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The Friday Morning Listen: Ronnie Earl

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Sometimes I’m a little taken aback when somebody says they haven’t heard of a particular artist. I think “What? You’ve never heard of Louie Ver Danderschmidt?! Wow!!”.

But in the split second after that thought comes the reality that, hey, membership is the MusicalConsumerPigClub™ is fairly exclusive. A nicer way to put that is that most people have more sense than me when it comes to how they spend their extra dollars. Some people replace their jeans when holes begin to form in the knees…while I’d prefer to buy that Smithsonian Folkways box set and ignore the breeze tickling my knee caps.

I recently discovered that one of my musical cohorts, a guy who I bet might forgo a new pair of pants in favor of an obscure Muddy Waters record, has never heard the music of blues guitarist Ronnie Earl. I’m sorry, I just can’t let that situation continue. Earl is one of my favorite blues players. It’s a tough chore to make an instrumental blues record interesting from start to finish. Earl has such a knack for putting together snappy rhythm guitar that those hooks, along with some fine lead work, keep my ears glued to the speakers.

My first live encounter with Ronnie Earl was at the great (and now long gone) Portland, Maine establishment Raoul’s Roadside Attraction. The opening of the show was kinda frightening. Guys are tuning up. Drumheads are being tweaked. The B3 player is fiddling with something or other. Earl walks across the stage. None of the bandmembers pay him any notice whatsoever. He plugs in his guitar and gives the volume knob a slight turn. Still, no one in the band even looks up. Then, with four quick slams of his heel to the stage, he (and the band….I thought for sure he was going to catch one or all of ’em off guard) launches into a blistering instrumental stomp. I was completely mesmerized.

A few years later, I saw Earl and his band, The Broadcasters, just mop up the stage at the Great Woods Blues Festival. This was the show that ended with poor Robert Cray. Poor? Yes, because he had to follow not only Ronnie Earl, but Koko Taylor, Danny Gatton and Los Lobos. Ouch.

Though I Like It When It Rains does have a few vocal numbers, the instrumentals show the way starting off with the roadhouse rumble of “Ridin With Ronnie” to the near jazz of “Mutcika” to the country blues on electric of “Blues For Jimmie and Jessie” to the acoustic and harmonica version of “Sittin’ On Top Of The World”.

So if you’re thinking that maybe you need to take a trip to The Gap this weekend, maybe you should reconsider and head to your local record-type establishment. You’ll be glad you did.

(First posted on Mark Is Cranky)

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About Mark Saleski

  • It’s shoes, not jeans. The Wife to Whom I am Married has to force the issue and actually buy the shoes for me since she knows if she gives me the money and sends me out the door left to my own devices I will come home with new CDs and old shoes. It’s funny. Everytime she talks about wanting me to go buy some necessary item I think of it in terms of how many CDs I could buy with that money instead. Shoes? That’s at least 3 CDs I could have. Hell with that. Fuck Nike. There’s a Libertines import I want or a collectors edition Muddy Waters set.

    That Great Woods Blues Festival sounds like it was a motherfucker! I would have loved to have been there to see that. I confess to not being the biggest Robert Cray fan. He just doesn’t have the gravitas. It’s all very smooth and soulful but to me it’s too slick and not bluesy enough. I have listened to a few of his albums and there is no denying he is talented. His style just doesn’t resonate with me the way say… well, Muddy Waters does come to mind. Buddy Guy. Otis Rush!

    I am going to check out Ronnie Earl. Your jeans are looking a little thin there, Saleski.

  • wondrous as ever, Sir Saleski. instrumental blues is somethin i’ve never really found myself in the midst of, since for the most part it’s the razors in the voices a these folks that do it for me. however, this has sufficiently tickled my interest-glands, as ever. fabulous.

  • Paul Roy

    I am one of those guys Mark. Yes, blues guitar is one of my favorite genres, but I have never owned anything by Ronnie Earl. I had heard the name before, but had never heard anything by him. After reading this, I went over to allmusic.com and read his bio, played a few song clips, and liked what I heard. I thinks its time to get me some Ronnie Earl. By the way, I caught Edgar Winter at Raoul’s back in the early-90’s, while I was home visiting family in my hometown of Waterville. What a great show, and a great place.

  • paul, you should definitely check out his live album. great stuff.

    waterville, eh? that was my hangout in high school (went to carrabec up in north anson, other side of skowhegan, sort of)

  • Guppusmaximus

    Dude… My friend Paul that owns a pizza shop in Stoneham, Ma. played guitar on his Grammy nominated album.He is a great guitarist! I always bug him for a copy but he never gets around to give me one….

  • Chris

    Curious about Raoul’s Roadside Attraction Portland ME if anyone has information I would greatly appreciate it. Anyone know of Raul Diaz?

    With regards,

    Chris Diaz

  • mike

    ronnie earl rules!!!!!any dvd with him and his band?????????????