Modern Collector (August 2005)

A Keyboard Player for the Ages

OK so this article is about Collecting Guitars, and that's all well and good. In the past 30 days or so I have been extremely fortunate and had the chance to see some amazing entertainment. Johnny A stopped by our shop just before sound check at the Rams Head Tavern here in Annapolis. Few guitarists are as entertaining as Johnny. I have known John for 20 years and am delighted to see him get his due. His style is unique and pushes the limits of instrumental music from genre to genre, combining diverse selections from Jimi Hendrix to Johnny Rivers. Johnny plays his own Gibson Johnny A model with passion. These are some of the hottest new guitars in the market and are as beautiful to behold as they are to play. If you have a chance to play one of these, grab it. If you have a chance to see Johnny do not miss that either.

Three days after Johnny rolled through town Annapolis hosted the Fifth Annual Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival. This event is put on by Annapolitan Dan Hooker who gives every dime of the events profit away to local charity. The event is held right at Sandy Point State Park on the shores of the Chesapeake Bay, and the venue is extraordinary. This year the weather was nearly perfect and the music was as hot as the temperature. I had a chance to catch Canned Heat and to put it mildly I was blown away. Dallas Hodge played an old Goldtop Les Paul with P-90s through a Blues Deville and it sounded unreal. I knew Canned Heat from Woodstock and of course the hits like "Goin up the Country" but I was amazed at the blues stuff they did. A great band with unbelievable tone and all the mojo you could ask for.

Al Dimeola came to town just last week and put me on the guest list at the Rams Head. I have known Al for a few years since we sold a few of his early PRS guitars for him. He stopped by in the afternoon to catch up and I ventured over to the early show soon thereafter with my friend and fellow concert regular Lewis Heany. Al has assembled an amazing lineup of musicians with a decided Latin flavor. Al was playing a PRS Modern Eagle with an outstanding flamed maple top finished in grey black with a white back. When Al took the stage I heard him tell the band that this was to be an Electric set, and true to his word he kept the PRS strapped on all through the show. I was seated next to a contingent from PRS guitars, including master builder Joe Knaggs. Seeing Al D in Pauls hometown playing a PRS. It don't get much better than that. But get better is exactly what happened, Al was in extraordinary form with his band and he told me the next day that this was the first time out with these guys. I can only imagine what they will sound like when they have had a few months together. The room was full of guitar players and we were not disappointed, Al played some Licks that are clearly off the charts. He plays with true passion but his timing and presentation go beyond mere guitar prowess. Al arranges all the tunes he does and not only is his music a lesson in guitar, it is also a joyful celebration of life and music.

Many of my friends attended Bonaroo in Tennessee last weekend and I was sorry that I could not have gone. I spoke with several who were at the show and it sounded like an amazing WHO's WHO in rock and roll.

For several months I have been hearing the ads for a concert to be held in Bowie, Maryland at the Bay Sox Stadium featuring Willie Nelson and Bob Dylan. These two have toured together in the past and I had never had a chance to see them. Willie and Bob are getting up there in the years and I figured I had to see this one. As there might not be too many more chances. Wille is in his 70s and Bob in his 60s.

June 14th was one of the hottest days in Maryland this year, the temp got well into the 90s and by the time I arrived to meet friends at the Stadium I was soaked with sweat. My friend Alan and I fought our way through the crowd so that we could be directly in front of the stage. It was worth the wait. Willie Nelson roared through a greatest hits set. That was purely masterful. His band consists of two of his sons, one full time on electric guitar and the other on drums, and as they play you can see the adoration in Willie's face for his boys.

The real treat of the night for me was the set by Bob Dylan, I have seen Bob on many occasions with an array of talented musicians. To me, Bob represents many of the reasons that I became interested in music in the first place and indeed it was Jimi's rendition of "All Along the Watchtower" that inspired me to play guitar in the first place. I met Dylan a few years ago when my friend Cesar Diaz was playing guitar for Bob. It was strange that upon our meeting I offered to shake his hand and said "It's nice to meet you", and I was surprised that he did not shake my hand and instead told Cesar, "tell him its nice to meet him too". He then walked away. Later in reading Bobs book, Chronicles I, I learned that Bob never wanted to be a icon figure and that he considered himself a musician. He also said that he was uncomfortable with all the adoration and had learned to insulate himself from the fans. Truth be told I now understand how the rise to fame changes people and how some really do not want these trappings of popularity. They simply want to be left alone to play music.

Bob has always played guitar every time I have seen him, and to have known those who played with him was to have observed the difficulty following Bob through a 50 year catalog of songs. Simply put, Bob seldom plays a tune the same way twice. He has a sense of freedom with his songs that are a challenge to his band members. His endings can come abruptly and he fashions different versions from scratch. To the listener these changes are usually undetectable however there were times when It seemed that things could have been tighter.

On this occasion things were very different as Bob has now gone to playing keyboards all evening. His role has now moved him to the side and somewhat away from the frontman role that I have seen over and over. His playing was simply superb and the renditions of Highway 61, Stuck in Mobile and others were as good as I have ever heard.

To many seeing Bob is like going to the mountain, his music touches a chord in us that is not touched by other musicians. I liken it to listen to a gospel choir, where the harmonies blend and the music rolls along under its own power. Bob played keyboards, but it was Bob the musician, the poet, the reluctant Icon and all that he is that I saw that night.

Until next time, Take care and God Bless.

Rick Hogue

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