Monday, August 29, 2011

Guitarist Robben Ford to play Seattle

photos by George Wells
Guitar Hero Robben Ford

For those of you who know who Robben is, or have seen him play, you know what I’m talkin’ about. This guy’s discography reads like the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame roster. I’ve had the distinct pleasure of experiencing Robben’s musical genius live on several occasions. And a lucky audience will have an opportunity again:

Robben Ford, with guitarist Mike Landau, bassist Jimmy Haslip, and drummer Gary Novak, Triple Door, Seattle, October 19

Robben has played with artists as diverse as Joni Mitchell, Jimmy Witherspoon, Miles Davis, George Harrison, Phil Lesh, Larry Carlton, Bonnie Raitt, Claus Ogerman, Bob Dylan, John Mayall, Greg Allman, and many others.

Robben recently started his Guitar Dojo, a learning center where he shares his experiences and musical discoveries. Here, follow along as Robben gives you personal and comprehensive lessons through high quality streaming video. You can also virtually visit sound checks and other live recordings.

A little history from his website:

He began to teach himself guitar at age thirteen upon hearing the two guitarists from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. In the late 1960’s, Ford frequented the Fillmore and Winterland Auditoriums in San Francisco to see Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Cream, Led Zeppelin, Albert King, B.B. King and all of the progenitors of blues. “It was an incredible time for electric guitar,” Robben recalls.

On his interest in jazz, Robben says, "I fell in love with the sax-playing of Paul Desmond and The Dave Brubeck Quartet, and before long found Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp, Yusef Lateef, Roland Kirk, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, and of course, Miles Davis.”

Robben’s first attempt at forming his own jazz quartet was picked up by legendary blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon, who brought Robben to L.A. He toured the U.S. and Europe with Witherspoon and was seen by Tom Scott and members of The L.A. Express, who were about to begin a promotional tour with Joni Mitchell for her recording “Court and Spark.” Robben was invited to play guitar on the tour and played on two recordings with Mitchell and The L.A. Express. “The two years I spent with Joni were the most formative of my musical life. Joni was just brilliant and very accessible.”

Beatle George Harrison invited Robben to join him on his “Dark Horse” tour of the U.S. and Canada…”

After moving to New York, he was called to play with musical icon Miles Davis. “Producer Tommy LiPuma played Miles my work with the Yellowjackets, then three days later, Miles called me personally to join his band. Shocking!”

 “Tiger Walk” is an instrumental recording produced in New York with Keith Richards' rhythm section…”

In 2000 Robben was invited to tour with Phil Lesh and Friends, co-billing with Bob Dylan, and reuniting him with Billy Paine and Paul Barrere of Little Feat, as well as drummer John Molo. “This experience gave me new respect for Jerry Garcia as a musician and songwriter. The songs and musical context were pure pleasure--real guitar music!"

In 2002, he released “Blue Moon” [I highly recommend this album]. His third release for Concord was entitled “Truth”. “I feel this is the best work I have done in terms of a solo recording. It is my most realized work as a songwriter, and I feel like I am reaching higher ground as a guitarist. [I second that!]

Robben has been touring the world off and on with the legendary guitarist Larry Carlton, the two producing “Live in Tokyo”, and an “unplugged” DVD from Paris. Collaboration seems to be the current M.O.-- projects with John Scofield, and touring and recording with fellow Miles Davis alumni saxophonist Bill Evans, as well as Randy Brecker and Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones.

Most recently (2010) Robben released “Renegade Creation,” with a group of musical friends who have played in different combinations and contexts over the years and decided to focus on a project together recording for Mike Varney’s Shrapnel label. This is a rock band, Robben’s first, and the results have people talking: “Dare I say everyone who hears it, loves it!” The other members are guitarist Mike Landau, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Gary Novak. [This is the line-up playing at Triple Door Oct 19 !!!]

Friday, August 5, 2011

HOT HOT Beatles Show: The Nowhere Men

Nowhere Men play to a crowd of 800 people at University Village, Seattle

Now that’s rock n’roll, when the guitar player literally lights his amp on fire! That’s what happened Wednesday night at the outdoor University Village show featuring the apparently hotter-than-hot Nowhere Men.

