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STRIPPED-DOWN TRADITION

From Club Crawl™ to The Great Cover-Up to Club Congress' annual birthday celebrations, Tucson is rich in events that galvanize the local music community. This week brings us another of those institutions.

Originally conceived by Chris Holiman (River Roses, 35 Summers, Downtown Saints) as a way of providing a salve to a then-splintered music community, the first Wooden Ball took place at the long-defunct Nino's Steakhouse in the late '80s. For several years, it remained a one-off event, until 1994, when Holiman resuscitated it as a showcase for local talent in an intimate setting. To further that intimacy, each participating act played short sets on acoustic instruments that placed the focus firmly on the songs themselves and the way in which they were performed; no one was able to hide behind their Marshall stacks.

Though it has changed homes a couple of times in recent years, the Wooden Ball has remained an annual event since 1994. In 2005, it doubled in size--from one night to two--and, though Holiman toyed with the idea of scaling it back again to a single night this year, it seems as though the hootenanny could not be contained: The Ball is set to take place at Club Congress on Friday, Jan. 4, and Saturday, Jan. 5.

As for that stripped-down format, well, a few electric instruments have seeped into the mix from time to time, but the same conceit is largely there; the Wooden Ball always seems to bring out the best in the performers.

Here's who's performing:

Night One, Friday, Jan. 4 (in order of appearance): Cheapness, Redlands, Michael P. Nordberg, Chris Holiman and the Downtown Saints, Luca, Namoli Brennet and Al Perry.

Night Two, Saturday, Jan. 5 (in order of appearance): Traffic Violator, Andrew Collberg, Little Sisters of the Poor, Tracy Shedd, The Deludes, The Jons and Greyhound Soul.

Doors open at 8 p.m., and it's five bucks per night to get in. Club Congress is located at 311 E. Congress St., but you already knew that, didn't you? Call 'em up at 622-8848 for more information.


LEE THE LEGEND

This week marks the first installment of a new series at Vaudeville Cabaret: Mark Insley will host Outlaw Country, ostensibly with a different guest performer each time--and for the series kickoff, they've landed a doozy.

Though many people may not recognize his name (and those that do may confuse him with his guitar-playing contemporaries Alvin Lee, of Ten Years After, or Arthur Lee, of Love), Albert Lee's career as a guitar player's guitar player is storied.

Born in England in 1943, Lee began playing piano when he was 7, encouraged by his father, who was also a musician. By the time rock 'n' roll came around, he had the skills to jump head-first into it. He idolized Jerry Lee Lewis, whose music introduced him to rockabilly, and from there, he switched from piano to guitar and began studying everyone from Buddy Holly to Gene Vincent, the Louvin Brothers to the Everly Brothers. At age 16, he began getting work as a side musician for several British singers, and, in fact, replaced Jimmy Page in two bands along the way.

In the '60s he joined the Thunderbirds, a vehicle for the British singer Chris Farlowe that scored several hit singles. In 1968, he and Farlowe parted ways, and Lee spent the next two years in a band that backed American country artists such as Bobby Bare and Skeeter Davis while they toured Europe. He drifted in and out of bands before a stint in Heads, Hands and Feet, a British country-rock band that released a widely acclaimed album that garnered comparisons to the Flying Burrito Brothers, the Grateful Dead and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. That band lasted two years, and afterward, Lee went back to session work.

In the early '70s, due to the unexpected success of The London Howlin' Wolf Sessions, which brought the blues master over to England to record with now-famous British musicians who had grown up on his music, several labels followed suit, sending their blues musicians across the pond for similar treatment (and, they hoped, similar success). Lee made his way onto the recording of Jerry Lee Lewis' London session, and bigger things started happening for him. He became a member of his beloved Crickets, with whom he recorded an album and toured for two years, before moving to Los Angeles, where he first joined Don Everly's band, then Joe Cocker's.

Thus began his career as one of the most sought-after guitarists in Los Angeles and Nashville during that period. He recorded with Emmylou Harris (who also guested on his first solo album, 1979's Hiding), Jackson Browne, John Prine and Bo Diddley, among dozens of others, and performed with the reunited Everly Brothers. But even with all those gigs under his belt, Lee is probably still best known for his stint playing with Eric Clapton, as documented on the 1980 live album Just One Night. (Clapton famously once called Lee "the greatest guitarist in the world.")

Most recently, Lee performed at last summer's Crossroads Guitar Festival, and at last month's Ahmet Ertegun tribute show in London (aka the Led Zeppelin reunion gig), for which he performed with Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings.

Catch Albert Lee in a rare club gig at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 9. Vaudeville Cabaret is located at 110 E. Congress St. Admission is $8. For further details, call 622-3535.


AN OPHTHALMOLOGIST ON MUSIC

Here's a little tidbit I've been wanting to mention for a while, but simply haven't had the space. (Thank goodness for the occasional slow week.)

One of the newest additions to KXCI FM 91.3's lineup is Dr. Dan's Road Show, which hits the airwaves each Tuesday night from 10 p.m. to midnight. Here's a brief explanation from Dan Twelker, aka Dr. Dan: "Dr. Dan's Road Show features songs from artists and bands that will be playing in Tucson over the next several months. I often air interviews, conversations and songs by touring artists and bands, recorded in KXCI's Studio 2A."

So, if you've ever read about a band or artist coming to town that you've never actually heard, and you don't want to risk the damage to your wallet--or don't want to take the time to hunt down their MySpace page--consider Dr. Dan's Road Show your tidy, one-stop scheduling assistant.

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