One of the many unique things about checking out the Brad Absher Band live is they always hit the crowd with covers from the likes of John Hiatt, Keith Richards, Leon Russell, Billy Preston, Randy Newman and the legendary band, the Meters.
Absher's musical bedrock is a mellow blues-rock style associated with his hometown of Tulsa, Okla. Nightly in and around northeastern Oklahoma, one can find Absher and his band playing a little folk, some rock and pop, zydeco, and, of course, the blues. He also plays an occasional gig with the fine Tulsa rock band, Kettle of Fish.
Raised in Lake Charles, LA, the son of an oilman who took jobs around the U.S. and internationally in Iran and an American Embassy English/home economics teacher, Absher, 36, has been in Oklahoma since 1981. That is with the exception of three years in Europe when his wife Amy's job at Texaco offered the two of them a chance to live abroad for awhile.
In a recent interview at Absher's south Tulsa home, the conversation was filled with talk about the current state of the blues, both locally and regionally, as well as how things are going with his life, family, band and his numerous side projects. He is proud of recent tracks laid down at Dave Perciful's (KOF guitarist) studio for the recently released KOF CD and plays them and other favorites throughout our conversation.
As we began to settle in, his six-year-old daughter, Madison, walks through the living room on her way to the kitchen for a late afternoon snack. He stops her, makes introductions, and then asks her, who is the greatest guitar player?
Her emphatic response is: "Stevie Ray Vaughan."
The day suddenly began to look a little brighter.
"I just bought her one of those red Fender mini-Squires," Absher said, with a smile. "It feels and plays pretty good for a low-priced miniature guitar. It also sounds pretty good through my BF Super Reverb. Who knows? I might even use it on an upcoming gig."
One gets the feeling that Absher is being totally serious. And anybody who knows him usually takes his comments that way. Besides, this is how he goes about his business as well as living his life.
But he could not do it without the support of his family.
"My wife, Amy, as well as my daughter are both very supportive of my music and whatever direction it is headed," he said. "Knowing that I have their support sure makes things a lot easier for myself and the guys in the band."
When asked what his thoughts were concerning the current states of the blues, Absher responded: "I haven't heard anything exciting within the blues since Stevie Ray back in the early 1990s. Gifted folks like him come around every once in a while. Jonny Lang and Kenny Wayne Shepherd really don't do that much for me. I know the music industry has a lot of hope in them and their careers, but most knowledgeable folks know the music that they're playing is rehash.
"When I hear a song by KWS on the radio, I immediately trace it back to one of Skeeter's (SRV's nickname) songs. And Jonny, I think he and his management realized that he needed to get off the straight blues bag thing even though they were selling lots of records to the under 21-year-old crowd. His new album is more Otis Redding than Otis Spann. One cannot lie to themselves and their chosen profession forever. I commend him, Ian Moore, Ritchie Blackmore, Jeff Beck and the others for going off into another direction with their music. Most musicians never go down that road, which is a shame. This is one of the many reasons why I don't perform any of Stevie's tunes in public. I often think about the guys who are so caught up in the SRV vibe; every town has one. They are the ones who go so far as to put their initials on their guitar straps and pick guards and wear the hat, kimono and play vintage Strats and amps. I wonder sometimes how they can even look at themselves in the mirror every morning.
"I'm like everybody else: I have my favorite things that I like and fall into-my routine of what I like-and I think that's fine if you like your coffee sweet in the morning, read the same paper every day. But when it comes to art, you have to realize you can't do that and still be stimulating, as well as earn any respect from your fans, fellow musicians or even the media. You have to say, 'Gee, I love this, but I've done that a million times. I must do something else, even if I'm not sure if it's any good.' So I do that and that's why it becomes sort of an agenda. I'll play something and say, 'That's beautiful-too bad I already have 10 songs just like that.' I have to force myself to not do the same songs over and over again every night."
Hanging on the wall of Absher's music room is a blown-up picture of himself and fellow Tulsan/guitarist/singer/songwriter, Steve Pryor. "Old Steve… he is one of Tulsa's best guitar players (besides Tommy Tripplehorn and Tommy Crook), as well as a dear friend of mine. I have known Steve for years and have enjoyed jamming with him more than anybody else in Tulsa-and I sincerely mean that. I could tell some stories-man could I tell some stories-but I think I will leave it at that."
Absher's current band is comprised of the fine keyboardist Pat Murray, drummer Ron McRorey (Paul Butterfield, Charlie Musselwhite and Asleep at the Wheel) and one of Tulsa's best bass guitarists Arrealus "Boo" Williams (Ernie K-Doe, Eddie Bo and Flash Terry and the Uptown Blues Band).
A listen to Absher's music reveals hints of the legendary John Hiatt.
"He is the best songwriter in the United States of America," said Absher, with obvious appreciation. "The stuff that he performed with Sonny Landreth and the Goners was just incredible. Everyone should have a copy of "Outward Bound" and "South of I-10" (both on Zoo/Praxis Records). Landreth has kept alive a guitar form thought by some to have died with Duane Allman, the art of slide guitar as a lead instrument. He is one of my favorites. I also admire Clifton Chenier. He is the King of Zydeco, the music of the 'black Cajuns' of rural Louisiana, which mixes traditional Cajun instruments with rhythm and blues."
When asked what the New Orleans' quartet, the Meters, and their bare-boned, quirky brand of funk that leaned heavily on clipped rhythms and syncopated accents, and the languid, off-center groove of songs like "Sophisticated Sissy," which proved to be the forerunner of `70s funk, meant to him musically, Absher responded: "They took instrumental music as far as it has ever been taken. I first heard them on AM radio late at night. They came out of the desire project in New Orleans. Even though there has never been a market for that type of music, I have always enjoyed their stuff. I had the pleasure of chatting with George Porter (Meter's bassist) at Tipitinas one time and I told him that their music meant a lot to me, even more so than Booker T and the MG's."
Besides Pryor, Absher mentioned Ronny Morgan (bassist) and Chuck DeWalt (drummer) as other local musicians whom he admires. "A few years ago, Tom Dittus (owner of Blues Rose and Steamroller Blues and Barbecue in Tulsa) asked me to put together a house band, which he wanted to play every Thursday night at Steamroller," Absher said. "So Morgan, DeWalt, Pat Savage and myself hung out as Blue Orleans for awhile. It was a lot of fun and I still consider that the best band that I have ever played with."
This review is copyright © 2000 by Matt Alcott, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.