“He can imitate almost any style, and often does, but is instantly identifiable. In his playing you can hear the evocation of the Scottish piper’s drone and the melody of the changer as well as echoes of Barney Kessell’s and James Burton’s guitars and Jerry Lee Lewis’ piano. But no blues clichés. (Joe Boyd)
Guitarist, songwriter and singer – Richard Thompson – is an artist of inimitable integrity, who while dodging celebrity, has built a cult of faithful and been accorded chronic critical acclaim for his hybrid finger picking, impassioned virtuosity and for the extraordinary depth of his deep catalog of sinister songs. An architect of British folk-rock as a founding member of Fairport Convention, he’s crafted a massive body of revered solo work, fusing traditional and progressive roots and branches. Mr. Thompson has forged an idiosyncratic guitar style rooted in song, that merges Celtic modality, rockabilly swing, jazz economy and time, psychedelic quest, folk dance tunes and Arabic voicing. “I like to harmonically tease things along so I’m almost evolving the narrative along with the singer. In a way I’m telling an instrumental story against the vocal story. And when it comes to a solo, I like stepping out a little bit… so I’m still in narrative, storytelling mode.” (RT to Guitar Player)
While having received the BBC Lifetime Achievement award, Mojo Les Paul Award, the coveted Ivor Novello for Songwriting, OBE from the Queen and 2012 Americana Lifetime Achievement award for past accomplishments, Thompson perseveres by pushing himself artistically. Call it “walking on a wire”, self-imposed intrepid daring to remain vital. Richard has taught himself to write for orchestra, composing and staging his purgatory-situated, Folk-Oratorio: Cabaret of Souls, mounted a thematic concert concept: 1000 Years of Popular Song, performed solo his entire catalogue upon request and recorded live his Dream Attic CD of original songs without a net to untried audiences and was subsequently Grammy nominated. Most recently RT remains prolific and forward viewing releasing two CD’s of original material in 2 years with new producing collaborators: “Electric” and “Still” and is touring with his freewheeling power trio to audience rapture.
As a guitar player Rolling Stone Magazine lists him in the Top 20 Guitarists of All Time. His genre-defying mastery of both acoustic and electric guitar is fully on display within “Six Strings Meltdown”. So are his engaging personality, evident congeniality and irascibly droll wit. While this is a guitarists’ guitarists film, it could be construed as artist portrait as well.
James Burton grew up in Shreveport, Louisiana. Before he ever picked up a guitar, he would beat on broomsticks and beat on pretty much everything else around the house. He used to listen to KWKH in Shreveport where he was exposed to Chet Atkins, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Elmore James, and Lightnin’ Hopkins. He picked up a guitar at age 13, was given an early Fender Telecaster by his father and he soon would astonish everybody with his ability to play the instrument. Burton went professional at 14, working club gigs and private parties. To play in those clubs, you had to go to the police station to get a permit if you were underage. Horace Logan was the producer of the Louisiana Hayride and he asked if James wanted to do some shows and join the staff band. James was 14 at the time. At the Hayride, he played with future icons George Jones, Johnny Horton and Dale Hawkins. When only 14, he wrote the indelible lick and Hawkins put the lyrics to “Susie Q” which became a hit and a standard that was selected amongst the “500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll” by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has been covered by the Stones, Jose Feliciano, Suzie Quatro and Creedence.
Logan hooked Burton with Bob Luman who rode the Rockabilly craze with “My Girl is Red Hot”, relocating James to Hollywood where he got invited by Ricky Nelson to join his band, move in with his family and subsequently landing him a couple of cameo bits on Ozzie & Harriet. He became a teenage star when he joined in 1957. With “Believe What You Say”, Burton created his distinctive technique: He used a finger pick and a flat pick, and replaced the four highest strings on his Telecaster with banjo strings, so that his guitar snapped, popped and stuttered. James’ legendary chickin’ pickin’ was born. The Ricky Nelson period that followed remains one of the most innovative stages in the development of country-rock guitar. Hits “Hello Mary Lou”, “It’s Late,” “Shirley Lee,” “Milkcow Blues” and “Travelin’ Man” are clearly guitar milestones due to their self-assured precision and tonal development. James became an increasingly in-demand guitarist recording with The Everly Brothers, Glen Campbell and Johnny Cash. His round, full bass notes and crystalline, hard-driving highs wrote the book for state-of-the-art Fender tone.
