Friday, June 12, 2015

Hank Easton, San Diego's Finest Guitarist, Debuts Monday Night at the New Croce's Park West in Banker's Hill

Hank Easton at work
I've had the rare and humbling privilege of performing and recording my songs with many truly great musicians, including some world-class lead guitarists. I've been fortunate to have worked with such skillful six-stringers as Peter Frampton, Dickey Betts (Allman Brothers), Jeff "Skunk" Baxter (Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers), Jerry Donahue (Hellecasters, Fairport Convention), David Beldock (Bordertown), Claudio Martin, Steve Langdon, and Hank Easton. While all these guys are great artists, and good people, Easton (pictured above) is second to none. He's the best of the bunch. 

Hank's been wowing San Diego music audiences for almost 30 years. He has a musical IQ and versatility that are nonpareil. In the studio and on stage, he rises to every occasion and consistently hits it out of the park, regardless of how many musical curve balls you throw him. He just loves to play guitar, as you'll see and hear if you join me at Hank's debut on Monday evening (June 15) at Croce's Park West. That's Ingrid Croce's new restaurant and music venue on 5th Avenue in San Diego's burgeoning Banker's Hill neighborhood. It's a casual but classy joint just west of Balboa Park, between Downtown and Hillcrest. 

Hank is one of the most laid back, easy going musicians I've met. He's easy to work with, a devoted family man, and a kind and centered soul. But his mellow nature belies a deep passion that is revealed in his music. This guy can rock, he can play the blues, he's got a ton of soul and he loves jazz. And he's always offering up creative ideas. 


When we entered the studio to record "Favorite One (Oh, George)," my musical au revoir to ex-Beatle George Harrison, who sadly died of cancer in 2001, Hank suggested we do a slide guitar part in the chorus. This of course was totally appropriate given George's love and gift for slide, and the sublime result enhanced the song immeasurably.

Hank (right) and yours truly at my CD release concert
I was equally pleased when Hank agreed to play in my band at our CD release party concert (right) several years ago for my "All American Music" album on 33rd Street Records. Not long after that show, which I was proud to say was standing room only, I was able to pair Hank up with Peter Frampton, one of the great rock guitarists on the planet. Hank hung with him, and then some.


Here's how it happened: After I wrote "Survivors' Song," my rocking anthem for cancer survivors, I convinced Frampton, who was my guitar hero when I was in high school, to play lead guitar on the tune. Peter generously gave me a kick-ass lead guitar solo that included his famous "wah" sound. 

But Hank, who like Frampton is a talented lead vocalist and songwriter as well as a killer guitarist, also kicked ass on "Survivors' Song." I don't think many people realize that Hank played the second solo break on that song, and it complements Peter's solo perfectly. Frampton is of course more famous than Hank, but these two major league musicians hit back-to-back homers on my record. I was happy just to be a part of it!

Then on my ethereal ballad "Away," which I recorded with the Beach Boys' family (Carl Wilson's son, Justyn, and Dennis Wilson's son, Carl), Hank delivered another memorable guitar solo. I asked him while we were recording at Josquin Des Pres' venerable Track Star Studios to please give the song, which also features Chicago co-founder Robert Lamm on keyboards, a bit of a Carlos Santana vibe but still with that trademark Easton melodic touch. I felt that would work well given the song's emotional nature. And again, Hank nailed it.


Hank Easton, Business Major


Although his cool demeanor suggests he is a Southern California native, Hank was actually born in Mt. Vernon, New York. Learning his first guitar chords at age five, he studied classical guitar, jazz and music theory at The Cleveland Institute of Music from early childhood until age 17. He graduated with a B.S. in Business from The Ohio State University in 1985.


Hank at home
Since moving to San Diego in 1986, Hank's enjoyed a successful and varied music career. His repertoire now covers everything from classic rock, pop and electric guitar classics to modern blues, classical and jazz. He's gigged all over Southern California and across the nation as a solo artist and as a standout in such bands as The Heroes and, perhaps most notably, The Steely Damned, the nation's most acclaimed Steely Dan tribute band. 

