By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
Gone so long
Didja Miss Me
It's always been a mystery to me why John Nitzinger wasn't as big as Stevie Ray Vaughan. After all, comparisons abound: They were classmates during the golden age of bad-ass North Texas white boy guitarists--along with Jimmie Vaughan, Bugs Henderson, and Rocky Athas--and both fused evocative blues and barroom rock with nods to pop song construction.
Both also tasted fame and were almost felled by narcotic and alcohol addictions: Everyone knows about Stevie's storied fall and rise; Nitzinger started out writing hits for Bloodrock, scored his own deal with Capitol in the early '70s, and released two fine albums (Nitzinger and One Foot in History), toured internationally with Leon Russell, recorded Live Better Electrically for 20th Century, and played with and wrote for Alice Cooper before falling prey to substance abuse.
And now, with Didja Miss Me, Nitzinger's back, and--like SRV for the last few fruitful years of his life--he's sober. After a stint at the Betty Ford Center over a year ago, the Nit is pumped about life and music, and Didja Miss Me is the subsequent celebration.
Even so, it's probably not the best of his albums, and the reason may lie with an over-reliance on blues. Nitzinger explains this by noting that it was his blues fans who stayed with him through the rough years. Indeed, songs like "Where She Goes, I Go" and "Even My Tears Are Cold" are superlative. The former is a pathos-drenched funeral march reminiscent of "St. James Infirmary," while "Tears" is a hot shot of angry Chicago blues--literally.
But as good as Nitzinger is at sheer roadhouse blues, he's playing in Stevie's ballpark when it comes to such material--and Nitzinger's forte is not as a blues guitarist. While his rhythm-as-lead approach is damned effective--and he can hum like a motor boat when he has to--his playing is no match for SRV's Chinese New Year style (but, of course, whose is?).
Instead, Nitzinger's strength has always been as an across-the-board songwriter. His straight rock tunes ("Didja Miss Me" and "Shifting Sand" from the new record; older tunes like "Control," "Witness to the Truth," and "Are You With Me?") and glorious earlier ballads ("Sable and Pearl," "Driftwood") are world-class, and one simply wishes for a bit more on this otherwise welcome, hearty set.
Still, this isn't a contest, and--given the past--one can hardly blame Nitzinger for feeling bluesy. But with this one under his belt and tomorrow beckoning, it'll be interesting to see what musical avenues he'll search out next.