In 1965, the TV music show Shindig asked him to lead its house band, The Shindogs which drove up demand for him as a session guitar player from all musical sectors. He would do 4 to 6 sessions a day as member of the legendary Wrecking Crew and sometimes up to 25 sessions a week! James would grace a diverse cast of artist’s records as side musician including Buffalo Springfield, The Monkees, Judy Collins and Joni Mitchell. Amongst the calls that came to play was with Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, that collaboration helped refine the ‘Bakersfield sound’, and was when and where he befriended musical foil Ralph Mooney, with whom he would record a duo album: Corn Pickin’ and Slick Slidin’ .
James got the celebrated call from Elvis to be on his 1968 Comeback television special, but he was working with Frank Sinatra and unavailable. Elvis confessed how he had always watched the Ozzie and Harriet show just to see James play. So when Elvis called James back in ’69 to form the TCB band for his Las Vegas engagement, it was a very tough decision to make, since his studio career was very busy and very lucrative. Burton had already turned down an offer by Bob Dylan to go on tour, but Presley’s offer to form the TCB band proved irresistible. The inaugural use of the notorious paisley Telecaster was in Las Vegas at the International Hotel, an event that was recorded and released as a live album. James replaced Scotty Moore as Elvis Presley’s guitarist from 1969 until Elvis died in 1977.
In 1972, Gram Parsons contacted James. Parsons, who’s blending of country and rock to the point that they became indistinguishable from each other, would became enormously influential, had a deal to do an album and he really wanted Burton on it. It was at these sessions that James met Emmylou Harris. After Gram died prematurely in 1973, Emmylou signed with Warner Music who told her to get a ‘hot band’. She did, forming the band around Burton and Glen D. Hardin, who at that time was also working for Presley, carefully planned her tours around Elvis’. Elvis’ death came as a shock to James, but instead of doing nothing, he dove head-on into session work. Shortly before Presley’s death, Burton had gotten a call from John Denver who wanted to do a television special with him and during the taping, Denver asked if he wanted to go on a European tour. After Presley’s death, Burton got the call for an album and subsequently remained with Denver for 15 years. James remained loyal over the years to artists with whom he enjoyed working; carrying on a long relationship with Jerry Lee Lewis. Burton teamed up with upstart admirer, Elvis Costello on 1986’s “King of America”, touring and recording four albums. In 1987 Roy Orbison did an acclaimed TV special filmed in Black and White with the TCB Band with, of course, James on lead and guests Costello, Tom Waits, and Bruce Springsteen, who proclaimed, “It’s not everyday that you get to sing harmony with Roy Orbison and play guitar next to James Burton.”
Over a long and varied career working with many of the great names in the music business, James Burton has worked hard establishing himself among the best guitarists, while remaining out of the limelight. He is acknowledged as a major influence on the evolution of country rock. At James’ induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2001, Keith Richards admitted: “I never bought a Ricky Nelson record, I bought a James Burton record.” Burton’s technique is as singular as his musical prowess. Armed with a Fender medium flat pick between his thumb and index finger and a National finger-pick on his middle finger, his self-taught style befuddles onlookers. “It’s just the way I started doing it,” he shrugs. “I didn’t notice anything peculiar until I went into a music store one day and some guy said, ‘Man, you’re doing it all wrong.”
James Burton gives back to the music and the instrument that shaped him via the semi-annual James Burton International Guitar Festival that he started in 2005. Held in Shreveport in August, the proceeds raise money for his charity – www.jamesburtonfoundation.org – dedicated to providing musical scholarships and purchasing guitars for school kids with a “spark for playing”.
Dennis Coffey is an American original. Only in America (and specifically, only in Detroit) could one man play guitar with a group of legends as diverse as Del Shannon, The Temptations, and George Clinton and Funkadelic. However, the list of iconic artists, producers and writers Dennis has worked with the world over only scratches the surface of what the man has done and the contributions he’s made to the canon of popular music.
