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Stevie Ray Vaughn fucked it up for everyone. You can't go out and see a guitar player without thinking that the player in question is aping Vaughn. Well, friends and neighbors, I'm here to tell you, Hugh Pool isn't aping anyone but that's what I get when I listen to people talk about Hugh: "The dude plays like Stevie. The dude's as good as Stevie. Who the fuck does this guy think he is, trying to play like Stevie."

On a personal note I'd just like to say that I love how people are on a first name basis with the dead. People are stupid that way. People are stupid in the way that they can only define things in forms of comparison. The post modern imagination has devolved to such a point that humanity no longer creates metaphor free from reality and gravity but rather crutches on simile. We are a stupid, useless lot, us humans. Except Hugh. He's the exception.

He's a frighteningly great guitarist whose chops run three generations of players while still understanding the etymology of the primary verb. He "plays" music. He doesn't perform. He doesn't showcase. He doesn't whiz up and down the fretboard in a self indulgent arpeggio fest. He doesn't strut the stage. He doesn't pout at the mike. He simply just plays.

I feel a little voyeuristic, all things being equal, watching Hugh give it up. In this city you can catch people in the act of being themselves. If you're lucky you can spot an unsuspecting citizen being who there are, doing whatever it is they do. You can stand on a subway platform and watch as someone on another platform picks at their ears, as a man tugs at his tie, as a mother lets loose a look of desperation at her crying infant, as some Jersey Punk refugee weeps openly. Despite (or maybe due to) all the distractions all these people let down their guards, stand naked as their defenses and facades crumble like Georgia brick, and for one brief moment they are who they truly are.

It's true that Hugh can play the living shit out of a guitar. He can do things to the instrument that I have NEVER seen anyone do. His riffs are as seamless as a bender. His tone borders on the sublime. But all of it is smoke and mirrors, icing on a very large cake. The thing about Hugh is that when you see him you see this guy who is being true. You see who he is, which is to say you see a man who lives so deep in the pocket that he probably evolved from lint. In this day and age of Velveeta processed bands, Hugh is refreshing to say the least.

Not that he doesn't care about the audience, he does. He wants the audience to feel the music the same way that he feels it. He wants the audience to get so lost in the sound that everything else, at least for a moment, will cease. And that's the point of live music, isn't it?

I once saw Steve Vai play this headsplitting solo on a guitar w/ three necks. I remember the thoughts of disbelief. I remember thinking Vai must have AT LEAST one guitarist under the stage. I remember being awed at the dude's virtuosity. Problem is, I remember thinking. I once saw Albert Collins walk one hundred feet onto a Texan grassy knoll, playing "Killing Floor" and chatting with the onlookers as he strolled by. I remember wondering what the topmost range of the his mobile unit was. I remember hoping that he would stroll my way. I remember thinking that walking into the crowd is, indeed, a great parlor trick. Problem still is that I remember thinking.

For every instance of greatness I have felt displaced from the player, displaced from the music, a well-mannered spectator nursing the bottom half of a two drink minimum. When Hugh plays I can think of nothing. Every so often the music will trigger some VERY DISTURBING sense memory type shit, but I can think of absolutely nothing. While he is playing time, as I know it, snaps out or linear reality. Time ceases to be relevant. There is only the music. It's sort of like hitchhiking to nirvana on someone else's mantra.

Hugh always stops for hitchhikers. Like I said, he cares about the audience. He knows what it feels like when you are there, in that place. He also knows that the energy is tangible and, no matter what, bows to the 1st law of thermodynamics. He knows that if he gives it to the audience then the audience, when they can't help but dance, or shake their head like some guilt ridden priest with terrets, they will give it back tenfold. Then, unbelievably, he'll play harder than before.

After people see Hugh they always remark that it's weird that the guy never made it, Stevie Ray being dead and all. It always pisses me off. The man has the ability to defy time, to carve the universe with a National Steel, to grin gap toothed at A&R, and still play for the sake of playing.

If that's not making it, I don't know what is.

Harlan Longstreet, April 2000


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