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MUSIC | ROCKTALK

From Opera to the Blues : Singer loves wide variety of music, but these days he's into the 12-bar form.

July 09, 1998|JAMES E. FOWLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Tony Galla still loves opera, but right now he's singing the blues.

"I still love Verdi and Puccini," said Galla, who's performing tonight at Smokin' Johnnie's, but he's just released his first solo album featuring the 12-bar form, titled "ASAP."

Galla has a varied musical pedigree. Originally from Buffalo, N.Y., Galla was the lead singer with a rock band named Raven in the late 1960s.

Raven opened for Led Zeppelin and made two albums for Columbia Records before breaking up. Galla made his way back to the University of Buffalo to study music and voice. Over the years, Galla performed opera and recorded five gospel music albums.

He and his wife moved to Los Angeles in 1986 and settled in Granada Hills. Since then, Galla has sung and played in an even wider array of styles. He's performed at many celebrity events and even recorded a CD of Italian songs. And now, he's singing the blues.

As it is with most musicians, music is Galla's life, for better or worse, for richer or poorer.

"It's all I know how to do," Galla said. "I can't do anything else."

* Tony Galla performs tonight at Smokin' Johnnie's, 11720 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 760-6631. No cover. Galla is also slated to play July 24 at Cozy's Bar & Grill, 14058 Ventura Blvd., Sherman Oaks, (818) 986-6000.

Mo' Blues: Blues guitarist Jay Gordon is pretty excited. Not only was his new CD "Electric Redemption" released two weeks ago, but right after his gig Wednesday night at B.B. King's, Gordon is leaving for New York to record a new CD with a new producer.

"I'm big-time excited," Gordon said. "I think I'm in pretty good hands here."

The new producer, John Rollo, can boast about his work on two Grammy-winning albums plus a long list of records by big-name artists: Eric Clapton, Whitney Houston, Willie Nelson, Stevie Nicks and the Kinks among them. Additionally, Rollo has received a special citation from the Recording Industry Assn. of America for his work as a producer or engineer on 20 platinum and 15 gold records worldwide.

"This is a big shot to work with a guy of this stature," said Gordon. "I've never had a shot like this before."

Gordon grew up in Chicago listening to blues and getting up close and personal with musical greats such as Junior Wells and Buddy Guy. While still a teen, Gordon formed a close friendship with blues man Albert Collins.

"I feel I was really blessed to be from Chicago," Gordon said. "I want to put my own stamp on the blues; I want to be a pioneer of music."

Gordon is nothing if not busy. He rips off guitar notes like a machine-gun burst. "Electric Redemption" has 15 tracks divided into two sections: "Dripping Blues," 11 tracks featuring Gordon's rapid-fire playing blazing through a variety of classic blues styles, both acoustic and electric, and "Savage Resurrection," three rock instrumentals plus the title track that he dedicates to music innovators Jimi Hendrix, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. The longest track is more than eight minutes, but the average length is about four. Gordon calls the album a "pilgrimage of my soul."

"I was given a gift to play music by the great spirit," Gordon said. "I try to capture all the vibes and colors of the blues."

Gordon realizes that his recordings will change with Rollo.

"This record will be a slight departure from what I've been doing before," Gordon said. "Rollo loves the blues but has more of a pop music background."

Being radio-friendly probably means no more eight-minute cuts, but Gordon is ready.

"You have to strive to be an original," he said. "It's just not worth it if you're going to be a clone."

* Jay Gordon performs Wednesday night at B. B. King's Blues Club, Universal CityWalk, 1000 Universal Center Drive. $6 cover. (818) 622-5464.

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