Dennis Coffey first began to make his mark as a member of The Royaltones, a group which had hits in the late 50′s and early 60′s and who performed sessions with other artists, including Del Shannon. From there, Dennis moved on to a distinguished run as a session guitarist for various labels operating at the peak of Detroit’s influence as a hub of musical innovation and commercial success. He’s perhaps best known for his work as a member of the legendary Funk Brothers, backing a veritable trunk load of hits for Motown, specifically The Temptations’ classics “Cloud Nine,” “Ball Of Confusion,” and “Just My Imagination.” It is in those works that his introduction of the wah-wah guitar sound to Motown (and soul / R&B in general) first reared its head, and the resulting influence on all kinds of popular music continues to reverberate to this day. His work with The Temptations is just the tip of the iceberg, though… he’s on stuff like “War” by Edwin Starr… “Band Of Gold” by Freda Payne… on and on the list goes.
In the early 70′s, Dennis struck out on his own as an artist, film scorer and producer. He scored the cult classic film Black Belt Jones. He recorded “Scorpio” in 1971 as part of his second solo record and first for Sussex (“Evolution”). “Scorpio” was a million selling single and was a key foundational track in the history and development of hip-hop, totally apart from its status as a funk classic. Dennis has recorded several other solo records, and he has co-produced a million seller in Gallery’s “Nice To Be With You” as well as cult album, Cold Fact by Rodriguez, a release that has gained increasing notoriety over the decades since it initially appeared, and which is now regarded as a rediscovered gem. Dennis is a cast member in the Sony film Searching for Sugarman. He is also co-producer and co-arranger along with Mike Theodore for some of the songs on the soundtrack. He also plays guitar and bass in some of those songs. He also continued session guitar work through the 1970′s, appearing on such disco classics as “Boogie Fever” by the Sylvers. Dennis is also featured in the 2002 film Standing In The Shadows Of Motown, further cementing his legacy as a key contributor to the development of some of the most cherished and important popular music of the 20th Century. So, yeah… the man’s important. This isn’t just a history lesson, though. Dennis has continued to write and perform music. He’s a lifer. Now, it’s time for a new chapter. An opportunity to both remind music fans of what he’s done and show them what’s to come.
Nokie Edwards is a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and is universally recognized as one of the world’s premier guitarists and stylists. Nokie learned how to play guitar at age five and turned professional at twelve. His evident brilliance as a guitarist enabled him to become an integral part of the Tacoma music scene. Buck Owens, country pioneer of the “Bakersfield Sound,” invited Nokie to join his band upon relocating there. Nokie spent the next year with Buck and whenever the Grand Ol’ Opry’s road shows came Northwest, Nokie would play lead for the shows where he became acquainted with Country legends Lefty Frizell, Ferlin Husky and Little Jimmie Dickens.
Nokie was approached by Don Wilson and Bob Bogle to join them in forming a band which would became known as The Ventures, a band that went on to become the most popular rock instrumental band in history. The group’s first single: ‘Walk Don’t Run’ became a local sensation and was soon released nationally with the tune peaking at #2 on the charts. Nokie’s lead is synonymous with many Ventures hits including: ‘Hawaii 5-O’ , ‘Fugitive’, ‘2000 Pound Bee’, ‘Yellow Jacket’, ‘Hokkaido Skies’, ‘Driving Guitars’, ‘Surf Rider’, ’Moon Child’, ‘Pedal Pusher’, ‘Sleep Walk’, ‘Let’s Go’,’ Slaughter on Tenth Avenue’, ‘Wipe Out’, and ‘Pipeline’. During the 1960’s The Ventures had 33 albums hit the US charts, 5 of these going “Gold”. When Nokie and The Ventures arrived in Japan in 1965, an estimated 10,000 people were waiting at the Tokyo airport to welcome: Japan’s Beloved Guitar Invaders! Nokie still tours Japan twice a year continuing to draw capacity crowds. And that was Nokie as the mysterious friend of Wild Bill Hickok and served as bridge between the villains and heroes of HBO’s beloved Western drama, Deadwood.
