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Davey Boy 2.0

Takin' care of Breau: Bachman

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From the Ottawa Citizen:

Takin' care of Breau: Bachman preserves the legacy of his late friend and mentor

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What do you do when the kid across the street grows up to be a Mozart of the guitar?

How do you thank him for the countless hours he shared with you after school, teaching you six-string magic and bending your brain into the stratosphere of musicianship?

How do you repay your friend, if he dies before you can even whisper a thank you?

Lenny Breau was that rare and beautiful friend for Randy Bachman in late '50s Winnipeg. The years they shared as teens hanging out, deciphering, then learning, the six-string secrets of Chet Atkins and mysteries of Merle Travis albums could not last forever.

Soon it would be the '60s. Bachman would be Shaking All Over, cracking open the airwaves as The Guess Who and later, Bachman Turner Overdrive, rocked him into a world of No. 1 hits.

Bachman has never forgotten Breau's gift, and has chosen to pay it forward with the release of a new CD -- Mosaic -- and DVD -- Master Class -- on the Guitarchives Records label he created a decade ago to gather, preserve and share the musical genius of his lost friend.

"Thanks to Lenny, my life in music has been absolutely Cinderella," says Bachman from his Saltspring Island home in B.C. "I feel like Cinderfella ... thanks to this wonderful teacher to whom I never paid a penny. I never got a recording. I never got a picture. I never thought to go and record him. I did not know he would become Lenny Breau. I did not know I would become Randy Bachman. We were just two guys who loved guitars and one knew more than the other. I taught him one thing (how to bend strings like Chuck Berry), he taught me thousands of things."

But the American-born, Winnipeg-raised Breau, whose heart beat only for the freedom of his "jazz thing," would refine his fingerstyle wizardry -- sounding like two, three or four guitarists at once, with a sweet

icing of bell-like harmonics -- to the astonishment of guitarists around the planet, who could only worship his unworldly talent and wonder how he did it.

"Well, I saw how he did it," says Bachman. "This guy would get up at 10 in the morning and play guitar until two in the morning. Fifteen, 18, 20 hours a day."

All too soon, unfortunately, Breau -- a master of jazz, flamenco, classical, country and more -- would be found strangled at 43 at the bottom of his swimming pool in Los Angeles on Aug. 12, 1984, victim of a homicide that remains unsolved.

But the jigsaw-puzzle of his music lives on in the freshly minted Mosaic CD, which captures some of Breau's greatest moments "from a collaboration with Phil Upchurch, which we believe is the last known recording of Lenny, to an almost-lost Nashville track with Chet Atkins .... from a solitary moment in a log cabin, to an acid-style raga excursion and a peek at a special Nashville performance," says Bachman.

The DVD, Lenny Breau Master Class, finds him teaching graduate students at the University of Southern California. By today's standards, this is a no-frills amateur video production, as Breau plays standards --Stella By Starlight, Funny Man, Send In the Clowns -- and then takes questions from the class and eagerly shares the tricks of his sonic trade.

Bachman recalls his untold hours, days, weeks at Breau's house. "I would just sit there and watch him with his vinyl albums. Playing them over and over again, as he tried to figure out this or that lick on a guitar. I'm sitting there with my guitar looking at where he's putting his fingers. He'd say 'try this, try that.' I got these lessons with him for two years. These are the greatest two years of my life.

Breau: His personal life

"I flunked Grade 10, I didn't care. I flunked Grade 11, I didn't care. I was in this kindergarten with this guy who was my own age and my really, really good friend. We were both shy. We were both introverted and we both loved the guitar."

Bachman recalls the heady thrill of success in the late '60s; whenever musical fortune found him, he couldn't wait to share the news with his buddy.

"Every once in a while I'd go running up to him in Toronto, and now he's playing with Anne Murray and her band, and he's on CBC ... I'd say 'Lenny, Lenny, I'm in a band called The Guess Who and we've got a No. 1 record with American Woman!' And he'd say, 'Yeah, man, but like, are you playing any jazz? Ya gotta play jazz, man, it's freedom. Ya gotta do a jazz thing. Ya gotta do a jazz thing.'

"I'd go up to him, it's like five years later. 'Lenny, I'm No. 1 again, in a band called BTO' and same thing, 'Are you playing any jazz? Ya gotta do a jazz thing, man. Ya gotta get free.'"

Breau's influence did bubble to the surface in some Bachman songs, however, such as She's Come Undone, Blue Collar and Looking Out for Number One, to name a few.

For Breau, jazz was his oxygen and he breathed life into it as few have, or ever will. But his deeply troubled personal life meant he was under-recorded, lacked the managers and marketing push of today's stars and never flourished or became wealthy.

"He was truly a genius, but he was a dysfunctional person," says Bachman. "He couldn't add up his own chequebook. He could hardly read or write. He quit school at the age of 10 to play in his parents' band (Harold J. and Betty Breau, better known as country singers Lone Pine and Betty Cody)."

"He was a really sweet, wonderful, generous guy. He would do anything for anyone. And, unfortunately, it got to the point he would do anything to get high. If he came to visit you in your house and used your bathroom, he literally went through the medicine chest and took whatever was in there. Birth control pills or whatever, he'd take it all and get blasted, and come staggering out. He had a weakness for drugs."

Bachman hopes to release a new album of Breau material every 18 months or so. He loses money on each one, but couldn't care less.

"I've got over 2,000 hours of Lenny Breau playing guitar ... I've been given a gift, to be a caretaker of his legend."

Royalties from Guitarchives releases go to Breau's children: Chet, Melody, Emily and Dawn.

Edited by Guest
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I'm all over this DVD. Citytv did a Breau feature (on one of their farmed out entertainment shows) last week, with Bachman waxing poetic on his brief time learning from the master. Andy Summers was also in the feature and his interview was really insightful, especially when Summers admitted that he'd rather see Lenny than Hendrix. The piece showed some great video clips of Lenny spanning many years. Just when I thought I'd gotten a handle on Breau's legacy (I own the Breau documentary), Citytv comes out with new video clips that hit me square in the jaw like a perfectly thrown left hook. Lenny's still the greatest.

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I don't (yet) have any Breau records, but I've been thinking of picking up Hallmark Sessions, which were his first recordings, backed by Levon Helm and Rick Danko; they were done in 1961, and unreleased (and pretty much forgotten) for over 40 years. Does anybody have this one?

Aloha,

Brad

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I don't have that one Brad, but I personally wouldn't start with Breau's earlier work - if you are looking for innovation and style. However, I'd love to hear his work with those Band-mates.

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I'd go with the split Five O'Clock Bells/Mo' Breau or the stellar double live release: Live At Bourbon Street. At least that's where I started and got me hooked. "Toronto", "My Funny Valentine" and McCoy Tyner's "Vision" are beautiful and dazzeling - the latter two songs are also on the live album and the split LP release.

Oh yeah, Cabin Fever is freaking unreal, and a bit spooky.

Edited by Guest

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I'd go with the split Five O'Clock Bells/Mo' Breau or the stellar double live release: Live At Bourbon Street. At least that's where I started and got me hooked. "Toronto", "My Funny Valentine" and McCoy Tyner's "Vision" are beautiful and dazzeling - the latter two songs are also on the live album and the split LP release.

Oh yeah, Cabin Fever is freaking unreal, and a bit spooky.

Agreed! Mo Breau is essential. I personally really like hearing him with a band as oppose to solo, so you can hear what he does when he has some support. Then he's even more scarrry.

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Agreed! Mo Breau is essential. I personally really like hearing him with a band as oppose to solo, so you can hear what he does when he has some support. Then he's even more scarrry.

The band set-up is inconsequential. He can adapt like very few can. I like him on his own. He's more innovative, intimate and heartbreaking when Lenny plays alone.

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Agreed! Mo Breau is essential. I personally really like hearing him with a band as oppose to solo' date=' so you can hear what he does when he has some support. Then he's even more scarrry.

[/quote']

The band set-up is inconsequential. He can adapt like very few can. I like him on his own. He's more innovative, intimate and heartbreaking when Lenny plays alone.

I agree he is an ureal player able to play in any setting. What I am saying is I like hearing him with a rhythm section as then the pressure to do all is totally off him and he can really go nuts, even more so than solo. The lines he plays with a rhythm section and the depth of his attack and timing are even more urgent and jaw-dropping in a trio or quartet setting.

Either way it's all kiler.

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