Classic blues torchbearer Rusty Zinn showcases killer chops and distinctive, soul-drenched vocals on his Alligator debut. "Rompin', stompin' blues from a wonderful vocalist and master guitarist"--VINTAGE GUITAR
RUSTY ZINN, Guitar and Vocals
BOB WELSH, Piano and Rhythm Guitar
RANDY BERMUDES, Acoustic and Electric Bass
RICHARD INNES or PAUL REVELLI, Drums
ELVIN BISHOP, Slide Guitar on Moonlight Blues
JIMMY PUGH, Organ on Ladies Choice
JOHN FIRMAN, Tenor Sax on Meet Me Halfway
Produced by Rusty Zinn and Bruce Iglauer
Recorded and mixed by Jerry Hall at Bay View Studios, Richmont, CA
Mastered by Jeff Hillman, Brian Jensen and Bruce Iglauer at MonsterDisc, Chicago, IL
Photos by Mark Castle
Live photos by Scott Brenton and Max Butler
Richard Innis photo courtesy of Richard Innis
Packaging design by David Forte
Rusty Zinn is booked by Piedmont Talent
You definitely don’t want to come back in your next life as one of Rusty Zinn’s guitar strings. Sure, during your probably brief lifetime you’d get to be a part of some blues guitar hot enough to ignite the new millennium, broadly and deeply infused with swing, R & B and rock & roll. But in between being buffeted at lightning speed by Rusty’s trademark double picking, you’d have every ounce of soul and harmonics shaken and stretched out of you, while enraptured listeners tried to sort out the ecstasy from the anguish in your cries. It probably wouldn't be much comfort to take pride in your role in those attention-grabbing solos and fills, delivered in a cohesive, gritty but fluid style that bespeaks a personal vision, not a mere pastiche of influences. Even when you were relaxing during his impassioned vocals, enjoying the assurance with which they're applied to a creative and varied catalog of originals and a scholar’s encyclopedic repertoire, you’d have to know what that fervor would mean to your well-being when the time came for your next part of the call-and-response dialogue. No, far better to embrace Rusty’s rising musical star as part of this life.
Now based in Oakland, Rusty was born in Long Beach in 1970 and raised in Santa Cruz. His older brother’s record collection first beckoned him to the blues at age 15. Soon he began to seek out the many local artists who’d either emigrated west from Chicago or modeled their music after Windy City icons. Rusty picked up the guitar at age 17; a year later he jammed with former Chicago guitar great Luther Tucker, who began mentoring him. Rusty’s guitar style echoes Tucker’s memorable “flutter picking,” and The Chill includes a heartfelt tribute to Tucker in the form of Rusty’s take on the Tucker composition, “Fallin’ Rain.” A two-year-long gig with Bay Area harp player Mark Hummel gave Rusty valuable experience and the chance to accompany some other Chicago greats, including backing Snooky Pryor and playing on an unissued album backing Billy Boy Arnold. Rusty also put in some road work with major influence Jimmy Rogers, who, along with Hummel, recommended Rusty to his next employer, Kim Wilson. When Kim decided to put together a road band with a higher straight blues quotient than The Fabulous Thunderbirds, Rusty was quickly recruited (initially alongside another of his mentors, guitarist Junior Watson). He toured nationwide with Kim, who used Rusty on part of his award-winning 1993 Tigerman CD. From there, Rusty signed with Black Top Records. The 1996 Sittin’ And Waitin’ helped him garner a W.C. Handy Award for Best New Blues Artist; he also produced a long overdue debut CD by Chicago stalwart Dave Myers, with support from Wilson in both cases. His own sophomore effort Confessin’ was a substantial and heralded effort which further advanced his name and reputation around the globe.
Rusty’s third CD, and his Alligator debut, The Chill, confirms his maturation as a blues stylist of grit, honesty, authority and facility. Given his own resume and his new label, it’s no surprise that his immersion in 1950s Chicago blues has never been more obvious. Placing his own stamp on songs by Chicagoans Tucker, Arbee Stidham and John Brim (along with a ‘50s rocker by Johnny “Guitar” Watson) and putting a different Magic Sam groove to “Just Like A Fish” than Sam did is just part of Rusty’s bag of tricks. Like Magic Sam, Rusty commands and reveres the tradition but can’t help updating it just by adding his own bad self to the mix. The Chill includes five songs composed all or in part by Rusty, plus contributions from Rick Estrin and Ronnie James Weber, a bassist who’s worked with both Rusty and Rick. Add in the solid contributions of two of Rusty’s road band, bassist Randy Bermudes and guitarist/pianist Bob Welsh (check out Bob’s tasty piano solos on “I Played The Game” and “She’s Got Style”), plus a cameo on slide guitar by Elvin Bishop on “Moonlight Blues,” and an engineer in Jerry Hall who’s The Man for capturing the vintage tube-era studio vibe of the music upon which Rusty’s is based, and it’s a powerful package.
Some people seem to be born out of their times, and maybe Rusty was born a bit after his; so the closest he’ll come in this life to rubbing elbows with too many of his closest musical kindred spirits is via his own interpretations of their classic blues sounds and styles. But that timing bodes well for the future of the blues, when it receives such respect from a young man of as much talent, dedication and freshness of outlook as Rusty. Come to think of it, it bodes exhilaratingly well for us listeners too!
Dick Shurman is a blues producer, historian, and regular contributor to blues magazines worldwide, including Jefferson and Juke Blues.