About Nokie’s Guitar:
In 2002, Nokie started a new guitar company: HitchHiker Guitars. Nokie put his knowledge of 55 years of mastering the guitar into a beautiful instrument. The guitar has great sustain and there are fifteen variations of tones by using the tone control in conjunction with the switches. The word is out that the guitar has an identifiable sound, unique shape and a “signature” sound. Once you hear a HitchHiker guitar you know the name because you never forget that distinctive sound. Nokie takes great pride in it. He spared no expense in building this high tech, high quality guitar built by a true master guitarist.
“I never wanted to be a star, just a highly respected musician like John Etheridge” – Sting (The Guardian 1981)
John Etheridge rightly enjoys a glowing reputation throughout the jazz world and beyond. He is a prodigiously gifted and creative player whose approach to music can only be described as ‘eclectic’ as he refuses to accommodate or even acknowledge artificial musical boundaries. His range is well illustrated by his years of touring and recording with the iconic Stephane Grappelli while simultaneously doing likewise with the legendary jazz-fusion group, The Soft Machine. So John was playing and recording simultaneously in these two very different set-ups, each at the pinnacle of their very different traditions.
He has played with John Williams, Yehudi Menuhin, Dizzie Gillespie, Herb Ellis, Mundell Lowe, Nigel Kennedy, Pat Metheny, Birelli Lagrene, Barney Kessel, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Andy Summers, Danny Thompson and countless others. Not just another great guitarist, John Etheridge is a master of the instrument and he knows how to use it to best effect in an enormous range of settings. He is fast, a great chord man, inventive but subtle, as good with a pick as finger style, as at home on acoustic as on electric guitar. He knows what to leave out, when to use nuance and suspense and when to let rip. Taste and talent are the indisputable hallmarks of this incredibly accomplished and well-rounded musician who responds to his fellow musicians and his audience equally well.
Martin Simpson, acoustic guitarist, folk singer and songwriter is a renowned song raconteur, traditional revivalist and accomplished troubadour. He is one of the most visible examples of the relationship between the Celtic folk of the United Kingdom and its stepchild, American roots music, which branched away from its British sources as American immigrants grew distanced from their past countrymen and absorbed a polyglot of rich cultures. Martin’s life charts a similar course taking up banjo initially and broadening into guitar, quickly building a budding reputation on the folk club circuit, early on recording an acclaimed album produced by Bill Leader for the legendary Trailer records label and partnering with June Tabor, the emerging queen of traditional vocals. Together they recorded three sterling albums that redefined with stark relevance traditional British folk and championed new writers within the idiom. Then he relocated to America putting down roots sporadically across the continent all the while soaking up its musical character and history, extending his technique, linking and fusing styles. He continued to record a mix of traditional and contemporary material, but also paired up with unlikely consummate foils as exemplified by the recording with master pipa player Wu Man to blend European and Chinese traditions. His 15 years living in the US were well spent; there is no-one who has more successfully combined the diverse elements of British, Afro-American and roots music than Simpson.
Upon his return to his home isle, this prodigal son’s career has blossomed prodigiously. His own songwriting has evolved producing some true classics, from the truck-stop epic, “Love Never Dies” to the profoundly moving “Never Any Good” and “One Day”. It’s rare amongst musicians to acknowledge that after 35 years as a professional musician, Martin is, right now, even better than ever. Martin has been nominated an astonishing 26 times in the twelve years of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Awards – more than any other performer – with nine consecutive years as nominee for Musician of The Year, which he has won twice. Widely acknowledged as one of the finest acoustic and slide guitar players in the world, a player of immense subtlety, his interpretations of traditional songs are masterpieces of storytelling. His solo shows are intense, eclectic, spellbinding, wry and always deeply moving.
