Under The Bridge is a bit different from your average dive gig venue. Yes, it’s a dark underground cavern and yes it’s up front and personal with the bands on stage but it’s also underneath the Chelsea FC football stadium so has that Roman Abramovich whiff of plentiful cash about it. If I had Mr. Abramovitch’s spare Roubles, I would build a music venue exactly like this. It’s clean and modern (the toilets worked for a change which is always a nice touch) and has all the authenticity you would want to make it feel like it has pedigree, yet no expense has been spared with the layout, the sound and the beautiful framed pictures of legendry musicians lining the walls. With a capacity of 250 for gigs it is intimate but still has the atmosphere of larger venues.
Opening tonight’s proceedings are a group of musicians who are too good to be opening for anyone. Regular headliners themselves are Sari Schorr and her collection of artists known as The Engine Room. New Yorker Schorr came to prominence when she was spotted at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis by producer Mike Vernon who offered to produce an album with her. The debut album 'A Force of Nature' was released in 2016 featuring guitarist Innes Sibun and guest spots from Oli Brown and Walter Trout. Alongside the electric wizardry of Sibun on guitar – a wonderful vintage Gibson ES335 played though an even more wonderful 20W Friedman amp – are keyboardist Anders Olinder on Funky organ, bassist Kevin Jeffries and Kevin O'Rourke on drums.
Schorr is a great vocalist with a strong piercing sound, she dances around the front of stage with the smiles of a woman at one with her music and her voice. It’s sometimes quiet and beautiful, sometimes powerful and strong, but always enthralling. You can imagine her conquering any music genre that she might choose – Rock, Blues, Opera, Soul. In short, a classic. The short set showcased the range of her talents and included a number of her own excellent tracks. It also included the cover of Led Zeppelin’s 'Rock and Roll', with Sibun giving the iconic Mr. Page a run for his money, and the closing track 'Black Betty', Schorr’s interpretation of Ram Jam’s ebullient, rapid fire, air guitar staple. But Schorr’s version starts slow, stays slow and ends slow, with her voice powerful enough to fill the room, even whilst not using the mike. The quintet leave the stage to a rapturous applause, although they would be back shortly.
Sari Schorr setlist
Ain’t Got No Money
Where Did You Sleep Last Night
Rock ‘N’ Roll
Damn The Reason
If you are going to sing and play the Blues, you need to have been around a bit, you need to have lived. Walter Trout has been about a bit and he’s lived. And he has died a couple of times too. Four years on from his traumatic liver failure and replacement, the once prolific six string demon had to learn to walk and talk again, let alone find his way around a fretboard. But years of relearning the instrument again from scratch has returned Mr. Trout to the shoal of top guitarists in the world. His cathartic 2015 album 'Battle Scars' saw Walter put his traumas into words and music with such skill as belied his tortuous ascent from the depths of disability and despair and the man taking the stage today shows only remnants of his life altering experience.
Walter Trout has a CV that reads like a who’s who of the last 50 odd years of Rock and guitar music. Trout's career began on the Jersey coast scene of the late 1960's and early 1970's. before he relocated to Los Angeles where he became a sideman for Percy Mayfield and Deacon Jones. He also worked in the bands of John Lee Hooker and Joe Tex. He became the guitarist for Canned Heat and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers where he shared the stage with fellow guitarist Coco Montoya. He went on to form the Walter Trout Band where he has made an international career and loyal fanbase stretching back to the 1980’s. In 2002, he was featured on the Bo Diddley tribute album, 'Hey Bo Diddley – A Tribute!' performing the song 'Road Runner' and many more guest appearances on other recordings. His latest album, 'We’re All In This Together' sees Walter look to put his recent past behind him and focus on a positive future by way of collaboration with some more musical glitterati including the likes of Joe Bonamassa, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, John Mayall and Randy Bachman. And tonight’s show mixes old and new as Walter invites guests on stage to play with him some of those new collaborative tracks along with some faithful classics.
Although looking older (don’t we all…) he has regained some of the lost weight and has that twinkle in his eye that perfectly complements his mischievous sense of humour and sheer love for life. I guess you get that after a near death experience. I have been lucky enough to meet Mr. T. a number of times in the past and always found him to be a hugely positive guy. He gave me some great advice years ago as a novice six string wannabe, as well as one of his signature guitar picks which I treasure to this day, and I particularly remember how he did so with genuine interest. He cares about his fans. And they went some way to repaying him by helping with the funding of his liver replacement. Now that is real world love right there. A wondrous thing in this troubled world of ours these days.
