Debbie Davies's big break came when Albert Collins told her, quite literally, to get on the bus. Davies had known Collins in L.A. for some time, had attended a few of his barbecues, had jammed with him a little, but on the night she attended that fateful show she had no idea what the Master of the Telecaster had in mind.

It seems Collins was ready for a little shake-up of his road band. A tour left that very night. When Davies approached Collins to congratulate him on yet another blockbuster show, Collins had one more bomb to unload. He invited Davies to join his road band, right then and there.

From that night in 1988 until three years later, Davies toured and recorded with the musician she came to call "Pops," a man whose influence on her extended far beyond music.

Both of Davies's parents were musical. Her mother was a piano teacher, her father an L.A. big-band arranger whose credits included Ray Charles, Pearl Bailey and Frank Sinatra. Early on, the 49-year-old Davies, who trained on piano, isolated on Charles's bluesier tunes, and in due course fell under the sway of the British Invasion's heavyweights. Clapton was always her favorite.

Whether one loves or hates Clapton, this much is true: The man has always given credit where credit is due. On Slowhand's advice, Davies soon was exploring the realms of the Three Kings of the Blues -- Albert, Freddy and B.B. At that point, as best she knew, there was no such thing as a female blues guitarist. Thus she was tentative at first, learning to play initially by scatting along with Clapton's solos.

After moving to Northern California, Davies worked up the nerve to pick up a guitar and then play it in public. Back in L.A. by 1984, Davies signed up with an all-female blues band led by none other than Maggie Mayall, the wife of Clapton's old mentor John. Collins came calling in '88, and she followed that stint by playing lead for Fingers Taylor for two years, before going solo in 1993.

Her latest, Love the Game, is a tasty collection of Gulf Coast-style blues produced by the impeccable Duke Robillard. As can be expected when Robillard is involved, Love the Game has a Texas-New Orleans feel, a suave uptown ambience with jazzy guitar solos, lots of sax and absolutely no guitar wanking. It features guest shots from the likes of Robillard, Coco Montoya and J. Geils, not to mention Davies's own graceful and sinewy fretwork. One gets the feeling that Pops would have loved this game, too.

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John Nova Lomax
Contact: John Nova Lomax