Gregg Allman of the legendary Allman Brothers will release a new solo album in April produced by Oscar/Grammy-winning musician T-Bone Burnett. Revamping some blues and R&B nuggets, Allman is joined on the recording by Eric Clapton Band guitarist Doyle Bramhall Jr., New Orleans piano legend Dr. John, and Maui's Vince Esquire.
"I went to L.A. in December and played on two cuts, and it was awesome," says Vince. "And I got to hang out with T-Bone Burnett for a couple nights and pick his brain about producing and recording."
Vince's guitar prowess had immediately impressed Allman back in 2007, when he had played with the Mana'o Radio Orchestra opening for Allman at a memorable Castle Theater show. After the musicians exchanged phone numbers, Vince was amazed a few weeks later when he got a call inviting the young Maui musician to sit in one night with the Allman Brothers at their annual residency at New York's Beacon Theater.
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"He came out and saw us play and I guess he liked my style," Vince recalls. "About a month later he actually called and invited me."
A review of the historic night noted: "Thursday's show featured a cavalcade of guest guitarists, including Vince Esquire, who more than held his own with (Allman Brothers' guitarists) Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks on "One Way Out" and "Statesboro Blues."
Vince couldn't quite believe he was playing amongst such amazing musicians. "It was intimidating at first," he reports. "Standing between Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes and looking across the stage and seeing Greg Allman was kind of an overwhelming moment, but at that point you just have to suck it up and do it."
Gregg Allman compared Vince's playing to his brother, Duane's. 'He said the emotion and thought process was very similar.'
The successful gig led to another invitation to join Gregg Allman as the opening act for several dates of a Southern tour, including performing at the House of Blues in New Orleans and Dallas.
It was while recording with Allman in December that the 24-year-old musician finally found out why, among so many other great guitarists, he had been picked.
"He never gave me an explanation until most recently when I was in the studio with him," Vince reports. "And he said, the way I play reminded him a lot of his brother (Duane Allman). He said the emotion and thought process behind it was very similar. I thought that was pretty cool."
Pretty cool indeed being compared with a trailblazing player, ranked second on Rolling Stone's list of Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
Which brings us to Vince's startlingly impressive new CD, "Back Where You Belong." Making waves since his late teens with the power, passion and precision of his guitar playing, this album marks a major evolution. Immensely gifted, he has ventured way beyond the early billing as "Maui's Stevie Ray Vaughan."
Just take a listen to the rousing power ballad "Better Days," that erupts with a blazing Prince-like guitar solo.
It's easy to imagine a crowd of thousands, lit cel phones held aloft, swaying and singing along to the chorus, "I just want to go back to better days." It's that good.
"I was listening to bands like Journey and Foreigner and a bunch of things like that went into the song," Vince explains. "At this point I just wanted to put out an album of music that I would personally enjoy listening to. I wanted to put out something that represented where I was at the time and what I was inspired by. There is a lot of variation on the album. Each song is inspired by different things."
His time with Allman obviously informs some of the material such as the opening title track which smolders with a combination of blues muscle and funky energy, while he ventures into got-to-get-up-and-dance Tower of Power territory with the irresistible, horn-driven groove of "Tell Me Your Name."
"I was listening to a lot of Motown and James Brown, stuff with horns, like Tower of Power, when I wrote those songs," he continues. "And a couple of songs in particular were inspired by Gregg and the Allman Brothers."
Sounding as hot as anything out of the famed Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, major credit goes to the horn players on "Tell Me Your Name" - John Zangrando, Vince's dad, Rudy Esquire, and Paul Bunuan.
The sterling musical collective helping craft the album includes drummer Josh Greenbaum, bassists Don Lopez and Shawn Michael, and keyboardist Les Adam.
With only one cover, The Meters' funky "Cissy Strut," the CD provides an opportunity for Vince to excel across a spectrum of styles, recorded live and in the studio. The closing "EL Jam," as it's aptly titled, captures the band and the guitarist spontaneously launching into a fusion instrumental that pays tribute to guitar master Jeff Beck.
"We were in the studio and Uncle Don (Lopez) suggested we take a break and just jam on something," he notes. "So basically that recording is a live jam on the spot. We figured it was so cool we captured it. I was listening to a lot of Jeff Beck at the time. I watched him at the Crossroads Festival on DVD, and I had to buy all his albums."
(Side note for Beck fans: His upcoming album, "Emotion & Commotion," features an amazing instrumental version of "Somewhere Over The Rainbow.")
The centerpiece of the album, the nine-minute rocking "War Cry," was initially inspired hearing a Democratic presidential debate between Barack Obama and Hilary Clinton.
"They were talking about the war, and I have a friend who was in the Marines and was injured in combat, and I picked up my guitar and came up with it," he explains. "And my dad's a veteran, so that entered my thoughts, too. A lot of people pay attention to what they see and read, but there's not a whole lot of understanding of what's really going on over there."
Opening and closing with a haunting native flute, a traditional Irish war melody played by Trinette Furtado on bagpipes, along with radio news combat reports weave through this epic, Hendrix-flavored lament. "It's a song I would like people to listen on headphones or in their car," he adds, "because a lot of subtle things are going on in it."
Besides excelling as a blues and rock-based electric guitarist, Vince's musical world also encompasses playing ukulele with the group Kanekoa. Teamed with fellow ukulele player Kaulana Kanekoa, they will release an EP shortly.
"It should be done in the next month," he notes. "That's a whole nother thing because we do a lot of reggae, so we're trying to hit the reggae radio market. I love playing both ukulele and guitar, and taking concepts from one to another."
With the new CD out, this versatile Maui musician is already expanding his creative vision.
"I don't like to be stagnant," he emphasizes. "These days I'm listening to a lot of Miles Davis, and trying to get into a lot more jazz. I've been doing the gig on Wednesdays at the Han Hou Caf with Dorothy Betz and Les Adam, and they've really pushed my limits as far as getting me into more jazz-orientated stuff. I'm learning a lot more about chords and scales. I feel I've got a really good grip on the blues thing, I'm just trying to extend and add to it."
* Vince Esquire and his band present a CD-release party for "Back Where You Belong" on April 16 at Mulligan's on the Blue in Wailea.Kanekoa will close the evening. Tickets are $5 in advance, $10 at the door. Call 874-1131 for reservations.