You know, it has become fashionable in some quarters, even here in Texas and even among some who profess to love the blues, to hate on Stevie Ray Vaughan. There's a whiff of bourgeois classism to some of this -- middle-class hipsters hold bikers in equal measures of fear and disdain and hate jocks, and bikers and jocks make up a healthy chunk of the blues-rock audience.
On musical grounds, though, you can somewhat see the haters' point: After all, what does even a grade-A Texas blues-rock power trio, or any guitar-based trio, for that matter, have to offer that hasn't been done a thousand times before, by either Stevie or ZZ Top or any number of lesser fry? And haven't we heard enough of this sort of thing? Hell, eight or nine years ago you couldn't swing a cat without hitting three or four "next Stevie Ray!" blooze shredders -- one Internet wag dubbed the lot of them "teenaged Blondy McPentatonics."
If your answer to those questions is "absolutely nothing" and "hell yes," you owe it to yourself to try the following experiment. Go to a bar. Drink two Lone Stars. Slam a shot of Don Julio tequila. Suck on a lime. And then go over to the jukebox and dial up "Cold Shot," "Just Got Paid" and "Texas Flood." Or just drive over to the Big Easy some Monday night and check out the Mighty Orq.
The Mighty Orq
In either case, if you divorce yourself from your hipster conditioning and live in that moment, you'll be pleasantly surprised. It happened to me this past year at South By Southwest in Austin -- Stevie Ray was playing on the speakers between sets of a couple of new and trendy bands, and he was blowing them away from beyond the grave. I felt the piercing stabs of the guitar and the soul-drenched vocals and thudding punches of the rhythm section, and I realized then that fashion doesn't matter. As the booze warmed my belly and the music roared, I could see the room lift, and I realized that 99 times out of 100, all that racket and hype from the labels is meaningless. The vapid music bloggers touting the latest lame reiteration of Joy Division, Pitchfork's latest find that the indie sheeple hive-mind simultaneously adopts as one, and the scribes for the trendy music rags and their absurd second comings of the Velvet Underground -- it's almost always all as triflin', bitchy and shallow as the world of catwalk fashion.
People think fashion-rock. They calculate and take positions on bands, based on some theory of theirs that has nothing to do with music and everything to do with some bizarre notion of hipster cred.
On the other hand, people simply feel blues-rock. And blues-rock, especially that produced by the Mighty Orq, feels mighty, mighty good, especially in the Big Easy on a Monday -- as sweet and natural and organic to this habitat as the sound of seagulls laughing does at the beach. Along with honky-tonk, it is the official sound of the rapidly disappearing world of two-fisted, hard-drinking Anglo, urban and suburban, blue-collar Texas, and Orq is one guy who's bringing something new to the table.
The long-haired, bearded, 27-year-old Orq starts this set pretty early. He takes the stage around 9:30 to deliver a set of Robert Johnson-style solo acoustic slide-guitar blues. Orq, born Joshua Davidson, plays a National Reso-Phonic guitar in this setting, and he is as masterful at it as anybody in Texas right now. Unlike so many young blues players, Orq knows how to relax. His playing, while fast at times, is never show-offy or forced, and his singing is just as laid-back, but more on that later.
At about 11, the other two components of the trio -- skinny bassist Westside Johnny and bearded, doo-ragged drummer Matt Johnson -- join him on the stage. Orq packs up the Reso-Phonic and whips out a Stratocaster and proceeds to kick ass. His originals -- especially show-stoppers like "Unholy Getdown" and the Zeppelin-esque "Sweet In-Between" -- show off excellent arranging skills. The band is big on crescendos and soaring passages, and the riffs sear their way onto your brain. My only complaint is that the guitar can get somewhat buried in the mix under the bass and especially the drums.
The one thing that sets apart the good blues-rock from the great is the vocals. Orq is that rare singer who is blessed with a good set of pipes and also knows how to use them. In my view, there are precious few great white blues-rock singers. Gregg Allman and, less so, Billy Gibbons are two, and Orq's nicotine-stained, tequila-coated baritone is similar to theirs, both tonally and in that he doesn't overemote.
Orq, who got his start as a sideman for Tony Vega, has internalized the key concept of playing any blues-based music: It ain't always what you play. Just as often it's what you don't, the space you leave between the notes.
"I think for a long time, I did kinda sing a little wild," Orq says after the show. "Singing's weird. Eventually you learn to use what you have. You've got to take what you have and then work with it enough to learn what you can and can't do. I learned a lot about doing that from guys like Stevie Wonder [Orq covers his 'I Believe'] and Martin Sexton."
You can really hear his development on the band's three CDs: 2002's acoustic-heavy Prayer Book, 2003's live album Ghost Train and last year's Milk Money. The band's fourth disc is slated for release early next year.
On stage, Orq loves to show off his sense of humor, which is a huge factor that sets him apart from the pack. Snippets of "My Woman from Tokyo" are sprinkled through one of his acoustic numbers (drawing a holler of "Kentucky Woman!" from one confused Deep Purple fan), and he opens the band's closing set with a two-bass/drum tribute to Spinal Tap with "Fat Bottom." And to top it all, earlier on, after strumming out the opening wa-wa pedal notes to the overfamiliar Stevie Ray/Jimi Hendrix chestnut "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)," he segues sweetly into Prince's slinky 1986 funk hit "Kiss," changing the lyrics from "You don't have to watch Dynasty" to "You don't have to watch The O.C. " along the way.
Orq says the inspiration to take on the Purple One came from Jessica Will, the band's founding bassist who left the group last year after having a son. (Under her birth name of Jessica Buchheit she took home HP Music Awards Best Bassist honors in 2001 while she and Orq were both with the Tony Vega Band.) "She came up with the idea to play that song, and then I came up with the idea to add the intro to 'Voodoo Chile.' I just thought it would be funny to take one of these songs that is just so familiar to the white-boy blues-rock world and take it in a totally unexpected direction."
There's another lighthearted trip into a totally unexpected direction on the Mighty Orq's blog on their official Web site. There, bassist and hamburger connoisseur Westside Johnny expounds on the merits of the various burgers he's come across, at great length and in astounding detail. So far, he's chomped 'em down at the Hobbit Cafe, the Hideaway and all over Lubbock, and judging by the response from his fans, he'll probably be adding a lot more.
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We mentioned something about "astounding detail." To show you what we mean, here's a snippet from his review of Papa's on Stella Link: "Their patties are thin but very well seasoned and still a little juicy. The cheese was plain ol' American sliced cheese. The bun is a standout, it's a fresh bakery style roll with a perfectly browned top/egg white glaze sheen to it. They grill the bun and it has a great buttery flavor. The lettuce is very finely shredded and the tomato is also wafer thin but ripe. I think the onions were very thin whole rings in good proportion. There are a few pickles and less mustard than mayo (I asked for both). I believe the mayo was underneath the top bun followed by tomato, onion, lettuce, pickles, meat, cheese, mustard, bottom bun. The mayonnaise was either a premium variety or freshly made -- awesome.
"The burger's ingredients are well dispersed and except for some lettuce spillage the sandwich stays together pretty well and is neat/portable by burger standards."
Funny. You could say pretty much the same thing about Orq's trio. The ingredients are well dispersed, the band stays together very well, and they are both neat and very portable by band standards. They have a pretty good circuit built up in Texas and over in Germany and the Netherlands, where they've racked up quite a few rave CD reviews.
Now if only they can whip that lettuce spillage problem...