Jim Mesi and the 30-Year Guitar Lesson
I don't blame myself as much as I used to for thinking I could make it in the music business. After all, I was raised overseas and I had no idea what the talent level was like in this country. I do remember arriving in Portland in the 70s and going to a club called the Silver Moon. It was either that tavern or the one right down the block. Anyway, the Paul Delay band was on a break and I watched in amazement as this huge guy drank beer right out of a pitcher. It turned out to be the man himself, and when he took the stage again, there was a short lead guitarist who turned out to be Jim Mesi. I was about to get a lesson in guitar greatness, and I distinctly remember thinking, "Wow, these guys sound like a great blues record." I also remember thinking that my band was in big trouble.
I would later learn that the best music in the USA wasn't necessarily on the radio, and that there was a vast talent pool underneath the highly visible acts. In Arabia I had been in one of the best and only rock bands in the whole country. Here, I wasn't even in the best band on the block. Welcome to America, son.
Do you know how most things wear out? You're amazed when you're younger, but then you get used to it, and maybe even a little cynical? It's actually a good feature of humans - without it, we'd still be in a cave somewhere dazzled by fire. I call it my Bigfoot Theory. If they did capture the mythical monster, and put it in the zoo, we'd be used to it in around 18 months, and bored with it. Meanwhile, each and every time we see something like a giraffe we should be knocked out. With humans, it's always ho-hum way before it should be.
That's why Jim Mesi is so incredible. I saw him play last night at Duff's Garage as part of a benefit for yet another musician without health insurance. This guy's named Marco Savo and he tore up on guitar himself. There was also part of a group called the Insomniacs. By the way, Portland, I get it. You don't have to do anything further to convince me how much I suck on the guitar. Each guitarist that took the stage was dazzling in his own right. And then it was Jim Mesi's turn.
If you don't know his history, he was part of the touring bands of B.B. King and Roy Orbison. That should give you some idea of the talent level here. I knew he had the smoking roadhouse blues thing covered, I knew he had those 60s guitar instrumentals covered, and then some. I knew he could take a song like "Hot Rod Lincoln" and destroy it. I was impressed as always, but I wasn't amazed. It's that human ho-hum thing.
Then Jim began switching to a different style during some of his leads. He began floating around like a pedal steel guitar. In fact he was even getting volume swells - so much so that I walked up to the stage to see if he was using a volume pedal. Nope, it was Jim, generating volume swells with the bending of the strings. Ridiculous.
I actually followed him out to his car and had a quick talk with him. I told him it was an honor to live in the same town as him, and it is. Then I said I couldn't believe some of the high ethereal tones he was coaxing out of his Gibson and - I hesitated to say this since he's a blues guy - I told him that it sounded like a pedal steel. Much to my surprise he replied, "Well, you know I play pedal steel."
My wife and I didn't stick around for Duffy Bishop and Paul Delay. She wanted to, but my mind was fried. I couldn't believe what I had just heard out of Jim Mesi - everything else seemed like overkill. 30 years later, the guy's more of a guitar monster now than ever. Okay, Portland, I get it! I really suck on the guitar. I had no business thinking I could make it as a musician. I could have played bass in Jim Mesi's band but once I blew out my wrist, it was over. I should have skipped the guitar and walked away. It took 30 years but I understand that now. If I didn't learn my lesson back in the 70s, Jim Mesi just gave me a refresher course.