BEHOLD THE BAND
DANNY THOMPSON, acoustic double bass
Danny Thompson has spent the last sixty years making musical history. His distinctive plucky bass sound can be heard on more than an astonishing 1200 albums and he remains Britain’s first call player. He is alone in having received two BBC Radio 2 Folk Lifetime Achievement Awards, both for his work with Pentangle and his services as session musician nonpareil. During his career, he has played with blues artists such as Josh White, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and the father of British Blues, Alexis Koerner; jazz greats: Art Farmer, Freddy Hubbard, Joe Williams, Mark Murphy, Moondog, Stan Tracey and Tubby Hayes; folk icons Davy Graham, John Martyn, Bert Jansch, Nick Drake, Incredible String Band and Loudon Wainwright III; global music legends: S. E. Rogie, Toumani Diabate, Rico, Ketama and Blind Boys of Alabama; as well as a wide range of pop stars: Roy Orbison, Donovan, Rod Stewart, Cat Stevens, Marianne Faithful, Mary Hopkins and cult TV “Thunderbirds” theme to T. Rex, Tim Buckley, Kate Bush, Peter Gabriel, Billy Bragg, Indigo Girls, Paul Weller and Everything But The Girl. Danny and Richard Thompson (no relation!) have toured and recorded together for over 20-years and DT was inspiration for Richard’s foray to follow his classical muse and featured in his folk-oratorio “Cabaret of Souls”. Danny has recently toured with Transatlantic Sessions and released “Connected” in service of song with John Martyn, Bert Jansch, Barbara Dickson, Tom Robinson, Martin Simpson and Richard Thompson.
JAY BELLAROSE, drums and sundry percussion
If you bought or caught Robert Plant and Alison Krauss on their Raising Sand tour, you couldn’t help but focus on the guy providing the heartbeat to the harmony-laden, roots-and-roll revue, Jay Bellerose. Not only was his drumming an inventive jumble of slinky grooves, tumbling fills, left-field unorthodox patterns and graceful accents, his rig was a thing of ragtag beauty, from the vintage tubs on down to the shakers strapped to his ankles. You know that “loose and jangly” feel that Americana fans talk about? Bellerose defines that sound. That mysterious “between-swing-and-straight” pocket? That’s where Bellerose lives. He’s the king of the dirge – no one can lift one like he can. He plays with so much space; the room he leaves for everyone else is so effective and liberating in service of the song and his fellow players. Jay is passionate on vintage gear and he nails that sound deeply, but in a way that keeps it simultaneously classic and fresh, not just trendy, but full of nuance.
The man is all taste and finesse. He’s the drummer for many of the coolest projects that have been done recently: Leon Russell and Elton John, Ray LaMontagne’s Pariah Dogs, Allen Toussaint’s “The Bright Mississippi”, Me’Shell Ndegeocello’s “Weather”, The Majestic Silver Strings, Mose Allison’s “The Way of The World, Solomon Burke’s “Don’t Give Up On Me”, B.B. King’s “One Kind Favor” to Hugh Laurie’s “Let Them Talk”. He’s the T. Bone Burnett “house band” drummer; that’s his brilliantly illustrative undercarriage on Gregg Allman’s Grammy awarded, “Low Country Blues” album. He’s synonymous with artists Madeline Peyroux, Paula Cole, Sam Phillips, Buddy Miller, Aimee Mann and Joe Henry. And has steadily been laying it down in his idiosyncratic manner for a dizzying array of artists who come to expect the unexpected from what Jay will bring: Steve Earle, Diana Krall, Rodney Crowell, Aaron Neville, Audra McDonald, Robert Randolph, Regina Spector, Duncan Sheik, Luciana Souza, Salif Keita, Rickie Lee Jones, John Mellencamp, Ani DiFranco, Billy Bragg, Cassandra Wilson, Jeff Bridges and Bob Dylan. Phew!
It’s a wonder to watch and listen to how he contributes, but never gets in the way. Jay coaxes different sounds from his drums. He uses unique and eye-catching vintage equipment to marvel at, but it’s truly his song sensibility, how the song is allowed to breath with his stomps, jingles, hand technique, tea towels, brushes and beguiling nifty things he does with innovative percussive appendages. He has no margins. A shaker or stick, tambourine or maraca may be used it one way, but Jay will tape it or strap it or hold it some new way and get some inexplicable novel sound out of it we never imagined.
