Local Spins Live spotlights guitarist and “sideman to the stars” Jimmy Dillon, who’s also made his mark teaching kids the art of modern music. He plays Saugatuck with an all-star cast on Friday.
Jimmy Dillon’s music and enthusiasm are irrepressible.
Barely five minutes after the Michigan-bred, San Francisco area-based blues guitarist delivered a scintillating acoustic rendition of a new original song in the radio studios for Local Spins Live on Wednesday, he was sitting on a park bench on Monroe Center in downtown Grand Rapids playing yet another tune while I snagged a quick photo.
Amid a slight breeze with the sun streaming through the trees, Dillon dove into the slide-enhanced acoustic blues of “Diamond Gal” with cheery gusto and no small measure of silky-smooth virtuoso musicianship as cars rolled by and pedestrians sauntered past.
That many of those passersby were wholly unaware of Dillon’s impressive legacy as a sideman to the stars with a vibrant solo career to boot didn’t seem to matter a bit to the musician with deep roots in West Michigan.
That’s because Dillon lives and breathes and shares his musical craft like few others in the business.
Not only has he rubbed elbows and traded licks with the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Sting, Chuck Leavell, John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy and B.B. King – along with serving as music director and lead guitarist for late saxophonist Clarence Clemons’ touring band – but Dillon has established himself as a leading educator of contemporary music.
His Blue Star Music Camps, named after the highway near South Haven where he still maintains a cottage, have tirelessly instructed young musicians – many of them under-privileged – in the art of performing and recording here and in San Francisco, where celebrities and musicians such as Dana Carvey, Robin Williams, U2, Kalamazoo native Narada Michael Walden, Huey Lewis and others have lent a hand to keep those classes going.
“For me, it’s been extremely rich and most satisfying doing Blue Star Music Camp,” says Dillon, who will receive a Milley Award in Mill Valley, Calif., this weekend for his work and “creative achievement” in that community. (Previous winners include Sammy Hagar and Dan Hicks.)
“Ironically, what that’s led me to in many ways is working with people that I might not have ever met that are in philanthropic circles, people like Michael Narada Walden, a drummer I play with. Quite often we play together to benefit kids.
“A lot of these folks, like B.B. (King) who signed guitars for us, they care about kids and they care about spreading music to the next generation of performers. … That for me has been actually the most satisfying of anything I’ve ever done and it all started here in Michigan.”
On Wednesday, Dillon graced the studios of News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW) to chat about his various projects and perform a new song, “Hold On To Your Dream,” on the air. You can listen to an entire podcast of the show here, and check out videos of that performance and his impromptu street version of “Diamond Gal” below.
Growing up in Southwest Michigan in the ‘50s and ‘60s gave Dillon a chance to soak up the strains of legendary Chicago bluesmen, setting the stage for a lifelong devotion to American roots music. That eventually inspired him to write and perform the multi-media production, “Ascension of the Blues,” starting in 1999.
More recently, it sparked formation of the San Francisco Music Club, in which a house band of sorts brings in guest musicians to collaborate and perform together – a partnership that led to release of a “San Francisco Music Club” CD.
In addition to several solo studio albums, Dillon has released a series of guitar instruction DVDs, including “Rockin’ the Blues Deluxe.”
At 8 p.m. Friday, he’ll perform with an all-star cast of Michigan musicians at the Saugatuck Center for the Arts, 400 Culver St., Saugatuck.
The rare “Jimmy Dillon with Blues Journey” show will feature award-winning harmonica player Peter “Madcat” Ruth, bassist Mark Schrock, drummer Randy Marsh and pedal steel guitarist Drew Howard playing the blues and plenty of Dillon originals, including some new songs slated for an upcoming studio album.
For those who’ve never seen Dillon on stage, the guitarist exudes charm, polished musicianship and an infectious stage presence that explains why he’s an in-demand player.
Yet he insists that his biggest thrill is teaching young musicians “the magic of being on stage.” And he certainly knows all about that.
Learn more about Dillon and his various projects at his official website at jimmydillon.com.
To purchase tickets and get more details about Friday night’s Blues Journey show, visit the Saugatuck Center for the Arts website.
Posted with permission from John Sinkevics/Spins on Music. Please Visit His Website: http://www.localspins.com
10/19 – 10/21