Stony Plain Records
Released May 5, 2015
I have a great affinity for live albums, especially ones that feature a specific set in its entirety. That is one of the reasons I have so many of the Live from Austin, TX albums in my collection: to hear an entire Austin City Limits recording from start to finish is special. This appreciation for live music is also why I took the time to record many of the concerts I presented last decade: to capture an evening of music, one which will not again occur in the exact same way ever again, is significant. That desire to possess those live moments also explains why I have more live tapes and bootlegs than I could ever listen to.
I have attended so many wonderful sets at various bluegrass and folk festivals that I wish had been released for commercial sale: if I ever find a recording of the Guy Clark and Rosanne Cash side stage set from the 1996 Calgary Folk Music Festival, I will die a most satisfied man. So the idea behind releasing Guitar Heroes, recorded at the Vancouver Island MusicFest in July, 2013, resonates with me even if the featured music isn’t really my thing.
Bringing together four venerable masters of the electric guitar, session coordinator Doug Cox—himself no guitar pickin’ slouch—was hoping to create a bit of magic. And while the entire premise of electric guitar collaborations doesn’t do a lot for me personally—I am much more flat top box than Telecaster—even I can appreciate the flamboyant energy delivered: such is the enchantment of live performance, especially that of the atypical variety.
James Burton and Albert Lee require no introduction as their work with Dale Hawkins, Elvis Presley, Gram Parsons and a thousand others (Burton) and Emmylou Harris, Eric Clapton, and The Everly Brothers and a thousand others (Lee) is well documented.
Amos Garrett is similarly revered, although in more hushed tones—he played on Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight At the Oasis,” of course, with Great Speckled Bird, and in various bands under his own name and with folks like Doug Sahm; his recording of “Cardiac Arrest” remains a personal favourite.
David Wilcox (not that David Wilcox) is a Canadian institution having also played with Great Speckled Bird, but more commonly known for his string of blues-rock radio mainstays including “Do the Bearcat,” “That Hypnotizin’ Boogie,” and “Downtown Came Uptown” (none of which are featured here.)
Brought together without a great deal of rehearsal, the set list is comprised largely of standards with which all four guitarists would be familiar. But this is no slapdash affair: every note, each trade off, every solo and lead vocal is spot on.
Lee and Wilcox handle the majority of the lead vocals, but most will come to this recording for the guitar playing. While the extended jams are definitely intended for those who have an appreciation for noodling, nothing is so indulgent as to lose the casual listener. “Polk Salad Annie” features some nice back and forth from the four main components, although I would love to have heard Wilcox add some vocals to this one. Burton proves he still has it; his solos on “That’s All Right, Mama,” “Suzy Q,” and “You’re The One” are quite nice. Garrett takes care of “Sleepwalk” while the remaining songs are collaborative.
Highlights would be “Leave My Woman Alone” (sung by Lee) and “Comin’ Home Baby” (featuring some impressive leads from Wilcox.) It is also great to hear Wilcox perform his signature “Bad Apple” in such esteemed company, while Lee’s “Country Boy”—most often associated with Ricky Skaggs—brings the session to a lively close.
Special consideration needs to be paid to Jon Greathouse, who not only sings the snot out of “Suzi Q,” but provides Garth Hudson-like atmosphere to a brilliant mid-set instrumental rendition of “Only The Young.”
Presented as a soundboard recording—no edits or overdubs—Guitar Heroes captures a single evening’s performance, one that is not likely to be repeated. It is entirely enjoyable and provides those who were in attendance with a great record of the show; for those of us who are hearing this collaboration for the first time, it is certainly an hour well spent.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald