Big Jim Sullivan with Duncan McKenzie
If you prefer your peanut butter smoo-ooth and you like your breezes warm and tropical – then the gentle sounds of Duncan Mckenzie and ‘Big Jim’ Sullivan are probably for you. This is music for the ’mellow birds’ set.
That is not to say that there is no drama or light n’ shade in their playing, but the sheer class and gentle power of the strings washes over the listener in a mesmeric and, frankly, spiritual way. Yes, it is musical healing.
You probably already knew that ‘Big Jim’ has worked with just about every artist in the business- from Ritchie Blackmore to Frank Zappa via Jimmy Page. He played with Elvis. He toured with Tom Jones. He practiced sitar with George Harrison in his sitting room. Heck, he was even on the fateful tour that ended Eddie Cochran’s life. But you probably were not aware of just how mighty and influential ‘Big Jim’ has been on the guitar world stage. Amongst his many, many achievements he can boast that he introduced 12-string guitars to the UK, he was the first to use fuzz-boxes and whah-whah on recordings and he even did the musical arrangements for the orchestral version of The Who’s Tommy.
Duncan McKenzie, one of the uk’s finest acoustic guitarists in his own right, provides the vocals for the duo.His ambient vocal style, gritty when required but fluid and soulful for the most part, add colour and nuance to the twin guitars.
I saw the duo at the convivial Staines Riverside Club, Laleham Road, Staines last week. Their set was split into two, with part one being acoustic and ‘jazzy’ and the second part being electric and ‘rocky’. The jazz standards in the first half were perfect and there was plenty to be amazed at. But the second half, the rock half, was when the fire really started and the earth really began to move. The pair sound a lot like 1970’s Dire Straits but the playing fluctuates between raw blues to flamenco style – always bold – always confident- using the body of the guitar percussively, and employing some sumptuous finger-style technique.
Covers include work by Van Morrison, Bob Dylan (or to be more accurate Jimi Hendrix plays Dylan), Eric Clapton, the Beatles and, naturally, Elvis. Sometimes folksy and soulful a la 1970’s Wishbone Ash, often gritty and raw, but always majestically tuneful and gloriously sumptuous.
This is guitar heaven. It is guitar cream and honey.