Posted in Unsung Hero
Posted in Unsung Hero
Posted in Unsung Hero
by Chip Taylor
I just found out that my old friend Joe Gracey passed away. I was so sad to hear the news. Joe was one of those guys that was a mirror for the best parts of yourself. There are very few people like that. I only saw Joe Read Full Article
I grew up in Houston, Texas, in the the sixties and seventies. The Houston music scene at the time was healthy, albeit somewhat undefined. Lightning Hopkins, Houston’s most famous bluesman, was feeling his oats. The Thirteenth Floor Elevators had a national hit. And when you turned on your radio and heard “This is Archie Bell and the Drells from Houston, Texas, y’all. Put that hamburger down and let’s all do the Tighten Up!” Well…you had to do what the man said, and get to dancin’.
Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt were writing songs there in the late sixties. Their presence gave way to a new and vibrant group of singer-songwriter folkies who emerged in the early to mid-seventies. Houston became a small haven for these young song slingers. Pool halls and beer joints abandoned their hardcore, country shuffle bands and started holding open mike nights. Don Sanders, Nanci Griffith, Lucinda Williams, Shake Russell, Eric Taylor, and Lyle Lovett were among this throng of troubadours who played for tips and beer in the neon coated Gulf Coast nightlife.
I loved them all. However, my favorite was the bearded blues rocker, John Vandiver. Short and squatty with round wire rim specs perched on a happy red nose, John looked to all the world like the son of Santa. He played big fat hollow body electric guitars that bounced on his jolly girth and shook the rafters when he broke into “Key to the Highway” by Big Bill Broonzy. He had a gentle speaking voice that turned into a golden megaphone when he belted out “Send Me to the Electric Chair” or “Saint James Infirmary”. His timing was atomic and the solos he played were melodic and rocking and unimaginable to me given that he played solo. John was equally magnetic when he fronted a band or was called up to lead a finale, but the magic was seeing one man make so much sound.
Vandiver was humble and gracious to other performers, whether he was giving a short history on the song he was about to perform or sharing the bill with national touring acts, he was more than generous. I remember seeing him open for Willis Alan Ramsey to a packed house. John started his set by explaining that he was the opening act and we could talk and scream to our hearts content while he was on stage. Then he paused and said, “Willis is the greatest thing going and you guys need to listen when he sings.” Of course as you can guess, John wound up doing three encores. So in the end it wasn’t just the music, it was the man and warmth and courage you could feel every time he took the stage.
John Vandiver was murdered in 1985 by some drug dealers who mistakenly thought he was the involved in a high level cocaine operation. When they realized their error and wound up empty handed, the dealers shot John and slayed his girlfriend.
Shortly after the tragedy, John’s friend, guitar maker Bill Collings packed up his one man shop and dedicated his life to helping the police find John’s killers. Collings could not stand to see the case go dark. He worked tirelessly with the Houston detectives until eventually the assailants were apprehended and sent to prison. Bill reopened his guitar shop and within a few years was making some of the finest guitars in the world. He still makes them today. You would have to ask Bill, but I believe Bill found his calling and his muse in the musical life and tragic death of his dear friend, John Vandiver.
by Greg Leisz
I was a teenage guitar player in the waning days of my 60′s garage band years when I first heard the pedal steel guitar of Sneaky Pete Kleinow. I was immediately drawn to that sound. I didn’t really know what the hell it was at first but I sure wanted to find out. Sure I knew what a pedal steel guitar was, heard it a lot in country music but I never thought about trying to play the instrument myself. Sneaky Pete’s playing blew my mind the way Jimi Hendrix’s had — doors were opened I didn’t know existed. He was turning up on a lot of the records I listened to in those days. I picked up a lap steel and eventually did learn to play the pedal steel myself.
In retrospect, one thing I can hear now when I listen to stuff Pete recorded in the late 60′s and early 70′s was that he had one foot planted in tradition and the other firmly planted in the emerging world of contemporary rock and roll. On one hand he had been inspired by the peerless playing of Jerry Byrd, Speedy West, Ralph Mooney and other steel guitar players who had come before. He even played an 8 string Fender pedal steel, an instrument that was considered somewhat outdated at the time. But man, the things he could do with that instrument!
Sneaky Pete was a member of the first generation of players that made the switch from non pedal to pedal steel guitar. Like many of those pedal pioneers he developed his own unique style. He brought a real sense of adventure and experimentation to his playing using distortion, phaseshifting and delay effects to go along with the genre defying music that was so prevalent during that time. In my opinion Pete had an impeccable sense of timing, taste and tone not to mention his melodic sensitivity and inventiveness. As an unschooled, self taught musician he played everything straight from the heart. We are fortunate to have so many great examples of his beautiful playing on some classic recordings -
A few examples –
FLYING BURRITO BROTHERS
All tracks but particularly check out “Christine’s Tune”
“She Came In Through The Bathroom Window”
“It’ll Take A Long Time”
“Love Has No Pride ”
“Take It Easy” and “Our Lady of the Well”
JONI MITCHELL “BLUE”
SNEAKY PETE KLEINOW “THE SHILOH RECORDS ANTHOLOGY”
Various instrumental tracks
Particularly check out “It Makes No Difference”, “Beat the Heat”, “Oklahoma Stomp”,
“Cannonball Rag”, “Sleepy Lagoon” and “Sneak Attack”