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Pickin' Out a Spot for Himself

Pop music: Sideman Les Dudek has lent his guitar skills to many a classic album. Now he hopes to move off the sidelines.

February 28, 1996|BUDDY SEIGAL | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you've never heard the name Les Dudek, you've probably heard him play guitar anyway. He is in constant demand as a sideman, and his playing has graced such all-time classic albums as the Allman Brothers' "Brothers and Sisters," Boz Scaggs' "Silk Degrees" and the Steve Miller Band's "Fly Like an Eagle" and "Book of Dreams," not to mention recordings by Stevie Nicks, Cher, Maria Muldaur, Dave Mason and others.

Few people, though, have heard Dudek's own albums, which find him really stretching out and flashing world-class blues-rock chops without the restraints of whatever parameters limit his employers' sounds.

Between 1976 and 1981, he released four albums on Columbia, but they attracted little attention and he quietly blended back into the shadows of a sideman's world. Now a new Dudek album is out ("Deeper Shades of Blues," on the GeoSynchronous label), and he is newly dedicated to rekindling his own career, to grabbing a piece of the spotlight for himself. He plays Thursday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano.

"Music had gotten difficult in recent years as far as dealing with record companies and what have you," he said during a recent phone interview. "But things seem to be coming back around; there's just different names for it now.

"I was in Nashville and I heard some stuff that sounded like Lynyrd Skynyrd, and instead of calling it country rock, they were calling it 'rockin' country.' Now you tell me what that's all about. Things that people said were dated are cool now. I know I've run into a lot of young guitar banditos and they're all playing the blues. That's kind of refreshing. That's where I was when I was growing up."

Dudek, 43, was raised in Florida and began playing professionally at age 15, developing the biting, ringing blues attack, fat round tones and fluid improvisation that are the trademarks of his sound.

"One of my favorites when I was growing up was the Ventures--the early days when they did the 'Knock Me Out' album with 'Slaughter on Tenth Avenue' on it. They did a lot of cool stuff. And then, of course, I always liked the blues greats--B.B., Albert and Freddie King. Anything that had to do with the blues--Mike Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield's 'Pigboy Crabshaw' album, Al Kooper and all those guys."

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By the time he was 20, Dudek's reputation had traveled throughout the South and he was asked to join the Allmans on their 'Brothers and Sisters' album in 1973. It's a bittersweet memory for Dudek: The sessions launched his career on the national scene, but there still is bad blood between him and Allman guitarist Dickey Betts over songwriting credits.

"Dickey and I don't talk now. He doesn't talk to a whole lot of people; he's kind of a difficult cat to communicate with."

Still, "that was about eight months after Duane [Allman] had died," Dudek recalls, "when the Allman Brothers were the band, on top of the world. I found myself at 20 years old standing where Duane would have stood, cutting 'Rambling Man.' That was a real big thrill for me."

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After the success of "Brothers and Sisters," Dudek was snatched up to play guitar in Boz Scaggs' band. Meanwhile, he moonlighted with the Steve Miller Band (of which Scaggs had been a member). In the early '80s he took a hiatus from touring and recording, but in '85 he wrote songs for and appeared in the Peter Bogdanovich film "Mask" with his then-girlfriend Cher. In more recent years, he has worked with Nicks and has been a member of a revamped Steppenwolf.

He says he is negotiating with several major labels to pick up "Deeper Shades of Blues" from GeoSynchronous and to give it wider distribution and promotion. And for now, anyway, he says he's not considering any offers for sideman's work.

"I'm pretty serious about this, man. I want to create a gig for other people, get something going, crank up some more records. I've got a lot of records in me that I want to get out."

* Les Dudek plays Thursday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. The J.J. Lewis Band and Red Hot Blues open. 8 p.m. $12. (714) 496-8930.

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