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Vito and Friends: Rocking the Blues

By Julie Horner

The Blues and Rock n’ Roll are two sides of the same coin, someone once said. Like feeling good, and being excited, and both very much the same in value. Rockin’ blues outfit Vito and Friends carries its weight in musical gold, deeply steeped in the Mississippi Delta sound with all the blue notes that grab your soul.

Vito Dettore is an accomplished and well known San Lorenzo Valley blues guitarist. He and multi-instrumentalist Keith Graves formed Vito and Friends out of the Eddie Kessler Big Hand Band in Santa Cruz nearly two decades ago. Joined by Eric Gunn on drums and Frank Hatfield on harmonica, the band captivates with improvisational artistry, expressive groove, and unpretentious approachability. The hook with these guys is their sheer presence on stage, that kind of conversation between the artist and the audience where the whole room goes electric.

A Chicago native, Vito, whose given name is David Gene Dettore, started out as a drummer following in his father’s footsteps. “My dad was a pro drummer with a 60 year career,” he said. Eventually switching to electric guitar, Vito came west in the 80s. “What really changed my life was going to see Stevie Ray Vaughan when I was 17. Listening to interviews. He was such a gentle human being. I remember going to see him at the Santa Cruz Civic, looking up and listening going, wow, how do I do that? I want to do that.” So Vito took blues classes taught by Fred McPherson at the now-defunct White Oak Continuation High School on Marion Avenue in Ben Lomond. He hammered the chords through his head, put his fingers through the regimen of building up the calluses. “Stevie would play until his fingertips bled. He’d super glue his fingers together and keep playing,” Vito said.

Vito Dettore at Henflings of Ben Lomond | Photo by Julie Horner

Glory Days

“I walked into Henflings in the early 90s back when Dori and Wayne Stier owned the place. There was this guy playing guitar, Big Hand. He told me, ‘I played with your dad in the 70s!’” Vito joined the jam and kept it going until Eddie passed away. Then the harp player, Will C, who worked at the Asti in Santa Cruz, moved back to New York and also passed. It was at Henflings where Vito and drummer/bass player Keith Graves hooked up. Fresh in their 20s, they took the blues and ran with it forming Vito and Friends.

Vito has played with legendary musicians like Rick Derringer, Jerry Miller from Moby Grape, and Tiran Porter of the Doobie Brothers. He opened up for Greg Allman at Henflings and played an open jam with Allan Frank and the Firebirds. Keith started his first band with Gabe Butterfield, son of legendary Paul Butterfield while attending Mission High in Santa Cruz. Since mid-2000, Keith has played and toured with Jerry Miller, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Starship, and It’s a Beautiful Day. Eric Gunn, a local Santa Cruz drummer and drum builder for Craviotto Drums, has played every venue from San Diego to Honolulu. And Frank Hatfield adds his own “horn section” style licks on the harmonica and “always plays with a big smile,” Keith said.

For years Vito was a regular at the old La Salsa Bar and Grill in Ben Lomond. “I worked for them and played in their bar. Ran the talent night. It kind of spiraled.” The band jammed with Barry Tanner and recorded some tracks at Barry’s downtown studio in the old Boulder Creek post office, and Keith lived at the White House on Highway 9 where the band would practice and host parties. They performed for years at the Boulder Creek Art and Wine Festival and at the country club out on Big Basin Highway. Vito lived behind the Brookdale Lodge for a while, Keith said, when Bill and Lee Ann Gilbert kept the doors open all the time and the music flowed freely. A longtime volunteer with the Valley Women’s Club, Vito and the band played in the early days of the Redwood Mountain Faire at Highlands Park with Bill Pilgreen on drums. Playing valley venues like Henflings of Ben Lomond, Joe’s Bar in Boulder Creek, and the Brookdale Lodge, and festivals and special events throughout the mountains, Vito said, “I’ve played every juke joint in Santa Cruz but I’ve never played the Crow’s Nest.”

Vito is a musical treasure. He said, “I’ve been blessed. It’s been a long, bumpy road, but I kept to my dream, playing the blues.”

Booking: Vito (831) 246-2869 | Keith (831) 359-6023
YouTube | @vitoandfriends9215

Vito Dettore of Vito and Friends at Henflings of Ben Lomond | Photo by Julie Horner

Julie Horner writes about the people and culture of the Santa Cruz Mountains. Reach out to Julie at leap2three @

Featured photo of Vito and Friends contributed. From l to r: Keith Graves, Vito Dettore, Eric Gunn, and Frank Hatfield.

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