Live Music: Buddy Guy At UCLA’s Royce Hall

August 14, 2015

By Devon Wendell



Los Angeles. Buddy Guy kicked off the 2015-2016 Center For the Art of Performance (CAP UCLA) at UCLA’s Royce Hall on Thursday night with a truly mesmerizing performance.

Buddy Guy is the last true prophet of the blues, especially since we recently lost B.B. King. Buddy and his Damn Right Blues Band (Marty Sammon, keyboards, Orlando Wright, bass, Ric Hall, guitar, and Tim Austin on drums) performed a blistering set of no-nonsense Chicago Blues and much more. Since the early ‘60s, Guy has performed and recorded with Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter, Son House and B.B. King (to name only a few). He has the uncanny ability to channel them all in a single performance. This is exactly what he did at Royce Hall on Thursday night.

Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy

This was one of the most focused and coherent Buddy Guy shows I’ve ever witnessed. Guy is often forced to play a medley of familiar blues standards due to the time restraints of the blues festival circuit. The good people at Royce Hall gave Guy and his band an entire hour and forty-five minutes to stretch out and that’s exactly what he did.

Guy played songs in their entirety, opening his set with “Damn Right I Got The Blues,” Eddie Boyd’s slow and pleading “Five Long Years” and Muddy Waters’ boastful “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Sure, Guy would occasionally fall back on his bag of stage tricks, like walking through the audience during a long guitar solo, playing the guitar behind his back and with his teeth, and even playing the guitar with his crotch. However, the greatest moments of the show were when Guy would just stand there onstage and play.

Buddy Guy

Guy also has the greatest backing band. Marty Sammon played some brilliant keyboard solos, even dipping into some apparent jazz influences on “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Orlando Wright and Tim Austin act as the anchors, keeping the groove no matter how wild Guy’s playing can go. Ric Hall is a stellar guitarist with his own distinct sound as well.

Carlos Santana once told me that Buddy Guy is “The Ornette Coleman of electric blues guitar” and he was right. Guy played some piercing, lightning fast runs and a furry of gut wrenching string bends which created tones that no other guitarist can emulate. And these are things that only happen at that exact moment and never repeated again.

A perfect example of this was Guy’s rendition of Guitar Slim’s “The Things I Used To Do.” Slim was one of Guy’s earliest and most potent influences. Guy learned a lot of his stage antics from watching Slim play in Louisiana in the ‘50s. Guy’s version was true to the original and like Guitar Slim, his guitar had gotten way out of tune during this performance. But his tone was so harsh and beautifully evil that it didn’t matter.

The performance started to lose some of its focus during a brief acoustic portion of Guy’s set. Guy and Ric Hall played acoustic guitars and were joined by Wright and Austin on Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say,” “Marvin Gaye’s “Ain’t That Peculiar” and Cream’s “Strange Brew.” It would have been more fitting if Guy performed some deep Delta blues on acoustic like he did on his 2003 album “Blues Singer” (Silvertone), but it was still a lot of fun.

The highlight of Guy’s set was the title track from his new album Born To Play Guitar (RCA) which was a pure Chicago blues in the style of his former mentors and employers Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers. On this number, Guy preaches about his love for his instrument and where it’s taken him throughout his incredible life.

Guy played an electric sitar on his 2008 soul ballad “Skin Deep.” He didn’t play the electric sitar in an “orthodox” manner, and thank God for that. He conjured up sounds on the instrument that no one would have thought possible when it was invented in the late ‘60s.

Guy finished his show with his baby-boomer crowd pleasing medley of Jimi Hendrix’ “Voodoo Child”, and Cream’s “Sunshine Of Your Love.” This was a beautiful performance. Guy is still one of the most powerful singers in the history of American music.

Opening up for Guy was Los Angeles’s own The Record Company (Chris Vos, vocals, guitar, lap-steel guitar, pedal steel guitar, harmonica), Alex Stiff, (bass, guitars, piano, vocals), and Marc Cazorla, (drums, piano, and vocals.)

