A benefit concert in honor of the late Roosevelt Dean takes place Saturday at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que
Jim Pavente is a tall, strong and a self-described “burly” man. But five minutes into talking about “Rosie,” the late local blues guitarist, singer, songwriter and band leader Roosevelt Dean, the words choke in Pavente’s throat and his eyes glaze.
“I don’t feel that bad for breaking down,” he says about Dean, who passed away at age 65 on April 4, 2009 after a long battle with cancer. “It just shows I’m human and the impact that the guy had on me. If I can break down, you know that he had that wonderful place in my life and that wonderful place in so many people’s lives. We’ve all been touched.”
Pavente served as bassist and band manager for Dean’s group since the early 2000s when he and Dean met while haphazardly playing a gig together. Dean took a liking to Pavente and asked if he could call him to play bass with his band.
“Yes, Mr. Dean,” Pavente re-enacts eagerly. “You can call me anytime, Mr. Dean.”
Pavente, lead singer Carolyn Kelly and others in The Roosevelt Dean Blues Band will pay tribute to their fallen leader with a benefit concert on Saturday, April 16 at 10 p.m., at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Que, 246 W. Willow St. Proceeds from the evening, which will include sales of Dean’s CDs and the DVD Rose Tinted Blues, will benefit the Hematology/Oncology Associates of Central New York (HOA), where Dean received chemotherapy and other treatment.
In addition to The Roosevelt Dean Band, whose current lineup features Kelly, Pavente, John Boylan, Nick Humez, Terry Mulhauser and Ron Caramella, a slew of impressive musical guests will also play at the Dino, including Herb Williams, Bobby Green, K.J. James, Stevie Wolf and Joe Beard.
“It’s all going to be Rosie-centric,” Pavente says, “all about remembering the beautiful person he was and what he meant to all of us as individuals and as a collective community. We want to give to someone locally that we know touched Rosie in a very special way as our way of saying thank you.”
“It’s all about Rosie,” chimes Kelly. Dean had a long and impressive career throughout Central New York and well beyond. But despite many offers to join major labels, Dean always chose to stay near to the place he loved most: Syracuse.
“Rosie had a certain love and affection for Central New York,” Pavente says. “He was happy being Rosie Dean for Syracuse. But he always had his own thing, his own record label, his own company. He always said, ‘I want to be independent. I don’t want to be someone’s puppet.’ We had this gem of a guy right here among us and he could have been everywhere.”
While he was here performing in Syracuse from 1962 through 2009, right up until a month before he died, Dean had produced more than a dozen albums, although some were released on 45s and vinyl. He was so well-known and respected, even Ike Turner couldn’t scare him, something Pavente looks back on and laughs.
At the Mississippi Valley Blues Fest in the early 2000s, a limo came to gather the band and Turner was waiting inside. “Ike said some snide comment and Dean just gave him a snide comment right back,” Pavente laughs. “Whereas most people would be totally intimidated, Dean gave it right back.”
Kelly performed with Dean since 1968, stopping for several years to raise her children, She knew both sides of Dean and realized that even when he was hardest on her, it was for a damn good reason.
“One time he said to me, ‘I know what you got in you, and I’m gonna bring it out,’” Kelly says. “He was the kind of person, if he knew you had it in you, it was comin’ out. He was just stern.”
Pavente agrees. “At the time you’d think what a son of a bitch he is, but later you’d realize how caring and loving he was underneath. He knew what you had in you and he’d be able to pull it out of you.”
Dean also knew how to work a crowd with uncanny ease. He would break the audience/performer barrier with each show, walking through the crowd, sitting down and playing for individuals, speaking to them as he performed and pointing them out in the audience.
“Rosie was the ultimate front man,” Pavente says. “He knew how to run a band and schmooze an audience and Carolyn’s got that same feel about her. There are some people who do it and it’s contrived or forced. Where with Rosie or with Carolyn, it’s perfectly natural.”
As Pavente and Kelly sit talking, laughing and reminiscing about Dean, it’s noticeable how emotional they both become at times, but also how fondly they reflect on the man who was known by many as “The Voice of Syracuse.” Although he will always be remembered as a phenomenal blues talent, worthy of all the awards he received, it becomes clear that it was the genuine person within that still make him someone to remember.
“If you got a chance to know the guy, you couldn’t help but be enamored by him,” says Pavente. “He was so quick to laugh and smile. He would find the goodness and the soul that made people good. He taught me a lot in that regard.”
Today, whenever the band performs, it’s always with homage to Dean. “We’re here because of him and always recognize him,” Pavente says. “It’s a wonderful thing to do this with people you really care about.”
Admission to Saturday’s tribute is free. For information, call 476-4937.
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Blues man’s group: Roosevelt Dean (center) and his band during a Syracuse New Times Syracuse Area Music Awards (Sammys) performance in 2008.