said. “But Michael McDonald, Ray Charles, Elton John, Ronnie Milsap and Billy Joel were huge influences on me.
“And the Beatles, especially Paul McCartney, because he played the piano. There was something about the piano that drew me to it.”
“Rusty,” Jeff Yates said, “gets accused of sounding like so many different people. But he’s not trying to sound like them. That’s just the way it comes across when he sings a song.”
Soul and R&B are the focus of Yates’ “Passion” album and its predecessor, “Chameleon.” “It’s old-school music but it’s new,” he said.
“The record labels,” his brother, Jeff, said, “have told us so many times over the years that we must fit into this mold or that mold. But now we say, ‘Whatever comes of it, we’re gonna do it the way we wanna do it.’ ”