When noted bluesman Guitar Shorty blazes into Harvelle’s nightclub in Santa Monica on Saturday, he’ll come armed with his trademark fiery ax and a crack backup band. He’ll also be packing a new CD, “Bare Knuckle,” chockfull of fresh blues tunes seemingly designed to be played live.
The 70-year-old virtuoso cut his first record for Chicago-based Cobra Records in 1957, followed closely by several originals recorded for Pull Records in Los Angeles in 1959. Touring for music giants Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, he influenced other guitarists, including a budding performer in Seattle in the early ’60s named Jimi Hendrix.
“I still do it because I love it,” Shorty said from his Texas home, where he moved after more than 30 years in L.A. “I love writing songs because I study people, and that’s what I write about.”
Some of those human chronicles on the new Alligator Records release, like “Betrayed,” come from Shorty’s own rueful experiences. “I was with this woman for about three years and, when one of my gigs got cancelled, I came home unexpectedly. It was my house, so I didn’t knock on the door; I just walked in. And she and the guy she was with jumped up and looked terrified. They thought I was going to shoot ’em or something. I said, ‘I just want to get my clothes.’ And that’s what I did and I found another bed to sleep in, which happened to be in the nearest motel.”
Shorty’s longevity and youthful zest after all these years has everything to do with the rejuvenating act of creation. “I love the writing and the recording,” he explained. “The studio is like a second home to me.”
Despite decades of often hard-scrabble touring, Shorty maintains unabated his enthusiasm for the road, citing San Francisco and Santa Monica as two of his favorite stops. But wherever he plugs in his guitar, he’s ready to work.
“If you’ve ever seen me you know,” Shorty said, “I create right there onstage. I may just do something nobody’s ever heard, right there in the middle of the set.”