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Aaron Loesch Vies to Become the Guitar Center King of the Blues

A dying Houston scene suddenly might have new life

True story: I have dreamed I have played only three pieces of music. Each time, the experience was as exhilarating and as much a dream I'll never see as the ones in which I could fly or had scored with Donna Summer (1984 version), Kim Basinger (1989) or Norah Jones (uh, more recently).

Back on point, one time I dreamed I was pounding a piano to Chopin's Nocturne #1 in F, Opus 15, andante cantabile. Another time, Townes Van Zandt was teaching me a song that doesn't really exist called "Midnight Raven Blues." (Eerily, after Van Zandt died, a previously unreleased Townes song I didn't know of would emerge called "Black Crow Blues.")

The third dream, which followed the stressful and traumatic month two years ago that brought us Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, featured Jug O' Lightnin's "Ohio," a vacuum-tight, syncopated boogie highlighted by Aaron Loesch's towering vocals, snarling guitar and his kazoo. (Yeah, his kazoo.)

Some people who have never heard Loesch's music might wonder what he, his ramshackle guitars and his rack kazoo are doing in anybody's dreams with the likes of Van Zandt and Chopin. But that's just it — those people are the ones who haven't heard him. Those who have know he's one of the finest musicians this city has ever produced, a true composer as well as a guy who can play Earl Scruggs banjo licks on a homemade guitar and convincingly cover everyone from Robert Johnson and Booker White to Van Halen and Black Sabbath. I once saw him defy an icehouse crowd to stump him with their requests. The beery throng had watched him play Delta blues for an hour, and they had him pegged as some blues nazi purist. Wrong. He trumped every one of them and their requests for Boston, Def Leppard and Michael Jackson.

Loesch makes old music sound new and new music sound old. He can shred, but he's not a shredder. He's less a guitarist than he is what he calls a "guitar-ologist," a guy who "finds new tones and sounds, not fast stuff."

And now there's a good chance he will be spreading his guitar-ology far beyond his old strongholds of Rudyard's, Dan Electros, West Alabama Ice House and the Last Concert Cafe. Over the course of this spring, Loesch has bested over 4,000 other contestants in Guitar Center's nationwide King of the Blues guitar competition, and now he only has to defeat three more regional champs at the finals in Hollywood on June 16.

Loesch says he entered the competition thinking he might have a crack at winning "a strap and a pack of strings." Up against legions of blooze shredders — all those guitar-geek teenaged Speedy Ray Vaughans (Loesch's term) and Blondy McPentatonics (mine that I stole from some guy on a message board) — he didn't think he stood a chance. "If you put a muffin in front of their amp speakers, it would microwave because those sonic waves are coming out so fast," he says. "I can't do that. I mean, Randy Rhoads was fast, but it didn't have that speed that people have today, those crazy chords and scales."

Instead, he has already racked up prizes including more SoBe energy drink than he could possibly imbibe in a year, two Gibson guitars and two amps, a laptop and roughly a cargo container of Levi's gear. Should he win the final, he will also get five grand in cash, a 2007 Ford Mustang, yet another Gibson guitar (this one a '59 Les Paul reissue), another amp, an endorsement deal with Gibson, a write-up in Guitar World magazine, a week in the studio with Pete Anderson, a computer, $2,000 more in Levi's apparel and a slot on the bill at the Crossroads Blues Festival in Chicago alongside Eric Clapton. (Don't know if Loesch will have much use for the car or the guitars — he builds his own cars and instruments.)

So yeah, this is pretty tall cotton for the part-time Jaguar mechanic from Chappell Hill. In Los Angeles, he will be backed by the band of Grammy-winning producer and former Dwight Yoakam bandleader/guitarist Pete Anderson, and all the contestants will be followed onstage by the Black Crowes and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, who is accompanying former Howlin' Wolf guitarist and unique stylist Hubert Sumlin.

Back in December's year-ender, we wrote, "don't be surprised if you hear from Aaron Loesch...in a big way." We had no idea it would be this big, this fast.

"It couldn't happen to a better guitar player," says Carolyn Wonderland, whose former bassist Chris King served as Loesch's drummer in Jug O' Lightnin'. "He has such a beautiful passion, and he's so versatile — he can do all different genres and he can even compose movie themes. And if there's a roomful of guitar players he'll sing, and if there's a roomful of singers he will play guitar. I was just listening to the first demo I heard of his stuff the other day, and it still gives me chills."

"I first met him when we were in Bloodfart together," says Brad Moore, co-owner of the new Pearl Bar and a former musician and Rudyard's bartender. "Back then he had a Styx mullet and he was a metal dude. But he was so confident. We would cover Pat Benatar songs and he would pull out a banjo and just bust on it."

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