ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, JAN. 22, 1998
By Steve Newton
Blues guitarist Ronnie Earl really takes the Beatles’ “All you need is love” credo to heart. On the phone from his Boston home, Earl comes off as an artist driven as much by compassion for others as by a personal joy in making music. That impression was given substance on his Language of the Soul CD back in 1994, when he dedicated a song to troubled guitar legend Peter Green.
On his current album, The Colour of Love, Earl dedicates another song to Green, the former Fleetwood Mac leader who spent many years in seclusion while tales of his deteriorating mental condition ran rampant in the guitar world. “I still love what he’s doin’,” remarks Earl. “He’s got a new album, but it’s hard to find.”
Earl knows what it’s like to have albums get lost in the shuffle. He has released 11 solo recordings since leaving Roomful of Blues 10 years ago, but although he’s garnered much critical acclaim—including winning the coveted Downbeat Critics Poll for 1996’s Grateful Heart: Blues & Ballads—he has yet to claim widespread popularity. He’s hoping that will change with The Colour of Love, his debut release on Verve Records.
“There’s no comparison between being on a major label and not being on one,” says the 44-year-old guitarist. “I mean, we go all over the world, and when your records are in the stores in every country you go to, and there’s a Verve representative in every country, you know that you’re with a real record company.”
On Saturday (January 24) Earl plays the Yale, in his first local gig since a sold-out 1996 duMaurier International Jazz Festival show at the Commodore Ballroom. He will be focusing on tunes from his new instrumental CD, which stretches into jazz, R&B, and soul territory and was produced by illustrious knob-twiddler Tom Dowd.
“I always loved Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin,” says Earl, “and he was their producer, as well as the Allman Brothers and Clapton, Derek and the Dominos. So I thought, well, he just might like the way I play. And he turned out to be a wonderful guide.”
Earl also got some help from Gregg Allman, who cowrote, sang lead, and played Hammond B-3 on “Everyday Kinda Man”. Earl dedicated Grateful Heart’s “Skyman” to Allman’s late brother, Duane. “He wasn’t an influence on me,” reports Earl, “but I loved him very much. I love his playin’.”
Although widely regarded by his peers as one of the top blues-based guitarists in the world today, Earl didn’t start playing the instrument until he was in his 20s. “I got there when I got there,” says Earl. “I believe that God kinda gave me this gift and it just developed rather quickly. And it’s been really nice to be able to share it with the world.
“Next month I’m coming up on nine years of sobriety,” he adds, “and I always tell all the journalists that that’s my greatest success. I feel like I’m here to spread a message of love and hope, you know, and that’s my story. I’m not the most dexterous, technical guy, and I don’t read [music], but the whole thing with me and music is just playing with soul.”