Ainslie brings ‘Gibson Tour’ to LCCC
John Benson/The Chronicle-Telegram
The last time veteran singer-guitarist Scott Ainslie was in Northeast Ohio, he appeared at a late ’90s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum event celebrating the life of Robert Johnson.
“The first time I heard Johnson’s music I sat down on the floor and stared at the turntable for half an hour and then turned the record over and did it again,” said Ainslie, calling from his Vermont home. “I was transfixed. I think everybody who is interested in blues or roots music who hears Robert Johnson’s music for the first time knows where they were. It’s like Kennedy’s assassination or The Challenger blowing up.
“I was fascinated by his work, and I was delighted to be invited to the Rock Hall as a special guest. I had a lot of fun just walking around. What’s fun about coming now is that I get ot atually play.”
Ainslie makes his Northeast Ohio debut with studio theater cabaret shows tonight and tomorrow night at the LCCC Stocker Center. The musician’s “1934 Gibson Tour” is centered around Ainslie’s sixth album, 2014’s “The Last Shot Got Him.”
The unique effort was recorded on a rare 1934 Gibson arch top guitar and includes songs by Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Fats Waller, Irving Berlin, Yip Harburg, Harold Arlen and, of course, Robert Johnson.
Not only is Ainslie a fan of the Delta blues legend, but decades ago he transcribed Johnson’s original recordings and published the book “Robert Johnson/At The Crossroads,” as well as released the instruction DVD “Robert Johnson’s Guitar Techniques.”
As far as that 1934 Gibson guitar, it fits right into Ainslie’s bailiwick, which is exploring old-time Southern Appalachian, black gospel, and blues. The fairly rare guitar boasts a large round sound hole. He ended up buying it from a friend for $1,000 with no regrets.
“Guitars have different voices, different things they’re good at,” Ainslie said. “You can often find a guitar that’s really good at one thing but nothing else. You can find a guitar that’s good at 10 things, but not 12. There’s always something missing. So, this was a vintage guitar made when Robert Johnson was 23 years old. And it sounded so much like the period it was made for.
“I decided when it came time to make a record, to turn over the authority of what should be on the record to the guitar. So, rather than me being sort of the producer, I let the guitar pick things it liked and sort of structured the record around that. There’s a bunch of music from 1928 through 1941.”
He added that at his upcoming show he’ll be performing many of those songs on the guitar, which he won’t fly with (due to the fact that things often get damaged in plane storage compartments. So, instead, Ainslie will be driving to the Buckeye State for the gig.
Considering his ties to the Rock Hall, it’s not a stretch to view the “1934 Gibson Tour” performance as an archival affair that will edify and entertain audiences.
“In one way, yes, but the most dangerous thing for a performer is to be labeled as lecturer or archivist,” Ainslie said. “Archivist sounds a little dusty. I guess I’m a musician who knows the history. I’m an informed singer and player.
“So, you’ll be slyly a little bit better educated about the music you’ve heard. It’s pain-free, I promise.”
contact John Benson at Ndifference@att.net