Meet the Band

The Symbols are a female fronted blues/funk/rock trio from Fort Collins, Colorado, formed in 2010 by guitarist Jasco (Blinddog Smokin') and vocalist/songwriter/bassist Mer Sal. They write their own music, in addition to re-stylizing popular cover tunes to be different styles than they were intended originally.  Their unique sound, charisma, and songs are winning hearts through theaters and festivals across the country.  
 

The Symbols formed in a melting pot of blues-rock, urban funk, motown roots, and soul revival, performing across the West with many cool players in the Blues/Funk/Rock genre.

The band is influenced by many complimentary sources – from Jeff Beck Group to Amy Winehouse – among others, in a meeting of rock n roll and soul.

The Symbols perform 150 dates a year, across Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, California, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

The Symbols received the 2017 Holley Award for "Best Arranger" by the Colorado Blues Society (CBS). In addition, The Symbols represented the Mile High Blues Society (MHBS) in Memphis, TN in January of 2018 for the International Blues Challenge (IBC), making it to the semi-finals.  

The Symbols were featured on the cover of  Scene Magazine last December, with a feature article inside.  

The Symbols have shared the stage with many in the national blues scene from Miss Blues to Trampled Underfoot to Southern Avenue Band to Jason Ricci and the Bad Kind.

While staying in the realm of modern female blues acts, The Symbols try to bring their own definitions to what may be considered the blues.  The Symbols' sound is also reminiscent of a range of millenial influences like Jeff Beck Group, Sheryl Crow, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Amy Winehouse, and The Red Hot Chili Peppers.  

Scene cover

The Symbols - left to right: Mer Sal, Don Stahl, Jasco

We are The Symbols: Because we stand for something.  

The Symbols show support for nonprofits whenever possible.  Whenever asked, The Symbols lend musical performances and fundraising help to nonprofits and charities like The National MS Society, The American Red Cross, Crossroads Safehouse, Wikipedia, The Food Bank of Larimer County, Animal House, Love Hope Strength, Blue Star Connection, and more.  

Formation and History

Touring veteran Jasco and raw talent Mer Sal were not expecting a career and partnership together when they met at an open jam in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 2010.  Jasco suggested they form a band together, and Mer Sal suggested they call it The Symbols.  The rest is history!

The Symbols have played as many as 700 concerts together in theaters, festivals, radio shows, and bars, traveling through Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Wyoming, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and California to perform.  The Symbols have shared stages with musical greats Phil Brown, Victor Wooten, Bobby Rush, Taj Mahal, Ana Popovic, Southern Avenue Band, Eleanor Tallie, Samantha Fish, Danielle Nicole Band, Trampled Underfoot, Billy Branch, Miss Blues, The Ori Naftaly Band, Andy Irvine, Bobby Walker, The Boogie Boys, Hazel Miller, Emilio Emilio, The Hornbuckles, Zora Young, Damon Fowler, Joey Dee and the Starliters, Ollie Brown, Aynsley Lister, Lionel Young, 
and Kara Grainger, among many others.

In October of 2015, drummer Don Stahl joined The Symbols as a member, after being introduced to Mer Sal and Jasco by local Fort Collins music promoter LaRita Wilson Besser.  The Symbols look forward with excitement as they are gaining momentum.  


 
Photo credit: Ben Kohles

Photo credit: Ben Kohles

Photo Credit: Darren Mahuron, 2015.

Photo Credit: Darren Mahuron, 2015.

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Progression and Sound

The Symbols’ sound evolved from a culmination of influences from rock, blues, radio pop, funk, flamenco, gypsy jazz, and beyond. Jasco listens to a lot of guitar heroes, and Mer Sal listens to vocal jazz and R&B vocalists. The Symbols is then almost what you might hear if you had a Jeff Beck on guitar and an Amy Winehouse on vocals.  

The Symbols feel good about being charitable. Over the last 3 years, The Symbols have made a point to donate to charities.  The Symbols have donated their time, talent, and money to events for Blue Star Connection, Realities for Children, Adoption Dreams Come True, The National MS Society, Love Hope Strength, Animal House, Crossroads Safehouse of Fort Collins, The Food Bank for Larimer County, and many more, hoping to make a difference. 

In January of 2013, radio personality Marla Stone joined The Symbols as a friend and band facilitator. Marla served as band manager from 2013-2015, and remains a strong friend and supporter to the band.  

Guitar legend Phil Brown signed onto temporarily managing The Symbols, after producing "Smile", which was released in June of 2015.  Since working with Phil, The Symbols have gained endorsements with Fishman and Curt Mangan.  
Lee Jackson mastered "Smile" for The Symbols, and previously mastered "The Jimi Project" and "Cruel Inventions" by Phil Brown.   

