By Liz Tracy
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You want to know something... odd about blues guitar ace Jimmy Thackery? One of his favorite bands is the Move, that mid/late-1960s psych-pop Brit outfit featuring Jeff Lynne (ELO, Traveling Wilburys) and Roy Wood.
If that's not odd enough, Thackery's latest platter, Solid Ice (Telarc), is half-instrumental. He's certainly going against the grain by spending only half of his time singing, unlike most blues artists. But that's the whole point.
As the man himself says, without any self-promoting bravado: "I've always had this 'maverick' frame of mind. I've always wanted to do an album of instrumentals, but I always got resistance from record companies, even the indies."
As if to get the expected out of the way, Solid Ice kicks off with modern electric blues; then Thackery raises the ante considerably. "Daze in May" is a bittersweet, beautifully shimmering, twang-laden instrumental that wouldn't be out of place on a Calexico album or a 1960s Clint Eastwood/spaghetti Western soundtrack. The man isn't actively pursuing "crossover" success — Thackery simply doesn't feel the need to be limited even by a tradition he loves. "I don't have much interest in re-writing classic songs by Muddy Waters or Elmore James," Thackery says, referring to blues players covering the same ground over and over again.
And make no mistake, he knows the blues backward and forward. As a boy, hearing Slim Harpo's "Baby Scratch My Back" on the radio, JT knew what he wanted to do with his life. "I thought, 'What is that noise, and how do I make it?' " Born in Pittsburgh and raised in Washington, D.C., Thackery grew up with a slightly different perspective of the blues. In 1974, he formed the Nighthawks with harmonica whiz Mark Wenner — they were a "blue wave" band dedicated to performing stripped-down, rock-tinged, electric, Chicago-style blues in the grand tradition of Waters, Buddy Guy, and Little Walter Jacobs. Wearying of their 300-nights-a-year touring agenda, Thackery opted for the Sinatra principle — do it his way.
He finally found a copasetic label in Telarc. "When I record, they let me alone," Thackery says. Judging from Solid Ice, which was produced by JT himself, it's an ideal alliance. Giving him room to move, Thackery even chases Jimi Hendrix's ghost via a cover of "Who Knows" while dispensing with over-the-top frenzy in the manner of too many Hendrix-"inspired" guitarists. Thackery caresses his six strings as someone who's absorbed Hendrix's approach to regal, smoldering blues-playing. "I want to make nice melodies, ones people can sing to themselves in the shower." Let other musicians worry about maintaining the tradition — Jimmy Thackery, baptized in blues, doesn't need the tradition to maintain him.