Danny Kalb Great Guitarist Performs At The Talkhouse in Amagansett, April 10, 2009
Danny Kalb used to be the lead guitarist with the Blues Project back in the 1960’s, with fellow prominent band member Al Kooper.
Most of you today will know the band Blood Sweat & Tears, which Mr. Kooper formed after the Blues Project broke up. Mr. Kalb was not part of that band.
However, right now Danny Kalb reportedly registers Number One
in New York for ‘Roots Blues’ radio listens, and is seventh nationally in that department. He said last night (April 10, 2009) that he was supposed to be retired, but here he is. That was at the legendary Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, where Graham Parker, Dave Alvin, Leon Russell, the Creamsicles, Martin Sexton, Loudon Wainwright III and many others will be appearing this summer.
I knew it would be a rush seeing Mr. Kalb after not seeing him since the 1960’s when he was gruff and hard playing, cutting a strong edge with his ax.
He used to comb his hair sideways and forward, over his prematurely balded head, and was a bigger man. So, some novice announcer introduced him, yes, with a bit of an English accent, as what sounded like ‘Danny Kolb.’ The small intimate crowd cheered. And Danny K self-effacedly corrected the pronunciation of his monikker.
WOW! Getting older is something when time wears the person you know from decades before into almost another person. Danny K was old, totally bald, and clean shaven [he needs a sharp-edged goatee, I immediately reflected]. He had an acoustic steel stringed guitar connected to an electric pick-up, and two very competent accompanying musicians. The bass player had to be one of the most unique bassists I’ve ever seen, probably the most unique, actually. He had a Transylvanian look, with very thick dark black hair that came to a point at the front of his forehead. Quite crisply dressed, his stature was bent by being hunchbacked, as he wrapped his body perfectly about his stand-up bass, miked at the top of the strings. His hands were strong and large, wrapping around the thick strings. His fingers were remarkably long. He also sang, and sometimes snuck in a bowed
ending for a few of the tunes that the trio performed. Mark Ambrosino drummed, amazingly in tune with Mr. Jones and Mr. Kalb’s rhythms, never overstating the beat or volume of his skins, cymbals, and other rhythmic intstruments.
Mr. Kalb never had a great voice, and now it is a bit weaker, especially when you watch him and hear the vocals. However, hearing and watching him pick those strings and rip out guitar riffs that are totally different from anything you’ve ever experienced before in just about every song presented, is what entrances the fortunate person in the audience that could
have been YOU! He started with a tune I’m calling ‘I’m Cold’ – – about being cold and hard. Then he moved to ‘Like A Ball Game On A Rainy Day.’ Then came a version of ‘Mean Old World’ penned by Little Walter (Jacobs), who Mr. Kalb referred to as the greatest harmonica player ever (adding the name of another harpist in reflection, whose name I am forgetting now). Danny K’s version of the tune and lyrics are all mixed around, the basic composition being considered a classic of the blues today and forever. You can hear this one on his new 2008 CD ‘I’m Gonna Live The Life I Sing About’ with just about the same feeling he had last night. He mentioned Dave Van Ronk as one of his mentors several times, Van Ronk one of the seminal folk-blues performers of the 1960’s. ‘Can’t Judge A Book By Looking At The Cover,’ written by big bluesman bassman Willie Dixon, was the first song with a Van Ronk kudo that Kalb performed last night. There later came Kalb’s version of the classic ‘Statesboro Blues’ about a lover being turned from his now-former woman’s door. The guitar in this latter tune drove and tingled me, as the tempo jumped up toward the climax of the evening’s performance.
Mr. Kalb talked about the genius of Tim Hardin, who also jammed with him back in Greenwich Village when music was being transformed from basic blues performed and created by black Americans to rock and roll and rhythm and blues performed by just about anybody. ‘Danville Dame’ is a beautiful song, plucked very tragically by Mr. Kalb in tribute to Mr. Hardin, who passed at the young age of 39 (heroin). ‘Lady Came From Baltimore,’ ‘Misty Roses,’ ‘Reason To Believe,’ are some other lovely songs Mr. Hardin composed after he came back from serving in Vietnam. You can hear a terrific recorded version of this song on a Blues Project blue self-titled 1972 vinyl album, with the accomplished but quite egotistical Tommy Flanders doing the vocal. “Who’s gonna be the man/to put a ring on your hand??”
‘I’ll Fly Away’ is an old man’s song about “going to that land on God’s other shore……” for those that “have another plan” as Mr. Kalb hinted he did.
‘Death Letter Blues’ Mr. Kalb also stated he learned from Dave Van Ronk. A very stark strong song contemplating the end of this life…
‘Good Morning, Blues’ started off with Bob Jones’ bass strolling across the talkhouse sound system, then Danny K singing ‘Good morning, blues, how do you do?’ his guitar romping and jazzing thru this one…
Lightning Hopkins’ ‘Mojo Hand’ never sounded so good, especially with Mr. Kalb’s terrific riffing, the tune ending in high gear with a verse from Muddy Water’s ‘I Got My Mojo Working.’ Gotta keep that mojo afunctioning to stay ahead of the goobs and gabs in this unpredictable world…
The purtiest two songs Mr. Kalb saved for the end of the night: an acoustic version of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow,’ from the movie ‘The Wizard of Oz,’ and ‘Shake Sugaree’ which has some Jerry Garcia (of the Grateful Dead) in it’s hypnotically lovely guitar (the latter tune also is on Kalb’s 2008 CD).
‘If I Had My Way’ many of us know as a sort of anthem/gospel tune, but Mr. Kalb reshaped it with his detailed story of Samson & Delilah filling up his selection of the lyrics (originally composed by Rev. Gary Davis). Samson putting his head into the mouth of the lion, eventually riding it until it was dead, and the bees subsequently made “honey from that lion’s head.” Then Delilah, “fine and fair,” sitting on Samson’s knee, asking him where his strength lies “if you please,” Samson coughing up that if she shaved his head, his strength would be that of “a natural man.” But after his eyes were poked out by captors, he heard the “great voice” that told him to have his way and he tore “that building down,” the one to which the captors brought him.
Mr. Kalb did one of his few original compositions as his encore, with more lovely guitar interludes, and lines like “though change did remain” and being distracted from a woman’s attractive body before him “by the stillness of the clouds in the sky.” He also performed his “signature song” ‘Alberta’ as tune number five for the evening.
Overall a lovely surprising evening in the presence of one of the great surviving guitarists of the twentieth century. Go out and get his CD to get the flavor, and hear what a splendid artist with many influences has crafted through his notes and works strumming and picking thru his day to day guitaring to a pinnacle that only a few will eventually reach.