Jim Suhler may still play the blues, or at least a rock-oriented version thereof, but the east Dallas native has to admit that he probably has less real reason to feel the blues than at almost any time in recent memory. Well, yeah, there is the little problem of the short-lived marriage to a former bandmate that broke up a year or so ago -- and provided the hurt behind the songs Suhler wrote for his recently released CD Shake -- but beyond that things are actually going pretty well for the 34-year-old journeyman guitarist. That's thanks to the fact that about two years back, George Thorogood walked into a small Memphis club where Suhler was playing. At the time, Thorogood was wrapping up the recording of a new album, and Suhler was doing what he'd been doing for more than a decade -- wandering the small club circuit and playing some stinging slide guitar backed by a strong if somewhat mournful voice. Thorogood liked what he heard, opened a few doors and Suhler -- in one of those overnight-success-that-actually-follows-years-of-hard-work stories -- walked on through.
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Since that unintentional audition for the "Born to Be Bad" man, Suhler has traded in the club circuit for tours of the U.S. and Europe behind not only Thorogood, who remains a fan, but also B.B. King, Ray Charles, Buddy Guy and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. He's also kicked off a new subsidiary of Rounder Records, a label called Lucky 7, and recorded two CDs under the guidance of onetime Led Zeppelin engineer Terry Manning. And with his band, Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat, which includes bassist Carlton Powell and drummer Paul Hollis, he's moved along the blues road away from the traditional style that had garnered him a (small) bevy of fans in his pre-Thorogood days to something that sounds more like rock and roll seen through a blues lens. The opening cut of Shake could be a long lost ZZ Top gem, and there're also a few reminders of Johnny Winter. No real Stevie Ray Vaughan to be heard, though, which may be something of a landmark for a Texas-based blues/rock performer these days.
There's a story told about Suhler and Monkey Beat's opening for George Thorogood that has the Delaware Destroyer standing in the wings and sweating while he watches his discovery blazing through a set that George would have trouble following. And about Thorogood's people coming up to Suhler and suggesting that he cut back on the demon guitar playing a little. Suhler confirms the story, though he suggests that the request was "kind of jokingly given. It was a compliment, really." But he also adds that he didn't tone down his performance one iota, a bit of independent stubbornness that bodes well for anyone who wants to step out Thursday and hear that blend of rock and blues that certain Texans seem to produce so proficiently.
-- Mitchell J. Shields
Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat plays at 9:30 p.m. (or thereabouts), Thursday, March 23 at the Fabulous Satellite Lounge. Anders Osborne shares the bill. Tickets are $5. Call 869-COOL for info.