Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Guitar'n uncle

For just two guys with acoustic guitars, the Drunken Uncles create a big sound. Robin Steiger has a lot to do with that.

Before joining singer Tom Hurley in the Drunken Uncles, Steiger was performing in Ron Stone's Milestones Big Band and with the Worcester Light Opera Company, as well as in his own bands that ran from rock to blues. Steiger studied for many years with jazz master Rich Falco and eventually began teaching at the same school, Clemente Music Studio, in Worcester. Steiger even learned a few licks and tricks from Worcester-bred guitar great Duke Levine ("My biggest influence," Steiger says).

The Drunken Uncles play Thursday night in the Coppertop.

"My training was in classical and jazz, but I always loved rock," Steiger says. "I just always tried to blend it all together."

To that end, Steiger never plays a song the same way twice. Even as the Drunken Uncles cover popular songs from several eras, Steiger says he does not try and recreate a song note-for-note.

"The way I was taught by Rich Falco was don't try and copy a song, but instead try and capture its essence in your playing. I try and create a feeling," Steiger says.

Playing for as long as he has in such a variety of settings, Steiger knows a lot of songs and is game to try almost anything.

"I made Tom sing 'Dancing Queen' one night after someone requested it. It was a train wreck but it was fun to try," Steiger says. "Tom and I can be polar opposites sometimes. He'll want to make sure something works; I'll just want to go for it. It can create a tension, like Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey."

 Which brings us to the video clip. It's not a flashy production, but check out Steiger's burst of notes about a minute-and-a-half into the Who gem.

Though he'd like to toss some numbers by  blues and jazz player Robben Ford into the set, and would be happy covering Steely Dan songs all night, Steiger says just about any tune can become an interesting piece of guitar work.

"I remember Duke (Levine) playing a Michael Jackson song_ 'I Want You Back'_ and he made it sound amazing, even without the vocals," Steiger says. "There's no reason you can't do that with every song."

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