If you were lucky enough to be at the Doug Fir Lounge in Portland, Oregon on Wednesday, August 21, then you played witness to a multigenerational showcase of rock and roll greatness. The triple bill stretched back to the 70s with The Blasters, the 80s with Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys, and the 90s with Jesse Dayton. And all of these acts play music that often sounds like it’s from the 40s and the 50s. Besides this fact, the connection shared by all of these acts is a respect for the guitar as a multi-faceted vehicle of rock and roll greatness.
This started with Jesse Dayton, who played both the shortest and the strongest set of the night. With slicked back hair and all black clothing, Dayton was like a cross between Johnny Cash and a punk rocker as he snarled his was through the bouncy “Daddy Was a Badass” before the explosive soulful boogie of “Holy Ghost Rock N Roller”, following them with the thumping and groovy outlaw country number “The Way That We Are”. With Mike Stinson (a legend in his own right) providing a relentless beat on the drums , Dayton careened through the set practically duckwalking across the stage and showing off his skills as a bible of guitar badassery. On the spooky rockabilly number “May Have to Do It (Don’t Have to Like It)”, Dayton showcased his signature machine gunning guitar stance while busting out Hendrix style licks only to drop into chicken scratch picking. Before launching into a protest song written in the wake of Charlottesville called “No Time For Cowards”, Dayton snarkily joked that, “If you’re in the KKK just be quiet and enjoy these Jerry Reed licks” before proceeding to blow the roof off the joint. Dayton would close on a high note with songs off his recently released Mixtape Vol. 1 album, propelling his way through a viciously bluesy take on Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips” and segueing into “Whole Lotta Rosie” before paying tribute to Joe Strummer’s birthday with his country-fried take on The Clash’s “Bankrobber”.
Big Sandy and His Fly-Rite Boys would tone things down with a quieter sound rooted less in hot rods and oatlaws than in romantic nights at the drive-in and necking at the burger joint. “How Did You Love Someone Like Me?” was an early 50s-style rocker in the vein of Buddy Holly while “Fine Fine Super Fine” kicked up a notch like a rockabilly party at the car hop. He would pay tribute to the late great Freddy Fender with the Spanish-inflected “Before the Next Teardrop Falls” before dedicated Fender’s swamp pop masterpiece “Wasted Days and Wasted Nights” to the recently departed rockabilly hero Billy Bacon. The Carl Perkins-esque “Let Her Know” would showcase some zippy guitar playing, and the band would tap into their harmonic power on the chugging rocker “Chalk It Up To The Blues”.
Looking a bit weathered but sounding sharp, The Blasters were in good spirits as they laid into a set of covers and longtime favorites stretching back decades. With Phil Alvin at the helm and Keith Wyatt providing no shortage of spicy licks, the band tore through songs like the dark surf rock of “Long White Cadillac”, the shuffling, swinging blues of Clarence Gatemouth Brown’s “Rock My Blues Away”, the groovy boogie of “Border Radio”, upbeat yet dark “Precious Memories”. Phil Alvin kept a very low presence on guitar throughout the night, but the audience got a taste with his lightly strummed intro to “Dark Night” before Wyatt laid into a blistering blues solo. Alvin didn’t move much but his voice sounded smooth and charged up, and it helped that his band produced a thick and powerful rock and roll sound with all of the members pulling some serious weight.
Between all of the acts, the clear takeaway from the show was that sometimes it’s best to leave it to the older guys to rock the fuck out. There are definitely some younger acts nailing that old time rockabilly sound these days – Pokey LaFarge and JD McPherson come to mind – but few have taken on the commitment of championing the guitar in a virtuosic rock way.
All photos by Greg Homolka.