Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Performing sparks Danny Adler

Veteran rock, blues and jazz musician
Danny Adler performed an eclectic range of songs
on the piano and guitar during a recent show at
Escanaba's 8th Street Coffee House.


Danny Adler, who performed at the 8th Street Coffee House on Oct. 19, has a resume any musician might envy.

Since picking-up the guitar in the early 1960s, he has played with a host of rock, blues and jazz luminaries. The list includes Memphis Slim, Chuck Berry, Slim Harpo, Charles Brown, Lowell Fulson, Arthur Crudup, Earl Hooker, and many others.

Add to that the 18 albums he's recorded and you might think Adler would have quite an ego. He doesn't.

Now a resident of Charlevoix, I first met Adler when he stopped by my store last summer, the day after an earlier appearance at 8th Street. I told him I regretted not attending his show and vowed not to miss the next one. We had a pleasant conversation and he related a few music stories in a matter-of-fact way.

Born in Cincinnati in 1949, Adler was playing with some of the city's greats while still in high school. The young guitarist gigged with such local favorites as Bootsy Collins and H-Bomb Ferguson, while making his professional debut with Amos Milburn's band.

He moved to San Francisco for a period, playing with John Lee Hooker, T-Bone Walker and Solomon Burke.

Adler served a brief stint in New York's Elephants Memory, a horn-driven outfit which later recorded with John Lennon and Yoko Ono, before going to England in 1971.

In London he played in Smooth Loser before founding the pub rock band Roogalator in 1972. They became one of the first acts to sign with newly-founded Stiff Records, which also launched the career of Elvis Costello. Roogalator's record, "Cincinnati Fatback"/"All Aboard," became the third single released by the innovative label and is still featured on various compilation discs.

Although Roogalator was very popular on the club circuit, by 1978 Adler felt the band had run its course and members went their separate ways.

His prolific songwriting soon led to the formation of the Danny Adler Band. The group was featured on European television's "Rock Palast" and recorded music for the series "World About Us."

By 1979, Adler became an original member of Rocket 88, a boogie-woogie band which included Charlie Watts, drummer for the Rolling Stones; Jack Bruce, bassist for Cream; bluesman Alex Korner; Ian Stewart, the Stones' keyboardist; and other stars. Rocket 88 recorded a live album, released in 1981.

While in Europe, Adler recorded demos with Graham Gouldman of 10cc fame, worked with Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, and studied jazz guitar in Paris. Punk legends the Clash and Sex Pistols opened shows for Adler along the way.

When Adler met Bob Brunning, bass player for Fleetwood Mac, they formed the Deluxe Blues Band and recorded four albums during the 1980s. Other band members were Bob Hall (Savoy Brown), Mickey Waller (Jeff Beck, Rod Stewart) and Dick Heckstall-Smith (Graham Bond Organisation).

Although they were together for 12 years, the Deluxe Blues Band broke-up when Adler returned to the United States.

He formed a new version of the Danny Adler Band and recorded six discs of original material during this period. Adler has also recorded an unreleased jazz album and is working on a tribute to the late Bo Diddley called "Boat Diddley."

In recent years, Adler has performed with his band and as a solo act.

Sometimes he makes his way to a show by train, like he did for the Escanaba gig. That's because Adler is also a railroad engineer and makes his living between his twin pursuits. He'll talk just as enthusiastically about music as about driving a new computer-controlled locomotive.

The amiable musician is quick to bond with his audience and just as quick to please them with his vast repertoire of cover tunes and clever originals.

Both attributes were evident during his recent local show.

Adler opened his program with Big Bill Broonzy's "Key to the Highway," a classic blues number. He followed with Count Basie's "Moon Nocturne" before adding "Baby Lemonade," from Syd Barrett, a founding member of Pink Floyd.

Next on the setlist came "Try Me," the first hit by James Brown on Cinncinati's Federal/King label. Adler added his version of "Straighten Up and Fly Right," a 1943 smash for the Andrews Sisters.

The live debut of "Autumn Road," came next, followed by "I'm the Cleaner." Both are Adler originals. The musician added more blues to the mix with "The Sky Is Crying," by Elmore James and "Baby, Please Don't Go," a Big Joe Williams composition from 1935, remade by Van Morrison's Them in 1964.

After he was complimented by an audience member on his Beatles T-shirt, Adler returned the favor by performing "I've Just Seen a Face," "Norwegian Wood," "Rain," and "Please Please Me."

Maintaining an eclectic song selection, Adler played "Opel," another Barrett tune; and tossed in Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies." Three more Adler originals completed the set: "Danny's Grand Central," "When They Shut the Diary Queen," and "Big Women in Memphis."

Following a break, Adler returned with some piano tunes. Showing his prowess on the ivories, he performed "Errol's Squirrel," Thelonious Monk's "Trinkle Tinkle," and "Oden Boogie," Adler's tribute to his father's family. Fats Waller's "Jitterbug Waltz" and a few other obscure (at least to me) numbers completed Adler's stay at the piano.

Adler returned to the guitar for the originals "Even Dirty Old Men Need Lovin'" and "Kickapoo Sand & Gravel and Feed & Grain," a song which evolved after Adler saw a sign in Indiana.

Asked during the break to play tunes by Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley as well as a "train" song, Adler responded with Berry's "Bye, Bye Johnny" and Diddley's "You Can't Judge a Book By The Cover." The railroad request was filled with "Ghost Train," another Adler original, which even included train whistle effects.

Adler ended his set with "Nagasaki," written in 1928 by Harry Warren and Mort Dixon. "Back in Nagasaki where the fellas chew tobaccy and the women wicky-wacky-woo," Adler sang, demonstrating his mastery of the jazz composition.

During his performance I had been keeping a setlist of the songs Adler played and he asked to copy it when the show was over. When he noticed he had performed 31 songs and that the number could be transposed to 13, he insisted on playing a Horace Silver piano song for my wife Sue and me. Then, as we were about to leave the building, Adler brought me back to the showroom to demonstrate a Jimmy Reed song after we discussed our mutual appreciation of the Mississippi bluesman.

Adler, who has hundreds of songs buzzing around in his head, clearly enjoys playing gigs. "I like performing solo, but I'm really a band guy," he said. Either way, the audience wins.

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