It ‘s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the small town of Cullinan in Gauteng, South Africa and we’re getting ready for Dan Patlansky to take the stage at The Cockpit Brewhouse – a popular local craft brewery and eatery – where you can experience the joy of live South African music. Great beer, great food, great people and most importantly great music. Is there anything better in life?
Dan Patlansky is one of my favourite South African artists and for the past six years I’ve followed his career with much amazement, a good dose of involuntary goose pimples, pure listening pleasure and well…. the hope that he gets the international recognition which he so rightly deserves. There is also a fair amount of modern blues lore that surrounds the man. I’m a sucker for that kind of thing. In 2005 and 2006 he got an opportunity of a life time when Selwyn Miller – manager of Bread, Randy Crawford and Petula Clark (amongst others) – showcased his talent in New Orleans. However,fate had other plans and Hurricane Katrina cut his trip short. He had to be evacuated and he returned to South Africa.He also had to leave his 1962 Fender Stratocaster behind. It was only returned to him a year later by his New Orleans based band members. Most of you know this story I’m sure…..
And this is the great thing about South Africa – while we’re having cold ones, a very talented musician starts to warm up the crowd with a few of his original tunes plus a cover or two. Ruan van As was the manager at Cockpit until fairly recently – so not the first time I’ve heard him play – but today I can hear something’s different. A confidence I hadn’t noticed before. I heard through the grapevine he’s busy recording an album. Maybe something to look into later……but I digress. Made me wonder when I first saw Dan Patlansky live?
It was more or less six years ago at the Centurion Theater. I love the local theaters. No drunken Silence Thieves. A friend of mine made a big whoo haa about this unknown artist – went to check him out – not really expecting anything out of the ordinary. In fact I remember being facetious because he was comparing “this guy” to the likes of Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. I’ve loved the blues since my teens so it was absolute blasphemy in my eyes. At best he would be slightly better than average I thought. But I was wrong. Dan Patlansky blew my mind. Of course one should never fall into the trap of comparing an artist with the legends who influenced him. You have to understand an artist’s place in the rock and roll space-time continuum. The younger generation perfects the older generation’s music and then innovates and changes it. Sometimes for the worst and sometimes for the better. So for me, the best way to describe Dan Patlansky’s talent is nothing more than this: every time he plays, in my mind’s eye it’s no stretch of the imagination to visualize him on stage with the best of the best in the blues world – humbly holding his own and maybe outshining the old geezers with his unique style and licks here and there. I ate some humble pie six years ago and learned that one can never argue with a combination of talent, passion, humility and hard work. Even in a small country where the market for blues and bluegrass is very small. You’ll be amazed what you can achieve. And trust me there are many other great blues artists paying their dues in South Africa right now. I will definitely write more about this rare breed in future.
Dan Patlansky’s live shows have always been extremely energetic, reminiscent of the sixties and seventies rock god exhibitionism – without the extended showcasing of gimmicks. It can easily be translated into a religious experience or having galactic spiritual intercourse with one’s guitar.Dan Patlansky has that rare ability to put a spell on you…..its powerful stuff. Of course it’s more intimate and overpowering in a small venue but I’ve witnessed him hypnotize thousands of people with his Jimi Hendrix Voodoo Chile tribute right before Bruce Springsteen hit the stage at FNB Stadium outside of Soweto. He nailed it perfectly. I mean who has the balls to pull that kind of thing off when you’re opening for the Boss?
Dan is introduced to the crowd as an internationally acclaimed blues artist and it hits me: he’s getting closer to his dreams – it won’t be long before you see him play at festivals with John Mayer and Joe Bonamassa. He kicks off his first acoustic show of the year and unleashes his familiar energy through the song ’20 Stones’. I’m in acoustic heaven. I decide not to do a review but a substantial article. Just write. I’ve been thinking about it anyway. Just needed some inspiration.
One thing about my love for the blues is I’m a sucker for the slower electric blues numbers. Very few bluesmen have the ability to get the touch and tone just right. The ability to slow down space and time – leaving the crowd in suspended animation for a few seconds – is very rare. It gets the crowd high on the blues and if you’re a blues fan you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. It’s one of the first things that immediately impressed me about Dan Patlansky. When I saw him live for the first time he had already conquered this skill masterfully. A friend of mine said it best: “He certainly put in his 10 000 hours”. But I love acoustic music just as much. The MTV Unplugged shows – I love all of them. Stripped down naked music. Strangely enough by his own admission acoustic guitar is not Dan’s most comfortable style. He only started doing full acoustic shows in 2013 and released his first full acoustic album Wooden Thoughts in the same year. It may not be his most favourite musical genre and there is less exhibitionism during his acoustic shows but damn his guitar playing is still unbelievable.
A couple of songs further on into the set Dan starts to explain why he loves Son House – Jack White’s major musical influence – and then robustly whirls himself into the song ‘Preachin’ Blues’ – one of my favourite tracks on ‘Wooden Thoughts’. While he loses himself in the song – eyes closed and really feeling the music – I wonder where he gets his soul from. It reminded me of the old blues debate. Are only certain people qualified to play the blues? Is Dan Patlansly qualified to play the blues?
It’s practically a topic on its own. And contentious. But here goes. First of all, I think the idea that the only people who were qualified to play the blues were sharecroppers in the South of the good ole US of A is an outdated idea. We do have to be thankful to the musical pioneers of the blues because without them there would be no rock and roll,no rock music, no heavy metal and certainly no modern blues. But the question remains: must the blues always be about poverty,heartbreak,bad women, alcoholism, political opression, hard times,racism,religion or death for it to be authentic? And do you have to be internationally famous to be qualified? The first time I heard of the idea was in 1992 when Eric Clapton lost his son Connor and the subsequent release of the song Tears in Heaven on his Unplugged album. There was a lot of talk in the media about him being qualified to play the blues and anyone who knows the story would agree. Valiant Swart will tell you it’s much more simpler, according to him “the blues ain’t nothing but a good man feelin’ bad”. I’m sure he picked this up during his travels in the Delta. There’s a lot of wisdom in those words. Watch or listen to any interview with one of the old blues pioneers or any blues musician worth his or her salt. There are two golden threads that bind the art of playing the blues. Firstly how you mastered your art and secondly the ability to translate how you feel – through the music – in a way that other people feel it in the exact same way. Or at least as close as you can. The ironic thing about traditional blues is it may sound kind of sad but the outcome is to feel better about your life. Maybe because the music has the ability to make you understand that we’re all human and all of us have pain and suffering at times. So if you ask me if Dan Patlansky is qualified. My answer is this: white boy’s got the chops man, he’s got the soul and he can make you feel it. I remember at one of his shows in 2009 this lady – totally blown away with emotion and shaking her head at the intensity of the guitar playing – shouted “Dan, play something you know!”. That about sums it up for me.
I just got out of the zone, really feeling the music, after Dan covered two classics – Bill Wither’s ‘Grandma’s hands’ and Stevie Wonder’s ‘Superstition’ – when a more difficult question came to mind. Can the blues still be authentic if the music is more commercial? The classics are superb but how will the blues survive?
Ok I’m probably way over the standard length for a music blog post and I still have to deal with this last question and all of his albums. He released quite a few you know. So what I’ll do is work on a separate blog just dealing with that.
TO BE CONTINUED……….
Rolling Rock (in the middle of a heatwave) over!
In the meantime go check out his website so long. http://www.danpatlansky.co.za/
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