BE HERE: A Big Blues Benefit for Guitarslinger Rhett Tyler
By Don Wilcock
There are two things the five acts performing Saturday afternoon (June 4) at TJ’s Flightline Pub in Glenville have in common: 1) They all are seasoned veterans at the top of their game, and 2) they all have a long history with Rhett Tyler, arguably the most creative, versatile and skilled blues/rock guitarist in the Local 518. The internationally recognized bluesman – who opened one of B.B. King’s final performances at the Palace Theatre in Albany – has suffered a stroke along with other medical complications, and his friends are coming out to present a five-and-a-half-hour rousing benefit starting at 2pm to raise money for his mounting medical bills.
Scheduled to perform are:
SLAM ALLEN: Fresh from his Memphis Blues Foundation performance at the Blues Music Awards, blues’ answer to the Grammys. The Hudson Valley native was blues icon James Cotton’s vocalist from 2002-2010 and wrote “Heard You’re Getting Married” and “Change” for Cotton’s Giant CD.
SOUL SKY: The rocking blues group Soul Sky will feature three of the area’s hottest guitarists Mark Emanatian, Jeremy Walz and special guest Joe Mele. Mark Emanatian was lead guitarist in the Ernie Williams band for 11 years and represented the Northeast Blues Society with his band Folding Sky at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Jeremy Walz has for years hosted weekly jams for the Capital Region Blues Network and before that the Northeast Blues Society. Joe Mele’s career goes back more than 40 years and includes stints with both Ernie Williams and Emerald City. He is producer of the annual Dustin Mele Memorial Benefit for Suicide Prevention in Troy.
THE HEAVENLY ECHOES: The region’s premier gospel vocal band the Heavenly Echoes will open their set with a spiritual rave-up of “My Girl,” The Temptations’ first number one hit. The group changes the lyrics to “My God” and mixes inspiring spirituals performed weekly at churches throughout the area along with inspiring secular songs like Bill Withers’ “Lean on Me.” The Echoes will feature veteran vocalist Earl Thorpe, who opened for Janis Joplin at Schenectady’s Aerodrome in 1970 with his group the Fidelities and shared bills in the 1950s at Harlem’s Apollo Theater with the Coasters, Fats Domino and the Flamingos.
JOHN YASCHUR: Tens of millions of people have heard singer/songwriter John Yaschur’s commercial jingles for Chrysler, AAA, and Volunteers of America. He’s done music for a PBS children’s series and he spent five years at Berklee College of Music where he worked with Pat Metheny. He has been Rhett’s friend for 45 years and played at his wedding. He will perform a solo guitar set at Saturday’s benefit.
JV & THE CUTTERS: are an original blues band led by guitartist-bassist-singer-songwriter Joe Abbey. The group recently played the Fruit of The Spirit Christmas benefit at JT’s Flightline, The Sanctuary for Independent Media’s Between Heaven and Earth showcase last year and Saratoga’s First Night and Chowder Fest. Abbey is unique in that he also plays bass for the Heavenly Echoes and writes original songs that are far more than copies of old blues chestnuts.
Rhett Tyler is very special to me. In 20 years he never turned me down when I needed an act for a benefit or a special show. He did turn down Ozzy Osborne who wanted him to replace Randy Rhodes in 1982 because Rhett didn’t think Osborne was “serious enough.” He’s been told that his name came up to replace Brian Jones in the Stones but that Keith Richards didn’t think he was famous enough.
Rhett is beyond iconic. He’s mythical, a ghost who walks with a limp and hides behind a broad-brimmed hat that cannot disguise the perpetual grin of a guitarist who knows he’s got it, but he’s not out to show off. He plays for himself, and he’s his own worst critic. He told me in 2003, “It’s not even about the playing so much. It’s about the spirit of it. I’m always on the edge. I always want to take the music to the edge, where it’s either going to be super great or fall apart. I don’t really care.”