Choices are everywhere on the Roanoke music scene. Saturday night presents two stellar ones.
Gordon Lightfoot, who this year celebrates 50 years in the music business by touring with his longtime backing band, brings a cache of hits - including "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald," "Sundown," "Early Morning Rain" and "If You Could Read My Mind" - to Roanoke Performing Arts Theatre.
Guitarist Tommy Emmanuel, a Chet Atkins protege who long ago established his own voice to go along with fiery picking, headlines Jefferson Center's annual tribute to the late guitarist Brad "Buster B." Jones, a onetime Bedford County resident admired by guitarists around the world for his prowess.
We talked to Lightfoot and Emmanuel about their upcoming shows.
The story of Lightfoot's first hit album is a music business classic.
By 1970, Lightfoot, from the Toronto, Canada, region, had a hit single in the United States with "If You Could Read My Mind." But the album "Sit Down Young Stranger" was not selling well on the Warner/Reprise label. The label decided to change the album's name to "If You Could Read My Mind." Lightfoot remembers being livid, thinking that the label was "selling out."
So he flew from Toronto to Los Angeles in a "huff and a puff" to fight it out with label head Mo Ostin, he remembered. Ostin sent Lightfoot to the label's merchandising chief, Stan Cornyn.
"He asked me: 'Did you take algebra?' I told him I had," Lightfoot said in a June 4 telephone call. "He said, 'Changing the title of the album is the difference between X and 7X.'
"You know what I did? I turned around and got on the airplane, flew back to Toronto and let them change the title of the album."
The formula was spot-on. The retitled disc became a hit and fully established Lightfoot's career.
These days, though, he has turned his focus away from writing music. His last album of original music, "Harmony," came out in 2004. In the ensuing years, all of his "record label obligations" have ended, he said.
Lightfoot is simply focused on bringing the best possible live versions of the songs he has made famous - plus songs such as "Race Among The Ruins," "Drink, Your Glass Is Empty," "I'd Rather Press On" and "Sweet Guinevere" - numbers that Lightfoot had never performed live. They're great songs that he could never fit into a live set until now, he said.
"We're perfecting the live show," he said. "I was always into performing live, all through the whole thing. And now I got a chance to really zero in and hone in on it, and we're getting some really good results. I'm getting the kind of response that I love to see, too, out of the crowd, because it's getting better."
Emmanuel and Jones have a common denominator - Chet Atkins. Both Emmanuel, an Australian, and Jones, who lived in Bedford County from about 1985 to 2001, were influenced by and became friends with Atkins.
In a Tuesday phone conversation, Emmanuel remembered Jones, who died at 49 in February 2009, in Junction City, Ore.
Jones' skills inspired such international nicknames as "Le Machine Gun" and "Pistola" - but he was not strictly about speed and flash, Emmanuel said.
"In actual fact, Buster was a real sweet player and a good songwriter, as well," he said. "It's a side of his playing that I saw a lot and that I loved and appreciated. ? He was a real people- pleaser, and the audiences just loved him."
They first met at an edition of the Chet Atkins/Marcel Dadi Guitar Festival in France. Jones was there with picking partner Thom Bresh.
"Wow, when I heard him play, I was really knocked out," Emmanuel said. "His abilities were far beyond those of mortal men."
The two got to know each other better at the Chet Atkins conventions in Nashville, Tenn. Emmanuel remembered Jones in the late 1990s and early 2000s setting up his gear in the Sheraton Hotel bar, near the airport.
"And he would stay there all day, and people would just come along, and he'd invite them to jam," Emmanuel said. "And it was just great to see him holding court there, you know. People would ask him questions, and he would teach people. He was just a real giver, you know."
It's fitting, then, that all proceeds from Emmanuel's pre-show soundcheck workshop at Jefferson Center's Shaftman Hall will go to the Music Lab at Jefferson Center, an after-school incubator for young performers.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Where: Roanoke Performing Arts Theatre
How much: $55, $45
Info: 877-482-8496, www.hometownbanktix.com, twitter.com/ Lightfoot365
With Blue Mule & Friends, in a tribute to Buster B. Jones
When: 7:30 p.m.
Where: Jefferson Center
How much: $35.50
Note: Pre-concert soundcheck workshop at 5 p.m., $48
Info: 345-2550, jeffcenter.org, tommyemmanuel.com, bluemulemusic.com
Visit blogs.roanoke.com/cutnscratch to hear a podcast with Emmanuel, including streaming music from his recent collaboration with another fantastic guitarist, Martin Taylor, "The Colonel & The Governor."
A service of YellowBrix, Inc.
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