♫ Philip Sayce, Peace Machine
🍺 Sierra Nevada Torpedo Extra IPA
Words & photos: Vincent Abbate
My past two Listening Party posts went off on a bit of a folky/world music tangent. The adventure was both musically satisfying and educational. But now, as I steer the proceedings back toward the grit and grime of the blues, I find myself wanting first and foremost to have my face melted. Who better to turn to in this case than Welsh-born, Canada-raised, next-level electric guitar monster Philip Sayce.
For me, any consideration of this abundantly gifted blues-rocker begins with the night he rolled into Leverkusen, Germany on the first night of a European tour and blew the walls off of a tiny club called topos. When I first caught wind of that gig, my first thought was, “What? He’s playing there?!!” Sayce’s growing reputation at the time suggested he would pack the place, and so it was: When the evening arrived, curious bodies occupied every available inch of space, from the gunky restrooms tucked away behind the stage all the way past the bar and out the front door. You basically couldn’t move.
Sayce’s power trio was so damn good it didn’t matter.
The knockout energy of Philip Sayce and his revelatory album Peace Machine, which we’ll be sampling today, calls for a beverage that packs a similarly potent punch, so I’m going with a personal favorite: the Torpedo Extra IPA crafted by Chico, California’s Sierra Nevada Brewing Co.
The bottle is chilled. Three choice album tracks have been hand-picked for your pleasure. All I need now is a pair of heavy duty bolt cutters. This is Listening Party unchained.
The Interviews: Blues Encounters 2000 – 2020 is the second installment in the Who Is Blues book series and will become available later this year. It includes conversations held during the past two decades with B.B. King, Bobby Rush and more than a dozen other artists. The following is an excerpt from the chapter on singer, guitarist and songwriter Walter Trout.
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Interview by Vincent Abbate
Though practically all of our interaction has been via the phone, I feel like I’ve gotten to know Walter Trout a little bit during the latter part of his career. He may be a celebrated blues guitar hero, but he’s also someone who will treat a stranger like a friend.
Our first “phoner” coincided with the release of his Luther Allison tribute album Luther’s Blues in 2013 and introduced me to Walter as a plain talker whose New Jersey accent would always remind me of home. Our second conversation was as emotional as it gets, as he was still processing the near-death experience that inspired the writing of his unforgettable Battle Scars album. By the time we discussed his subsequent record We’re All In This Together, the worst of that storm had passed and he had emerged as someone the entire bluesrock scene could rally around. Mixed in was a quick hello and a handshake before a concert in Leverkusen, Germany – the only time we’ve ever spoken face-to-face.
His fans love and respect him. And yet, Trout routinely gets pounded by critics for his explosive, sometimes frenetic style of electric guitar. “You play too many notes and you’re too loud,” complained one of his detractors years ago. In an act of rebellion, Walter chopped that statement down to five words – “Too many notes, too loud!” – and began using the phrase as his official slogan on T-shirts and other merchandise.
Trout’s uneasy relationship with more traditionally-inclined listeners became a topic of our fourth and most recent interview, conducted once again by phone during the run-up to his latest studio album Ordinary Madness, released in August of 2020.
Big Boys Do Cry
Rockin The Blues 2019 live @ Carlswerk Victoria
Words & photos: Vincent Abbate
Since its inception in 1989, and especially over the past decade, the Netherlands-based Mascot Label Group has become home to many of today’s most popular rock-oriented blues acts. Its Provogue imprint currently boasts an artist roster that includes Beth Hart, Robert Cray, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Eric Gales and Joe Bonamassa. Last year, the label decided to send three of its top guitar slingers on the road under the banner Rockin The Blues. That tour – with Gales, Gary Hoey and Quinn Sullivan – proved successful enough to merit a second go-round in 2019.
Eight dates in four European countries are on the agenda. Show #2 on the tour transpired inside the massive Carlswerk Victoria venue in Cologne and gave the local German audience a chance to witness a guitar-heavy blues extravaganza in Cinemascope. Combine any ten blues shows you’ve seen in the past year and you’ll get an idea of how big, broad and loud this spectacle was.
Can U Cook?
Rough around the edges. That’s how Steven Gene Wold aka Seasick Steve refers to himself on the tune “Last Rodeo.” And that’s how his innumerable his fans like him. The Oakland-born musician, now in his late sixties or late seventies depending on the source, has achieved gold and platinum status in the United Kingdom despite being largely overlooked in the United States. He boasts of a past that includes long stints of manual labor, hoboing and flat-out living on the streets. Those experiences continue to inform his music, often played on a battered guitar he calls the Three-String Trance Wonder. He’s been doing pretty much the same shtick since his breakthrough as a solo artist with 2006’s Doghouse Music, offering a gritty, lowdown, sometimes tongue-in-cheek outlaw blues with occasional forays into Americana and classic rock. So with every new Seasick Steve album, you kind of know what to expect. The crazy thing is – it works! On Can U Cook?, his tenth album overall, even more so than usual. Wold has come up with an exceptionally strong batch of songs this time, from the swampy, CCR-esque “Down de Road” to the Howlin’ Wolf-inspired “Shady Tree” to the wistful “Last Rodeo,” on which he decries the slickness of modern culture. As always, his playing is effective without being flashy and is propelled by the infectious and intricate grooves of drummer Dan Magnusson. A must for fans. – VA
SONG PICK: The darker-than-dark “Chewin’ on da Blues.”