By Jay Cridlin
Times Staff Writer
Rick Barrio Dill is in the middle of yet another whirlwind week.
His band just made its second appearance on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Then they play the main stage at Coachella. Then they found out they'd be opening for the Rolling Stones in London's Hyde Park — after, that is, they wrap up yet another tour with The Who.
Welcome to life in Vintage Trouble, the biggest American band you've never heard of.
"We're still pinching ourselves over here," Dill, the group's bassist, said by phone from New York, where Vintage Trouble was playing a private gig for the fashion house John Varvatos. "It's been a quick three years."
It's definitely a far cry from the '90s, when Dill, a Brandon native, was scraping out a living in Tampa, working in studios and gigging five nights a week.
Since forming in 2010 in Los Angeles, Vintage Trouble — a collection of veteran session men and hired guns who decided to form their own retro rock, soul and funk outfit — has enjoyed a meteoric rise through the music industry, as evinced by their jaw-dropping resume. Artists and critics alike swoon over the group's live shows; the Wall Street Journal and Paste magazine have ranked them among the world's best live acts.
But much of America still isn't hip to the Vintage Trouble sound — which is why, when they come to St. Petersburg on Tuesday, the group will play the Local 662, an intimate club on Central Avenue.
"We're old enough to know how lucky we are," Dill said. "Whether it's trying to get some people in Tampa, Fla., to come down on a Tuesday night, or being so incredibly blessed to be able to play for half an hour in front of The Who in whatever arena, it's all part of the dream."
Born in Tampa, Dill graduated from Brandon High School in 1989 and studied music and business at the University of South Florida. He played in local bands like Starbaby and Ramona Ramonster, but mostly, he took work wherever he could get it, playing everything from Top 40 covers to gospel to hip-hop to death metal (for a while, he toured with Cannibal Corpse as a bass tech).
After moving to Los Angeles in 2003, Dill once again took every paying gig he encountered. "You're just trying to survive," he said, "so you do five different things to pay the bills, at least. Inevitably, you can do nothing with 100 percent vigor."
He befriended Ty Taylor, an electric soul singer who had achieved modest fame as a contestant on the reality show Rock Star: INXS. For a while, Dill played in Taylor's eponymous musical revue, and together they pursued their dreams in L.A. But with each new job, Dill felt less and less fulfilled — so he left L.A. for the promise of an empty paycheck in Nashville. "It was definitely my darkest hour," he said.
Three years ago, Taylor called to see if Dill might give their revamped band one more go. Dill hopped on a plane back to L.A., and within the first minute of their first jam session, he says, they knew they had something special. "We'd all spent our whole lives doing music, and nothing felt as pure and as right as that moment," he said.
Recorded over three days in 2010, Vintage Trouble's debut album, The Bomb Shelter Sessions, is an appropriately vintage-sounding homage to the likes of Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Tina Turner and Sly Stone. The album led to residencies around Los Angeles, and caught the ear of a veteran manager who shepherded them toward London. There, a showcase gig led to an appearance on the TV show Later … with Jools Holland … which led to a tour with Queen's Brian May … which led to a tour with Bon Jovi … which led to tours with The Who … which led to this summer's gig with the Stones. Almost overnight, Vintage Trouble became a sensation in Europe.
Which brings us back to next week's gig in St. Pete. Vintage Trouble now plays more than 270 shows a year, and they can't all be Coachella or Madison Square Garden or Hyde Park with Mick and Keith. But after struggling for years and finally making it big, Dill said even a club show on a Tuesday night — especially one so close to his hometown — can still feel like magic.
"We like to say that when you get the gigs like going out with Lenny Kravitz or Bon Jovi or The Who, that's a kid's dream," he said. But playing music you truly love in "a sweaty little after-hours juke joint, that's the adult dream. That's where the walls are sweating, and you're just dripping, and it's intimate and you can see the whites of people's eyes. You have this connection on an even deeper level."