Exile on Calhoun Street: White Liquor gathers no moss

What compels six mild-mannered local professionals to occasionally transform themselves into a Rolling Stones tribute band?

For most people, being a Rolling Stones fan means kicking back with the radio. For the guys in White Liquor, it means clocking out of work, changing into rock ‘n’ roll clothes and giving a performance that, for many people, will be as close as they’ll ever get to the Glimmer Twins.

White Liquor

Over its 15 years, White Liquor has played tons of oyster roasts, barbecues and late-night bars, but it’s not like they’re spending a lot of down-time preening and fine-tuning their moves: They’re big enough Stones fans that it all comes naturally. Though they only perform 10 or 12 shows a year these days, its members say they barely practice.  “We just kind of show up and whatever happens, happens,” said lead singer Rick Saba. “Sometimes it sounds good, sometimes it doesn’t sound good.”

Every member of White Liquor has seen the Stones at least once, but Saba has seen more than 30 concerts — enough that he can’t even remember his first one, which was, uh, sometime in the mid-80s. “I had a good time, I’m sure,” he said.

White Liquor — whose name, by the way, isn’t a Stones reference, it’s just one that stuck — is grounded in Saba’s Jagger swagger and the general idea of the Stones’ glory days. Even Joe “G” Gianferrara, the band’s 80-year-old sax player and percussionist, can get down, Saba said. “He’s one of the main reasons I even play,” he said. But White Liquor didn’t set out to be doppelgangers. The band’s founders first got together 15 years ago at a pool in Virginia, where they drank red wine in 100-degree heat and talked about their shared Stones love. Before long, they were picking up instruments, and the group was born. (Over the years, its lineup, like that of the Stones, has evolved.)

But what surprises audiences is that the band isn’t some fly-by-night collection of aging hippies. Saba is a real estate agent, drummer Ken Kendrick is a banker, rhythm guitarist Ben Russ is a lender, lead guitarist John Wilkins is an attorney with the firm that represents Town Hall and bassist Kieron O’Grady is a bar owner — in other words, they’re all generally respectable community members you’d probably see wearing ties most days. (As for Gianferrara, Saba says he’s “just a legend.”) “It’s a good outlet,” Saba said.


White Liquor will perform Sept. 11 at the Pets on the Promenade party, held in the Bluffton Promenade. The event is sponsored by Monthly, in cooperation with Captain Woody’s.