A Torch for the blues

Gary Primich

Gary Primich

America has only a few art forms that are truly indigenous, and the blues is certainly one of them. The roots of the blues extend to Africa, but the genre’s development is truly American—a voice of oppression, emotional turmoil and a cry for release. That’s what one can hear on the earliest blues recordings: late-1920s musicians singing about the torture, or occasionally the joy, of their lives.

Of course, a lot of time has passed between the 1920s and the present. As with another great American musical form, jazz, it sometimes feels as though the blues hasn’t moved very far beyond its roots. Much to my general disappointment, we don’t hear much innovation in the current blues scene, but occasionally, we do find a superb instrumentalist or two, or a band that truly connects with its intended audience. Gary Primich’s show last weekend at the Torch Club accomplished all of this.

Primich is a virtuoso instrumentalist in his own right, and his Sacramento show displayed why he has garnered admirers like legendary harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite. Indeed, Primich’s harp sound is distinctive, particularly in that he employs a reed bend that seems impossible at times, with notes wavering up and down the scale almost like he were playing a slide guitar.

Primich, a native of Austin, Texas, was backed up by an able group of musicians, including Corey Keller on drums and Dave Wesselowski on bass. The surprise of the evening, though, was Primich’s guitar player. The band’s regular guitar player had suffered an accident while on tour and had to return to Austin, which meant that the band needed a fill-in, and who better to fill in than local legend Rusty Zinn?

Zinn, a longtime player in the local scene and an associate of Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, managed to fit in ably with Primich’s group. Zinn’s tone was clean and crisp, a welcome diversion from the increasingly irritating Stevie Ray Vaughan- influenced distortion that sometimes plagues blues guitar tones. Furthermore, Zinn’s knowledge of jazz-based chord voicings helped the music achieve a sense of sophistication that it might not have otherwise.

But the most impressive element of the evening was the dance floor, which was packed—and smiles abounded. Like any good house band or musician, Primich played to his audience’s expectations, and his audience wanted to dance. Serviceable mid-tempo blues was what the band delivered, and, by all accounts, it delivered that well.

It also should be noted that there are few venues in town like the Torch Club, particularly now that the Stoney Inn has de-emphasized its live-music listings. Because the club is singularly devoted to the blues, blues fans can be assured they’ll find something to their liking there each night of the week. The club’s calendar can be viewed at www.torchclub.net, and blues fans always can access the Sacramento Blues Society’s Web site at www.sacblues.com for more information on the week’s shows.