The Musical Round-Up: Arizona Blues Project

Monday 5.6.2013 @ 8:38pm | ImagesAZ | Lifestyle

Paul Reed is a strong, steady, capable musician, one of the most respected guitar players in the Cave Creek music scene.


But that’s only half of his story, if that. He is also a selfless, tireless promoter of that scene, energetically connecting musicians, encouraging individuals and bands and generally doing all he can to hype things up around town.


“He’s the musical mayor of Cave Creek,” chuckled Sal Carlino the other night. It was a Friday night at the Tap Haus, and Reed wasn’t there to play, just to enjoy Carlino’s band and cheer on the dynamic guitarist. Reed also consistently challenged Carlino, walking up to the stage to request complex Gov’t Mule and Robin Trower songs.


During a break, Reed introduced Carlino to this interviewer, then went off to flag down other musicians in the room. “He makes sure everybody meets everybody,” Carlino said of Reed. “And he’s the loudest clapper in town.”


Reed’s seemingly selfless networking also has served him well. The second act of his own musical career began when a serious knock on the head led this former daredevil back to the blues.


A few years ago, he was doing stunts on a motorcycle, driving a good 70 mph as he came into a turn and tried to accelerate to do a wheelie. The bike went out of control. “I went 10 feet in the air, landed right on my head,” Reed told me. After recovering from head and other injuries, it was clear he couldn’t direct his wild energies on two wheels anymore. “I was running around saying, ‘What am I going to do with myself, now?’ My buddies said, ‘Play guitar!’”


Now 63, he had played guitar through college and formed a band, but when that group broke up he lost interest in playing and set about a stable career in manufacturing sales. After retiring, he decided to relocate to the Cave Creek area, which he was familiar with from traveling here for gun shooting shows.


“I used to stay at the Tumbleweed Hotel.” Once he settled here and revived his music playing, the owner of the Cave Creek Coffee Company offered him a regular spot. So Reed did what he does best, making phone calls, cajoling, pitching and using all his sales tools to surround himself with top-notch players.


Reed’s Arizona Blues Project band features Chuck Hall, “a legend of the Phoenix scene,” who agreed to take time away from his own band; Al Ortiz, a sizzling bass player who toured for years with Stevie Nicks; and drummer Gary Bruzzese, who was on the road with Glen Campbell for two decades. After C4 closed, Reed and company sauntered up Cave Creek Road to Harold’s.


The Arizona Blues Project plays every Thursday night at Harold’s, where they rip through up-beat blues and even hard-rock numbers with the kind of high-energy precision that only veterans can sustain. If you listen closely, you’ll also hear some amusing between-songs banter. (“Should we do the next one in B-flat?” “B-flat? If we could do it in B-flat, would we be in (expletive) Harold’s?”)


The other night, a few dozen people were enjoying cocktails and the music, with some dancing to a long blues jam buzzed up by thunderous drums and the wailing duel guitars of Hall and Reed. Wearing a straw hat, the white-bearded Reed calmly sits and strums a pretty white guitar almost like it’s a banjo. He is a very democratic band leader, letting others take the microphone and run the show. On a recent night, he even allowed a talented 14-year-old local to borrow his guitar and take his spot for a few songs.


The ABP plays the dirty, low-down, busted-wallet, old-lady-hates-me blues, as the gigantic Hall steps to the microphone and howls about a demon girl, punctuating the song with a staccato exclamation point. This is blues with sonic jams, every song in danger of going epic with incrementally layered, almost playful builds toward ear-busting crescendos. The savvy players seem to treat notes like a whiskey bottle, taking a few swigs and passing it on. (Check out the 12-minute version of “The Thrill Is Gone” on YouTube.)


The anchor is Reed, the fast-talking gunslinger who lives in Carefree and is as eager to pump up other bands as his own. “Most nights within a half-mile, there’re four or five or six great bands playing,” the gangling, over-sized leprechaun gushes. “Cave Creek is like a mini-Austin.”


In addition to the Arizona Blues Project on Thursdays, rotating country and blues/rock bands play Friday and Saturday nights at Harold’s, which also hosts karaoke on Wednesday nights.