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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Guitar Lightnin' Lee

Guitar Lightnin' Lee is coming to town this week. You've probably never heard of him. Neither had I, until I wandered out onto the back patio at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans last fall to take a break from the overcrowded main room. Who was this gentleman in the cowboy shirt playing guitar sitting in a chair, backed by a band about 20 years his junior playing high octane rock and roll and blues, kicking all kinds of ass and following him through his oddly placed chord changes like it was easy? His songs sounded mostly, basically, like Chuck Berry or Jimmy Reed. That might be a little bit of an oversimplification, and I don't want you to think that this is some kind of imitative nostalgia act, because Guitar Lightnin' Lee and the Thunder Band were on fire and very much in the moment. How can I explain it? When I hear, say, a beat up 45 of "Sweet Little Rock & Roller" blasting out of the speakers, I don't think "Wow, this takes me back to another time when I wasn't even born yet, before music sucked like it does now." I think (if I'm thinking anything at all), "This sounds really good RIGHT NOW". And thus it was on this autumn night in New Orleans. Sometimes he would play a Chuck Berry guitar intro and it would go into a Jimmy Reed sounding song, or vice-versa. I have no idea how the band knew what to do, but they did. After a few songs I was hooked and had completely forgotten about whatever bigger-name act I was waiting to go back inside for. Then Guitar Lightnin' said "Okay, we got one or two more" and the crowd let out that collective "awwww" whiny-kid sound. Then he played one or two more. And then some more. Like another hour and a half at least. It kept going like that. "We got one more", followed by ten more songs. The longer they played, the more intense and loose and crazy it got. The Stomp was an embarassment of riches, as it is every year. At the 2010 edition I saw Sugar Pie DeSanto, DL Menard, Roy Loney and Cyril Jordan of the Flamin' Groovies backed by the A-Bones (and Lazy Lester playing harmonica on "Scratch My Back"!), The Trashmen, Tommy Brown, Roy Head, and on and on, but if forced to pick the best act I saw, I would have to say it was Guitar Lightnin' Lee and the Thunder Band. So there.
Our pal Todd-o-phonic Todd was there too. I remember because we looked at each other while the show was going on with that look that says "are you effin' kidding me?" I also remember because he yelled a lot and tried to shimmy up one of the cables that held up the tent that hung over the patio and got admonished by House of Blues security. Anyway, reached out to for a blurb from a nightlife tastemaker, Todd had this to say:

"Guitar Lightnin' Lee truly captures lightnin' in a bottle, as long as it's a whiskey bottle. Mix up Chuck Berry, Jimmy Reed and a good chunk of old fashioned New Orleans hoodoo and you've got the musical equivalent of Razzles. Is it rock'n'roll? Blues? R'n'B? I don't know...all I know is....IT SPLITS MY MIND WIDE OPEN!!!"

Hells yeah!

And now you jaded New Yorkers have a chance to get some for yourself.

Thursday February 17th: Live on Three Chord Monte with Joe Belock on the mighty WFMU, noon to 3 PM
Thursday February 17th: Lakeside Lounge, NYC
Friday February 18th: The Bell House, Brooklyn. Opening for the Reigning Sound, who feature our own DA the DJ on keyboards and friend of the Ichiban Greg Cartwright (Oblivians, Compulsive Gamblers, Parting Gifts), who is the best songwriter we have on the planet right now. The Reigning Sound put on a scorching live show and I imagine they will step it up an extra notch when they have to follow Guitar Lightnin'! Also on the bill: Detroit's The Sights.
Saturday February 19th: Maxwell's, Hoboken NJ
Sunday February 20th: Trash Bar, Brooklyn NY

Here are two tunes that I ripped from the double 7" single I got after that show in New Orleans. Purchase it here, buy the self-released CDR here or buy them at one of these shows. The 7" features Antoine Domino III on piano! Yes, that is who you think it is. These are posted to give you a taste of what a treat you're in for. Buy the damn record and/or CD, ya freeloaders.

Guitar Lightnin' Lee and his Thunder Band:
Going To Amsterdam
Mississippi Alabama Bound


ColinDuff said...

If anyone in the world has a copy of Guitar Lightnin' doing Human Fly, please, please, please, get in touch.

Anonymous said...

I recorded the Lakeside Lounge show, came out pretty good. Is that something that could be shared here?

Matt Fiveash said...

Anonymous: I would imagine so, but you should contact our fearless leader Debbie D Fountain about it: