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Redwood City Blues Jams at the Little Fox Theater


Wednesday evenings lately I've been heading to the Little Fox theater in Redwood City for their weekly Blues Jam.  The session is now organized by the Golden Gate Blues Society and continues to pull in pro and semi-pro musicians from around the bay area.  They've got a special fundraiser for the Arkansas Blues & Heritage festival coming up August 26 featuring Kid Anderson, Kenny Neal, Jackie Payne and others.

The music is great, though the specifics depend on who is hosting the session and what musicians cycle through the evening.  If something's not your style, you can skip out for dinner and come back and it could be a completely different band on stage. But its always fun, the beer is cold, and admission is free, except for the fundraiser.  Hey, what else are you gonna do on a Wednesday evening?   

Check out some of the videos from recent performances below.

Buddy Guy Live at Montalvo

Buddy Guy blew into the San Francisco bay area for a show at one of the nicest venues around town, Montalvo Arts Center, tucked away in Saratoga.  It's a beautiful outdoor venue with several hundred seats, everyone with a great view.  If you can get over the fact that beer costs $9, it's a near perfect place for an outdoor concert.

Buddy Guy's co-producer and co-songwriter Tom Hambridge opened the show playing a one-piece drum kit and accompanied by Guy's superbly talented pianist, Marty Sammon.  The two performed several songs Hambridge wrote for Susan Tedeschi, George Thorogood as well as songs from his own CD.  It was a good warmup, but I suspect the audience was anxious for Buddy Guy to take the stage.

Buddy Guy took the stage at 8:30 and started the evening with "Best Damn Fool," a scorching number from his new CD "Skin Deep."  It may be a cliche, but at 73, Buddy Guy has more energy than guys half his age --and twice the soul.  He's playing at the peek of his musical abilities, belting out songs and solos that show that the blues still has a place in music.  During the song "Drowning on Dry Land," Guy wandered into the audience, had a woman strum his guitar and kept climbing all the way to the back row.  He sat down in an empty seat for a minute but kept up his playing and then circled the entire venue, pausing to let fans take his picture.  He never missed a beat.  

Guy has long been considered one of the greatest blues guitarists that has ever lived.  He's been playing for more than 50 years and he's got the showmanship and charisma down cold.  He's also a tremendously humble man, proud to have played a role in influencing The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Cream, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, Stevie Ray Vaughn and just about every "British invasion" band that's ever played.  And it's nice that Guy also now gets the credit for being the bridge between the blues and rock and roll.  Others might have become resentful of their immitators' success, but Guy seems to just keep rolling along, happy that he learned the guitar and can play in front of an audience that appreciates him.

When Guy played the song "Skin Deep," he brought Hambridge back on stage to sing backing vocals.  It's a touching song made all the sweeter having the co-writer up on stage.  It's not surprising that "Skin Deep" is considered his best release in many years. 

In his last number, Guy repeated a longtime blues tradition of calling up  a young blues player to join him on stage.  Local resident and Berklee music student Jules Leyhe played alongside Guy, who was trading licks with him, egging him on, encouraging him to move to center stage so that he could get another sip from his coffee cup.  The jam ended up morphing into "Watch Yourself," a fitting way to end the night. 

The only thing better than seeing Buddy Guy playing when he's on tour would be to see him at his own Chicago blues club, Buddy Guy's Legends. And that's a pilgrimage every blues fan should make.  Plus the beer is cheaper.

10 Year Old Quinn Sullivan's Got the Blues


There's an old joke that if you're a teenager you haven't lived enough to sing the blues. But lucky for Quinn Sullivan, he's just ten years old and recently completed a stunning blues set at Chicago's Lollapalooza festival.  And if that weren't enough, Chicago legend Buddy Guy joined him on stage.  As Sullivan writes in the Windy Citizen:

I actually played at Buddy’s club Legends the night before Lollapalooza. I got to do my whole set there with Tom Hambridge, who is working on my album and produced Buddy’s last CD Skin Deep, and his band The Rattlesnakes. They came in from Nashville to play with me Friday night and during my performance at Lollapalooza on Saturday, which was awesome. 

As soon as I went on stage at Lollapalooza, it started to get really, really crowded.  I was so happy that the crowd was huge; it was awesome.  Then, for my last song Buddy came up with me to jam a little bit and the crowd went wild!  It was great.

