By Don Sikorski

Graham Thompson sits backs in his comfortable chair and takes another casual sip from his martini glass. Confident and relaxed in his role as the singer and leader of the Sugar Daddy Band, Thompson’s enthusiasm for the musical project he’s been involved with since his prior band Anderson Council dissolved in the summer of ’94 is honest and refreshing, especially considering the heavy club scene commitment the band has secured in recent times.

Unless live music isn’t your cup of tea or for some reason you’ve been a shut-in for the past half dozen years, chances are you’re familiar with Thompson’s band. Anyone with even a remote interest in the local music scene has probably seen, heard, or at the very least heard about the Sugar Daddy Band. The seven-piece band has been cranking out some of the region’s best funk and dance music for years now, and from the sounds of things, Sugar Daddy shows no signs of letting up anytime soon. In fact, the current Sugar Daddy lineup, consisting of Thomson and co-vocalist Marcy Parenteau, drummer Mike Sisk, Andy Chaney on bass, guitarist Dan Watson, Israel Malek on keyboards, and Klyph Johnson on saxophone, seems to be hitting it’s stride at just the right time. Sugar Daddy has always offered the region’s music fans a unique product, pumping out high energy dance numbers with a healthy dose of rock, soul, and funk blended into their set list. Especially appealing is the band’s ability to rejuvenate a past radio staple from the 70’ or 80’s, maybe a song you’ve even remembered hearing too often on FM radio when it was in it’s prime, and give it a brand new life. The members of the Sugar Daddy Band are extremely capable of playing pretty much anything musically, whether it be James Brown’s “Sex Machine” or K.C. and the Sunshine Band’s “Get Down Tonight”, and somehow making it sound like a Sugar Daddy song. Chaney’s creative bass lines and Sisk’s powerful rhythms provide the foundation for Sugar Daddy’s high energy music, featuring cover versions of music with such a wide variety that the audience rarely anticipates what the band will throw at them next. And much like a professional sports franchise trying to gather every necessary component for a championship run, the current Sugar Daddy lineup is clicking on all cylinders, with each individual member contributing musically towards a common cause: being the best band they can.

Sugar Daddy, like most bands, has worked though some tumultuous times of transitions to get to where they are now. For years, Thomson and local guitar virtuoso Chris Leigh churned out a healthy dose of “white” blues music, performing Eric Clapton, John Mayall, and Stevie Ray Vaughan covers around the local club scene. Thomson left for California for a year and upon his return to the region, reformed the band with Leigh, Nick Toscano, and Tom Lataweic, transitioning towards more of a Motown, funk, and R&B musical direction. Little did Thompson know at the time that he was pouring the foundation of what would become much of Sugar Daddy’s current musical menu. “Today’s set still has some remnants of that,” explains Thompson of the early days of the band. Since then, Sugar Daddy has evolved further, with Sisk assuming bass duties in June of 1999, adding Malek on keyboards the following summer, and Johnson’s saxophone playing later that winter.

In January of 2001, Thomson and Leigh had been working on a project of original music, and were set to do a CD release party to showcase their efforts. But the two musicians had been working through some creative differences at the time, and mutually decided to part ways soon after that project was complete. With the original material now on the back burner and a long list of club commitments awaiting, Thompson knew he needed to find another guitar slinger and fast.

Dan Watson auditioned as Leigh’s six-string replacement in 2001. “We auditioned three guys,” Thompson recalls. “Danny was the third guy, and Danny blew us away. We knew, from the first minute of the first song, that he was our new guitar player.” Malek explained Watson’s role in Sugar Daddy even further. “He has great tone; a full, think guitar sound. Dan is dedicated, hard working, positive, open minded, and he comes to play.” In seeing a Sugar Daddy show, it’s evident that the band’s transition from Leigh to Watson was seamless, and the change at guitar has even injected another positive shot of adrenaline into the arm of the band.

Those who haven’t seen a recent Sugar Daddy show might be surprised to see Thompson sharing the vocal chores on stage. The Sugar Daddy Band had recruited Marcy Parenteau to join them for a rendition of Meat Loaf’s “Paradise By The Dashboard Light” for a Halloween-themed show last year. Parenteau, who had been in Miami at the time heavily involved in a number of prestigious professional singing projects, was an instant hit with the other band members. More invitation to join the band on stage followed, and soon talk of Parenteau becoming a member of Sugar Daddy on a permanent basis became a reality. “I had this giddy type of feeling,” recalls Thompson. “I was so pumped about adding Marcy to the lineup.” The attractive Parenteau does more than just provide another reason for male fans to attend a Sugar Daddy show; she can belt out the material with the best of them. Even some of the most jealous of girlfriends in attendance are quickly won over by Parenteau’s voice after hearing her sing a few numbers. With Parenteau now on board full-time, the band has also be able to encompass music from other genres and has added yet another dimension to their extensive playlist. Sugar Daddy’s set list has further expanded to include fresh new material with female vocals at the forefront, incorporating music by artists like Pink or even Jennifer Lopez sprinkled through the playlist and complimenting old standards like James Brown or Marvin Gaye numbers.

With seven talented individuals all contributing musically, the members of Sugar Daddy look to Thompson for guidance and leadership. In terms of choosing the direction of live material, for example, Thompson explained the band open door policy. “We encourage everyone to show up with a recording and we listen. It’s kind of a benevolent democracy…...we’re open to listening.” Each of the band’s members realizes that at times, it’s necessary to put his or her own musical preferences on the back burner and offer musically what’s best for the band. “We seem to like certain songs just because they work,” explains Malek. “But we try to keep our set list fresh because there’s always a new crowd.” This also keeps the band’s younger fans, which make up a majority of the weekend bar band audience, interested in getting out to see the Sugar Daddy Band. Each individuals’ own musical interest also keep the band’s playlist fresh. Of course, even some of the so-called “crowd pleasers” have run their course musically. “Playing Mustang Sally is the musical equivalent of changing a diaper,” Thompson rationalizes when asked about keeping the band’s material fresh. Thompson, a true professional of the business, is also a skilled navigator when it comes to evaluating what’s working and what isn’t when in a live setting, especially under the gun. Says Johnson of Thompson’s leadership: “Graham is a genius at pulling the band by their nose through a set list.”

So what has contributed to Sugar Daddy’s success? Multiple factors, according to the band’s members. “We’ve been privileged to work with pro sound companies; they make a huge difference,” acknowledged Thompson. “People like Mark Steinberg at Sounds Good Pro Audio, or Andy Stackpole, another guy who been influential in our sound.” The band’s personalities also click with each other both personally and professionally. “The band is like a nicely oiled machine,” said drummer Mike Sisk of the current Sugar Daddy lineup. Klyph Johnson characterizes the Sugar Daddy Band musical experience best: “We’re not an animated jukebox, and we’re not out there trying to cop the record. We’re kinda like the Land of the Misfit Toys. And the crowd can see that the band is having a good time”. The diversity of Sugar Daddy’s playlist afford them the opportunity to play a variety of venues, from weekend staples like Burke’s Tavern, Shooter’s, and Stash’s Café to Mohegan Sun’s Wolf Den or weddings and private parties. Their appearance at Groton’s Esker Point Beach Summer Concerts (scheduled for Thursday night, July 10th this year) is sure to be the most popular date in the series. Look for Sugar Daddy to also incorporate a touch of original material into future shows as well. If you haven’t seen a Sugar Daddy show recently, check you social calendar and make it a point to get out for a night on the town to check out one of the hardest working, talented, and creative bands in the region.