The Record Company

The Record Company

This band sounds like a cross between The Yardbirds of the late ‘60s, Elmore James, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers. Their performance was electrifying. Chris Voss played some incredible slide guitar on his lap, using an acoustic guitar that the late Johnny Winter had given him. He alternated between guitar, harmonica, and lead vocals. Alex Stiff’s bass playing was tight and funky and Marc Cazorla’s drumming was hypnotic and in the pocket.

The band played such original material as “Goodbye Sad Eyes,” “Got Me On The Move,” “Feel So Good”and finally “Don’t Let Me Get Lonely” during their brief set which truly rocked the house. Voss is a magnetic front-man whose dedication to the blues was apparent during the band’s entire performance. The Record Company was raw, loud, nasty, and the perfect band to start the evening’s festivities. This is a band to look out for if you haven’t already.

This was a perfect evening of raw blues performed by both a band of newcomers dedicated to the heart and soul of the music, and a true legend and master who is the last of the “old” bluesmen. I can’t imagine a better way to kick off UCLA’s CAP new concert season.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

Live Music: ZZ Top and Jeff Beck at the Greek Theatre

August 18, 2014

By Mike Finkelstein

Los Angeles, CA.  Cool is one of those qualities that, although hard to precisely define, we sure do recognize when we see it. On Wednesday night at the Greek Theatre, Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons, two of the coolest guitar personalities to ever spank the plank, shared a double bill, and also found time to share the stage. These are two who have the cool  in their delivery and style. And as both approach 70 years old their continued prowess with their instruments is inspiring. For guitar enthusiasts this was must see live work and it satisfied mightily.

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck went onstage shortly after sundown in a black vest, a wrapped scarf, and the same haircut we have known him with for nearly 50 years. The silhouette is very familiar. For years from the seventies on, his bands have featured him playing with one talented keyboardist or another (Max Middleton and Jan Hammer are notable alums). On Wednesday, there were no keyboards, instead he had a second guitar player, a dynamic young female bassist and a monster drummer… and for more than half of his set he had ex-Wet Willie vocalist and long time collaborator, Jimmy Hall, singing a batch of his more bluesy, guitar-and-vocals oriented tunes.

Beck’s set began instrumentally with “Loaded,” and the band stretched out nicely over a cover of “You Know You Know,” by the Mahavishnu Orchestra.  Bassist Rhonda Smith in particular, shined on this,serving up a contrasting mix of slapping and undulating bends.

Lately, no Jeff Beck show is without his instrumental version of the Beatles’ “A Day In The Life.” On Wednesday that tune was classic JB, with all the dynamics and nuance he is famous for injecting into his interpretations.  Much has been written over the years about his style and he truly stands alone in that nobody else does what he does and if they try to, we know where they got the ideas. It is his multitasking right hand that sets him apart. That right hand often does two or three things at once.  Whether he is tapping the strings, delicately nudging the vibrato arm, working the volume knob, or just ripping open a power chord it all takes a beautiful form. He hangs his hat on controlling chaos in his sound. It blows like a tornado and then stops and pivots on a dime.

Jimmy Hall

Jimmy Hall

Halfway through the set, Hall came onstage and they reached way back to the Truth album for “Morning Dew.” It’s a powerful song, whether sung by Rod Stewart (on Truth) or by Hall this time. And it’s a great example of how much more than the sum of the parts a vocal line and guitar line can elevate to. They also continued on to cover Jimi Hendrix’ “Little Wing,” and Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come.”

But the direction of the evening was shown with last two selections of “Goin’ Down,” from Rough and Ready, and the British blues/rock staple, “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.” At the end of his set, his “Aw Shucks” grin and slouch said it all. But we would see Beck again, later in the evening.

ZZ Top came on next as the headliner, and put on a uniquely stylized rock ‘n’ roll show. The stage set had a distinctly automotive theme to it, from the red and green lights in the bass drums, to the truck smokestacks that supported the mike stands, and there were many projected slides of sparkplugs displayed like fine hors d’oeuvres.

