David Rokeach - drummer
REVIEWS - David Rokeach, Drums

SF BAY GUARDIAN 4/6/05 - 4/12/05
Patricia Wilder
Biscuits and Blues, March 18

PATRICIA WILDER CUT a striking image, a black Stratocaster strapped over the shoulders of her sapphire satin suit, her blond dreadlocks pulled back tightly, yet she stood onstage rather stiffly at the onset of her Biscuits and Blues performance. Perhaps she was nervous, which is understandable. The native San Franciscan had been playing around town as a sideperson since she was in high school (with Bobbie Webb, Billy Dunn, Zakiya Hooker, and other blues and funk artists), but at age 47, she was finally stepping out on her own – doing her own thing, with her own band and her own songs – and this was the second gig of her solo career and her first as a headliner.

Whatever butterflies might have been present quickly dissipated. Soon Wilder was moving her shoulders in time to the accents of her biting, rhythmically assertive guitar lines. Later she stepped off the stage and strutted into the crowd, hunched in a gunslinger stance as she played brittle shards of fast-fingered blue notes with a pick, then put the Fender to her face and continued picking with her teeth. And before the set was over, Wilder was shaking her whole body to her band's throbbing funk groove, turning as she trembled, then bending over and wiggling her ample derriere at the audience, using the towel with which she'd been wiping her brow as a tail.

Wilder sure knows how to shake her moneymaker, as Elmore James once put it. She's also a commanding soul-blues vocalist, with a husky contralto she uses to alternately tough and tender effect, and a strikingly accomplished guitar stylist. Her percussive touch suggests a Texas upbringing. She often snaps the strings in a manner reminiscent of Johnny "Guitar" Watson and Albert Collins, but her approach is subtler than those of the two late guitar-slingers. "Miss Your Groove," the strongest track on her recently released debut CD, Sweet Love, even finds her playing Wes Montgomery-like octaves.

Wilder produced the disc in tandem with electric bass dynamo Tony Saunders and drummer Larry Vann for the San Rafael label Rusty Key. Saunders (son of keyboardist Merl Saunders) also serves as Wilder's musical director and has put together a crack unit to showcase her talent. Vann isn't in it, but his place has been taken by David Rokeach, who is perhaps the best all-around drummer in the Bay Area, with a résumé that includes road duty with Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin. Rounding out the band are tenor saxophonist Alex Murzyn, keyboardist Mike Emerson, rhythm guitarist Bill Hampton, and mother-son harmony vocalists Lissa Price and Von Price.

The band was, at times, too loud, partially drowning out Wilder's guitar solos on such up-tempo originals as "Give Me Some Good Reason," "Eugene" (with a melody close to Chuck Berry's "Nadine"), "It's a Love Thing," and "Sweet Love," as well as on a kicking cover of "Ooh Poo Pah Doo" that owed more to the Ike and Tina Turner version than to the Jessie Hill hit. Wilder's brilliance shined through more brightly when the volume and the tempo dropped for a reworking of the Robert Johnson standard "Sweet Home Chicago" – it became "Sweet Home San Francisco," with Wilder using her fingers instead of a bottleneck to play the tune's trademark guitar triplets – and on the original ballad "Miss Your Groove."

The singing guitarist began the subtly sensual love song by answering a faux phone call, as Hampton re-created the octave lines she plays on the CD. She'd hoped the call was from her incarcerated man, but it turned out to be a girlfriend. Quickly getting off the phone, Wilder began singing as if she were actually speaking to him. "Ooh, ooh, ooh," she moaned in deep, breathy tones over the rhythm section's slow grind, "I'm missing you and that good-night groove." Between phrases about the many other things she missed – his smell, his touch, his green eyes – Wilder popped her guitar strings with simmering passion. It was the highlight of a performance at the start of a highly promising career that could find Wilder in the front ranks of contemporary blueswomen. Not since Memphis Minnie more than a half century back has there been an African American blueswoman who sings, plays guitar, and performs better than Wilder. (Lee Hildebrand)