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'Over the Top'

Ron Hacker Hits His Stride

San Francisco-based Ron Hacker has been playing the blues for more than 30 years. He got clued to the music in the juvenile jug in Indianapolis (was it really parking meters you were heisting, Ron?), where Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and the various Kings were the artists of choice among young black youth workers.

Forget Elvis and that other 1950s crap. These guys were into Jimmy Reed and Elmore James.

Throw in an apprenticeship with the late Yank Rachell and Hacker has never looked back. This 55-year-old has been a blues man all his life. "I didn't come at it from rock and roll," he says.

His fourth CD, Back Door Man, vaults Hacker to a new level. Searing guitar, mostly but not all slide, in full roaring voice, backed by Artis Joyce on bass and Shad Harris on drums. A.J. is on Charlie Musselwhite's Ace of Harps and lately left Santa Cruz-based Sista Monica. Shad kept time for The Tommy Castro Band.

Ron Hacker's new Back Door Man packs the excitement of early Tommy and of bands like Blues Traveler or the Fabulous Thunderbirds at their best. It's much nastier though: downhome colloquial-familiar and downright raunchy. More intelligent too. Eight of the 13 tunes are Hacker originals, with covers including songs by Robert Johnson, John Estes, and of course Willie Dixon for the title cut.

Hacker plays "Back Door Man" slow and heavy, driving, ponderous yet clean. Just when the slashing guitar gets repetitive, Hacker surprises. His own "My Bad Boy," about the wonderment of fatherhood, is destined to be a Hacker classic. It drives too, and is full of Hacker's special, humor-tinged intensity.

And who else comes up with lines like these, from "I Got Tattooed?"

I got tattooed and the pain it was tremendous
I got tattooed and my wife she said Let's end this
I got tattooed and my skin was lookin' splendid
I got tattooed and it ain't nobody's business.

Hacker packs a veritable arsenal on stage, ranging from a 1930 National steel body guitar with Ovation pickups -- "It's ugly but it's my baby and it's pretty to me" -- to a Stevie Ray autograph sunburst Strat. He's got a 1960 Gibson 125, like the National, it's for slide. So's a a 30 Regal, an old brown acoustic with 1960s DeArmond pickup. Ron brought the Regal back after Hack stopped using a new, baby-blue Danelectro, which despite upgraded tuning machines was just too volatile frequency-wise. Damn thing wouldn't stay in tune, in other words.

Ron Hacker uses a new Fender Hot Rod De Ville -- "I love my amp," he says -- made more than a little bit dirtier with a first-edition 1985 Chandler tube driver and a Boss CS-3 compression-sustainer.

"The tube driver gives you the '57 Chevy with cool pipes sound and the sustainer does what it says, holds the note for you so you can sing with your guitar," Ron says.

"Over the top guitar," one San Francisco blues watcher says of Ron Hacker. Yeah.

Back Door Man is on San Francisco's The Saloon Recordings label.
Ron Hacker's new CD, Burnin' is slated for late-February 2003 release
the earlier No Pretty Songs, Bar Stool Blues and I Got Tattooed are on Hacksaw Records.

back to Ron Hacker on SFBlues.net


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