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Jimmy Thackery had an epiphany a few years ago.
The veteran bluesman, whose Chicago-style attack was forged backing Muddy Waters and other legends in the '70s, was spinning his wheels. When you're traveling hundreds of thousands of miles and playing 300 nights a year, that's a lot of spinning, until he came to this realization:
"My handlers are just not handling me right. The details are all falling through cracks. I'm having to play catchup. The 10-percenters are looking at their bottom line and they're not looking at raising the bar on my career at all," he said in a phone interview.
"So the epiphany resulted in all of them being fired execution-style."
He tours less now - about 100 to 150 nights a year including Sunday when he comes to Mickey Finn's - and just produced a disc that is a stylistic departure for him.
"Solid Ice," his fourth solo album on the Telarc label, is more soulful and jazzy than his previous releases while not losing any of the fire you expect from Thackery and his band the Drivers.
The quieter tone is the result of a six-month break from touring and a conscious decision to explore more musical territory than straight-ahead blues, Thackery said.
"You get into a template on your recordings and you have some success with a certain approach to the music," he said. "And my approach and the success I've had with it for some time has been sort of slash-and-burn, guitar-slinger stuff. Well, that's fine, but you can't do that forever."
Thackery, 54, came of age in the Washington area in the '70s, along with fellow guitarists Roy Buchanan and Danny Gatton. His band, the Nighthawks, were legendary along the East Coast and in the Midwest for their fiery shows and relentless touring. Winning a battle of the bands contest at the Cellar Door club in D.C. led to a chance to open for Waters, who took a liking to the young guys playing his style of music.
The Nighthawks toured with Waters for several years and got regular gigs in Washington with James Cotton, Otis Rush, and other blues greats. Thackery said those years taught him the importance of building dynamics into a song during a live show so that quiet moments counter the "drama" of a song that builds in intensity.
That style of blues is missing among younger players who he said represent the "fourth generation" of blues musicians.
"Bringing everything down to a whisper and then creating this incredible crescendo," he said, describing Waters. "It was symphonic in a way. Most of these fourth-generation guys, man, they've got one speed: throttle to the firewall and let's just get up there and shred on three chords, which is OK but a lot of what made that music special to us is lost and that's kind of a shame."
"Solid Ice" contains plenty of similar dynamics, which Thackery said was the result of having more time to record and taking a relaxed approach to the sessions. He said he was shocked when his record company actually liked the less-bluesy songs and encouraged him to keep them stripped down.
"Usually these guys are telling you: 'That's kind of a good song, but if you wore a purple tutu while you played it, it would be better,'•" he said.
The emphasis on melodies and song structure led to a more self-satisfying set of tunes.
"This was not me recycling an Elmore James song with different lyrics or a Muddy Waters song with different lyrics," Thackery said. "This was stuff coming out of my own head and my own heart. This was music I wanted to listen to."
Tickets for Jimmy Thackery's performance Sunday at Mickey Finn's, 602 Lagrange St., are $13 for members of the Black Swamp Blues Society and $15 for general admission. Thackery and his trio take the stage at 8 p.m. and there is no opening act. Information: 419-246-3466 or www.bsbs.net.
Contact Rod Lockwood at: firstname.lastname@example.org