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Tag: Dave Specter guitar

Saluting a Brilliant, Individualistic Chicago Blues Guitar Legend

Today’s installment in the ongoing monthlong celebration of all things epic is a mammoth thirty-track career retrospective by one of the giants of Chicago blues guitar. Dave Specter is not as well known outside the Windy City as he deserves to be, but the mammoth double album Six String Soul: 30 Years on Delmark – streaming at Spotify – should go a long way to bring this eclectic, purist player to an audience beyond the diehard blues crowd.

This is a feel-good story: career sideman, revered by his peers, finally decides to front a band rather than just being the guy that everybody in town seems to turn to when they need a sizzling solo. But the side of Specter we most often get to see here is the erudite, purposeful player who’s more interested in telling a story and keeping the crowd at the edge of their seats. Beginning with his work in the early 90s, it’s fascinating to watch him expand his sound, from a terse, Larry Burton-esque mutability, through more intricate, jazz-inspired style and then a fiery return to his 80s roots. Specter is fluent in more styles than you can count, but he’s not a riffbag guy stealing other peoples’ licks: when there are multiple guitarists on a track, there’s no mistaking which one is Specter.

The album opens with an unexpectedly careening, briskly swinging 1991 tune with Specter and Ronnie Earl backing Barkin’ Bill Smith. The final cut is Specter’s simmering, gut-wrenching protest anthem The Ballad of George Floyd, which might be the single most powerful blues song released in the past year.

In between, we get a capsule history of a style of music which on one hand was concretized a long, long time ago, but which Chicago musicians keep reinventing in all kinds of interesting ways. There are plenty of live tracks here, which is where Specter is most in his element (and to his credit, his studio work here is a cut above so many of the great artists of the 90s whose albums were rush jobs helmed by hack engineers and producers).

There’s Sweet Serenity, a swinging soul-gospel number from 1995 with Tad Robinson on vocals. There’s This Time I’m Gone For Good, a slow-burning, anguished soul song with Otis Clay out front, Specter channeling a little Wes Montgomery and some ferocious Otis Rush chord-torturing. There’s Seventy-Four, a slow ballad with Specter swooping and diving around, taking two long solos and building to a fiery, circling coda behind singer Willie Kent.

Specter excels at instrumentals, and there are plenty here. The Stinger is one of the best, a latin funk mashup of Chris Thomas King and Otis Rush, if you can imagine all that. Wind Chill, with Dez Desormeaux on tenor sax, Ken Saydak on organ and Ronnie Earl on guitar is a minor-key gem, part late 60s South Side soul, part Wes Montgomery and part state-of-the-art for the 90s. Specter’s Walk is a brisk, bittersweet stroll; Riverside Ride offers a nod back at summery Steve Cropper Muscle Shoals soul, but with Chicago grit. There’s also a caffeinated, burning take of Magic Sam’s Riding High.

Taken from a live set with Floyd McDaniel, the version of St. Louis Blues here veers from a suspenseful mashup of Wes Montgomery and klezmer, veering back and forth to straight-up ba-bump drive. Specter throws a hilarious quote from Thelonious Monk in toward the end. There are more references to Otis Rush and also Elmore James in Specter’s chordal attack in Get Back Home.

Unleavened Soul ,with Brother Jack McDuff on organ, is a light-fingered bossa blues, again with hints of klezmer plus a low key soulful John Brumbach tenor sax. McDuff chooses his spots; trumpeter Rob Mazurek displays unusual restraint and modal intensity.

The tradeoff between solos from Lurrie Bell to Specter in Bell’s You’re Gonna Be Sorry is a clinic in tasteful playing. Backing Sharon Lewis’ vengeful vocals, Specter finds the least expected stepping-off point to drive In Too Deep to a bellicose peak.

By the time the story reaches the second disc, it’s 1998 and Specter is filling out the space behind crooner Larry Lynn with an unhurried upward trajectory toward a similarly smart Rob Waters organ solo. Right after that we’re treated to Texas Top, a casually paced, expertly assembled update on Booker T instrumental soul, Waters again reaffirming the high level of company Specter typically hangs with.

The most inspiring number on the second disc is March Through the Darkness. a heartwarming, Memphis-style soul anthem written in 2019 in protest of Trump-era divide-and-conquer, although it has even more relevance at at time when we’re we shaking off genuine totalitarianism. Considering how Specter has stepped out as a frontman, as he celebrates in The Blues Ain’t Nothing with Jorma Kaukonen. this is a great gateway to the rest of Specter’s discography and reason to look forward to whatever he comes up with next.

