I Do the Mess Around
Photo by Dan MonickIt was oddly amusing, watching this weekend's Irvine Lake Blues Festival come together, as up until just recently, there were no black people on the bill—of course, there are no black people in Irvine, so it kinda made sense in a twisted way. Someone must have recognized the lapse and panicked at the last minute, and so actual black person Guitar Shorty was belatedly added to the lineup. Not surprisingly, it is he who shall be the must-see attraction of the fest, which also features reliable no-slouchers Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers, Tommy Castro, and Roy Rogers; proudly generic Coco Montoya; tastelessly shredding Walter Trout; and a buncha SoCal blooze-club circuiteers of varying merit.
Sorry to be so reliably and annoyingly P.C., but I feel compelled to point out once again that the blues is an African-American musical/cultural art form, and the concept of a two-day blues fest featuring one Token Negro performer just feels absurd to me. Anyway, 'nuff said on this sorry subject. The bottom line is that Guitar Shorty will be on the premises Sunday afternoon, and he's well-worth enduring the Wallyfish over—both for the mean-assed axe-slingage and the amazing live shows he delivers. The diminutive Texan has been known to perform while executing somersaults, back flips and other ridiculous acrobatic feats; he even took top prize on The Gong Show many years back for performing a tune while balanced on his head.
And if that ain't enough to get yer jollies rolling, Shorty sports a hideous Jheri curl/ mullet morph atop his dome, which I'd personally pay a cover charge just to marvel at in person (be a bluesman; be a walking fashion felony; that's the law, son). More to the point, though, this little fella positively rips the guts out of his poor ol' guitar. A gigantic, fat-assed tone; thrilling vibrato trills; and an alley-prowling ferocity hallmark Shorty's sorties, which coalesce to marvelous effect on his new CD, Watch Your Back, Shorty's crunching debut for Chicago's storied Alligator Records. The performances and production share a uniformly "in your face, motherfucker" sensibility that should make the world take belated note of Shorty's presence and hopefully prevent any further unfortunate career moves, such as appearing on humiliating game shows.
Ray Charles, divine architect of soul music, was as musical Mount Rushmore-worthy as fellow giants Louis Armstrong, Hank Williams, Elvis Presley and Robert Johnson and perhaps the most versatile interpreter ever of the Great American Songbook. His legacy and influence will certainly reverberate for decades—perhaps centuries—to come, but meanwhile, here are five great ways to remember him in the here and now:
•"Mess Around" One of Charles' earliest and best exercises in the "rhythm & blues + gospel = soul" theorem; the vocals soar with a manic, churchy rapture that belie the lyrics celebrating getting hammered outta yer gourd, a pursuit Charles paid homage to again and again, most famously in his later "Let's Go Get Stoned"—which was his first single released following a well-publicized heroin bust!
•"I Believe to My Soul" An undervalued, minor-key melodrama, brimming with scary sexual bitterness and the threat of violence, in a league with "Drown In My Own Tears" in the Charles canon of misery as a bowel movement of the soul.
•"Hit the Road, Jack" If there's a more desperate, paranoid, adrenalin-pumping 1:59 worth of music sitting around somewhere, I don't even wanna know about it. The best part is the fade-out, in which Charles pleads and wails to a chorus of taunting Raelettes, "Uh, what you say? . . . I didn't understand you. . . . You can't mean that. . . . Oh, now baby, please. . . . What you tryin' to do to me? . . . Eh-haaaaaaaaaa!"
•"I've Got News for You" Charles' most fully realized melding of blues, soul, jazz, gospel and big-band swing, with a stick-your-head-in-the-Liberty-Bell horn section, a semen-dripping Hammond organ intro and the immortal line "You said before we met/that your life was awful tame/Well, I took you to a nightclub/and the whole band knew your name," delivered with equal measures of loathing and bemusement.
•"America the Beautiful" What's more ironic? That it took a blind man to so soulfully, movingly deliver the imagery of purple mountain majesty yada yada, or that it was an African-American at the height of the counterculture era who forever claimed this patriotic anthem as his own?
The Sixth Annual Irvine Lake Blues Festival at Irvine Lake, 4621 Santiago Canyon Rd., Silverado Canyon, (714) 649-9113; Sat.-Sun. Gates open, 10 a.m. $20-$75. All ages.
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