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December 2, 1999, Volume 20, Issue 49, p. ?
Night and Day - by Sonia Khatchadourian
Bluesman Billy Flynn goes instrumental
Green Bay native Billy Flynn is an internationally renowned blues guitarist with a long recording history. He's led his own bands: the Blues Express, the Flynn Tones and the Smoke Daddy Band. He's been a member of the Legendary Blues Band and Mississippi Heat. And he's appeared as a guest with many other blues bands.
But the blues doesn't reflect all of his interests and abilities. With his band the Flynn Tones, Flynn recently released Big Guitar, an eclectic collection of guitar instrumentals that encompasses a variety of musical genres from surf numbers like "Diamond Head" to the tango "Night in Gilly." Flynn acknowledges that his "specialty in blues" seeped into Big Guitar.
"If you listen to just about every track on there, except maybe a few of the straight covers, there's a little bit of blues in it," he says.
Flynn says the appeal of those instrumentals is that they don't impose stylistic boundaries. "Guitar instrumental music-that's the wide-spectrum term for surf, hot rod, everything from C het Atkins to the Ventures," he says. "One of the things that I like is that it's really world music. There are elements of blues, rhythm and blues, Mexican, Spanish, Greek, Italian-every sort of music." Big Guitar contains such an array of elements.
Although lyrics are, obviously, absent from the compositions, clever song titles like "Wreck Tangle" and "Surfin' the Web" contribute to evoking themes and follow a tradition long part of guitar instrumentals. "Guitar instrumentals are actually like little plays. You set something up and then you listen to it. Like "Sleepwalk." When you hear that, you can just picture someone sleepwalking."
"Some songs are fun," Flynn says. "But there are a lot of songs on the CD that I really put a lot of feeling into, that I can really express myself through. That, to me, is really important."
Big Guitar reflects interests that Flynn developed as a young child and has pursued until the present. "When I was very young, I listened to the Ventures. When they first came out with "Walk, Don't Run," I was 4 or 5 years old, and I still remember hearing it on the radio. During that time, when you turned on the radio, instrumentals were common. You might hear Al Hirt in between the Beatles and Barbra Streisand, and all of that influenced me."
Long Time Coming
Flynn and his bandmates, longtime Green Bay friends Steve Dougherty and bassist Dave School, worked on Big Guitar for six years, recording at least 60 songs, many of them original compositions. "There are truckloads of things going through my mind. New licks that I want to learn. New songs that I want to learn. The songs kind of pick me and they take over."
Some of the songs on Big Guitar are tributes to the music Flynn grew up with, especially the title track and "Ram Rod 99." Even when doing covers, Flynn transforms them and makes them his own. "Even though I'm known to be able to play in a lot of styles, I don't do note for note copying," he says.
Flynn's creative independence extends into the recording studio. He produced the album for his own label, Easy Baby Music. "I do things that way because everything that you hear is an expression of me. I'm not compromising with anyone else in the studio. I've got people working for me that I chose. We're all comfortable together."
But Flynn is still a team player, and his ability to provide other musicians with the sounds they want in the studio and on stage is one of the reasons he's one of the most sought-after contemporary guitarists in the blues field. Since his 1998 release of Blues Today, Flynn performed on Willie Kent's Make Room for the Blues, Snooky Pryor's Shake My Hand, James Wheeler's Ready, Little Arthur Duncan's Singing with the Sun and Barrelhouse Chuck's Salute to Sunnyland Slim.
Into the Future
Upcoming recordings for 2000 include a live CD recorded in Fort Wayne, Ind., with Bill Lupkin, Live at the Hot Spot (with former Mississippi Heat bandmate James Wheeler) and a live recording in Phoenix with Kim Wilson from the Fabulous Thunderbirds. In addition, Flynn will release a blues recording with the Smoke Daddy Band. "It's going to be blues, but then again, I did notice that a little bit of my instrumental stuff does pop up on it here and there, so a few songs have an accent on surf." A follow-up to Big Guitar, with all new songs, is also in progress.
Despite his prolific output of studio material, Flynn maintains an active touring schedule, regularly performing in Milwaukee, Chicago and other parts of the U.S. and overseas. He credits his wife Mary, a Green Bay blues disc jockey, for her continual support of his musical endeavors.
Although Flynn plays mostly blues on stage, his remarkable versatility is demonstrated live. "I have a lot of good friends in the blues world and I have been given a great opportunity to put together some good musicians. Who I have in the band determines what I am going to do."
Billy Flynn performs with Chicago guitarist Eddie Taylor Jr. and pianist Barrelhouse Chuck Saturday, Dec. 4, 1999 at Up & Under Pub.
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