My first Guitar Teacher, the ultra-hip Bunnie Grégoire, turned me on to H.R. Is a Dirty Guitar Player. Although, at the time, I had trouble relating to traditional jazz guitar, this LP struck a chord in me—and it still does. Here, Roberts’ Gibson ES-150 sings soulfully with a thick guitar tone that drips perfectly with reverb. The tunes are a great combination of tight arrangements—many clocking in at three minutes or less—and fiery improvisation. Burkley Kendrix’s organ playing is a wonderful and worthy foil to Roberts, and they throw the ball back and forth with expertise and spirit.
This record was an inspiration to me and I studied it fiercely, but also it led to a few archeological digs. Roberts’ smoky, late-night version of “Watermelon Man” inspired me to seek out the original Herbie Hancock version, and then onto the Mongo Sanataria version that is absolutely amazing. Additionally, Roberts’ great cover of “One Note Samba” led me to discover the Antonio Jobim version, which gave me perspective on Roberts’ unique reinvention of the piece. The standout track is “Satin Doll,” where Roberts and company reinvent the tune with a syncopated, Wes Montgomery meets James Burton vibe. Roberts’ arrangement shows how imagination and creativity can override a cynical disqualification of a tune that might be typecast as a cliche.
I tried to apply what I learned from H.R. Is a Dirty Guitar Player to my Jim Campilongo & the 10 Gallon Hats releases: short compositions, limited solo time, but cohesive dialogs between the soloists. I also learned that I could rework a cover song and make it my very own. As a result, I never underestimate the potential of a jazz standard—no matter how often it has been dragged through the mud. If you haven’t heard H.R. Is a Dirty Guitar Player, I highly recommend it. Howard Roberts makes me love guitar.