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Auburn resident Leigh Stephens has returned to the studio and emerged with a new recording that moves the music further forward – and further away from the Blue Cheer mystique – while tapping into some different directions with some new and old musical friends.
“A Rocket Down Falcon Street” is an instrumental nod to some of Stephens’ own electric guitar heroes – twang king Duane Eddy, distortion pioneer Link Wray and proto-surf player Dick Dale, for starters. They’re all guitarists who carved out their own niche in the early 1960s as Stephens was developing his own chops.
Stephens moves comfortably through a variety of styles for an instrumental CD that plays homage to influential axmen. There’s even a nod to Santo & Johnny, with a rendering of “Sleepwalk.”
One of the more emotionally-charged collaborations on “A Rocket Down Falcon Street” is the addition of saxophone player Johnny Colla to the song “Wild Blue Mavericks.”
Colla, a founding member and continuing presence in Huey Lewis & The News, had the memory tucked away for years of listening in on a rehearsal while Stephens was still a rising musician in a local band – far away from “Summertime Blues” fame in nascent-metal trio Blue Cheer and a ranking by Rolling Stone magazine a few years back in its Top 100 guitar players pantheon.
Colla recently let Stephens know about the inspiration he had provided in the 1960s to delve more deeply into music. Colla went on to help write some of the biggest hits of the 1980s, including “Heart of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “The Power of Love,” and “If This is It.”
And he paid back some of that initial inspiration from observing that rehearsal nearly 50 years ago by adding some signature saxophone licks on the new Stephens CD.
Stephens also welcomes aboard Pete Sears for a reunion of sorts of their late 1960s collaboration as members of Silver Metre. A keyboard and bass player best known for his work with Rod Stewart and the Jefferson Starship, Sears dropped by Auburn several months back with Bay Area band Moonalice.
Auburn’s Eric Chun brings his multi-instrumental skills to “Main Theme and Calvera”, while Melissa Olsen, “Bald Head Fred” Rautman and George Michalski also contribute to “A Rocket Down Falcon Street.”
Song samples and purchase information are now cued up at leighstephens.net.
A Rocket Down
From August 2013 issue of Vintage Guitar Magazine,
by Dan Forte,
Printed with permission, all rights reserved.
Few ’60s bands
have been misunderstood,
mislabeled, and even maligned
as much as Blue Cheer. Rockologists credit
the power trio with fathering metal or
punk (neither is accurate), at the same time
knocking them for being one-dimensional.
The “psychedelic blues” band played hard
and heavy, but they were far more than mere
volume (especially in the case of original lead
guitarist Leigh Stephens), and their version of
“Summertime Blues” was one of the first hits
from the San Francisco scene.
Any fears that Stephens has mellowed
are immediately allayed with the “Third
Stone” Hendrix-esque title track of this all
Instrumental outing. The Beatles’ “Across The
Universe” gets a nice layered-guitar rework,
and “woman tone” Clapton informs “Heceta”
along with Stephens’ distinctive finger vibrato.
The cover of “Sleepwalk” is a tad fusiony,
but Stephens’ “Magnificent Seven” medley
summons Duane Eddy, as does “Wild Blue
Mavericks,” complete with growling sax. Most
of all, Stephens’ playing is supremely melodic,
best showcased on his beautiful reading of
Skeeter Davis’ 1963 country crossover hit,
“End Of The World.”
Welcome back, Leigh; your amp’s been on
– Dan Forte