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Music Review: Sandy Bull and the Rhythm Ace – Live 1976

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Sandy Bull‘s recordings for the Vanguard label during the 1960s were incredibly influential. He is often credited for “inventing” world music, although that distinction is somewhat dubious. There is no doubt that he brought a wide range of possibilities into the musical world, however. The Beatles and Hunter S. Thompson are just a couple of those who sang the praises of such albums as Fantasias For Guitar and Banjo (1963) and E Pluribus Unum (1969). Unfortunately, drug use derailed his career for years after his final album for the Vanguard label Demolition Derby (1972). He continued to write and perform, and the new Sandy Bull and the Rhythm Ace Live 1976 documents a marvelous show he played that year.

Sandy often performed solo, with pre-recorded tapes to back him up. He added the Rhythm Ace drum machine to this set-up in the mid-seventies, which he demonstrates at one point during the concert. Sandy was well-liked in the Bay Area, where this was recorded. He was opening for Leo Kotke that night. Although he would not release anything new for quite some time, he had cleaned up his act by this point, as his playing and demeanor make clear. It is obvious that Sandy Bull (and his audience) were having a fine time.

Sandy Bull’s biggest contribution to music was his interest in Arabic and other “exotic” forms of music, which he blended with folk to create a new unique sound. In 1963 this was revolutionary. He never lost his interest in expanding various musical forms, which is quite evident throughout Live 1976. From the opening instrumental “Oud,” the audience is enraptured by his magnificent playing.

From there, Sandy goes into a very amusing demonstration of the then-new Rhythm Ace drum machine, before he begins “Love Is Forever.” While his voice is a bit worse for wear, it is still a lovely tune. “Alligator Wrestler” gets quite an introduction as well, and one wonders if Sandy should have gone into the stand-up racket as a sideline. The song “Alligator Wrestler” displays his interest in the lilting beat of reggae to great effect. “New York City” rounds out the all-too brief performance in rousing style.

Galactic Zoo Disk/Drag City should be commended for releasing these tapes. Sandy Bull may not be as well remembered today as those artists he so deeply influenced, but he is where it really began. John Fahey is another very well respected guitarist who acknowledged just how important Bull‘s music was to his own. Live 1976 captures a very special performance from this extremely talented man.

 

About Greg Barbrick

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