In The Steely Damned, which is fronted by Bob Tedde, who also leads the hugely popular 60's and 70's classic rock band Rockola, Hank has the heady, unenviable task of duplicating the guitar solos of the many great guitarists who've played on Steely Dan records over the years: "Skunk" Baxter, Elliott Randall, Jay Graydon, Larry Carlton, Denny Dias, Dean Parks, Rick Derringer, Mark Knopfler, and of course Steely Dan co-founder Walter Becker.

I can only imagine the amount of time it takes to master the brainy charts and parts from Steely Dan's many celebrated ax men. But Hank loves the challenge. He's clearly still having fun making music and has left that business major far behind -- though I'm sure it comes in handy when he's negotiating gigs.
 

And speaking of gigs, he's played some pretty cool ones over the years. His favorite? "Playing with The Steely Damned in New York City was up there, " he says. "Bernard Purdee sat in on drums. He played on many of Steely Dan's hits."

This video shows Hank jamming in New York with Purdee on the Steely Dan hit "Kid Charlemagne." Just go to the 4:25 mark, turn up the volume and marvel at Hank's musicianship. 
In fact, sometimes he's been a little too good for his own good. After his jazz fusion band opened for Acoustic Alchemy at The Bacchanal, the once-popular but long-defunct club in Kearny Mesa, Hank recalls, "We got a standing ovation, and never was asked to open again!"

Just recently Hank signed on to make his debut at Croce's Park West, which carries on Ingrid Croce's tradition of presenting the best food and live music in town. Ingrid's former club, Croce's Restaurant & Jazz Club, was a staple in the Gaslamp District for more than 30 years, but I like the new digs even more. Ingrid, a gifted restaurateur whose late husband is of course legendary singer-songwriter Jim Croce, is clearly an Easton fan. 


“After listening to the newest Hank Easton tracks, 'Snapshots,' that feature 12 tracks, I wanted to hear more," Ingrid says. "So I listened to 'Nylon and Steel” and then to '11'. Wow, what a gifted artist he is. I was intrigued by his unusual vocals and amazing guitar playing and I had the feeling he might be channeling Jim Croce’s accompanist, Maury Muehleisen. I can’t wait for him to come to Croce’s Park West to have the pleasure of meeting and hearing Hank Easton in person!” 


Hank Still Loves to Play 


Hank, whose favorite guitarists include Jeff Beck, George Benson, all the Steely Dan guys, and Steve Howe from Yes, tells me the highlights of his career are his original recordings. "Although not as monetarily rewarding as I wish, I have a lot of pride in my compositions," he says.

That's pretty common for a musician who also happens to be a songwriter. The personal stuff means the most. But he still loves performing live. "I like to share my talents with other people and make them happy," says Hank, whose appearances include songs that most musicians would never even try. "Of course, I do perform songs that are also not hugely challenging, because they are songs that connect with me," he says. "I have really found my niche with my present solo act."


On stage, Hank does everything from classical and Spanish guitar to Hendrix, Steely Dan, Jeff Beck, Allman Brothers and James Taylor. He'll also throw in tunes from such artists as Norah Jones and Michael Buble'. 
"I have no limits as to what I'll perform," he explains. "If I like it and I can do a great version I play it. This is great for me as I have a love for many different styles of music. I wrap it all into one show."

Hank likes to engage with his audiences. But you might not want to ask him what his favorite song or style is. He, uh, gets that a lot.

"I tell people that it's like asking what's your favorite food: It's not going to be the same answer every day," he says. "One day I might really want lobster, one day I might want a Philly Cheesesteak and fries or a cherry pie. Sure, there are songs that I enjoy playing more than others some days, but it's not the same for me every time I pick up a guitar. It changes with whatever mood I'm in at the time."


Join me for a smorgasbord of great live music and delicious food when Hank jams at Croce's Park West on Monday night, June 15. The music starts at 6:00 p.m. Call 619-233-4355 or email info@crocesparkwest.com for more information and reservations.



4 comments:

  1. One reader who could not post (thanks blogspot) had this to say:

    Nice feature, Jamie. You get into all of the stuff I always wanted to know about Hank. I have been watching Hank for twenty years. He never disappoints! I personally would compare him to Larry Carlton because of all the studio guys I listen to I think Larry has the most original ear. Hank doesn't sound like Larry, but he has an amazingly original take on everything he plays.

    Randy Chiurazzi

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. PS - Thanks for the kind words, Randy.

      Delete
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