One really can’t discuss ZZ Top without acknowledging the presence of the beards. Both bassist Dusty Hill and guitarist Billy Gibbons have beards down past their sternums and also wear black sunglasses, dark hats and similar but happily not identical black pants, coats and shoes. You could say they each look like a cross between Cousin It (Addam’s family) and the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers…but can they ever play and dance. The way they carry themselves onstage is one of a kind. Together it’s magic, a comic combination of effortless, confident, and impressive. … and all of these are key strands of cool.

ZZ Top

ZZ Top

Both Gibbons and Hill are thinner than you might imagine, and light on their feet in a laid back way. Gibbons is pretty much gaunt, but he slides around stage with the same cool fluidity he exudes on guitar.  The two beards can still dance the choreographed steps they learned in the bars and roadhouses of Texas coming up through the ranks. Who knew the dancing and their style would get them noticed, big-time, on MTV in the 80’s? It does look cool, but it wouldn’t mean anything if it didn’t sound like ZZ Top.

For a three-piece band, ZZT puts out a lot of sound. They keep the riffs and the riff-support simple but it sounds tremendous. The bass and guitar are usually playing in unison to make the figure sound as big as possible. The drums were thunderous and on one of the toms there was a huge reverb trigger at work. But on top of it all is Billy Gibbons’ legendary guitar tone…and that’s what sets ZZ Top’s sound apart.

One has to hear Gibbons’ tone to appreciate it. On Wednesday he played a customized old gold top Les Paul. He often plays with a quarter or a peso instead of a guitar pick, and this enables him to put all sorts of overtones off the top of the string with the metal on metal contact. He also has his amps dialed in for huge but not overblown sustain, and very little dirt in his distortion. The end result is a tremendous, clean and bright, clear and soft, lead tone and a magnificently overdriven, but clean rhythm tone.

The band cruised through crowd favorites such as “Waitin’ for the Bus,” “Jesus Just Left Chicago,” “ Gimme All Your Lovin’,” and even covered Jimi Hendrix with an impressive rendition of “Foxy Lady.” But perhaps the most telling song was their cover of Muddy Waters’ “Catfish Blues.” There’s just something about the way ZZ Top plays blues that isn’t remotely like so many other bands that just rock the blues into a distorted and boring cliche. While they do turn it up, ZZ Top’s rhythm section takes a less is definitely more approach for the blues. And again, Gibbons’ guitar tone, just squeezing out the sparks and wheezes was phenomenal. They linked the elusive sparsely powerful intimacy of the old Chicago blues with the big oomph of power trio rock music…not so easy to do well.

ZZ Top’s encore was the big treat and the moment of anticipation- Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons on the same stage.  Bring it on. It wasn’t so much a showdown as a chance for us to finally corral two of the more distinctive rock guitar stylists ever on one stage. Many guitar players who share a stage with Jeff Beck are in awe. Gibbons was simply playing with a peer, so there was no tension to break. Gibbons switched to a Fender Telecaster, so as not to overpower Beck’s Stratocaster.  They Played “La Grange,” and “Tush,” of course, but the coolest song had to be a cover of Tennessee Ernie Ford’s “Sixteen Tons.” Between Gibbons’ low, murmuring growls on the vocal, it was a fine showcase of the two styles and in the end the winner was the audience.

Cool is one of those qualities we tend to associate with youth but it’s really quite remarkable to see older folks retain it and wear it so effortlessly. Jeff Beck and Billy Gibbons are still two of the cooler cats you’ll ever see nearing seventy years old and playing killer guitar.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.


A Twist of Doc: “Everything Is On The One”

July 25, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

Lately I’ve been harkening back to a time in my hazy youth in which rock n’ roll seemed too square and being a jazz musician felt unattainable. I was a frustrated self-taught blues guitar player in his teens in search of something else.

As much as I worshipped the blues, by the time I was 13 the image, true attitude, sound, and feel of greats like Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, and Son House had all but vanished.

There were still many blues legends with a lot to offer but for the most part blues had morphed almost completely into blues-rock. Stevie Ray Vaughan was the leader of the pack and he had thousands of clones. Vaughan passed away in 1990 but today it’s still the same. Blues clubs and radio stations are still flooded by men and women who all dress like a discount combo of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan on layaway. And they all fall back on the same overindulgent stock blues licks.

Devon "Doc" Wendell

Devon “Doc” Wendell

I saw the writing on the wall back at the age of 13. Once again the rock establishment was co-opting the blues for a white audience, as had been done in the ‘60s and I didn’t approve or want to go along.

I had always been a geeky wallflower who had sat on the floor at school dances or avoided them altogether. I wasn’t going to ditch the blues or give up trying to play jazz, but I was in search of a more primal sound that could get to the core of all contemporary musical genres and didn’t take it self too seriously. I found what I was looking for in funk.

The very first bassist I played with in high school turned me onto George Clinton and Parliament/Funkadelic. I was already deeply into the funk of Sly And The Family Stone and James Brown so this was the logical next step.

My first reaction was laughter. Hearing Parliament’s “The Mothership Connection” felt like the first time I had ever been truly stoned. Granted I probably was very stoned at the time. It was musically sophisticated with slick, jazz-inspired horn arrangements by Maceo Parker and Fred Wesley (formerly of James Brown’s band), thumping baselines by ex-James brown protégé Bootsy Collins, and classically infused psychedelic keyboard work by Bernie Worrell. The most shocking element was George Clinton or “Dr. Funkenstein” rapping (more than a decade before rap music was around) over the music using street slang and profanity in an over the top, super silly fashion.

There was also the meteoric guitar work of P-Funk guitarists Eddie Hazel, Garry Shider, Mike Hampton, and Dewayne “Blackbyrd” Mcknight which cemented George Clinton’s concept of “organized chaos” and is still a huge influence on my playing today.

I also bought and taught myself electric bass after hearing the albums Ahh The Name Is Bootsy Baby, and Larry Graham’s slapping on Graham Central Station’s “The Jam.”

James Brown

James Brown

When it came to listening to funk music – whether it was James Brown, Sly Stone, or P-Funk — I felt I had to sneak off somewhere to do it, like I did with comedy albums by Richard Pryor and Redd Foxx. It wasn’t just the language; it was the attitude which made rock music seem like the squarest music in the galaxy. There was this delightful nastiness mixed with a true freedom to all of it and I started collecting funk records by the stack full. From James Brown, Sly Stone, all incarnations of P-Funk and Bootsy Collins, to The Ohio Players, Con Funk Shun, Brick, and Earth, Wind And Fire, I had to have it all. Suddenly I wasn’t too shy too dance and I was out there at funk concerts and parties shaking my ass and making a fool out of myself but not giving a shit. That’s freedom. That’s funk.

Of course my steady diet of marijuana and psychedelic drugs helped aid this drastic change and allowed me to see all things as being sublimely funky. My guitar playing became funkier and more focused on that “one” beat that is the spiritual core of funk music. James Brown emphasized the “one” and P-Funk took it to new and wonderfully ridiculous heights. The “one” is where all musicians meet up and are in sync with the universe.

Sly Stone

Sly Stone

Although funk remains as spiritually relevant with young music lovers and musicians today in a way similar to reggae, the music’s greatest pioneers and practitioners have constantly been dismissed as novelty acts by the mainly white controlled music industry and what’s left of it. Times have been hard for Sly Stone and George Clinton over the past few decades.

I’ve never truly understood why. Sly Stone was as talented, inventive, and revolutionary as all four Beatles combined. Sly not only influenced hundreds of funk and rock bands, he also changed the shape of jazz forever. Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters would not exist without Sly. Miles Davis worshiped Sly and his music was forever changed by Sly’s influence.

Why is it that Sly Stone lives in a mobile home today? Why is George Clinton having to fight for the rights to his own music but still sells out concerts all over the world? The white rock bands of the ‘70s did as much drugs (if not more) as any of the funk legends and they’re still able to get record deals. The rock machine can stay behind and support the nostalgia of Crosby, Still, Nash, and Young, or even The Rolling Stones no matter what trouble these artists have gotten into over the years or the dips in their record sales.

I can’t help but think that if these artists were black, they’d know how it feels to be relegated to novelty act status by main stream media and have to fight to keep what they created. Keith Richards can dress and act as crazy as he wants and there aren’t the same consequences as there have been with Sly Stone or George Clinton. It doesn’t make any sense.

With all that said and as overtly un-funky as the music business has always been, there are the fans. Since my introduction to funk back in my teens, I’ve learned that there are no fans like funk fans or “funkateers.” The love is felt all over the world by people of all ages. We ex-“Psychedelic wallflowers” keep the music fresh. Not to mention the millions of hip-hop and rap artists who have sampled funk records since day one and continue to do so.



Tuesday, July 22nd was the 73rd Birthday of George Clinton. I was lucky enough to work with Dr. Funkenstein in the studio over 23 years ago and we spoke many times during the ’90’s at airports or backstage as he and The P-Funk All- Stars toured constantly going “all around the world for the funk.” They’re still out there touring right now. So, today I thank you, Dr. Funkenstein, for freeing my mind and ass collectively and a very funktacular Happy Birthday. Never quit. Keep on funkin’, we need it now more than ever. I also thank all current and past members of P-Funk, Bootsy Collins, Bernie Worrell, Junie Morrison , and Sly And The Family Stone, Larry Graham, James Brown, and the list goes on.

The record industry may be dying out, old, corny, and not able to dance, but thanks to you, Dr. Funkenstein, everything is still on the one.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


A Twist Of Doc: The Dangers Of Writing About Jazz

February 25, 2014

By Devon “Doc” Wendell

In my head I can hear Billie Holiday singing “There Is Music Everywhere.” She sang it with such glee as opposed to her better known and more tortured melancholy recordings. And she was right. It’s all around us at any time.

Devon Wendell

Devon Wendell

Since I became a music journalist several years ago, I’ve tried to write about it all, or most of what has surrounded me and crossed my path. Writing about rock n’ roll, folk, blues, and all forms of music that fits into the beloved boom era- nostalgia soundtrack seems to be the safest route when writing about music, especially today, so I’ve learned. I’ve written pieces on Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, and Richie Havens and everyone rejoiced.

Whenever “Purple Haze,” “Blowin’ In The Wind,” or “Hey Jude” has been mentioned with “positive vibes” or enthusiasm (a better choice of wording), I got a lot of readers and no hate mail.

Jazz, on the other hand is a different story. There’s danger and risk involved in writing about jazz just as there is danger and risk in playing the music.

The jazz community seems to love my jazz pieces, especially the musicians and fellow jazz writers. A lot of them can tell I’m a musician writing from a musician’s perspective.

But for some reason unknown to me, I’ve gotten more than a fair share of bitterness, disdain and even bullying threats from a few writers. It seems to come from those writers obsessed with the “counter culture” rock music of the ‘60s. I’d like to make it crystal clear that I love good rock n’ roll. Ike And Tina Turner, Jackie Breston, early Elvis, The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, The Velvet Underground, these artists have been an integral part of my being and musicianship. There have been times in which I’ve criticized the rock ‘n’ roll industry and its dominating power over all genres of music and how dismissive they can be towards jazz and blues unless those genres give into some of the not so clever clichés of rock music to please some of the not so cultured rock fans.

The fact that Led Zeppelin has billions of dollars paid to the band for their versions of songs written by other artists, many of whom died in poverty, also irks me.  But this has more to do with dishonest business practices than the music. And let’s face it, those running The Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame could use a few courses in music history. John Coltrane is not rock and Muddy Waters was great in his own right, regardless of who he has influenced in the rock n’ roll world. I don’t subscribe to that precious brand of narcissism.

My criticisms have been misconstrued by a clannish bunch of old hippies who do anything but practice “peace and love.” I didn’t have images of flower children in my head when one of these writers verbally harassed me for not writing the ten thousand and third article on the 50th anniversary of The Beatles arriving in America. This guy couldn’t help but throw how much money he got for his piece and how little I make.

