Texas-born Sonny Rhodes is one of the few remaining masters of lap steel blues guitar, the tail end of a gulf-coast tradition that started with Hop Wilson and L.C. "Good Rockin'" Robinson in the late 30s and early 40s. One of the lap steel's best qualities is its range of emotional and melodic possibilities, and Rhodes can coax it into any mood: his graceful interpretation of Santo & Johnny's "Sleep Walk" is a perennial showstopper, but he can dig just as effortlessly into a grinding backstreet-Chicago shuffle. On "All I See Is Blue," from his 1996 disc Out of Control (King Snake), Rhodes combines influences as diverse as Carlos Santana (in the opening riff), Albert King (in his sinuous string bending), and Lou Rawls (in his smooth baritone croon); "Lifetime Thing," from the same recording, resonates like vintage Memphis soul. He's even imbued the chestnut "Drink Muddy Water" with new life, goosing it with a jaunty, nightclubby swing. And when Rhodes picks up a standard electric guitar, as on "Dollar Bill Woman" or "Have Love Will Travel," he proves himself equally adept with grungy crunch boogie. His subjects include social problems ("Out of Control," "Woman Abuse") as well as more traditional themes like heartbreak and the evils of erotic enslavement. But Rhodes never crosses the line from righteousness to dull earnestness: "Out of Control," for instance, is propelled by a percolating funk groove, and Rhodes's screaming leads proclaim ecstatic abandon rather than apocalyptic dread--picking while Rome burns was never so much fun. Saturday, 10 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 312-427-0333. DAVID WHITEIS
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo by Steve Roberts.