Guitar Shorty shows on Bare
Knuckle why he is one of the most important guitarists in blues/rock
history, although he has never received the recognition he deserves. His impact
ranks right up there with Buddy Guy, Freddy King and Eric Clapton. Listen to Bare Knuckle and it is hard to believe
you are listening to the guitar work of a 70 year old man. But this explosive, screaming
guitar playing over hard driving percussion has been a Guitar Shorty, born David
Kearney in Houston, Texas in 1939, trademark since the 1950’s.
The album blast off with Shorty’s wailing guitar on “Please
Mr. President” and the intensity level stays high for the entire set. Keb Mo
adds rhythm guitar to the topically relevant opening track. Shorty sings, “I
used to have a good job, working 40 hard hours a week. Had money in the bank
and a mortgage I could meet. But then they started to lay off and got poor me.
Now that mean old banker is trying to put me in the street. Please Mr.
President lay some stimulus on me.”
Guitar Shorty is a transformational blues artist. As a 17
year old he was discovered by the great Willie Dixon and brought to Chicago to record on
Cobra Records, with Otis Rush backing him on guitar. Then he went on the road
and worked for Ray Charles, Guitar Slim and Sam Cooke in their touring bands.
All of these giants were radically pushing the boundaries of black music at the
time. Shorty represents that point where electric blues guitar transforms in
what eventually became hard rock. From Slim, he developed an outrageous, high
voltage stage performance, including somersaults and back flips. It was while living
in Seattle in
the early 1960’s that the stepbrother of his future wife went AWOL from his
Army base to catch Shorty’s gig. The name of that young soldier: Jimi Hendrix.
Hendrix said that he started lighting his guitars on fire because he couldn’t do
Shorty’s acrobatics on stage. Shorty has said that he can hear his riffs in
“Purple Haze” and “Hey, Joe.”
The guitar work on Bare
Knuckle is so powerful, so vibrant that one can’t help but wonder what else
Jimi might have learned from Shorty had he had the time and what a
collaboration between the two of them would have sounded like. The true power
of this album cones on one of the songs where Shorty slows it down. “Slow Burn”
is a spoken word song over a slow blues. And it is one of the most powerful
songs ever written about the plight of the veterans of our endless foreign
wars. Shorty sings, “You didn’t ask why when they sent you to war. Now you’re
wondering what in the hell were you fighting for. When a vet comes home missing
an arm or leg, did we lose all that for the right to beg? And you stop to give
in to the rage within. It’s the slow, slow burn, the rage within.” Both this song and the first track should be
essential listening in the White House.
Even as he helped create hard rock, Guitar Shorty never lost
sight that the blues is not about how loud or fast you can play, the music is
about songs and the emotional impact a well written song can have on listeners.
And on songs dealing with love and lost, good woman and bad, Shorty makes you
feel the blues through his gritty, yet soulful vocals.
Guitar Shorty deserves to be in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
His music has been innovative and has stayed true to his blues roots. Bare Knuckle is the work of an American
master still performing at the top of his art.
Standout Tracks: “Slow
Burn” “Please Mr. President” “The Sting” “Temporary Man” TOM CALLAHAN