Monday, June 27, 2011

Ayron Jones and the Way

Ayron Jones, with Conrad Real on drums, photo courtesy Moonlight Media

Ayron Jones, guitar and vocals
Conrad Real, drums
Deandre Enrico, bass

It’s not often you see a young band, and I mean very young, who are already so good it blows you away. Jar of Rain is one of those, and so is Ayron Jones and the Way.

Last week Ayron Jones and his band were a highlight of the Rock Show to Benefit NW Harvest. After an impressive set by Alan White, legendary drummer for Yes, these young unassuming guys jumped up on the stage. Dylan said you can tell how good a musician is by the way they carry in their guitar case. I say you can tell a lot about a musician by how they tune up. I watched and listened carefully as the bass player thoughtfully, carefully, and oh-so-efficiently tuned his active 5-string, and I knew we were in for it.

I’d just been talking with a drummer friend about dynamics, and how often musicians sacrifice modulation for LOUD. Not these guys; they showed a keen sensitivity to the feeling and tempo of each song, whether a soulful ballad from Hendrix, or a rockin’ blues song from Buddy Guy. Good musicians let the music move them, almost as if the music plays the band, not the other way around. Then POW, all three hit us with their technical chops and blew the roof off the place. It was sheer pleasure to hear their joyful playing of blues and rock classics, with a twist.

From Facebook: “Guitarist, Singer/Songwriter Ayron Jones from Seattle, Washington mixes blues, funk, hip-hop and R&B to deliver his sound. Self taught since the age of 13, Ayron continues to develop an approach to the blues by spanning the guitar styles of legends such as Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix and Albert king. Constantly growing and exploring, Ayron adds his personal touch with rhythms and grooves derived from today's sounds while still paying tribute to the history of the blues. Ayron Jones is a student of the neo-blues evolution.”

Also, Kudos to Conrad Real on drums. I'd heard him play before as an occasional special guest at 88 Keys jams, but with this trio Conrad finds his signature style: superb touch and tasty licks with a smooth groove and punchy cymbal work. I believe he has what it takes to become one of the all-time greats.

It’s hard to say enough about Deandre Enrico on bass. I kept wondering how on earth he could be so good, so young. Few bass players engage the bass as a low-register guitar, with all chords and solos working together, and he’s already got it down!!

For show dates check the Ayron Jones and the Way Facebook page.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mary McPage and the Assassins

Mary McPage and the Assassins, photo by Steven Seiller ©2011

Recently at Engel’s in Edmonds 

As a little girl, Mary McPage loved singing in church. Later she started singing in blues bands in Idaho and Florida, then Seattle. How do you go from church music to singing in blues bands? “Fear!” she says. “The Blues gets into your soul and won’t let go. It scares me, but I look it straight in the eye and do it anyway.” It’s not fearlessness; with Mary you get the sense that she is fully aware of facing down that fear, and paying her respects.

Mary’s driving low-soprano voice shows all of her influences as she relives memories of sounds from earlier experiences: the reverence of church music; then-pop favorites like Englebert Humperdink; country divas like ”sweet cotton candy soprano” Dolly Parton, Lorretta Lynn, and Tammy Wynette;  rock and roll from Stevie Nicks and Ann Wilson; and real soulful power singing from Janis Joplin and Etta James. 

Part of trying to voice her musical memories is finding the right musicians to help channel the sound. And Mary has a talent for finding and surrounding herself with some of the best musicians in town. With the fabulous Patrick McDanel on bass for the past year, Mary has been able to stretch out and do some deeper, funkier stuff. On guitar and vocals, Honolulu’s Keith Fraser brings a blend of jazz and rock influences from Mike Stern to Jeff Beck to Hendrix. Always searching for that warm sound, Keith delivers masterful chord architecture and superb melodic solos that only the best players can.

A favorite experience for Mary was at the Best of Blues awards show in 2009; her then-band had broken up when she learned they were nominated as Best Band, “which was a total shock!” she laughs. “Wanted to do something different so we did a total acoustic blues set, first acoustic band playing at their awards shows. A really cool moment.”

See Mary McPage and the Assassins. Get their full show calendar here.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Remembering Clarence Clemons

Clarence Clemons whaling with Bruce Springsteen

The Big Man

Although not a huge Springsteen fan, I am a huge fan of Clarence Clemons. To say he was “larger-than-life” is an understatement. At 6’5” and 270 pounds, he owned whatever stage he graced. Every street, including E Street, was a one-way street: his way.

Following last week’s hospitalization for a stroke, Clarence left this earth. Although he’d had serious health problems for years, recently he was improving, even playing at the 2009 Superbowl halftime, and two songs on Lady Gaga’s recent “Born This Way” album.

I’ll never forget that golden evening at the Hollywood Bowl, June 1981, we went to see Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, with the original lineup: Steven van Zandt on guitar, Clarence Clemons on sax, Max Weinberg on drums, and Gary Tallent on bass. It was "Survival Sunday," a sort of anti-nukes awareness concert. Clarence came out in an electric blue suit, with his gleaming gold sax, completely anchoring the first set. His signature solo on “Jungleland” took him years to perfect, and will live on in our musical lexicon.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Guitar Man

Mike Lull: Our Own Local Treasure

I was feeling pretty special when Mike Lull offered to fix up my Fender bass’s intonation; but then again he treats everyone special, including members of Pearl Jam, players with Clapton, Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, Stevie Wonder, Creedence, and B.B. King, and a constellation of other guitar players from around the world.

Because he is The Man. The Guitar Man. Ask any player and they’ll say go to Mike Lull, he’s the best. That can be dangerous though, because once inside his tech studio, you’ll be seduced by one gorgeous custom guitar after the next, all hanging on the wall ready to play. Mike is happy to design your dream guitar. I’m eyeing the lavender mist 4-string bass, a cool $2200, but a lot more than that out in the retail market.

He also updates pickups and whatever else requires repair wizardry. After only a couple of hours, he fixed up a friend’s Greco and it sounded better than I’ve ever heard it, maybe even as good as Keith Richards’ black version with the pirates etched in the pick guard.

Mike Lull Custom Guitars & Guitar Works
13240 NE 20th St.
Suite #2
Bellevue, WA 98005
Telephone (425) 643-8074
Fax (425) 746-5748
Hours: Mon-Fri 9AM to 5PM, Sat 10AM to 5PM (Pacific Time)