Bobby Radcliff: Blues guitar virtuoso

October 2, 1991

By Norm Dixon

Genuine blues music comes from the heart. It originates from life experiences — sometimes the good ones, but more often the tough ones. Black Americans have always had it toughest in the United States, so it is little wonder that they both gave birth to the blues and keep it alive by providing the bulk of performers and audiences.

There is a platitude among many blues enthusiasts that "whites can't play the blues". But blues has a universal appeal, and millions of white North Americans are devoted fans, as are many millions of other people throughout the world. Blues and its cousins, r & b and soul, the largely unacknowledged inspiration of most modern pop music, continue to influence millions more.

So while relatively few white people choose to play the blues and fewer do it well, great blues players are not defined by their colour. White performers, who live and breathe the blues, can match it with the greats — the late Stevie Ray Vaughan and Johnny Winter immediately spring to mind.

The list of white blues greats has recently expanded to include New York-based Bobby Radcliff, currently touring Australia. His opening show at Sydney's Bridge Hotel revealed Radcliff to be a blues guitar virtuoso. He plays with poker-faced concentration and intensity, but his guitar exudes raw emotion and excitement. He teases and coaxes from it the most remarkable blues sounds, from the melancholy to the exuberant, from the moody to the flippant.

Radcliff's style is reminiscent of the great Freddie King. I heard others in the crowd comparing him to Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray. Highlights included a terrific version of James Brown's "Sex Machine", the instrumental "Spunky Onions" and Freddie King's masterpiece, "Hideaway".

Thirty-nine-year-old Radcliff is a man possessed by the blues. At 17, he sought out the legendary "Magic Sam" Maghett. Magic Sam took Bobby around the clubs of Chicago, the home of the blues, where he absorbed the range of guitar styles and was introduced to many of the musicians. Since then he has laboured away in the small clubs of New York and Washington, only recently gaining long-overdue recognition.

Radcliff is one of the featured artists appearing at the Sydney Carnivale celebrations. If you get the chance, he is well worth seeing; if you don't, his album Universal Blues, on Black Top records and distributed by Larrikin, has just been released in Australia to coincide with his tour.

Bobby Radcliff will be appearing at the Club Carnivale (a.k.a the Harbourside Brasserie, Sydney), October 4-6.

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