Sullivan also plays on Buddy Guy's recent Skin Deep album on the song "Who's Gonna Fill Those Shoes?"

The good news is, we need more young kids playing the blues if it's to survive as an art form and not end up like jazz, an increasingly esoteric musical style with an aging demographic.  The bad news, if you're over 40, it might make you think about selling your axe and taking up golf.  I'll leave it to you to decide.

Coming up next: a review of Buddy Guy live at Montalvo, in Saratoga, California.  In the meantime, here's some footage from Lollapalooza.  

Guitar Innovator Les Paul Dead at 94 -- Millions Shred In Mourning


Les Paul, considered by many to be the inventor of the modern solid-body electric guitar, died today at the age of 94.  While Les Paul is well known for his namesake Gibson family of guitars, he was an innovator throughout his career as a jazz musician, prolific songwriter and as an inventor, developing the first tape delay system in the 1940s and then the first multi-track recording system in the early 1950s.

Paul even won a Grammy award in 2005 at the age of 90 for his CD "Les Paul & Friends: American Made, World Played" that featured the likes of Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Edgar Winter, Eric Clapton, Steve Miller and Billy Gibbons.  In recent years Paul played twice weekly at the Iridium Jazz Club with a non-stop calvacade of rock legends including Paul McCartney, Slash, Dickie Betts, Zakk Wylde, Brian May, Joe Satriani and others.  

To anyone who played electric guitar, Les Paul was a legend and his contribution to music was enormous. Paul was recognized by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the National Broadcasters Hall of Fame.  It's not surprising that legions of musicians came to see him play.  And the fact that Paul could still hold his own on stage up to his final months, well, that just proves the point.  

Let a million guitarists shred today in tribute to one of the greats. 

Link Wray: The Missing Link


So what do Pete Townsend, Jeff Beck and Bob Dylan all have in common? They owe part of their guitar style and sound to Rockabilly legend Link Wray who turned the music world upside-down by pounding out the first ever power chords on his electric guitar in the late 50's.  In Pete Townsend’s unpublished liner notes for Wray’s 1970 comeback album, he wrote: "He is the king; if it hadn't been for Link Wray and 'Rumble,' I would have never picked up a guitar."   Link (short for Lincoln) further enhanced his unique style of play by making small razor blade slits in his amplifier speakers to generate a distorted/fuzz effect out of the speakers; a sound of things to come. 

These unorthodox yet innovative techniques came together to launch his most famous composition entitled " Rumble".  Released in 1958, this tune was so controversial at the time, Wray’s own record label wouldn’t release it for fear it would provoke bad behaviour in America's youth.  The song was banned from many radio stations because it's title connoted gang violence.

I was given a copy of Wray’s self titled 1970 album release which features some punchy rockin’ blues tunes like; Juke Box Mama, Fire and Brimstone and my favourite: Singing Halleluiah. The hard driving drum beat on this song coupled with Wray’s torn-speaker distortion effect on the lead solo may well have served as inspiration for a song recorded 3 decades later entitled "Are you gonna go my way" by Lenny Kravitz.

Link Wray passed away in 2005 at 76 but never really got the recognition he deserved.  You can find some of his songs on MySpace and on YouTube. Although you won’t find any live performances of the songs from the ’70 self titled album, you will see Billy Hancock’s somewhat loose rendition of "Fire and Brimstone". Wray’s cover version is better and the rest of the songs on this somewhat forgotten album are well worth the listen; the missing Link has now been restored.

Dick Dale Live in Concert

I managed to catch King of the Surf Guitar Dick Dale live in concert a while back at Moe's Alley in Santa Cruz.  It was a a great show by one of the legends of rock and roll.  I was a bit surprised that there were all these under aged kids outside the club before the show.  Then I saw them get up on stage!  They were the warmup band: FCC (Forever Came Calling) featuring Dick's son Jimmy Dale on drums.

At any rate, it was a great show and if you've never seen Dick Dale live in concert, it's a treat.  He plays all the songs he made famous ("Misirlou," "Nitro," "Riders in the Sky," "Let's Go Tripping" etc) as well as covers of a few classic surf songs.  Heck, he even does a nice rocked out version of "Hava Nagila."  Sure, after a while a lot of the music that gets the Dick Dale upside-down-lefty-strat-super-reverb treatment sounds the same, but what a sound!  And at 72, Dale is rocking with more energy than guys half his age. I hope I can do the same.  What more could you ask for? 

