Vancouver, BC

Dave Snaker Ray Snake Eyes (Tim Kerr) T/K 172-2

Like every North American college town of the early-to-mid-Sixties, Minneapolis, Minnesota boasted a lively coffee-house music scene, with appearances by “re-discovered” first-generation bluesmen and local, student-aged practitioners playing a major role. “Spider” John Koerner, Tony “Little Son” Glover, Dave “Snaker” Ray (and, oh yeah, a lad named Bob Zimmerman who would very shortly move to New York and change his last name to Dylan) all honed their chops at the local coffee-houses, and all eventually signed significant recording deals (Dylan with CBS, and Koerner, Ray, and Glover as a trio and Dave as a solo with Elektra). Dylan took the forefront in the protest-song wing of the Folk Boom, then re-invented himself as Rimbaud with an electric guitar spewing folk-rock poetry; Koerner, Ray and Glover played some festivals, recorded some together and with other people (Koerner’s collaboration with Willie Murphy, etc.), and seemed to fade into the Minneapolis woodwork. Glover wrote for Sing Out! magazine and put out a classic harmonica instruction method for Oak Publications, while Dave Ray built a studio and pursued a dayjob, eventually being involved in the creation of the first Bonnie Raitt recording.

Recently, the three have begun to become active again, separately and to-gether. Ray and Glover’s 1990 CD “Ashes In My Whiskey” was a highly rewarding demonstration that these guys haven’t been letting their chops rot, as was an appearance by the trio in Seattle a year or so back; coupled with the release on disc of their first vinyl sides, perhaps all this signals a period of height-ened activity.

“Snake Eyes” presents Dave absolutely solo on a fourteen-song set recorded last May. Always one of the premier twelve-string blues guitarists of the ’60s Folk Revival, he uses one throughout the performances here. Covering the likes of Arthur “Big-Boy” Crudup, Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Percy Mayfield, Lowell Fulson, Peg-Leg Howell and others, “Snaker” gives a master class in how to play these songs alone, with a mixture of respect and inventiveness, never overpowering the song while playing the hell out of each one.

“Junco Partner” finds a “hand-jive” groove, while “I Love The Life I Live” and ‘Tomorrow Night” (among others) catch an acoustic jazz feel reminiscent of the great Lonnie Johnson. “Coal Man Blues” is another standard showing off exactly how well Ray understands the subtle intricacies of country-blues guitar. There’s not a mediocre track here, including the oft-covered “One Room Country Shack.” Ray has matured as an artist and a guitarist to a place of spare notes and contained passion, making this collection even stronger.

Beautifully recorded and performed, this is an extremely worthwhile effort. Dave’s 1967 Elektra LP “Fine Soft Land” has remained, for thirty years, one of my favorite folk-blues recordings of the ’60s, and this disc ranks right next to it (Dave… maybe play a little piano on the next one?)

6 bottles–Tim Williams