Blues Deluxe: Robben Ford and Walter Trout
This year’s Byron Bay Bluesfest, among it’s usual (and by now, expected) embarrassment of riches, will be a World Blues Guitar Summit, with iconic artists such as Buddy Guy and Jeff Beck heading the charge.
Blues guitar – one of the most equally thrilling and reviled sub-subgenres in modern music – has retained its popularity through it’s street-level virtuosity. Unlike jazz or classical chops, blues guitar speaks directly to the heart. As part of a genealogy that takes in country fiddle, gypsy violin and klezmer accordion, if it doesn’t move the people then forget it.
2014 Bluesfest will also play host to two of today’s most intriguing and unique blues guitarists – Robben Ford and Walter Trout. They will also be touring individually as well as linking up for select side-shows across Australia over April.
Robben Ford’s style takes in soul, jazz and the more finger-lickin’ funky side of the blues. His history informs the catholic dimensions of his playing. A teen prodigy, he came to notice in Joni Mitchell‘s early 70’s band and went on to play with Miles Davis in the 80’s. Then suddenly here was Robben Ford, blues guitarist – obviously going back to the directness, innocence and energy of a first love.
Walter Trout’s history also informs his playing – the scorching, rock-hard polar opposite of Ford’s moonlit jazz. Coming to prominence in John Mayall‘s Bluesbreakers – since its beginnings a blues finishing school for such game-changers as Eric Clapton and Fleetwood Mac‘s Peter Green – Trout sunk deep into a road lifestyle so toxic it almost cost him his life. Trout’s blues come from the howling Hendrix-storm of rock.
Both artists have recent albums that they will be cherry-picking for their Australian shows’ set lists.
Robben Ford’s elegant A Day in Nashville – literally recorded during one day in Nashville – has all the poise and quiet fire that his blues path has led him to. The speedy studio turnaround (quite intentional) gives the album a bright, live quality. His band obviously has their antennae out, breathing together. Some Meters-style funk, some jazzy boogaloo (‘Top Down Blues’) and the wryly hilarious ‘Ain’t Drinkin’ Beer No More’ – all spoken with one of the most delicious electric guitar tones known to man – add up to a very, very cool affair.
By contrast, Luther’s Blues – Walter Trout’s tribute to blues grandmaster Luther Allison – almost flies off the turntable with ferocity. Trout’s playing and iron-wrought vocal gives an indication of a personality that literally almost died for his blues. The intensity of delivery of the Allison classic ‘Cherry Red Wine’ and a monster SRV-style rocker like ‘Big City’ are something to dig mightily. Trout’s appeal lies, though, in the fact that it is not all big bad noise, like too many of his imitators: there are mirrors behind the smoke, a hurt man behind the howliin’ wolf.
Ford and Trout are not your usual guitar-slingers. In a genre that appears to be spitting out young stars weekly, they are proof that, as Charlie Parker said, “if you don’t live it, it won’t come out your horn”. They are unique; treasures of blues music today. To miss them, alone or together, would be a crying shame.
Robben Ford dates:
17 April – Factory, Sydney (with Walter Trout)
18 April – Corner Hotel, Melbourne (with Walter Trout)
19 April – Bluesfest, Byron Bay
20 April – Bluesfest, Byron Bay
Walter Trout dates:
16 April – Lizottes, Newcastle
17 April – Factory, Sydney (with Robben Ford)
18 April – Corner Hotel, Melbourne (with Robben Ford)
20 April – Bluesfest, Byron Bay
21 April – Bluesfest, Byron Bay