Solo gig that's not


POSTED: Friday, June 12, 2009

For Chris Vandercook, what started as a casual solo gig at the beginning of this year has turned into an equally casual affair with like-minded musician friends.





        » Where: Mulvadi Cafe, 3040 Waialae Ave.

» When: 8 to 11:30 p.m. Fridays


» Cost: Free


» Info: 626-5087 or www.myspace.com/mulvadicafe




The longtime blues guitarist-singer holds court on a minuscule outdoor stage every Friday at Mulvadi Cafe, on the corner of Waialae Avenue and St. Louis Drive, next door to the Fat Greek. It's a strictly BYOB event, with the kitchen offering up specials the likes of Kona coffee chicken breast medallions; ahi steak with capers, lemon butter and white wine; calamari salad with strips of smoked salmon and avocado wasabi; plus the purported house favorite, carne asada fries.

But Vandercook also aims to serve up to the small crowd the best of classic blues, soul and jazz. As the evening stretches on, people he's met over the years drop in to play with him. Before you know it, upward of six people are filling the intimate area with music.

Last week the 60-year-old state Department of Health employee-by-day worked through a diverse list of early Chicago tunes by Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry, and threw in a song by one of his favorite contemporary writers, John Hiatt.

Vandercook still leads his own band on occasion, but coming into this current “;solo”; gig has “;made me rethink what I do as a guitarist.”;

“;With the band, I have the other three guys to back me up. But when I play by myself, I have to take care of the rhythm chores, so I've taken more care with my playing. It takes great discipline.”;

With his friends sitting in, Vandercook admitted, “;I've surprised myself with the range of stuff that we've done.”;

The first of Vandercook's friends to show up that evening is the single-monickered Bootsie, whom the guitarist has gigged with on occasion.

Bootsie has arrived with a small entourage in a red vintage car with “;LOVER”; on his vanity license plates. (Vandercook later tells us that Bootsie is a veteran screenwriter who's worked with Redd Foxx, Jamie Foxx and D.L. Hughley.) Strictly impromptu with no set list, Vandercook accompanied him on the guitarist's favorite ax of the evening, a Japanese copy of a hollow-body Gibson ES-175.

Bootsie covered Otis Redding's “;(Sittin' on) The Dock of the Bay,”; “;Rainy Night in Georgia”; and a couple of Motown evergreens: “;What's Goin' On”; and “;Just My Imagination.”;

Later that night, Brazilian-jazz specialist Sandy Tsukiyama and Gyn Lee of the Blue Light Funk Band joined Vandercook during his last set.

OVER THE YEARS, while Vandercook remains a fount of knowledge about the craft of the music he loves—the Midwestern-born musician was properly schooled by the likes of bluesman Luther Allison and Clyde Stubblefield, James Brown's drummer in his younger days—his playing and singing has mellowed out like a fine wine.

“;I'm a good blues guitarist that's become a mediocre jazz guitarist,”; he jokingly said, “;but I try to be as well versed as possible in my playing.

“;I think it's the natural evolution of any blues guitarist to add more colors to his sound. As great as the music is, it's also been a hedge against aging.”;

It helps, too, that his musician friends gravitate to his gigs to help out. Guests have included Cheryl Bartlett, Joey Wolpert (Vandercook's fellow guitarist in his band and former co-owner of the now-closed rRed Elephant), harmonica player Mark Prados, keyboardist Pat Rawson, Night Train sax player Billy Popaka and Will Pierce, bassist for the Marine Force Pacific Band.

With friends like that, you can't rush things. The music winds down naturally by the end of each gig, usually past its scheduled time.

“;It never made sense to me to take a break when you've got momentum going,”; said Vandercook.