Flipping through a book of lyrics, Reid Trevaskis looks up from his music stand. “I know a thousand songs,” he says with a laugh.
“But I can only sing 60 — that’s why I need the words.”
Trevaskis isn’t kidding. He’s played in one band or another since his high school days in the mid-1960s, and his song choices could win a round on musical Jeopardy! — The Joe Jeffrey Group’s one-hit wonder “My Pledge of Love” segues into Todd Rundgren’s
“Love of the Common Man” and an obscure John Sebastian song.
The lanky guitarist is one of the busiest musicians on the local scene, working across several genres. He’s a regular member of funksters Manchuka, blues rockers Lisa Marie and the All Shook Up and the rootsy Bert Scott Band. He also plays solo and leads the all-original Funky Knights.
Formed in the late 1980s, they topped many a critic’s best-unsigned-band list on the strength of their live shows. “A lot of the others made it — Joan Osborne, Spin Doctors, Blues Traveler,” Trevaskis said as he prepared for his weekly set at Café Andre in Sunapee. In 2010, the New York City-based quintet released its first album.
The Funky Knights gig mostly in the Big Apple, though Ralph’s Diner in Worcester is a favorite haunt. At B.B. King’s in Manhattan, they’ve opened for everyone from Leon Russell to the Cowsills. Earlier this year, they played with former Sly and the Family Stone bassist Larry Graham and received a surprise visit from Prince, who declared them “lovely.”
Trevaskis plays keyboards with Manchuka, a 10-piece band with a horn section that worked originally doing Tower of Power covers.
“We sort of evolved into a retro dance band,” says Trevaskis, who co-founded the group with saxophone player and vocalist Dominique DiNardo. They recently began a Tuesday night residency at Milly’s Tavern in Manchester after a four-year run at the Shaskeen. Trevaskis and DiNardo also play as a duo on Mondays at Milly’s.
Yet another band, Hurricane Alley, is currently on hiatus to allow Trevaskis time to travel to New York for shows and recording dates with the Funky Knights. He moved to Henniker in 1996.
“My sister lives up here and she was always telling me to buy a house instead of dumping my money into rent,” he says. “After 20 years of Manhattan, I got tired of the rat race.”
He relocated, with plans to give music a rest, but within six months Trevaskis found the late George Gibson’s weekly jam at the Rynborn and another at Perry’s Boathouse in Newbury Harbor, and was asked to join the house bands at both.
“I went from being retired to having two gigs a week, and I haven’t stopped since,” he says with a laugh.
Moving to New Hampshire meant the demise of the Funky Knights, but in 2007 they reunited, playing live dates and finally getting into the studio. “We always kept in touch, and the mortality of our parents dying made us say we better do this before our members start dropping,” Trevaskis says.
On the strength of rhythmic, danceable songs like “Days of the Knights,” “Money Talks” and the topical “Can’t Afford It,” the Funky Knights’ eponymous debut has generated some good notices — one writer likened it to “Dr. John fronting Funkadelic” and another admired the record’s “humorous sleaze.”
It may not result in the stardom predicted in those halcyon days of the early 1990s, but that’s fine with Reid Trevaskis. He’d like it if it generates enough interest to land the band a few gigs closer to his current hometown.
But that’s not a huge concern either. New York offers once- or twice-a-month opportunities to share the stage with the bands he’s grown up with and admired all his life. The Lovin’ Spoonful was the first band he ever saw live, in 1966, and Funky Knights opened for them last year. Next month they’ll play again with Graham Central Station, and later they’ll join Bootsy Collins at B.B. King’s. Knights bassist and guitar collector Randy Pratt plans to bring a Bootsy original star-shaped bass to that show.
Trevaskis has upcoming local shows with the Bert Scott Band (Manchester VFW, May 21) and several Massachusetts appearances scheduled with Lisa Marie and the All Shook Up. His jams at Andre’s attract a healthy lineup of local players stopping by to sit in.
“Anything can happen, I can do what I want and it’s low pressure,” Trevaskis says. “Some nights I think it could be slow, but then the bus lets out in front of the place.”
He continues as one of the busiest musicians on the circuit because of his genre-crossing flexibility. He’s like that big book of songs sitting on his music stand — not to mention the hundreds he’s committed to memory. Says Trevaskis, “I’ll play just about anything.”