In 2015, The Symbols began making conceptual music videos with Hudson Bloom and PhoCo.  Several videos were released in 2015.  In 2016, The Symbols began a working music video production relationship with Bobby Kimble of Be U Productions in Denver, CO.  Bobby produced "Alone" and the now famed "Ball Bearings".  Ball Bearings' music video, filmed at Denver's Zephyr Lounge, gained the attention of a Touch Tunes curator, and as of January 2017, The Symbols' "SMILE" album is available for request in over 65,000 Touch Tunes jukeboxes worldwide.  


 

The Symbols performing original song "Not Enough Love" at the Turnhalle of the Tivoli in Denver, Colorado for Blue Star Connection's annual benefit.

The Symbols performing original song "Not Enough Love" at the Turnhalle of the Tivoli in Denver, Colorado for Blue Star Connection's annual benefit.

The Symbols performing at Fort Collins' local festival FOCOMX

The Symbols performing at Fort Collins' local festival FOCOMX

The Symbols sitting in with Boogie Boys, Austin Young and Michaela Rae at Blues From the Top 2014

The Symbols sitting in with Boogie Boys, Austin Young and Michaela Rae at Blues From the Top 2014

The Symbols vary widely between soulful presence and wild stage antics.  
Photo credit: Jim Drake
Snapped at Spirit Lake Blues Festival, Grand Lake, Colorado.

The Symbols vary widely between soulful presence and wild stage antics.
Photo credit: Jim Drake Snapped at Spirit Lake Blues Festival, Grand Lake, Colorado.

Victor Wooten hopped up onstage with The Symbols one night

Victor Wooten hopped up onstage with The Symbols one night

Festivals and Events The Symbols have played at:

Spirit Lake Blues Festival (2015)
Arise Music Festival (2017)
FOCOMX (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017)
Taste Of Colorado (2017)
Realities Ride and Rally (2011, 2014)
The Greeley Stampede (2013, 2014)
Blue Star Turn 5 at the Tivoli (2016)
Blues From the Top (2014-2016)
The Greeley Blues Jam - Friday Night Downtown Greeley Fest (2012, 2014, 2015, 2017).  
Brighton Arts and Culture Symposium (2016)
Brighton Blues Blast (2017)
Tulsa International Mayfest (2011)
Garfield County Fair and Rodeo (2011)
Meeker Music in the Park (2011)
Mead Music in the Park (2017)
Rawlins Music in the Park (2012-2014)
Mountain Madness Music Festival (2017)
Cherry Creek Marina Concert Series (2017)
Castle Rock Brew Festival (2017)
CHUN Capitol Hill People's Fair (2014, 2015, 2016)
UMX (Underground Music Experience) (2014, 2015)
Girls Night Out (The Yard, Saratoga, WY) (2012, 2014, 2016)  
WHAT Fest (Riverside, WY) (2015, 2017)
No Woodstock Festival (2017)
Trapper Days Fort Lupton (2016, 2017)
Heritage Days Evans (2017)
KGNU 12th Annual Legacy of the Blues Broadcast at Denver Open Media (2016)
Blues and BBQ For Better Housing (Arvada, CO)  (2016, 2017)
Art in the Square, (Old Town Stage, Fort Collins, CO) (2015, 2016, 2017)
Cheyenne Days (Cheyenne, WY) (2016)
Colorado International Blues Challenge with the Colorado Blues Society - FINAL ROUND (2012); SEMI FINALS (2017)
International Blues Challenge with Mile High Blues Society - Denver Nominee Band for 2018.  
I Slept With The Band Festival  (2017)

Community Enrichment

The Symbols have participated in community musical education and enrichment, including their work with: 
-Blue Star Connection
-Seacrest Studios at Children's Hospital of Denver
-Blues in the Schools
-Little Kids Rock
-Polaris Expeditionary Learning School - Guest Educators for the music intensive 1 week class.  
-Teaching over 250 students private lessons between 2006-2017 at Spotlight Music.  
-Hosting clinics and workshops at The Symbols' privately operated studio, The Recordium
-Mentoring and producing community youth recordings to be aired on Vincent Burkardt's "Rhythms of Youth" radio show on KCSU 88.9FM and "Rising Artist Mentorship Program" (RAMP).  

Mer Sal, singer, bass

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Lead vocalist and bassist Mer Sal has a musical maturity beyond her young age.  When placed in front of an audience, Mer Sal comes to life as an engaging front person and crowd pleaser.  Her versatile onstage persona is backed by emotive vocals and solid grooves. The songs she writes come out often and fast, and are relevant to a wide demographic.  Vocally and instrumentally, Mer Sal carries her experience and stylistic influences from jazz, funk, blues, R&B, radio pop, and vintage rock n roll into the sound she creates with The Symbols.  

