Soulful, powerful and relevant blues singer and guitar great celebrates new album with a free show Monday, Aug. 30, in Atlantic City.
Guitar Shorty’s been playing guitar and singing the blues for a half century.
And he’s far from finished yet.
Lucky for Jersey Shore fans, both the Somers Point Beach Concert series (in 2007; click here for interview from the time) and the new and very successful Mardi Gras on the Boardwalk music series in Atlantic City — both of which are free — has featured the one-time brother-in-law of Jimi Hendrix and the multiple W.C. Handy Award and Blues Music Awards winner in their summer schedules.
Guitar Shorty will be back in the area Monday, Aug. 30, playing at the Atlantic City Boardwalk’s Kennedy Plaza.
The Mardi Gras festivities will commence around 6:30pm and music, merriment and more will ensue until Shorty (born David William Kearney in Texas) hits the stage with his band.
Shorty has a new album he’s plugging. It’s called Bare Knuckle, and you should definitely buy one at the show. Why? Because it’s fantastically badass, sounds like nothing else you’ve ever heard and it’s Shorty’s third in an inspired trilogy of blistering blues-guitar drenched albums for Alligator Records.
Along with several songs about love or the lack thereof, the record showcases the diverse aspects of Shorty’s music —his psychedelic and socio-political tendencies, his cutting wit, his passionate singing, the wisdom in his words, his everyman stance and his slashing, thunder-crashing guitar playing.
Although Shorty was born in Houston, Texas, he’s been all over the country for most of his career, taking advantage of every chance that came his way to make a living as a blues guitarist early on. He’s lived in a variety of locales, including Los Angeles, Seattle, New Orleans, Florida and Canada.
His 1957 debut single, “You Don’t Treat Me Right,” cut when he was merely 17, was released on the Cobra label out of Chicago. The recording was overseen by blues icon Willie Dixon, who, as Shorty recalls, was the one who “discovered” the young blues songwriter.
“[Willie Dixon] brought me to Chicago [and] put me in the studio,” Shorty told Atlantic City Weekly in July 2007. “I had written two songs -- "Irma Lee" and "You Don't Treat Me Right." I couldn't sing the songs in time so [Dixon}... shut the studio down [and took me over] to his place, and for three days we worked on those tunes. ... After the session, Willie Dixon kept me in Chicago for a while. … The next thing I know, I was hearing my 45 on the air. They played it quite a bit.”
By the time he was 19, Shorty was playing with R&B legend Sam Cooke, one of the first of many master musicians he would work with throughout his career.
Before releasing his critically hailed “comeback” record in 1991, My Way or the Highway, which was recorded with the Beirut-born, U.K.-based blues guitarist Otis Grand for the JSP label, and featured 53 minutes of Shorty-penned tunes, some written with Grand, Shorty had played with Ray Charles (way back during his high-school summer vacation!), B.B. King, Little Richard, T-Bone Walker and the great Big Joe Turner.
Finally getting the attention and acknowledgment that he deserved in the 1990s and 2000s, Shorty was celebrated globally and released a string of good records for various labels, including 2001’s Evidence album I Go Wild (featuring keyboardist Jim Pugh, currently of the Robert Cray Band), which shows off Shorty’s gritty, passionate and soulful sides.
All of which are still intact.
The awards were showered upon Shorty’s previous two albums for Alligator, Watch Your Back (2004) and We the People (2006) and Shorty has since become much better known in the modern blues world thanks to the success of those two albums.
He’s one of a few individuals who can say that their past includes learning how to play the guitar from Guitar Slim, as well as teaching a young Jimi Hendrix how to play the instrument.
Four years after his award winning We the People, Shorty delivered another scorching set of modern blues tunes with Bare Knuckle, released in March. One critic calls it “another example of what [Shorty] does best after 50 years in the blues biz.”
From the gut-wrenching, ultra-relevant, and plaintive cry to President Obama on the album’s first track, “Please Mr. President,” where Shorty howls: “Please Mr. President / lay some stimulus on me / cause I’m just a workin’ man / trying to feed my family,” to the searing, Gil-Scott Heron-meets-ZZ-Top killer “Slow Burn,” Kenny Wayne Sherpherd’s “True Lies,” the minor-chord, burning guitar funkiness of “Too Late” and “Neverland” and the snarling, rumbling guitar work in the album’s closer, Dennis Jones’ “Temporary Man,” the album is a real tour de force.
Sonically speaking, if you make it to Monday evening’s show, you can expect a lot of sticky, gritty, funky and mellow, minor-chord-based blues tunes. Physically speaking, you may even see a back flip from the one-time always-acrobatic performer who will turn 71 on Sept. 8. Known for his live stage flips, in 1995 Shorty hurt himself running across a stage and doing flips for an overly enthused crowd.
“I got too excited and ran across the stage, doing flips and the people just went crazy,” Shorty said. “I went crazy right along with them. I didn't see my footing and the spotlight was in my eye so I couldn't see and I got tangled up in the monitor cord running across the stage floor and it kind of tripped me as I was going into my flip and I had to make a real fast decision — hit the floor of the dance floor and kill myself or hit the floor of the stage and get hurt. And when I landed on the floor of the stage I dislocated my right shoulder.”
Regular contributors like the Bay-Atlantic Symphony, presenting five programs, and the Atlantic City Ballet with its Nutcracker and Dracula presentations, are back for the new season.
“The location was the key. A beautiful backdrop of the bay, with all types of boats cruising past, and the Ocean City skyline [across the bay].”
"As far as the new stuff goes, the new stuff is definitely very, I don’t know, I would probably say it’s our most aggressive stuff to date. As far as a full collection of songs that we have so far, we’ve probably got about 10 songs for the next album, and then, yeah, it’s definitely not leaning towards the acoustic sound at all. "
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