FAIRBANKS — Bluesman Gary Sloan got his start in Alaska in the 1970s playing with The Outlaws, Proof and Southside Blues Band, which featured current Mighty Untouchables guitarists Lindy and Larry Raines. Though he currently lives in Arkansas, Sloan regularly ventures north to play his old stomping grounds. He’s finishing up a series of shows tonight and Saturday at the Howling Dog, but on this visit there is one big difference — his twin sons are an integral part of the band.
The boys, Gary on bass and Jim on guitar, haven’t fallen far from the musical tree that is their blues harmonica-playing father — just far enough to discover a diverse range of influences, including jazz, fusion, classic rock and classical music. Both play in bands back home (including one together), with Gary also performing with regional orchestras and symphonies.
“The only place they can rock out is with dad, but the way they play is more like a fusion jazz slash blues slash rock jazz band,” the elder Sloan explained with a laugh during a recent phone interview.
When the three perform together, the music typically begins and ends with Sloan’s original songs. However, what happens inside the songs is open for interpretation.
“I never tell musicians in my band what to play. I tell them the song and the feel and that’s all,” Sloan said. “(My sons) have basically taken my material and stood it on the other end. They come at it from a whole different perspective. This is like tacking a harmonica player into the middle of Mahavishnu Orchestra. It’s that electric fusion jazz.”
But it goes even further than that. Jim, who recently graduated from the University of Arkansas with a degree in physics (Gary earned an arts degree, music emphasis), seems to toss out musical licks from various idioms at random. It adds an unexpected element to the performance.
“You hear phrases go by and think, ‘Wow, that sounds like Jerry Garcia,’ and later he’ll do a Santana lick,” Sloan said. “He’ll play lines from a jazz tune which you’ll recognize if you know the tune, but it’s all in passing. It’s stream of consciousness playing.”
These will be the final Alaska shows for the band, which also includes Alaskans Jim Lasiter on guitar and vocals and Dean Reeves on drums. The boys need to return home for work — Gary for orchestra rehearsal, and Jim to prepare for a teaching position as part of a master’s program.
“I ask him how he does it,” Sloan says of his physics-minded son, “and he says, ‘It’s the very same thing as your checkbook, dad.’ So I gave him my checkbook and said,
‘Here, make this work.’”— Glenn BurnSilver
(This article appears in the July 1, 2011 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.)