Thursday, September 10, 1992

Robert Cray at Massey Hall

Massey Hall. Just when you thought nothing new could be done with an electric guitar, along comes Sonny Landreth, a young guitar wizard from Louisiana whose style involves weird tunings, hammering on both sides of his slide and a barrage of effects that provide a sound that is bordering on feedback but always perfectly in control. He opened for Robert Cray at Massey Hall on October 14th providing a stark contrast with Cray’s studied sweet sound. A couple of days later, Tom Principato was in town playing the highest notes you’ll ever hear at the Horseshoe. He follows in the footsteps of fellow D.C.-area guitar players Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton as heir-apparent to the title ‘world’s greatest unknown guitarist’, partly because of his association with Gatton (they recorded an album called “Blazing Telecasters” together). The real surprise for those lucky enough to catch Daisy DeBolt at the Free Times CafĂ©, was her guitarist Fred Guignon, a lanky Lyle Lovett lookalike with a sense of dynamics that matches her soaring vocals. He is a mainstay of the Ottawa Music scene and one of the most inventive guitarists to come out of that part of the country. It was a great week for guitar groupies, four days in a row of fine blues guitar. Sonny Landreth has carved his place in guitar history by finding yet another entirely new way to play the electric guitar.

I last saw Cray at Ontario Place on a night when he was breaking strings, out of tune and not having a good time. Well this time he still seemed to be a little out of sorts, although he wasn’t having a technical problems. He seemed to resent people shouting requests and when one fan rushed up between songs and laid out a T-Shirt on the stage in front of him, he just scooped it out of the way without acknowledgement. Cray must worry that his songs are starting to sound the same (the lyrics all seem to be telling a variation on the same story) because he is going out of his way to create chords and voicing which sound very different and occasionally right over the edge. His guitar sound was not processed much except for a cluster of vintage Fender black-face amps. The most inventive of the lot was probably Ottawa guitarist Fred Guigon. He used his basic set-up (compressor-to-distortion-to-delays-to-chorus-wah-volume pedal) to create dynamics that accented Daisy’s soaring vocals. On Sunday, Tom Principato was appearing for a free show at the Horseshoe on World Series Sunday Night. His playing isn’t at all like Gatton, using lots of sustain and he seems quite comfortable when the sound is bordering on feedback. Despite a small crowd, he played some screaming guitar and had a sound and a style of his own.