Earl Klugh At Center Stage
Groundbreaking entertainer shows Chicagoans why he's still one of the best
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EARL KLUGH is nothing if not smooth––his demeanor, his music and, during his recent Chicago performance––even his way of greeting the City Winery crowd: “We’ve been having a real good time this week,” he laughed, in reference to earlier performances in other cities. “I’m pretty good at this, I guess.”
With that, Klugh, who’s just as adept with upbeat tunes as he is with ballads, proceeded to exhibit why he is considered to be one of the finest acoustic guitarists around, opening the show with “Brazilian Stomp,” a tune he played originally with his mentor, George Benson, on the Collaboration CD. Working on that collection was a kind of reunion for the two because a 17-year-old Klugh was a member of Benson’s band years ago.
This was Klugh’s first time back in Chicago (a place he says he loves but is too cold) since October 2012 when he performed “An Intimate Evening With Earl Klugh” at the Old Town School of Folk Music. He was met with the kind of enthusiasm that, he says, inspires him.
There is a certain degree of elegance that characterizes both Klugh and his music. After 41 years of making records––including 41 CDs, 22 Top 10 tunes, 10 No. 1 tunes, multiple Grammy nominations and a Grammy Award––Klugh is still a guitar virtuoso whose style of music was (and is) one of the major building blocks of contemporary jazz and a pillar in the foundation of the smooth jazz movement. Since his first album, Earl Klugh, was released in 1976, the former Detroit native, now living in Atlanta, has created a musical repertoire that highlights his skill and love for music in general. As he slipped into “Midnight in San Juan,” he had created a groove that already had old fans going down memory lane while new converts got a taste of the excitement and silkiness associated with Klugh’s music-making.
Throughout the night, Klugh played a perfect mix of songs that at once had the crowd dancing (“Cabo Frio”) or just soaking in the sweetness of ballads such as “Heart String” and “Wishful Thinking,” songs in which his guitar tells a beautiful story. Perhaps it is that classic take-you-away factor in his music that’s so attractive to listeners, prompting them to envision happier times and inviting places. For instance, a kind of “just let me listen to this” hush fell over the crowd when he played “Last Song,” a tune that displays Klugh’s dexterity and is one of those tunes that is perfect for cruising through the countryside with the top down.
Surprisingly, for some, Klugh included only one (“Vonetta”) of his numerous tunes with titles of women’s names. No “Catherine.” No “Angelina.” No “Julie.” No “Rayna.” No “Christina.” No “Felicia.” No “Alicia.” No “Debra Anne.” It has been a question among many of his followers if these are names he pulled from a hat or if they are people who have been a part of his life. Klugh answers, saying: “For years I’d write these songs and since there are no lyrics, it’s like what do you name this song? A lot of times, especially when I was young, I’d just pick girls’ names. But after a while, people began to say, ‘Man, you have to stop’ [laughter]. So I said, ‘OK, I’ll try to come up with some different kind of titles.’ It was just an easier way, especially if it was a ballad. It was an easier way to do it.”
By the time he played, the classics “Living Inside Your Love” and “Dr. Macumba,” Klugh––backed up by saxophonist Thomas Braxton, bassist Al Turner, drummer Ron Otis and keyboardist David Lee––had delivered a memorable exhibition of his enormous talent that was influenced by, in addition to Benson, a wide range of musicians, including Wes Montgomery, Sergio Mendes, Burt Bacharach, the Beatles, jazz and classical guitar music from Brazil, Argentina and Spain. The Motown era, he says, also played a huge part in his development. The City Winery crowd was the beneficiary of all that impressive combination has created. “Music for me has always been a driving force in my life,” Klugh says. “I love the emotion music evokes, and the stories it tells. No matter the genre, or style, I can always find something to enjoy. Music has no boundaries.”
Apparently, there have been no boundaries for Klugh and his music. After 41 years, the smoothness continues, and the show goes on!
"I'm always amazed that fans are so loyal. So many have shared stories and memories of what my music has meant to them. It's the most wonderful compliment I could ever receive."
–– Earl Klugh
Pioneering guitarist Earl Klugh recently performed two shows at City Winery.
EARL KLUGH'S PLAYLIST
Midnight in San Juan
Living Inside Your Love
ENCORE: The Christmas Song