Does one take seriously a guy in his 60s who claims, "Gonna do it to you baby 'til ya yell for more"? You do when he's standing on his head and wrenching masterful machine-gun solos from his Strat.
Maybe the only person ever to have appeared on The Gong Show who also has won a prestigious music award, Guitar Shorty has been doing onstage headstands, backflips and somersaults since the start of his career in Tampa in the late '50s. He's the surviving follower of Guitar Slim's stage antics -- and too many acts to mention, through rock history, could be preceded by the public-television-style announcement, "Made possible by Guitar Shorty." This goes not only for the late Jimi Hendrix, who was Shorty's brother-in-law, but also for Ted Nugent and many other guitarists with a penchant for spectacle.
Call it gimmickry if you like, but unlike the Nuge, Mr. Shorty (a.k.a. David Kearney) has never relied on it. Think of his antics as just another symptom of the same boogie-woogie flu that drives his vibrant, searing blues. In 1992, he won the prestigious W.C. Handy Award for a recording career that started under the wing of Willie Dixon. His latest album, I Go Wild, finds him ripping into staccato, Albert King-style licks on "If You Can Lie No Better" one minute, while the next he's grooving out on the rangy rock 'n' roll of "Maybe She'll Miss Me," which sounds like Steve Miller without the smirk. His gruff, suave vocal delivery is a study in laid-back power. Can he do Willie Nelson's patented retirement-age mid-coital back-flip? We may never know, but Guitar Shorty is certainly as limber musically as he is physically.
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