Band members have more than 150 years of collective music experience

Published in the April 12 – April 25, 2017 issue of Morgan Hill Life

By Staff Report

It sounds like the set-up for a Silicon Valley joke: A software engineer, an electronic technician , a seed scientist, an IBM database expert, and a tech writer walk into a church — where they are joined by a special ed teacher?

This isn’t a start-up strategy session. They’re not talking product — they’re playing string gospel music. Meet Bluer Than Blue, perhaps Morgan Hill’s most interesting (but not only) string band. Composed mostly of Silicon Valley retirees, Bluer Than Blue has about 150 years of collective music experience twanging behind every lick and kick.
The band is playing its fourth annual Reach Out concert to benefit St. Catherine’s Food Pantry Saturday, May 13. And you can hear them for beans. A can or two of beans or other food or a cash donation is all you need to come hear some great gospel and some other songs that reach deep into the group’s — and country’s past.

Steve Cole, who plays 12-string guitar for Bluer than Blue, started even earlier, learning at age 11 in Connecticut, and spending five decades performing pretty much on his own before he retired in Morgan Hill. He found the group through a choir email list. “Fifty years of practice are finally paying off,” he said.

The special education teacher is Gilbert Padilla, who also started taking guitar lessons in his teens. He’s played with rock, country, gospel, and jazz bands, and performed solo — even singing once at Preservation Hall in New Orleans. But when he got the chance to play acoustic guitar on some “late, great” Doc Watson music, he came guitar in hand.
Bruce Naylor, who plays electric base, is the database expert still working at a large Silicon Valley firm. He also plays electric base for the Advent Lutheran Church Gather music group on Sundays.

Doc Wilcoxson is a scientist for a local seed company. He plays fiddle and mandolin among other instruments.
And Richard Simunic, who plays guitar, upright bass, and sings, was in a band (called The Radicals and hoping to be the next superstars) in college in Ohio. He too laid his music aside to work and raise a family.

Then about 10 years ago he took a class from bluegrass great Jake Quesenberry, who put Morgan Hill on the national bluegrass map by living and teaching here.

“Lots of locals took the class from Jake, and there was a blossoming of bluegrass locally,” Simunic said.

Five years ago Simunic helped found Bluer Than Blue with his wife Linda O’Maley. They and other band members have worked to allay hunger in Morgan Hill, and decided they were in a great position to combine interests and do a fundraiser.

O’Maley is one of the only band members who didn’t long for a bluegrass road not taken — she didn’t know what bluegrass was until she met Simunic, but she loves to sing and has a strong tenor voice.

The group raised $800 and brought in more than 3,000 cans of food at its Reach Out event two years ago. This year they’d like to collect even more.

Bluer than Blue has played many wineries, and Gilroy’s 2015 and 2016 PorchFest, as well as the Morgan Hill Lutheran Church fundraisers for roof and bathroom repairs, a wedding in Hollister, and a memorial service. Bluer than Blue members are hoping someone invites them to play at a birth next, just to round out their experience.


What: Concert to benefit Reach Out Food Pantry
Who: Bluer Than Blue string gospel band
When: 7 to 9:30 p.m., Saturday May 13
Where: Advent Lutheran Church, 16870 Murphy Ave., Morgan Hill
How: Please bring cans of non-perishable food for free admission; cash donations also accepted gratefully
Why: To feed hungry people in our community.