With his trusty vintage white Strat, played through a Mesa head, Walter launches into what will be the format for the show. Down and dirty Blues, with each song containing an exquisite display of guitar artistry, extended to a 10 minute jam. No 3 minute Pop fix here thank you very much. With Slammin' Sam, Sammy Avila accompanying him on the Hammond Sk1 organ the tempo was upped from the start resulting in Walter breaking a string. Handed a replacement sunburst Strat guitar by his tech, Walter comments "I don’t remember owning this guitar?" – he is very much a one guitar/one woman man. It doesn’t stop him launching into the slow Funky Blues that is 'Saw My Mama Crying' with any less delight. His voice is as strong as ever and he delights in chatting with the audience. "I’m happy to be in London. I’m happy to be anywhere these days" he quips. And follows it up with some nasty Blues in the key of A minor with 'Cold Cold Feeling' on his repaired white Strat. This one has him calling to his bandmates "Let’s play some Blues" before launching into another 10 minute wonder that can only be described as Blues shredding. Which results in another broken string – he’s tough on that nickel.
With back up Strat again in play we get to hear the new track 'Got Nothing Left' where he is joined by Innes Sibun for some duel guitar goodness. The addition of a rhythm guitarist adds another layer to the sound, and this track had a beat that reminds me of the riff to ZZ Top’s 'Sharp Dressed Man'. Followed by the title track 'We’re All In This Together', a lovely heavy dirty Blues track, the new album is a must buy. Sibun carries off the roles of Bachman and Bonamassa respectively with fine style whilst having a ball jamming with the man. Great dual play between them with Walter fast picking, heavy bends, although no use of a whammy, it was a Monster jam. Walter again turned to Sammy for assistance playing the slower Blues of 'The Other Side Of The Pillow' with Mr. Avila providing a keyboard solo in place of the Charlie Musselwhite mouth organ parts from the record. "I always write about my life" calls Walter, "But not on this track" which laments the problems with women. Impressive to be able to fit that subject into a ten minute song…
With Sibun leaving the stage to great applause, the quartet launch into the bass heavy 'Broken Heart' before they are joined by their next guest, Steven Dale Petit, who takes the role of Kenny Wayne Shepherd on 'Gonna Hurt Like Hell'. The Les Paul wielding journeyman is another who is no stranger to collaborations with the great and the good and is happy to duel with Walter, but sadly only for a single song. He is replaced by the Force Of Nature that is Sari Schorr to sing a track from her first album 'Work No More'. Walter performed on the original track. It is proper squealing Blues guitar and powerful female vocals. Lovely stuff.
Next guest? Well he’s part of the crew. Andrew Elt is drafted to play the only acoustic part in the set as Walter takes the time to talk briefly about his illness and how his wife helped him through a terrifying ordeal. It is to her that he dedicated and wrote the track 'Please Take Me Home', the only track taken from the 'Battle Scars' album. A soulful lament, Walter is visibly moved by the end as are the audience. But tonight is about moving on, so the now composed Walter launches into a Hendrix style shredding Blues jam to introduce his band members as they individually solo into what became his classic rendition of 'Going Down'. First to take centre stage, and on his inaugural European tour, is Danny Avila on bass. Son of Sammy, he is a whirl on the four string with some fast fretting and lead lick playing. Reminded me a bit of Rob Trujillo. He’s a master in the making. Dad was rightly proud. Then drummer Michael Leasure took his turn with a drum solo that was both intricate and entertaining – a rarity in drum solo’s these days. Each took a turn with the vocals with Elt returning to provide a short burst of his own vocal talents which can only be described as awesome. Sign him up as a front man somebody. The song and set ended with a heartfelt appeal to the crowd on the need for organ doning – he wouldn’t be here today without it, before a final fingerboard flourish. He returned briefly for an encore of 'Prisoner Of A Dream' and his day was done.
As the crowds drifted away happy, I managed to get a quick word with the man himself and to chat to the band. The years of playing together, and the wealth of people they know and have played with, just oozes out of them in an assured but very humble manner. Nothing much will surprise these hardened veterans, as new boy Danny is discovering. As the man himself disappears into the night, he palms me a pick from his back pocket with a smile. Just like old times.
We’re All In This Together track listing:
“Gonna Hurt Like Hell” featuring Kenny Wayne Shepherd
“Ain’t Gpin’ Back” featuring Sonny Landreth
“The Other Side of The Pillow” featuring Charlie Musselwhite
“She Listens To The Blackbird Song” featuring Mike Zito
“Mr. Davis” featuring Robben Ford
“The Sky Is Crying” featuring Warren Haynes
“Somebody Goin’ Down” featuring Eric Gales
“She Steals My Heart Away” featuring Edgar Winter
“Crash And Burn” featuring Joe Louis Walker
“Too Much To Carry” featuring John Nemeth