That week I chose to write an educational piece on the jazz tenor saxophonist Hank Mobley instead. I have nothing against the Beatles but I wanted to write about Hank Mobley. Too many have asked “Who is Hank Mobley?” No one has asked me who The Beatles are. They need more publicity like Jay-Z or Beyonce need it. Come on people! The media had already been overly saturated with Beatles articles and memorabilia, making the actual event seem Warholian in its abundance of repetitive images, robbing it of any true meaning and dignity.

After receiving several emails of; “You think you’re so smart don’t you asshole snob?” and “Only a handful of folks give a shit about jazz!” “jazz is dead, long live rock!” and “We changed the world back then man! Write about The Doors!” I knew it was time to break all contact with these psychopaths stuck in a time warp. They’re gone for now and I can breathe easier.

The other danger of jazz writing is a good kind. I remember reviewing Kenny Burrell at Catalina’s in Hollywood. After I wrote my review, the late Mike Melvoin (who was on piano that night) blasted me for not noticing that he had quoted Horace Silver’s “Room 608” during one of his solos. I loved it because although he was a little pissed off, his love of the music came through in his comments. He knew I was younger than a lot of jazz writers and wanted to make sure I really listened to every nuance in a performance. I was upset with myself for missing the damn quote! This also meant he was reading my work and paying attention.

I like that sense of risk which keeps me on my toes. That’s positive criticism, which I can work with. As for the other kind, I’m glad to say it’s quieted down for now and I feel for those rock writers who keep their musical worlds so small and follow the herd for a quick buck. The anger has passed, so there’s been some growth.

So I’ll just keep doing what I do and write not only about jazz, but rock, cumbia, maybe some hip-hop, even klezmer music if the mood should strike me. And I’ll enjoy and learn from the risks. “There Is Music Everywhere.”  Indeed.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

A Twist of Doc – An Appreciation: The 43rd Anniversary Of The Death Of Jimi Hendrix

September 18, 2013

 By Devon Wendell

September 18th, 2013 and all I can think about is Jimi. How his music and legacy has haunted me my entire life. Jimi Hendrix died 43 years ago today, over 5 years before I was even born. Yet every feedback drenched note, cascading soulful ballad, and harrowing wammy-bar dive bomb has almost followed my every move since the age of ten.

It was something I hid and was ashamed of in my formative years because Jimi was associated with and marketed to a rock ‘n’ roll audience which was a no no for a “pure” bluesman like myself. Or so I believed. Although I had known the direct link between Jimi and Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, as well as the deepest of the Delta and Country bluesmen such as Son House, Robert Johnson, and Charlie Patton, when I first heard his music, he was mainly seen as the father of heavy metal.

Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix

He was lumped into the same group of “classic” rockers such as Led-Zeppelin and The Who,which I failed to understand. I hated and still hate heavy metal or most rock music and Jimi’s music is far more profound than any of that stuff and is closer to a Robert Johnson or Miles Davis. I chalked it up to ignorance on the part of everyone who had been brainwashed into thinking all guitar music is “rock n’ roll” and buried this feeling of having an overwhelming link to Jimi until the rest of the world caught on to the depths of his creativity. That finally seems to have happened.

He was the only famous artist that I could relate to on a musical and personal level, though everything I had learned about Jimi was speculation from books and articles. And some of the famous artists with whom I got to come across who actually knew Jimi personally – like Jack Bruce and Buddy Miles – told me that there wasn’t a way of “Really knowing Jimi.”

I grabbed onto those second hand scraps of images with all of my might. Jimi’s shyness, insecurity, frustration, self-destruction, and the playboy image made my youthful self-loathing somewhat less painful. Plus I had a guitar which was little more than a blank canvas before my teens.  

Now I’m an adult and know the dangers of associating my self with anyone else’s image, true or false but at times when I’m playing my guitar, my way, to the best of my ability, I feel Jimi there with me. Sometimes he likes what I’m doing and sometimes I see him in my mind’s eye wincing at a missed note or chord gone horribly wrong. Because I had some of the same chemically induced demons as Jimi, I try not to take these feelings too seriously anymore. I nearly followed Jimi and Robert Johnson into an early grave but somehow I miraculously survived.

