|Photo by David Ochs
Monday, January 23, 2023
Wednesday, January 11, 2023
In 1965 Eric Clapton opted to leave a plum gig as lead guitarist for the hit-making Yardbirds to join John Mayall’s Blues Breakers. The musician was tired of the pop-rock slant of the Yardbirds and also tired of the relentless touring that the position required. A gig with Mayall would allow him a chance to establish himself. So began a legend, but not the legend you might assume. After offering the band’s the guitar spot to Jimmy Page, who turned it down, Clapton recommended Jeff Beck to become the Yardbirds’ lead musician. The legend I mean is the rapid ascendancy of Beck. After gaining success with the band and becoming a bit of a minor celebrity among British guitar obsessives, Beck left the Yardbirds after a brief stint, in 1966. Recruiting unknown vocalist Rod Stewart, drummer Micky Waller, and Ronnie Wood on bass, he formed the Jeff Beck Group and released his debut album Truth in 1968.
Scintillating as well is the instrumental rendition on the Robert Johnson -Elmore James work horse ‘Dust My Broom.” Hewing to the traditional arrangement, Riker’s slide guitar states the swooping introductory riff with a smooth, glistening tone and touch as he coaxes, cajoles, and caresses a gallantly melodic improvisation that simulates a singer’s expression of wonder and woe. Riker’s configurations swoop and loop over, and around the foundation. His taste in short fills, quick riffs, roiling accents in the high registers are applied with a painter’s sense of how to fill space. The classic Peggy Lee hit “Fever” (written by Eddie Cooley and John Davenport) receives a sultry interpretation by Jane Hammer, who does well with the low-key arrangement, as her whisper -like phrasing works sexily with Riker’s subdued chord work. This is the sound of seduction.; the guitar solo, spare, framed by exquisitely cresting blues bends and shadings, is the textbook example of creating musical tension and then releasing. Rocking harder is the take on Don Nix’s “Going Down,” a blues rock standard that’s had pulverizing iterations by Freddie King, and Jeff Beck, among others.
Wayne Riker takes up the tune and refuses to take a back seat. His guitar work soars, stings, and wails down the descending progression, mischievously teasing the edges of Deanna Haala’s in-your-face lead vocal. Especially bracing, in a pleasant way, is the revival of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor,” pushed hard by Michele Lundeen’s rust-coated vocal. The band digs in hard on the changes, with bandleader Wayne unleashing a glorious and bittersweet solo, every note hitting the target dead square. I recommend paying special attention to the two other guitar displays on this fine blues outing, Bill Doggett’s “Honkey Tonk” and ‘Hank Williams’ “Move it Over.” Wayne Riker performs with the feeling and a virtuoso’s ease of play. He is simply wonderful at finding the spirit, emotion, the vibe, and verve of a song and then bringing it out with his guitar in wonderful, atypical ways.