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VALLEY WEEKEND | ROCKTALK

Block's Music Easy on the Ears, Not the Fingers

Intense performances take their toll on the guitarist's hands. But the 'Tornado' creator likes to stir things up.

May 16, 1996|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Guitarist-singer Rory Block says that her intensity onstage can even surprise her, especially when she looks down and realizes that she's been playing so hard her fingers are bleeding all over her guitar.

"I rip my hands apart; every night I have to tape my fingers up," she says. But, "blues is supposed to be played with intensity."

Block, who's playing at B.B. King's tonight, had the chance to learn from the best.

Her father's sandals shop in Greenwich Village was a folk-music hangout in the early 1960s for people such as Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, John Sebastian, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, the Rev. Gary Davis and Stefan Grossman. Block started playing guitar when she was 11, and by 16, she was featured on Grossman's "How to Play Blues Guitar" instructional album.

She went on to become a respected acoustic folk and blues guitarist and vocalist, recording more than 12 albums. She is currently on tour promoting her latest recording, "Tornado."

While her 1995 album, "When a Woman Gets the Blues," represented a return to her acoustic blues roots, "Tornado" continues a trend toward a more mainstream pop sound that started with her 1994 album "Angel of Mercy."

" 'Tornado' is a next step from 'Angel of Mercy,' " Block says, a trend that was disrupted when the people at the Rounder label suggested she do an all-acoustic blues album. Although it wasn't her idea, she says that blues album had a big influence on "Tornado."

The new release is bluesy, but still has a decidedly pop sound. It features guest stints by Paul Shaffer and Will Lee from David Letterman's "Late Night" band, Mary Chapin Carpenter, fiddler Stuart Duncan and David Lindley.

After years of touring solo, this is the first time Block has toured with a backup band, which consists of Rob Leon on bass, Peter O'Brien on drums, Mike Demicco on guitar, Vinnie Martucci on keyboards and Jordan Valdina on congas.

"I'm very lucky, these are fabulous musicians," Block says. "They've brought their own personalities to the show."

* Rory Block performs tonight at B. B. King's Blues Club, at Universal CityWalk, 1000 Universal Center Drive. $10 cover. Call (818) 622-5464.

*

Shock Pop: Singer-songwriter-humorist Henry Phillips' show is definitely not for the faint of heart.

Phillips, who's performing at the Hot House this Sunday, sounds like a twisted, comedic version of Dan Fogelberg--sweetly singing lyrics touching on a wide range of human foibles, perversities and bodily functions.

One reviewer has compared him to a young Bob Dylan, but Dylan's humor was never this overt. Phillips' material has all the subtlety of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."

"Music can sometimes take itself too seriously," says Phillips, "and this stuff is a break from that."

His stuff has its funny moments, but like most comic material based on outrageousness, when it doesn't work, it can quickly get ugly.

Phillips says he used to write serious songs. His influences were Billy Joel and Neil Diamond--"well written, well structured, songs about life."

"But then, I started putting comic lyrics to some of my serious tunes just to entertain my friends," he says. "The response to the comic songs was better."

Phillips grew up in New York, but moved to Los Angeles when he was a teenager. He says being both a musician and a UCLA political science major twisted his outlook.

In addition to a steady gig at Genghis Cohen's in Hollywood, Phillips also does freelance club work as a guitarist. He recently wrote a song for Kodak for an industrial trade show, called "Visions of Hollywood."

"It was my first sell-out gig--I have no shame," he says. "But I'm having a lot of fun with it."

* Henry Phillips performs Sunday night at the Hot House, 12123 Riverside Drive, North Hollywood. No cover. Call (818) 506-7058.

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