I try my best to shake Jimi’s influence on my playing now the same way a young, ambitious saxophonist may struggle with all of his might to shake the influence of Lester Young or John Coltrane but it’s not that easy because his music is everywhere, in every genre now. Jimi’s music is sacred and shouldn’t be mocked.

September 18th, 1970 marked the passing of contemporary music’s last true virtuoso. There certainly hasn’t been anyone as influential on a single instrument since his death.

We’re all still waiting for the next one to come from somewhere and the longer it takes, the more we must pause to give thanks for his life and music. Rest in peace Jimi.  

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.

CD Review: “The Jimi Hendrix Experience” (Purple Box Set)

August 20, 2013

 The Wind Cries Jimi

The Jimi Hendrix Experience (Purple Box Set) (Legacy Records)

By Brian Arsenault

The four disc Jimi Hendrix Experience “purple box set” is being released today for the first time in over a decade, with some previously unreleased tunes as well. If you’ve any room on your credit card or have some cash stuck in a drawer, make sure to get it. Not cheap no doubt but a value beyond rubies.

 “Be a magic boy, be a voodoo child.”

Jimi Hendrix

The thing about Jimi is that he could hear everybody — Dylan, the Beatles, Chuck Berry, the old blues guys.  I don’t think anybody can really play unless they can really hear.  And, oh, could Jimi hear. 

How else can you explain “Like a Rolling Stone” on Disc One. After several listenings I still can’t quite grasp how he so thoroughly makes it his at the Monterey International Pop Festival in 1967 while maintaining the integrity of Dylan‘s composition.

This brilliant Dylan cover is but one of a number of concert recordings which, in and of themselves, would make one bitchin live album.

There’s the marvelous Royal Albert Hall performance recording of “Little Wing” with “a thousand smiles she gives to me free.” Was there ever a finer rock lyric, a finer song?

From the same show there’s a dazzling “Voodoo Child.” Is there anyone since Beethoven who could do openings like Jimi?

There are fine studio recordings too. The intro chords on “Foxy Lady” on Disc One could hurt you. And a fine “Purple Haze” of course leads us in.

But those concert recordings:

The show at the Olympia Theater in Paris in 1966 must surely echo through eternity. Just the cuts here — including “The Wind Cries Mary,” “Catfish Blues” and “Killing Floor” as well as the maybe best ever “Hey Joe” recording are as close to perfection as you’ll see this side of a sunset.

The “Hey Joe” is ominous, brooding, building like a storm. “The Wind Cries Mary” delicate and poetic. “Catfish Blues” is true to John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters just done “our own way,” as you hear Jimi say. He can do such different stuff and still be him.

Great musicians not only hear everything, they like everything. Or at least everything good.

There was a time before people retreated into their own little corners of pop and rap and country and so on, a time when the same guy would like psychedelic and soul, folk and jazz, rock ‘n roll and the blues from which it sprang. Certainly there are “purists” in every era who think there’s only one kind of music, but there once was a time of wider ranging tastes.

There was also a different spirit on the part of the artists. Instead of some silly kid telling you to respect him as an artist, Jimi would apologize as he does several times here for having to stop to tune up or warn you that he’s about to play a long tune. He wanted the music to be perfect, not his tweets (anachronism, I know).

Journey with Jimi to an astonishing version of “Johnny B. Goode,” wherein the true founder of rock, Chuck Berry, is played through the Hendrix prism. Hear the Carl Perkins/Presley “Blue Suede Shows” picked up from a sound check. And smile through the Jimi Hendrix Experience delighting in the Beatles’ “Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.”

I could go on and on but the purple box is yours to hear and treasure and it’s not to be missed. I have noted in the past the weakness of a Hendrix reissue which might include two or three gems and a bunch of inferior outtakes. But not here. There’s hardly a clunker.

