By SEAN DALY
Times Pop Music Critic
Like most rock fantasies, this one starts with the Beatles. Charlie Ries is 9, maybe 10, in Las Vegas with his mom, dad and baby bro. He eyes a poster — Love — a gaudy ad for the Fabs' Cirque du Soleil show at the Mirage. His pop doesn't buy him a ticket, but instead gets his son, who at the time is dreaming of becoming a professional baseball player, the next best thing.
"That CD of the Beatles' Love was the first thing that made me interested in music," says Charlie Ries (pronounced REES), who is now a ripe 18. "Not just what I was hearing but what was going on." Charlie would soon take up piano, drums, singing — all of which he now does onstage at the same time — a prodigy-in-waiting from a family who moved from brisk Chicago to warm Tampa Bay mainly so the boys could play baseball.
But baseball can wait.
Charlie, with baby bro Kevin (14 and a nimble-fingered guitarist), will play today's opening lineup of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday in Coachman Park. At 6 p.m., the Harbor Bluffs duo will open for pop icons Chicago, making the Ries sibs the youngest lead-in act in the 34-year history of the event.
As if that weren't cool enough, they will be joined by Vini "Mad Dog" Lopez, who was no less than Bruce Springsteen's E Street drummer on 1973's Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J. and, from the same year, The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle. Lopez heard about Charlie and Kevin from friends who'd seen their regular gig at Crabby Bill's in Indian Rocks Beach. Over Easter, a visiting Lopez, now 64 but still a tub-thumper, jammed with his new young pals all night long.
The Ries Brothers, who were pulled from traditional schooling and now take classes online to facilitate their music careers, are an ideal band for the current iteration of the Clearwater Jazz Holiday. First of all, they're not pure jazz at all; they name bonfire-folk star Jack Johnson and schmaltz-guitarist John Mayer as influences, and you can definitely hear that. They look like new-Hanson scamps, all big goofy smiles and totally cool flippy hair. But Kevin's guitar has a dextrous, intricate perk to it, and Charlie's keyboard is a smooth burble, nice accompaniment to his hush, come-on vocal.
Parents Kevin, 54, and Jenifer, 45, don't own up to any robust musical talent themselves; he's a day trader, she's a photographer now helping handle the boys' careers. But they say the family tree is nonetheless loaded with pop chops. Kevin's father was a sportswriter but also a fine vocalist and a music fanatic; Jenifer's dad was an all-world bassist who played with the Jackson 5 and Sonny & Cher.
Part of the success here might be because the brothers are, well, brothers; they love playing . . . until they don't.
"He's the one who just shows up and plays," says Charlie of Kevin with a slight older-brother withering. "He's really chill. Between sets, I'm worrying about the next set, getting the setlist together, and he's skateboarding in the parking lot." Kevin says they have their share of fights, mainly when "Charlie uses my skateboard." With that, the younger brother looks at his older brother like he's clueless.
But you can hear that sibling spark in the music, too. They take pride in deconstructing cover tunes; at the Fox jazz club in Tampa, when they realized their normally blazing take on All Along the Watchtower was going to be too much, on the spot they slowed it down to a dirgelike, head-nod crawl. Clearwater Jazz Holiday honchos in the crowd decided they'd fit the bill.
After this coveted gig, the Ries Brothers will soon fly out to Los Angeles to record with producer Warren Huart, who has worked with Aerosmith and the Fray.
"My goal is not be the biggest star in the country," says Charlie. "My goal is to affect people."
It's a slightly cheesy line, yes, but couple that practiced earnestness with a sly flip of cool Bieberesque hair and a big, toothy smile — not to mention all that innate, prodigious talent — and the Ries Brothers just might work out after all.
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] Follow @seandalypoplife on Twitter.