Mer Sal has toured with Jasco through Colorado, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Kansas, Wyoming, Nevada and California.  

Mer Sal has been honored to share the stage or the studio with Phil Brown, Victor Wooten, Alvino Bennett, Ori Naftaly, Eleanor Tallie, Southern Avenue Band, Danielle Nicole Band, Trampled Underfoot, Albert Castiglia, Eric Gales, Hazel Miller, Erika Brown, Dave Beegle and Michaela Rae, Austin Young, Jimmy Hall, Kara Grainger, Ana Popovic, Samantha Fish Band, Joe Louis Walker Band, Deanna Bogart, Josh Hoyer, Willie K and the Warehouse Band, The Boogie Boys, Hexx Henderson (Texas Guitar Army), Derek St. Holmes (Ted Nugent), Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath), Eef and the Blues Express, John Weeks Band, Gary Dean Smith, Emilio Emilio, Michael and Bryan Hornbuckle, Shane Zweygardt and Menyus Borocz (Wire Faces), The Patti Fiasco, Whippoor Will, Kerry Pastine and the Crime Scene, Seniorita Sometimes, Maxwell Mud, Miss Blues, and harmonica genius Jason Ricci and the Bad Kind.  

Mer Sal has been mentored by Jasco, Alvino Bennett, Victor Wooten, Phil Brown, Krystal (Harris) Peterson, Fedis Grey, Cari Cole, Alex Ryer (Pure Piaf), Chris Harris (bassist), and Anthony Deyo (bassist).  

In February of 2018, an interview with Mer Sal was published in Bass Musician Magazine.  


 

Jasco, guitar

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Jasco’s guitar sings with passion or screams with fury as he squeezes drops of soul from bent strings. In addition to rock-blues-funk stylings, Jasco’s musical depth is laced with exotic influences from flamenco and gypsy jazz.  

Jasco has toured the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East with his previous band Blinddog Smokin'.  He has also shared the stage with Duke Robillard, Taj Mahal, Bobby Rush, Buddy Guy, Chris Duarte, Little Feat, Los Lobos, Johnny Lang, Robben Ford, 
Zora Young, Miss Blues, Aynsley Lister, Billy Branch, Lionel Young, Bobby Walker, and many others.  

Jasco has been lucky enough to study guitar with Paul Gilbert, Chris Duarte, Phil Brown, Dave Beegle, and Rene Heredia.  

Don Stahl, drums

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     Don Stahl comes to The Symbols with years of experience as an accomplished musician on the road and in the studio.
At the age of 19 Don took off from his hometown of Fairbury, IL to attend the legendary year long intensive program at
the famed Percussion Institute of Technology (PIT)/Musicians Institute in Hollywood, CA. After completion of that year,
Don spent 2 years playing 6 nights a week, 5 sets a night in a local touring country band based out of South Florida.
An eventual move to Tampa Bay say him working 5 nights a week in R/B bands, Modern Rock bands, Funk bands, and
Fusion bands.

As if that wasn’t enough work, by a stroke of luck, Don joined up with legendary hitmaker, Joey Dee and his band, “The
Starliters”
. Through his involvement with that group, Don was able to play with The Coasters, The Drifters, The Tokens, Gene Chandler, and other notable acts at various festivals and casinos around the U.S.
Fast forward a few years down the road where Don was asked to play with world famous slide guitarist Damon Fowler.

Don spent 5 years on the road with Damon’s group where he honed his blues shuffle chops and played festival after festival around the country. Don also recorded with Damon on the Damon Fowler Group's live album, “Live at Skippers Smokehouse”.

After moving to Colorado in 2006, Don played with a fusion group in Parker, CO called Uncle Ruckus. That group mixed Latin, Funk, and Fusion styles into a blend all their own and allowed Don to take on a role that included arranger, engineer, and producer.

Don’s involvement with the Symbols happened purely by accident. After signing up for (and coming in the finals at) the Guitar Center Drum-Off, Don ended up heading to a jam being hosted by Mer Sal and Jasco Duende. After playing a couple of tunes, they stayed in contact and the rest is the beginning of history.

Don says, “I simply fell in love with the songs on their record, “Smile” and wanted to play them live with this group. Adding to the strong songs, the professionalism of Mer and Jasco was also also what inspired me to be a part of the band. They’re a great songwriting team, a great pair, and a group I want to work with for a long time.”

Don plays Sonor, Pearl, and Eames drums, a mix of Paiste and Sabian cymbals, Vic Firth sticks,  and uses Roland electronics.
Don counts his influences as: Vinnie Colaiuta, Matt Chamberlain, Todd Sucherman, Chad Wackerman, Carlos Vega, Steve Gadd, and Jeff Porcaro.