George Myers on rhythm guitar got us all dancing with “Get Back” and looked over to see flames coming out of his amp, while Rick on bass stopped playing and quickly, carefully, unplugged a few things. But did a mere burning amp stop the show? No! They continued right on with a fabulous medley that included, I Want You, She Came In Through the Bathroom Window, and A Day in the Life. At one point I thought the lead guitar player was going to light his amp on fire too, his playing was so hot!

Day Tripper at U Village

About 800 people enjoyed hearing Beatles’ music live on a rare sunny warm evening, while the Nowhere Men tripped the light fantastic through the Beatles’ library. Early songs, like “Please, Please Me” and “I Wanna Hold Your Hand” reminded us of the simple innocence of the young Fab Four, as we traveled through time to later, more satirical songs like “Taxman” and “Revolution.”

But it’s the psychedelic era of the Beatles’ body of work that I think the Nowhere Men get absolutely pitch-perfect, with songs like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” “The Walrus,” “Glass Onion,” and other White Album-era pieces. These are more complexly-orchestrated compositions that really showcase the musicianship--and heart--of The Nowhere Men’s playing. They don’t try to assume the Beatles’ looks or personas; instead they strive to capture the intent and integrity of the sound of the Beatles. And they succeed.

Superb sound mixed by Audio Media of Seattle.

Catch their shows any chance you get. Here’s The Nowhere Men show calendar.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Victor Wooten, Bass God

Victor Wooten on bass; Bela Fleck on banjo

A little Zydeco from Bruce Hornsby on mandolin;
Regi Wooten on washboard; Bela on banjo

Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers
Bela Fleck and the Flecktones
Chateau Ste. Michele Winery, July 30, 2011

There IS a god! A bass god—and his name is Victor Wooten. Forget for a moment that he plays with one of the greatest--if only--jazz fusion banjo players ever (yes, “jazz fusion banjo” all in the same sentence)—Bela Fleck. That is another story in itself.

Victor Wooten astounded and thrilled us on Saturday at the Chateau Ste. Michele winery concert. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones  opened for Bruce Hornsby and the Noisemakers, which I was OK with seeing, too.

But, I went specifically to see Victor, and I wasn’t disappointed. He does this thing where he gets the bass going and uses both sets of fingers in opposite directions swirling up and down the fret board, as if he’s playing a great horizontal harp. It’s really unbelievable to watch, and the sound is poly-fantastic. Victor exudes pure joy when he plays. I think very few musicians feel that free onstage.

I always appreciate when great musicians “give back” by supporting music education. Victor has gone far beyond that. His Bass/Nature Campin its 12th year now, has grown into a permanent school on 150 acres near Nashville. People from all over the world come to Wooten Woods to learn or improve their bass playing, with instruction from greats like the legendary Chuck Rainey (Steely Dan, Aretha Franklin, etc. ) and Steve Bailey (Dizzie Gillespie, Jethro Tull, etc.). Even my bass hero Robin Sylvester (Bob Weir's Ratdog and TRI Studios) is in awe of those guys. You can apply to attend the bass camp by sending email to:

A word or two about Bela Fleck—what’s up with the name? It’s Southern, people! And it’s pronounced “bay-lah.” Bela exudes the cool of a California surfer, while superb picking and harmonies underscore his soulful interpretations. Bruce Hornsby cleverly invited Bela and Victor back onstage with him, to take his own performance higher. Bruce has written some great songs, like The Way It Is, and Spider Fingers, and although all are written for the piano, they translate very well to the bass (after all, piano and bass are both in the Rhythm Section). Bela’s banjo acted as a surprising guitar duo: rhythm and lead guitar effortlessly rolled into one.

With the orange-plum sunset gloaming behind us in the soft summer evening, they played a bittersweet Mandolin Rain, about longing and love lost. Bela and Victor wove a beautiful orchestration. The rich, purple-black 2007 Cold Creek Cabernet didn’t hurt either.