I think I'd even heard him, though not on one of his own albums. Suhler's name would come up on occasion as I sat around with friends sipping ale (I sipped, they guzzled). I don't think I ever heard him clearly, though. Too many "wait for it" and "no. not yet" and "okay, okay, okay, now" comments obscuring the actual music, though in their defense, they usually played it loud enough in an attempt to drown out their own voices to allow the music to seep through. So, yeah, I'd heard him, even though I really hadn't. Not really.
Jim Suhler--- Rockin' the house.
But when I heard Panther Burn, Suhler's latest, I realized what I'd missed. I love guitar slingers of all kinds but on the whole have found few who could really break through the white noise and standard riffs. Tinsley Ellis made an impression during his Alligator Records days. Bugs Henderson had a live album which I was most impressed with, one of the few truly independent releases back in those days (the ice age of the eighties). I loved Jimmy Vaughan's playing with the Thunderbirds and, of course, Stevie Ray Vaughan, one of the few major stars I made exception for because he was just so goddamned good, you know? I mean, I hate stars. As soon as they make the grade, they lose it. Stevie never lost it. He neevr had a chance to, damn it!
Which is why I hope Suhler never becomes one. Not that he doesn't deserve it. This new album is packed with good stuff--- blues and gospel-oriented and rock songs to beat the devil. And he brought in a few people to help--- Kim Wilson and Carolyn Wonderland, to name but two. But, damn, he didn't need to. I hear that guitar and I'm sold.
See, Suhler does this thing with grooves. I didn't even think in those terms until I read a review of this self-same album. The writer said Suhler rode these blues grooves and I thought, that's it. The groove! The band lays down a rhythm line and Suhler dances that guitar all around it. And there is no doubt that he can play that guitar. He bends strings and makes it squawk and on occasion strangles it into submission for a short bit of feedback. He runs sprints with the damn thing, too. But it's all in the name of the music and that's okay with me. I love them grooves.
Jim Suhler. My stack of Texas musicians of real musical worth is getting damn high these days. State's sinking in them. I'd live there if it wasn't for the politics. More crazy conservatives there than you could kill with all of them weapons people have been amassing. If it wasn't for musicians like Suhler, I'd be all for giving that State back to Santa Anna. He would probably take it back, too, if we threw in the musicians. I think that would be a deal breaker. In fact, I'm pretty darn sure of it.
Frank O. Gutch Jr.
(Frank Gutch Jr. writes and has written for numerous magazines and websites, presently including this blog, his own website and the prestigious Don't Believe A Word I Say site put together by musician and music pundit Bob Segarini, out of Toronto. He specializes in the Indies, having fought hand-to-hand combat with major record labels for decades (talk about zombies). He believes music should be the core of the music business, though business it mostly be, and denies the accepted reality in the stead of the artistic one. Seldom does he receive pay for articles and/or reviews and believes that there is no place for negatives in a world in which one cannot keep up with the positives. He is, in a sense, a lost soul in a sea of music, drowning, but drowning gratefully.)