Anyone who’s ever played in a local band knows all too well that it’s a fragile ecosystem. And anybody who’s ever done hard time playing in a band in Delaware knows the small market that is the Small Wonder can be a challenging environment for live, loud, rock music.
These factors make the improbable longevity of the Wilmington-based roots and rockabilly ensemble, The Bullets, even more wondrous.
Founded by guitarist/vocalist Michael Davis and bassist Bobby Bloomingdale nearly 40 years ago, The Bullets have survived venue closings, personnel changes and roots music’s fluctuating appeal through sheer tenacity and a well-earned reputation as a stellar live act. A change in ownership at Wilmington’s legendary Oddity Bar was not even enough to interrupt their seven-year Thursday night residency at the venue, which was preceded by a nine-year stint at the much-missed Little Italy bar, The Blue Parrot.
Recent times have been even more challenging with the departure of Walter Epting (their drummer for 16 years) to Nashville and his new project, Palm Ghosts. Then, of course, there are the obvious effects of the pandemic on a working band.
To remedy these problems and reenergize the group, The Bullets have enlisted two of Delaware’s best young musicians in guitarist/vocalist Pat Kane and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Brian “Octie” Bruce. According to Davis, the young blood has invigorated the band.
“The dynamic hasn’t changed that much,” says Davis. “Octie had sat in with us a bunch of times. When Epting announced his departure, I knew that the only drummer that could pretty much seamlessly replace him was Octie. He studied jazz (at the same school Epting did) and played in punk bands. Perfect fit and attitude. He’s been with us since August of 2021.
“Pat (Kane) had regularly sat in with us at Oddity Bar. When we started doing livestreams during the pandemic shutdown, we invited Pat to join in. He osmosed into the band. We tricked him, and I’m learning a lot about guitar playing from him. He’s an exceptional player and singer. Both he and Octie follow rule number one: serve the song.”
Bruce is a veteran of the Delaware punk and indie rock scene known for expert timekeeping in the Delaware dream pop band, Fiance. He was also leader of the much-missed garage rockers Gozer. And his current project, the gnarly post-rock juggernaut Tangled Up, is grateful for Bruce’s opportunity to play with such seasoned musicians.
“I think Pat and I forget we’re the young guys in the band sometimes, because Michael and Bobby are both so young at heart,” says Bruce. “A lifetime of performing plays a part in that, and it’s something I really admire about the two of them. On certain nights those two play circles around me. They’ve developed a musical language over the years that affords them fluent, non-verbal communication on stage.
“I do my best to decipher it at every gig. They have so many original songs it’s insane. I can safely say that I’ve played at least one song I’ve never heard before on every gig. Sometimes it’s more like 20 songs I’ve never heard before. Some nights it goes off without a hitch, some nights I’m holding on for dear life, but that’s part of the fun. I’m learning up on stage at every gig, from two musicians whom I admire, and I’m incredibly grateful for that opportunity.”
The Bullets’ other secret weapon is Kane, a guitar slinger well-known in the area for his Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia tribute project Bones Brigade. As is customary in the small world that is Delaware, Kane and Bruce played together in high school at Cab Calloway School of the Arts, and their familiarity with each other’s playing style along with friendship has helped the new, super-charged version of The Bullets gel quickly.
“It’s been a real treat for me, as I’ve been a huge fan of the band,” says Kane. “I try to do my best to add to the music in a way that makes the band as a whole sound better, all the ingredients coming together for a well-balanced presentation of any given song. I can’t overstate how much I’ve learned over the past two years of hanging with Michael and Bobby and soaking up their musical knowledge.”
Keeping a band together for 40 years is hallowed ground generally occupied by storied rock bands with names like The Rolling Stones and The Who, and it’s a boon for Delaware to have such a band still active and thriving in their own backyard. Having two local legends and two of the best young guns around in the band only makes for a more exciting live experience.
The Bullets deliver rock-and-roll in its most authentic and pure form. You can judge that for yourself any Thursday at Oddity Bar.