Rock News: Music's high and low notes

By JOHN SWENSON, United Press International  |  Feb. 13, 2003 at 3:00 AM
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Harmonica virtuoso Kim Wilson was one of the key figures in the gala blues tribute at Radio City Music Hall last Friday, but he almost wasn't able to do the show because of a previous commitment to play on The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise through the Caribbean islands.

"When Steve Jordan, who put the music together for the Radio City gig, called me about the gig five weeks ago, I told him I couldn't do it, but we made an arrangement where I played the show, got on a plane at Newark and flew to Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic to catch up to the ship," Wilson said.

As it turned out Wilson was glad he changed plans because he ended up playing harmonica on a large portion of the Radio City event.

"I played 'Jim Crow Blues' with Odetta, an Elmore James tune with Bonnie Raitt and a set with Jimmie Vaughan," he said. Wilson and Vaughan were co-founders of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and the Radio City gig was the first time they'd played together since Vaughan left to form a band with his brother Stevie Ray, who died in a helicopter crash just before their debut album was released. The reunion gig prompted talk of further collaboration.

"We've approached Jimmie about that," Wilson said. "We'll probably do some one-offs in the future."

Wilson arrived on the cruise ship Melody without having slept for two days and immediately hit the stage, leading the Thunderbirds through a wild set under the blazing sun on the aft pool deck. At the end of the set Wilson brought up another harmonica legend, Charlie Musselwhite, for a duet on a beautifully understated "Tuff Enough." The crowd wouldn't let Wilson leave the stage, and he obliged his fans with a solo version of "Nine Below Zero."

Wilson was so energized by the performance he stayed up for the after hours jam, playing harmonica and exchanging vocals with Curtis Salgado, backed by members of Ronnie Baker Brooks' band and the Thunderbirds in a set that featured several Muddy Waters classics including "I'm Ready," "Everything's Gonna Be All Right" and "Champagne and Reefer."


New England songwriting legend Chandler Travis has a new album, "Llama Rhymes," out on his own Sonic Trout label. Guests on the album include Boston-area favorites Bleu, Ramona Silver and Suzi Lee, Johnny Spampinato, who also is in The Incredible Casuals with Travis, and comedian George Carlin. Travis, who has been performing in New England for nearly 30 years, put together the Philharmonic in 1996 at the Lizard Lounge in Cambridge, Mass., during a guest appearance with house band Dinty Child. The resultant eight-piece alternative-Dixieland band has since worked regularly at the Middle East in Cambridge and the famed Beachcomber on Cape Cod.

"Horns have been used by rock bands in a very dull way," Travis said. "It's ridiculous that people are ignoring the raucous stuff that was happening in Dixieland jazz."


Billy Campion, the Bogmen's frontman, has reinvented himself in the persona of Vic Thrill and is taking the New York underground rock scene by storm. Thrill's futuristic, early Bowie vision of salvation from the universe, powered by the extraordinary guitar work of former Garden Variety guitarist Anthony Rizzo, has drawn raves from the underground press since the debut of the CD "CE-5," which stands for close encounters of the fifth kind. Already a growing legend in Brooklyn's thriving Williamsburg arts community, the band had a stunning showcase at the Mercury Lounge last week and was quickly signed up for a showcase appearance at South X Southwest in March.

The album title is taken from the CE-5 initiative of Steven M. Greer, director of The Center For The Study Of Extraterrestrial Intelligence. Thrill contacted Greer and volunteered for the Ambassadors To The Universe program.

"They were looking for skilled professionals to help establish peaceful diplomatic relations with extraterrestrial intelligence in the case of communications and/or a landing party of sorts, so I sent him an e-mail asking if he'd like a musical representative, claiming to have the right disposition for such a thing, whilst pointing out the universality of music," Thrill said. "A month later he was onstage with us at the Bowery Ballroom giving a full on video presentation of first-hand and eye-witnessed accounts of ET activity on Earth and in our atmosphere."


Renowned avant garde guitarist Gary Lucas of Captain Beefheart and His Magic Band fame and tragic folk hero Jeff Buckley collaborated in the early 1990s on some fascinating music shortly before Buckley signed with Columbia Records and shot to stardom. Knitting Factory Records has released the duo's early work under the title "Jeff Buckley, Gary Lucas: Songs To No One 1991-1992." The tracks were produced by the visionary auteur Hal Willner, responsible for the Lenny Bruce archives project and the amazing tributes to Thelonious Monk and Disney songs. The album features previously unheard tracks including early versions of "Mojo Pin" and "Grace."

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