Twisted Things Come in Threes Today

Been a little while since there have been any singles on this page. But little by little, more and more artists are gearing up for a return to freedom. There’s optimism, apocalypse and fury in today’s trio of songs.

“I’m living in a ghost town, I’m doing things my way, I’m not dead yet, ” four-piece New York band Devora’s frontwoman asserts over skronky minimalist punk rock straight out of the late 80s in their latest single, Not Dead Yet.

Chicago guitar legend Dave Specter and blues harp player Billy Branch build a slow, venomously simmering groove in The Ballad of George Floyd: “Eight minutes of torture, begged for mercy, then he was killed.” Specter has been on a roll with good protest songs, ever since his venomous anti-Trump broadside, How Low Can One Man Go.

Marianne Dissard, who’s been putting out single after hauntingly eclectic single from a planned covers album, has just released the one of her disturbing picks so far, a ghastly remake of Adriano Celentano’s creepily dadaesque 1972 Prisencolinensinainciusol, with a pastiche of samples of lockdown posturing by Boris Johnson, two Trumps, Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel, Reccep Erdogan, and Xi Jinping. Together they give Dissard a long, long rope to hang them with.

Purist Guitar Blues and a Ferociously Funny Anti-Trump Broadside From Dave Specter

As the historic events of the Trump impeachment continue to unfold, it’s past time to give props to the many American artists who’ve channeled this nation’s righteous rage at the fratboy-in-chief and his kleptocrat cronies. A standout among those musicians is Chicago blues guitarist Dave Specter, who was driven to singing on a record for the first time. The centerpiece of his album Blues From the Inside Out – streaming at Spotify– is How Low Can One Man Go? The lyrics are so spot-on, and the interplay between Specter and guest Jorma Kaukonen so purposeful, that you don’t realize the song’s just a one-chord jam:

Rich daddy dollars on a silver spoon
Telling lie after lie like a hot air buffoon
…Got millions of true believers like a cult on too much blow
Tell me how low can one man go?

March Through the Darkness, a Mavis Staples-inspired retro 60s soul anthem with some gorgeous Muscle Shoals guitar from Specter, is a shout out to everybody who’s heard a “loud wakeup call” to battle bigotry and oppression. And Sarah Marie Young takes the mic on the simmering, Memphis-tinged Wave’s Gonna Come.

The rest of the record isn’t particulary political, but it is a welcome throwback to the days when guys like B.B. King were still with us, playing tight solos and entertaining us with sharp, funny lyrics. And with his gritty voice, Specter acquits himself well on the mic. The album’s first track is the optimistic title cut: as he puts it, just because your Pontiac breaks down doesn’t mean you have to go off on a bender. The rest of the band – Brother John Kattke on piano, Harlan Lee Terson on bass and Marty Binder on drums – keeps a hard-swinging ba-bump groove behind Specter’s biting riffage and wry, aphoristic lyrics.

That’s the template for the rest of the tracks. The band work an understated, slinky New Orleans rhythm in Ponchatoula Way, bolstered by Mars Williams on tenor sax, John Janowiak on trombone and Ron Haynes on trumpet. Kattke switches to organ for the Meters-inspired Sanctifunkious.

The lyrics to Asking for a Friend are as sly as the modulation in the middle: if Albert Collins had been a Chicago guy, he probably would have sounded like this. The album’s big epic is Minor Shout, an expertly layered instrumental set to a tight clave beat, part Santana and part Ronnie Earl. Kaukonen and the horns return for The Blues Ain’t Nothin, a confident bounce with some fierce Airplane-style playing and one of Specter’s most subtly amusing narratives

Opposites Attract is LMAO funny, with tasty interplay between Kattke’s tumbling piano and Specter’s biting riffs. The group go back to a Meters strut with Soul Drop and close the album with String Chillin, Kattke’s gospel piano matched by the bandleader’s expansive, T-Bone Walker-style approach. Noteworthy background: Specter’s dad, Jerry Specter, was a Chicago community organizer who led a successful battle against a 1970s Richard Daley gentrification scheme. The land formerly occupied by an abandoned sanitarium is now a park and low-cost housing for seniors.

Specter’s next gig is Feb 9 at 9:30 PM on his home turf at Buddy Guy’s Legends, 700 S Wabash St. in Chicago; cover is $10.