Friday, June 15, 2012

A Ry Cooder Sighting And Sonny Landreth Live!

Ry Cooder, "Sonny's playing around here, tomorrow? Where? Man, I'd love to see him, it's been a while. Cincinnati, huh? Boy. I'd really love to make it down there! If I don't make it, please be sure and tell him I said hello, and that I send my best regards."
Sonny Landreth, "You saw Ry last night? Where? I tell ya, he is The Master. It's been quite a while since I've seen him! Man, I sure wish he could have come down. Anyway, that's some good mojo!"

Author/columnist Joe Klein, "This is not business as usual, and I'd love to hear more about the last mayor of Dayton"

A friend sent me a message that I instantly read as cryptic. So cryptic, I couldn't understand it:

"Dude. Ry Cooder. Secret show. Trolley stop. Tonight. 9pm."

To read this note as anything but cryptic seemed a bit unreal. The Trolley Stop is a local tavern that features local music and on very rare occasions, a national act. In fact, even they haven't yet mentioned yet on their Facebook page that on a quiet Wednesday evening in June that not only did one of the greatest American musicians of all time stop in to play a few sets, but that he was accompanied by one of America's most read and revered authors, Joe Klein (Primary Colors' Anonymous).

I called my friend, local guitar wizard repair man and player extraordinaire Christopher Wright, and asked what he meant in this missive. Hell, I'm no cryptographer, I sometimes miss the very writing upon the wall. Turns out that as usual, I had it a bit askew. He meant just what he said. It turns out that Ry is just on the road hanging out with his friend Joe. The author is conducting a road trip across America. In the words of Time Magazine:

"Following previous years’ journeys from New York to Los Angeles and from Texas to Iowa, Joe Klein has once again hit the road to find out what people are thinking outside the Beltway. This time he’s traveling up the East Coast from North Carolina, across the Rust Belt and winding up in Minnesota—though, in true road trip fashion, the route could always change.

Along the way he’s meeting with politicians and community leaders, as well as readers who have invited him into their homes and businesses to talk about how they’re faring in these difficult times. And a few special guests are joining Joe as he meanders through the Heartland."

I sat and spoke with Joe (whose name I didn't yet know - he said he was a friend of Ry's) for a few minutes, and I listened as he talked with some local musicians, who would soon be joining Cooder onstage, about the current state of America. What impressed me most was how Klein listened when the musicians spoke. He never pontificated, and he appeared totally absorbed, and completely engaged.

As I stated earlier, I'm occasionally a little slow on the uptake. It had not yet been explained to me that this was The Joe Klein, a guy who has sold more than enough books to fill a library. He had written a novel so dangerous as to deny being its author for quite some time (1996's Primary Colors; A Novel of Politics, based on the 1992 Democratic presidential primary - estimated sales 3 million), a fellow who had been regularly employed by the world's largest publishers, starting with Rolling Stone Magazine as a contributing editor in 1974. In fact, it was his tour on that had placed Cooder in our musical laps for the evening. And here I thought that Ry's friend was just a very bright perceptive fella named Joe.

Here's what Joe had to say about the evening in his blog for Time Magazine's 2012 Swampland coverage of the presidential election:

"Well the big event yesterday was watching the great Ry Cooder jamming with one of his discoveries, a retired meter reader named Dan Gellert - a brilliant country fiddler and banjo player - at the Trolley Stop in Dayton, Ohio"

Dan Gellert is indeed a brilliant musician. After the show I asked how he had come to know the renowned Cooder. He explained that in the usual fashion, his music had been passed along to Ry by Gellert's daughter at Mike Seegers funeral. The astute ethnomusicologist had liked what he heard and called Dan up and asked if he'd enjoying jamming a bit when Ry came to Ohio. Dan agreed, and the die was cast. The veteran fiddler supplied the tunes, some great fiddling, a bit of plucky banjo work, and a vocal style that fit like a pair of well worn work boots. Cooder did as he always does, and unobtrusively became an organic part of the music. He played an ancient Gibson L series guitar that had been generously supplied by the neighboring picking parlor, Recreate.

Everyone had a great time, and Cooder and Klein seemed to have successfully completed their mission of a night out with some libations, some music, and lots of good conversation.

The first thing I had said to Ry had been, "You know, I thought Sonny Landreth was gonna be the only great slide player I'd be seeing this week!"

Last month, I stated here that Sonny Landreth's new album Elemental Journey was the veteran guitarists' best album ever, and maybe the best instrumental guitar album of 2012. I had a chance to see Landreth live last night at Cincinnati's 20th Century Theater and the show shone as brightly as the new record.

Accompanied by bassist Dave Ranson, and drummer Brian Brignac, Landreth wooed the capacity crowd with another master class on slide guitar. Combining an intoxicating stew of Cajun/Zydeco, rock and roll, blues and a sensational sense of harmonic sophistication, Landreth held the crowd in a hand for the almost two hours, and the crowd adored him.

Classifying Landreth's heady mix has never been easy, and with his latest album he has upped the ante by going all instrumental and incorporating strings, steel drums and guest cameos by heavy hitters Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson. The cool thing about this is that it is one fabulous ride, even if you can't quite give it a name. Landreth and band absolutely smoked on the tunes from the new record, even without the strings, Steve Conn's great keyboard work, and the superstar sidemen. His rhythm section was on fire - Brignac is a whirling dervish of a drum, with rock horsepower and brilliant versatility; Dave Ranson has been sharing stages with Landreth for over twenty years, and he is both solid and adventurous. One of the joys of listening to Landreth's phenomenal guitar histrionics is in hearing how fast he can change directions, and going along for the ride as he howls one moment, whispers the next, and then seems to inexplicably do both simultaneously.

 Had Hendrix ever seen Sonny Landreth, the Seattle sensation may have had a similar reaction to Landreth's otherworldly technique as did Townshend, Beck, and Clapton to Jimi. He may have just wanted to quit. He wouldn't have, but for a moment there would be that recognition of the fact that no one can do what this man is doing. The question of who is the world's greatest slide guitarist is a stupid question. There's the ever incredible Derek Trucks, his band mate an fellow Duane disciple Warren Haynes, and the aforementioned Ry Cooder, just to name a few. Of the bunch, no one does quite what Landreth does - his style is honed of genius. No one before him did quite what he does, and no one seems to have come even close to approaching an approach to his combination of slithery slide and sure fingered fretting. I won't even go into the proficiency of the man's right hand. But, I will say that watching and listening to this fine Southern gentleman had me giggling like I did when my heroes would amaze my young ears at fifteen, and that doesn't happen too often. Thanks, Sonny.

After the show I had a chance to chat with Sonny, and even after just walking off stage after a whiz bang, non-stop performance, he was warm, kind, and gracious. I told him that Ry Cooder had really wanted to come down and see the show, and Landreth seemed both genuinely humbled and pleased. That's something that I got from both Sonny, Ry, and Joe Klein this last week - they are where and who they are because they are genuinely nice people, on top of being consummate professionals. Each gentleman does his job in a fashion few are able, and they were all extremely unselfish in their approach to others. We can all learn from men such as these.

Thanks to Sonny Landreth and his band, Ry Cooder, Joe Klein, Christopher Wright, Jay Madewell, and the good folks at Conqueroo PR (Cory Baker and Julie Arkenstone).

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