Thad Debrock Makes a Mark at the Rockwood
Last night at the Rockwood Thad Debrock put on a guitar clinic. It was as much a clinic for the ears as the fingers. Debrock is a professional musician – he’s played in pit bands for musicals and is highly sought after as a sideman. He’s also a refreshing exception to the rule that the best sidemen often aren’t so good at coming up with their own material. There are plenty of players who can mimic one iconic style or another, but Debrock takes it to the next level. Not only did he evoke a little Chet Atkins, and Wes Montgomery, and John Leventhal (the cerebral, eclectic guitarist from Mojo Mancini and Rosanne Cash’s band), and a lot of Hendrix: he incorporated those ideas, and a whole lot more, into a style that’s all his own.
Debrock plays with great nuance, sharp precision and has blistering speed when he wants to use it, but he didn’t go past midtempo until late in the set. Instead, he shifted imaginatively through one texture after another: judicious jangle, a little distorted skronk, blithe jazzy octaves, twangy noir, graceful Nashville lines, boisterous Bakersfield and finally some screaming Dick Dale tremolo-picking late in the set. Like Marc Ribot, he can play pretty much anything, but where Ribot goes for creepy and sometimes noisy, Debrock tends to go for contemplatively incisive and atmospheric. He sang a couple of terse pop tunes early on and used his loop pedal to add hypnotic background. A bit later, a “tribute to Hendrix” was the furthest thing from what that idea generally conjures up: instead, Debrock went from Wes, to a couple of methodically bluesy verses of Summertime, to where he timewarped a famous Jimi riff and ended up in otherworldly Bill Frisell big-sky territory. Wow!
Another highlight of the show was a romp through a Buck Owens instrumental (doesn’t it kill you when the name of the tune is on the tip of your tongue, you plug in, call your surf music maven friend, play the hook into the phone and still end up without a title?). But instead of doing it straight-up country, Debrock did it with a biting, staccato, jazzy Chet Atkins edge. Then he hit his distortion pedal and launched into a biting salsa-flavored tune that pinned the intensity meter in the red when he started chopping at his chords furiously. Debrock’s rhythm section was tremendous as well. The bassist played with what looked like a gorgeous hollowbody Les Paul copy that provided a darkly snapping, trebly bite, and a drummer whose artful brush and mallet work included probably everything you can do with a pair of cymbals other than saw on them: the whooshy sonics, elegant boom of the toms and devious fills in some of the many spaces that Debrock left open were as fun to watch as they were to hear. There was a lull when a corporate singer-songwriter with one of those generically cheesy, hoarse, phony-sensitive vocal styles took a brief turn behind the mic, but even then Debrock stayed on task, adding a gorgeous country-flavored turnaround to the first song that wasn’t enough to rescue it, but at least it gave it a gentle splashdown instead of an awkward crash-landing. He’s been doing a Wednesday residency here on and off for several months now: if guitar is your thing, he’ll inspire you.