Dick Dale may be most famous for his unique style of playing guitar, but he's also got musical chops that had him playing drums and bass at the same time as his bandmates. It was quite something to see Dale working side by side his drummer and then a whole other thing when he starts hammering the bass player's strings with drum sticks as his young sidekick holds the instrument aloft.  For his music, his tenacity and his role in breaking through the 100 watt sound barrier, Dick Dale is a national treasure.

The next leg of his tour takes him through the east coast at the end of August.  Don't miss it!

Alan Iglesias & Crossfire at JJ's Blues

I'm a sucker for a good blues guitarist and Alan Iglesias is near the top of the heap.  He did a quick tour through the San Franscisco bay area.  I managed to catch him last saturday night at JJ's Blues in Cupertino, a small club in the south bay.  Last time, I saw him play was at Biscuits & Blues in San Francisco, and this gig was even better. 

Alan Iglesias and Crossfire are a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn and he does a phenomenal job capturing the energy and excitement of what made SRV so special.  To see a band like this in a small club setting is a real treat.  And the fact that Pabst Blue Ribbon is only $3 at JJ's, well, that's just an added bonus.

The show started a bit earlier than the official 9:30 start (when was the last time that happened?) and continued well past midnight.  The band was incredibly tight with the drummer and bass player doing some complex rhythm changes in many songs.  But it's Iglesias' guitar work that is the centerpiece of this band.  A power trio requires a lot from a guitar player and Iglesias makes it all happen from playing solid rhythm to slow burn blues leads to crazy, chaotic but absolutely impeccable journeys up and down the fretboard.  Whether he's playing behind his back, tapping the fretboard or whamming the wammy bar, it all works beautifully.   

The band covered all of SRV's big hits ("Pride & Joy," "Texas Flood," "Coldshot," "Crossfire") as well as some Hendrix songs like "Little Wing" and "Voodoo Chile."  My favorites are the slow blues numbers where you really hear the soul of the blues coming through.  But no matter what your tastes, if you like blues rock, you'll love seeing Alan Iglesias & Crossfire and their loving tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughn.  Checkout the tour schedule to find out where they're playing next.

The lighting at JJ's is a bit dark, but here's some video I've posted on YouTube.  

My Cheapo Butterscotch Blond Telecaster


Following up on my purchase of a dirt cheap Squier Strat, I finally broke down and bought the guitar I've wanted for a long time: a beautiful butterscotch blond Squier Affinity Telecaster which I picked up at Guitar Center for a mere $169.  Hey, I'm a big spender and this was my splurge!  For under two bills, this is an amazing guitar. 

The Telecaster was the first solid body electric guitar and pionneered the bolt-on neck manufacturing process.  It was invented by Leo Fender as a working musician's guitar without a lot of frills.  It was originally called the Esquire (with one pickup) then later the Broadcaster and eventually renamed the Telecaster. 

As with most Teles, the Squier version is a bare bones, stripped down guitar: two single coil pickups and a simple 3-way switch.  It's got a nice Telecaster "honk" sound on the bridge pickup and a very bluesy neck pickup sound for lead guitar.  It's got decent tuners and the pickups sound great.  Hey, if its good enough for Keith Richards, Bruce Springsteen, Joe Strummer and Albert King, it's good enough for me.

I found this Tele to be more comfortable than either the Epiphone SG 400 or the Epiphone Les Paul and I like the tone better than my $100 Squier Strat.  Of course, it all comes down to personal preference, but for basic rock and blues, I think the Tele tone is fantastic and versatile enough to cover a lot of ground.  It's got a comfortable neck  and the body is lighter than the average Gibson guitar.  Having bought 4 cheapo guitars in the last year, this is likely my last purchase for a while.  I've got guitars stocked around the country but the Tele is by far my favorite. 

As I've said before, Asian-made guitars have improved tremendously in quality in recent years.  So if you're looking for a first electric guitar or a backup guitar, the Squier Tele should be on your list.

Update: I've added a short video on YouTube so you can hear and see the Squier Telecaster in action