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The Hole World

Guitarist from Down Under is headed to the top and gaining international recognition.


Dave Hole is a slide blues guitar player and singer from Down Under.

The Australian has been on tour promoting his new album in the U.S. for five weeks now. So far, he's done New York, he's done Boston, he's done Indianapolis, and by Sunday morning, he will have done L.A., for the first time at B. B. King's in Universal City.

Hole, 49, is one of those overnight sensations whose evening lasted more than 20 years.

For years, Hole played clubs in his hometown of Perth. Perth is no small town but a city of about 1.2 million people on the southwest coast of Australia. The main thing to know about Perth is that it's not near anywhere else.

"Perth is probably the most isolated city in the world; the nearest city is 2,000 miles away," Hole says. "Major acts would always pass on Perth, so we local musicians always had a lot of work."

Hole, like a great many American lads growing up in the 1960s, was first introduced to the blues by 1960s British rock bands such as the Rolling Stones and the Animals. He later discovered Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Howlin' Wolf and others. Soon he was playing the guitar.

"I always mixed the blues up with a fair bit of rock n' roll," Hole says.

When he was about 22, he experimented with fretting the guitar with a slide.

"I'd always been attracted to the sound of the slide guitar," he says. "So I added a couple of slide-guitar songs to the show."

Because a football injury prevented him from playing in the recommended way, Hole started playing slide blues guitar the wrong way--hanging his hand over the top of the guitar neck. Actually, he plays it more like a country musician would play a dobro or a lap steel. Even after the finger healed, he continued playing that way. And to much success.

Pretty soon, those slide-guitar tunes were getting the best response of any songs in the show. Not being foolish, Hole added a few more. And then, "slowly, they just took over," Hole says.

In 1990, Hole self-produced his first album, "Short Fuse Blues," to sell at his gigs in Perth and on tours around Australia. On a whim, he mailed one to Guitar Player Magazine, and one thing led to another--Alligator Records' President Bruce Iglauer in Chicago signed Hole to his label and re-released the album.

So, after 20 years of gigging for miners and their pet wallabies, Hole has become an overnight international success. His music has been heard on more than 1,000 radio station worldwide. He has toured Europe eight times. His follow-up albums, 1993's "Working Overtime" and 1994's "Steel on Steel," won praise from Playboy, Esquire, New York magazine, Guitar Player, Guitar World, Billboard, the Chicago Tribune, the Denver Post, Washington Post and others.

His latest album, "Ticket to Chicago," was recorded in the Windy City utilizing some of that town's finest blues pros, including bassist Johnny B. Gayden, drummer Ray Allison and pianist Tony Z. But now Hole is touring with his old mates from Perth.

So what's the biggest difference between touring in Australia and the U.S.?

"In Australia, we fly, but here we travel by bus," Hole says. "The advantage of performing here is that audiences are more knowledgeable about the music that we're playing.

"Australians are very excitable, but here the people know where the music is coming from, and it makes for something extra special."

* Dave Hole performs Saturday night at B.B. King's, Universal CityWalk. (818) 622-5464.


Speaking of Excitable: David Black, the lead singer-guitarist of the Slackjaw Blues Band, got a little excited when he saw Eric Clapton in the audience at one of his band's gigs.

It seems that one night last year, while the band was performing its regular open-air gig at Bourbon Street on Melrose Avenue, Eric Clapton drove up in his Mercedes convertible, sat down at a table and stayed awhile.

Black says he was unnerved a bit when he realized he was playing guitar licks that were variations on ones he "stole" from Clapton records years before, when Black was a kid just learning to play. Clapton later shook hands with the guys and told them he liked the band.

"I figured if he stayed and listened for awhile, I feel the action speaks louder than words," Black says.

It might have simply been a case of deja vu all over again for Clapton. The music of Slackjaw, as the band is known when they play straight rock clubs, is evocative of Clapton's 1960s band, Cream. Their music is blues-based but definitely has a '90s rock crispness.

"Just like Clapton and Cream took the old stuff and rocked it, we're giving it a kind of a left turn," says Slackjaw bassist Marc Doten. "We're doing a very updated, very modern version of the blues."

Slackjaw may be the only local blues band also to be featured on alternative rock station KROQ.

Besides Doten and Black, the band has Atma Anur on drums and Zollie Polk on harmonica. Black and Anur, who both grew up in Manhattan, have been working together for years. Polk is originally from Louisiana, and Doten grew up in some equally exotic place--somewhere called Tarzana.

"He's still making up for it by moving to Silver Lake," Black says.

The band has been together for about a year. The band's first CD, "Knuckle Down," should be available sometime later this month. Everybody in the band sings, but Black estimates that he does 95% of the lead vocals.

"They're great backup vocalists," he says. "The further they back up, the better they sound."

* Slackjaw Blues Band performs at 9:30 p.m. Friday at Santa Clarita Brewing Co., 20655 Soledad Canyon Road, (805) 298-5677.

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