Music preview: CAPA teacher Jimmy Adler takes a ride down 'Grease Alley'
November 25, 2015 12:00 AM
Blues musician Jimmy Adler.
By Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
On the opening track of his new album, “Grease Alley,” Jimmy Adler lets it be known that he wants to “tell it like T-Bone, say it like Magic Sam.”
That would be Texas legend T-Bone Walker and Chicago’s Magic Sam, and to help him accomplish that tall order, the Pittsburgh bluesman turned to a certain California Kid.
Adler went west to the Greaseland Studio of San Jose, Calif.-based Kid Andersen, the Norwegian guitarist/producer known for his work with the Nightcats, Charlie Musselwhite and Elvin Bishop.
Jimmy Adler Band
Where: Moondog's, Blawnox.
When: 8:30 p.m. Friday.
Admission: $10 advance; $12 at the door; moondogs.us; 412-828-2040.
“I've always liked the West Coast sound and felt that Kid Andersen could capture what I was looking for,” Adler says. “He ran the session like I had always read about in the Chess days of Chicago: Live performance with natural interaction between the players that captured the energy and dynamics of each song.”
“Grease Alley” has just the right combination of grease and polish on 13 blues and jump-swing originals that showcase Adler’s hearty vocals and stinging guitar work.
“I tried to capture as many flavors as possible,” he says. “Swampy to swing with a Southern soul number in ‘What I've Done’ that is certainly a new sound for me.”
His backing band is top-notch, with pianist Jim Pugh (Robert Cray Band), drummer June Core (Charlie Musselwhite), bassist Andersen, saxophonist Eric Spaulding and, taking the mic for two songs, Chris Cain, who sounds scarily like B.B. King on “No Pain.”
“I specifically wrote that song in the flavor of B.B. and wanted to get Chris on the record,” Adler says. “He has an album called ‘Cain Does King,’ and he’s the best living performer of that style. It was a tremendous experience picking him up in the car and performing with him in the studio: a real cherry-on-top moment for me.”
Adler, whose real name is Addlespurger, grew up in Carrick and his gateway drug to the blues was a copy of the Rolling Stones’ “Sticky Fingers” he got when he was 15.
“Soon after,” he says. “I discovered B.B King ‘Live at Cook County Jail,’ and the guitar tone on ‘How Blue Can You Get’ touched me to the core. I've been chasing that sound forever. After B.B., it was the usual suspects: Freddie King, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed.”
After starting out with basement bands, he teamed up with Larry Nath to play in The Mohicans in the late ‘80s/early ‘90s. From there, he played with Eugene and the Nightcrawlers, Will E. Tri and the Bluescasters, Jill West, Billy Price and Gary Belloma and the Blue Bombers before forming the Jimmy Adler Band in 2002.
His credits his wife Barb for expanding his horizons by turning him on to even more blues greats, including the West Coast guys.
“She had known a lot of these great players who used to come to the Decade,” he says. “She introduced me to many of them at Moondog’s and other venues over the years. I started to go back to the source of that sound, which is T-Bone Walker and the Myers brothers [Louis and Dave] with Robert Jr. Lockwood who created a swinging sound with Little Walter in the Chess days.
“If I sound like I'm from somewhere down South, I am sure it is a result of having studied these records all my life. I picked up on the phrasing and other idiosyncrasies by listening and looking up to these mostly Mississippi-born heroes of mine.”
While he’s Addlespurger on his license and Adler in the clubs, the blues guitarist is “Mr. A” during the day when he’s teaching English at Pittsburgh CAPA 6-12. Although it’s not exactly the blues-loving demographic, he’s been known to pull out the guitar in class to illustrate tone and the power of words, and, at times, to “sooth the atmosphere of having many students inside one room.”
He’s also assembled student bands to perform at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival at Hartwood Acres.
“I tell my students to find a balance between their art and their academics,” he says. “I tell them to never give up on their art because it will be good to them.”
Three years ago, Adler received an unwanted flurry of media attention worldwide, not for the music or the teaching but for being the victim of a surprise assault by a 15-year-old in an alley near CAPA. The incident, caught on video, was used as evidence of an alarming trend among teenagers engaging in a so-called Knock Out Game. He appeared on everything from the “Today” show and “Nightline” to French and Russian TV.
“Believe me when I tell you that evil voices came from out of the woodwork that were posted all over social media about my event,” he says. “I chose to take what I thought was the higher ground. I thought about my purpose, my legacy and what I'm leaving behind. I thought about my responsibility as a citizen, as a public figure, as a teacher and as a father. I wanted to put a positive onto the negative. It allowed me to have a platform to speak about the human condition.”
His message, he says: “We should not be defined by one simple act of stupidity. We should have something in our life that brings us passion. This is why I not only perform, but I promote the love of arts in my students. Art is passion. Art brings purpose, purpose allows us to lead the good life.”
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576. Twitter: @scottmervis_pg.
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