CHRISTINE COLLISTER, vocals, harmony and tambourine
“Christine Collister can sing the birds down off the trees and send them back with a tiny flick of her vocal chords.” (Mojo)
Christine grew up on the Isle of Man. Her professional recording career began in the mid 1980’s but she first came to national attention singing the 1987 theme for the BBC Television series “The Life and Loves Of A She Devil”. Following a fruitful association with The Richard Thompson Band, Christine enjoyed a period of critical and commercial success in a seven-year partnership with Clive Gregson. She also toured and recorded with the female super group Daphne’s Flight. Over the course of her career Christine has become a familiar name on the UK ‘live’ scene and at all major festivals from Glastonbury to Winnipeg to Cambridge. Her natural warmth and intimate connection with audiences coupled with her stunning voice, make her concerts delightfully memorable events. Solo albums recorded over the past decade or so have seen her convincingly interpret Smoky Robinson, Nick Drake, Robert Wyatt, Tom Waits, Paul Simon, U2 and Lal Waterson, amongst many others – whilst with every year, her own self penned or co-written compositions have developed in depth and expression. Her career now spans an incredible 29 years! Over that bridge of time she has released 19 albums … a DVD celebrating 20 years in the business and a hit single with the BBC: that theme tune for “The Life and Loves of a She-Devil”. Throughout, she has mesmerized and astounded with her unique blend of soul, blues, pop, jazz, country and folk, and today she remains as powerful, subtle and effortless as ever. With a gravity defying voice, assured and impressive live performances and great personal charm she is a magical live performer.
DEBRA DOBKIN, percussion
Debra Dobkin can be heard on numerous recordings spanning many different genres and live in concert from the smallest local bar in Hollywood, CA to the great hall at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. She has recorded and appeared in concert with Bonnie Raitt, Shawn Colvin, Jackson Browne, Perla Batalla, Don Henley, Was (not Was) and Richard Thompson among many others. A respected instrumentalist and music producer, she is also a painter whose works are exhibited across the country. Debra is a native Chicagoan currently residing in the greenish pastures of Los Angeles, CA.
Discussing her illustrative process, Ms. Dobkin provides an insight into her musical artistic source and approach: “Although I was schooled in the style of classical painters, my approach to the canvas comes from an improvisational point of reference much like that of a group of musicians creating a piece of music. This group would be my palette, materials, subject matter and tools. Together, they transform and coax light and shadows into my work through me. The interplay of chiaroscuro and the devastating beauty of reflected light from an object real or imagined inspires me to paint.”
RORY MCFARLANE, electric bass
London bass player Rory McFarlane started out in 1983 with Richard Thompson before going on to record and tour with multi-million selling singer Tanita Tikaram, Loudon Wainwright, British folk artists icons Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick and classical violinist Nigel Kennedy, whose band he resided in for eight years.
In 1989 Mr. McFarlane started writing advertising, film and animation soundtracks including a series of Manga films; best known for his score to the influential Manga OVA “Cyber City Oedo 808“ and for “Buichi Terasawa’s “Takeru: Letter of the Law”” in 1996, from which a soundtrack CD was released, and an animated series for FIFA on the 2002 World Cup in collaboration with Rod Argent and Pete Van Hooke. Since 2001 he has freelanced in London’s west end shows, including The Lion King, Billy Elliot and Wicked.
More recently he has worked with Damon Albam, The Magic Numbers and Mercury-nominated minimalists Lemon Jelly. In 2010 he performed with Squeeze, Madness and the Blockheads at the Songs In The Key of London concert at the Barbican. Currently he is a regular band member with Marianne Faithfull and for Hollywood actor Tim Robbins. Since 2001 Rory has taught bass and run music workshops at various schools and colleges including the Bass Institute, Kingston Grammar School, the Centre for Young Musicians and London Philharmonic Orchestra Bright Sparks. He holds a BSC in Psychology and Sociology and has worked with Special Education Needs pupils. Professor McFarlane proved a quick study himself at the Six Strings Meltdown event. He was an on the day replacement for renowned TCB bassist, Jerry Scheff who became ill and was forced to cancel. Rory stepped in and up, fitting in seamlessly.