Primary Instrument: Band/orchestra
If you consider yourself a New Orleans music fan, you may find yourself in love with a never- ending web of music that entangles many genres and recordings over the last several decades produced by an unparalleled collection of musicians. The whole of this is what truly defines New Orleans music. You also likely know that by its relatively small size, New Orleans has this enormous music scene that expands well beyond the walls of Preservation Hall and Tipitina’s. And just when you think you’ve heard all there is to hear in original New Orleans music, you almost crave to be surprised by something so special it knocks you down, like the restaurant off the beaten path that had the killing gumbo you weren’t expecting. It was under your nose the whole time you’ve been living here. And it’s part of New Orleans....
Twangorama The disparity is striking--rarely does such a wealth of talent and such a dearth of ego grace the same musical stage. Twangorama is part mutual admiration society, part comedy and above all, one of the greatest collections of guitar virtuosos you’ll see on one stage. Jimmy Robinson, longtime Woodenhead frontman and the hardest working man in show business (according to his colleagues), is the ringleader of this six-string showcase. Twangorama is a five-piece band anchored by Phil deGruy, Cranston Clements and the aforementioned Robinson, three of the most enduring and accomplished guitarists of the New Orleans music scene. Woodenhead veterans, bassist Paul Clement and drummer Mark Whitaker, comprise the band’s rhythm section. The band’s repertoire is skewed toward rock, but during a recent performance at Carrollton Station, elements of jazz, pop, blues and even Celtic were also clearly audible.“Pop 40 Goes the Weasel,” a medley of samplings of 40 songs in less than three minutes, was an insightful opening number. The freedom that three guitars give to the ensemble provides great latitude to the players and gives a certain fullness to their sound. The meticulous synchronization of their fretboard mastery is a delight for guitar aficionados. xxIn fact, during one song, Clements and Robinson ran harmonized licks while deGruy plucked octaves, essentially providing a rare 4-part harmony of guitars. deGruy’s astounding myriad of chord voicings often provided a more sophisticated backdrop than is typical of a rock band and Phil demonstrates that he’s equally adept on the six-string as he is on the guitarp, the unique 17-string guitar/harp hybrid instrument that he usually dons for solo performances. Clements shines on a stirring rendition of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” a bluesy minor tune which plays to the band’s strength, and there are plenty of tradeoffs of solos to appease all of the players. During a recent interview, Robinson noted the Fab Four as one of his early musical influences.xx“It was the Beatles really for my whole generation as far as playing guitar and getting into a band. But the real guitar thing was Hendrix. That’s when the whole picture changed.”He recalled meeting Clements at free “concerts/ love-ins” at Audubon Park in the ‘60s that were a regular Sunday event. They had recorded some and played an odd gig together, but never formally got together until Twangorama formed. Robinson first met deGruy through a friend in the mid-70s, but again nothing formal transpired for years.xxClements might best be described as the Kevin Bacon (of the “six degrees of separation” movie trivia game fame) of guitarists � you can connect him to virtually any musician who’s been through New Orleans over the last four decades.xx“He’s really been in the trenches his entire life as a musician. He’s done any gig you can imagine,” said Robinson. “Cranston has played every style with everybody. There’s hardly anything that you can throw at him that he wouldn’t be able to do something good with. He’s a real good reader. He can conceptualize just about anything.”xxClements says of Robinson, “I greatly admire his total fearlessness,” noting that he never seems to back down from any musical endeavor that he feels has merit artistically. Clements also recalled with amazement a performance of Woodenhead where Robinson broke a D-string on his guitar and completely re-concep
tualized all of the guitar chord structures mid-song without missing a beat. Anyone who has seen or heard Phil deGruy knows how difficult it is to articulate his exceptional talents. “He has three brains. He’s unbelievable. He has a lot of really hotshot guitar players singing his praises all the time,” said Robinson. “He’s got an amazing ear. He’s just got a real massive musical mind.”Adding the Woodenhead members gave the band the freedom of knowing the rhythm section would come together seamlessly, allowing the band to focus on the intricacies of coordinating multiple guitars. “Paul and Mark came to Woodenhead when they were relatively young. They can do anything after the boot camp of being in Woodenhead with really super complicated music. They can both read and conceptualize really complicated stuff,”