I also found Mitch Mitchell’s drumming on the concert cuts everywhere — keeping up with Jimi’s ripping guitar on “Johnny B. Goode” for example — much better than I ever considered his studio work.

Near the end of the fourth and final disc there’s a recording of “All Along the Watchtower” played at the Isle of Wight before more than a half million people in 1970. Among the many reasons I wish Jimi could have lived a lot longer is so he could have covered even more of the Dylan songbook, two artists who most of us would have considered so different before Jimi’s versions.

But it was late summer of 1970 and the hour was getting late. Jimi was the most brilliant in an array of shooting stars in that era soon to be gone. You know their names if you know the era.

Even in a wider sense: like Shelly and Keats writing poetry of which we would never again see its like; like Charlie Parker playing alto sax as if he came from a more perfect world of music.

Gone too soon but not too soon to leave us their music sound poetry to last the ages.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

CD Review: Quinn Sullivan: “Getting There” (SuperStar Records)

July 26, 2013

  By Devon Wendell

Blues master Buddy Guy encountered the now 14 year old Quinn Sullivan six years ago after Guy invited the young Sullivan to sit in with him. And he’s mentored this budding electric six stringer ever since.

Sullivan’s sophomore CD Getting There is an appropriate title for Sullivan’s blistering blues oriented rock-pop.

There’s no doubt that Sullivan is wise beyond his years in his skills as a blues/rock guitarist, but the overproduction on this release often distracts from the first half of the album.

Tracks like “Checkin’ Out,”, “Catch A Groove” and the schmaltzy ballad “World In Change” are marred with cliched psychedelic rock vocal effects, hooks and overindulgent guitar pyrotechnics that have little to do with real blues and more to do with baby- boom era, blues-inspired “classic” rock.  The exceptions are the title track “Getting There” and portions of “Mr. Gloom,” in which Sullivan delivers some no nonsense, Buddy Guy inspired blues playing. With that being said, there is an unmistaken sense of rollicking fun on the album. “Rock Hard” is a good example of this. Sullivan (with help from producer Tom Hambridge) doesn’t sound like he takes himself too seriously, which is a plus.

Quinn Sullivan

Quinn Sullivan

It may serve Sullivan better that he hasn’t tried to make a pure blues album with all of the false posturing and fake vocal affectations that someone like Eric Clapton (more than 4 times Sullivan’s age) has been doing for almost half a century. The music on Getting There is more age and culturally appropriate for Sullivan than trying to come off sounding like Muddy Waters or B.B. King.

Sullivan’s high, prepubescent vocals don’t match the maturity of his wailing Strat guitar runs (which may be off-putting at first listen) but the command and confidence of his vocal delivery makes up for that.

“Like Your Love” and “End Of The Day” are Sullivan’s finest vocal performances on the album. There’s a fun, mid-60s Beatles feel to these tracks.

The surfer-esque rock instrumental “Cyclone” is the highlight of the album with brilliant piano work by Jefferson Jarvis. Here, Sullivan sticks to the song’s motif and thematic qualities without playing one or two bars and then diving into an endless solo that goes nowhere. This instrumental brings to mind the late great Texas guitar master Danny Gatton.

Sullivan tells his story as a young guitar phenom who’s already experienced more than the average Joe on the Southern rocker “Things I Won’t Forget.” There’s a youthful sweetness to Sullivan’s early felt nostalgia on this song.

QuiThe album closes with a bonus track of Sullivan performing Eric Clapton’s “Got To Get Better In A Little While” live at Buddy Guy’s “Legends” club in Chicago with Buddy’s band (Marty Sammons, keys and backing vocals, Orlando Wright,bass and Rick Hall, guitar) with the addition of Tom Hambridge on drums.

Sullivan sounds frighteningly close to Clapton in tone but he has a rawness and technique that Clapton’s never had.

Although Getting There isn’t for the blues purist, it shows the world this young man’s amazing talents as a fiery blues tinged guitarist and singer who can successfully incorporate blues and rock into a fun-filled pop idiom. Quinn Sullivan is definitely someone to keep your eyes and ears on.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Devon Wendell click HERE.


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