Tony Lindsay grew up singing a cappella with friends on the street corners of an upstate New York town. Now he travels around the world with Santana, but when he comes to , it's those R&B standards that he'll bring to the
The occasion will be an unusual program for the local performing arts center, a one-two punch of soul. Northern California favorites Linda Pense and Cold Blood will stage a local debut of an Etta James tribute, and an all-star lineup of jazz and rock musicians will turn the stage into a celebration of one of R&B's undisputed legends as The Ray Charles Project.
The Ray Charles Project is just a few months old, but is already gaining stature for its evocation of the pianist-singer's influential career. It's loosely under the direction of keyboardist Dave Mathews - ironically, pianist for the late Etta James for 20 years - along with bassist Dewayne Pate, drummer Deszon Clairborne and others.
But even more than the strong piano and sexy back-up singing of the Raelettes, it's the voice of Ray Charles that is known to a worldwide audience. For this program, not one but three singers try to do justice to that voice -- Clifford Coulter, Glenn Waters and Tony Lindsay.
"We started just a few months ago," said the 20-year veteran of the Santana band. "The first one was in February at Yoshi's in Oakland. We did a Wednesday night, and we had pretty close to a sold-out crowd on a Wednesday night."
He went on, "So after doing that show we're like, Ah, maybe we're on to something here!"
The group followed up with equally successful shows in San Francisco, Marin County and Santa Cruz, Lindsay said. "The Kuumbwa Jazz Society was completely sold out. We had a really good time there."
Such comfy rooms as Kuumbwa and George's Nightclub in San Rafael are a far cry from Lindsay's usual venues with the classic Latin rock band Santana. It was simply a walk-in audition in 1991 that got Tony Lindsay the gig, and he's been a rotating part of the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame band ever since.
"In 21 years I must have been around the world 18 or 19 times by now, it's ridiculous," he said of his association with the legendary guitarist Carlos Santana.
"All the stuff I was doing before that was mostly R&B," he said. "I don’t speak Spanish at all, but I write out how it sounds to me. I get pretty close, and then we go over it. He wants to have a lot of street vibe in there too, instead of it being perfect Spanish. The Santana band -- you gotta have that street thing, that's where he comes from."
I was talking by phone with Lindsay in New York, where Santana is currently co-headlining with the Allman Brothers Band in the Northeast. But his home is in the South Bay, where he moved in 1980 after growing up in Kingston, NY - 90 miles north of the City, 8 miles from Woodstock.
"I started when I was like 7 and a half, 8 years old, it's all I remember doing," he told me about how he got started as a singer. "We had a group called Four of a Kind, singing a cappella sing on street corners all the time. That was so long ago, man… "
Along with his on-again, off-again role in the Santana band - the touring band features several vocalists, though he was featured on the 1992 album "Milagro" - Lindsay has standing gigs with the Bay Area group Spang-a-Lang, his own Tony Lindsay Band, and the Latin-influenced Anthony King Band.
"The company that makes drums for him is out of Sao Paolo, Brazil, so they bring him down and he takes a band down every year. There's a club called Bourbon Street that we play at, and we hit a couple others while we're down there."
But back to the Ray Charles Project: Three singers? "We try to keep a variety of things happening. Glen Walters is one of the singers, and myself and Clifford Coulter is the other guy. We all do different tunes and split them up, everybody gets featured, and it works out pretty cool."
I had to ask, of course, who does which songs. "It varies on different nights," he said. "We haven't even discussed what we're going to do in Healdsburg. We've got the material together, so when we get there we'll figure it out."
Surely he has some favorites? " 'Unchain My Heart' is definitely one of my favorites," he said. "I like doing 'You Don't Know Me' and 'Georgia', but sometimes somebody else does those."
Tony Lindsay has been in Healdsburg just once before, playing at a wedding with bassist Bobby Vega and drummer Prairie Prince. But despite his close contact with a global superstar, he's obviously happy to share the spotlight.
For a guy who started on a Kingston, New York street corner and walked away with a leading role in an open audition, life is good. "It's great. I can't complain about anything."
You can find Tony Lindsay on iTunes, CDBaby, amazon.com and of course his own website, tonylindsay.com. Or see him with The Ray Charles Project at the Raven Theater, Friday Aug. 3. Showtime is 8 p.m., tickets are $30 available online or at the door.