Monday, February 03, 2020

Andy Gill RIP

While listing some albums for sale tonight, I figure Gang of Four's Solid Gold album should playing. So it is. For some reason, I know Entertainment and Songs of the Free really well, in terms of  full albums, but not this one. It has nothing to do with what I think of the album. Hell, I'm really digging the steady, unflinching groove of "What We All Want" right now. But by the time I got the album (I think someone gave it to me when I was in college), I put it away, thinking that there would be some other time when I'd immerse myself in it.

Andy Gill was one of maybe three touchstone guitars who epitomized a certain sound for me. (For the record, the other two are D. Boon and Roger Miller.) He could make a lot of noise on the guitar without going over the edge or forsaking the groove. I think the only person who ever had that brittle sound is Marc Ribot.

I haven't seen Gang of Four live since their reunion in the early '00s but like many people I still hold the band dear to my heart. The first time I saw them was in early 1983 at Pittsburgh's Stanley Theater, with locals the Five opening for them. My brother John took me, which was cool in and of itself, being the 10th grader hanging out with the older punks. The show was great, with several encores, which irritated me at the time because I understand how that worked at the time (the idea of the band leaving the stage and letting the crowd hoot and holler before they'd come back onstage). By this time Sara Lee was playing with them and she was funky as hell.

The show was on a Sunday night and got done close to 11:00 pm, which was not cool for a kid who didn't want to deal with parents who would chew him out when he got home. But John insisted we grab some food first on the way home. It turned out to be Primanti's, a Pittsburgh institution which is know for putting french fries and cole slaw on their sandwiches. (Any Pittsburgher worth their salt knows exactly what I'm talking about).

About eight years later, my friend Steve and I were drinking past closing time at Chief's Cafe, a local dive that was always filled with characters, most of whom were in bands or went to see bands. As Steve and I made our way out some time after 2:00, we noticed a guy who looked like Andy Gill coming out a few steps behind us. When we heard his English accent we realize it was Andy Gill. I think they had played at Graffiti, which was just down the street, earlier that evening. I'm not even sure if it was a Gang of Four show or not.

Steve went up to Andy and introduced himself, thanking him for his music and saying it had been an inspiration to him. Andy was gracious and thanked him. I was too inebriated to say something to him. Instead, after we walked out to the street, we started thinking of similarities between Andy and Davey Williams, the guitarist in the prog-jazz band Curlew. Only I got the name wrong and referred to Davey Johnstone, the guitarist who played with Elton John in the '70s. It was all very hilarious to my snockered mind. You had to be there.

All music nerd wisecracks aside, thank you for everything, Andy.

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