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Digging It

Rocker Eric Lindell brings an
old sound to a new audience

By David Templeton

THE WORD is spreading. Every Monday night, in the upstairs game room at Santa Rosa's Third Street Aleworks, a hardworking rocker named Eric Lindell kicks back and takes a little quality time--just for himself--to re-juice his musical battery.

What that means for this immensely popular local musician is that he leaves his trademark suit in the closet and sits down to a night of loose, laid-back, totally improvised rock and roll, one long blues-tinged number after another, backed up by a once-a-week cadre of similarly inclined players.

It may be only casual, off-the-cuff, dressed-down noodling around, but Lindell still manages to pack the place; what few tables there are fill up early, and latecomers must sit or stand wherever they can find an unoccupied spot.

"He's hot," gushes one waitress, zigzagging her way through tonight's largely female crowd. "He's really great. Monday nights are usually dead here until about 10 o'clock. Then everyone suddenly shows up to hear Eric."

Until two years ago, Lindell, 27, had been a mostly peripheral face on the Sonoma County music scene, honing his style in various small-time bar bands while working as a baker during the day. When he started playing under his own moniker--bands variously named Eric Lindell's Rockin' Blue Revue, Eric Lindell and the Reds, and Eric Lindell and his Big Band--he began to accrue something of a cult following, attracting a core audience of younger people, many of whom had never heard a blues lick in their life. His songs are danceable, high-energy romps through up-tempo R&B territory, occasionally straying into the borderlands of surf and funk, with intense, soulful vocals supported by raw, energetic bursts of harmonica and some very solid guitar playing.

On stage, often stylishly dressed in a suit and tie for the larger venues or stripped down to jeans and a T-shirt to display the multiple tattoos on his arms, Lindell projects an aura of sexy, charismatic combustibility that is like catnip to a growing legion of fans. In private, Lindell--who is clearly unused to the rigors of an interview--is soft-spoken and retiring, an artist more comfortable before a microphone connected to an amplifier than to a tape recorder.

Not surprisingly, Lindell's first CD--the independently produced Bring It Back (Flying Harold Records, 1996)--captures much of the excitement of his live performances, and has been selling like Tickle Me Elmo ever since its release a few months ago.

"People were coming in weeks before the CD was even out," laughs John Brenes of the Music Coop in Petaluma, producing a copy of the disc that he keeps handily right by the cash register. "When it did come out, they'd walk in and buy three or four copies! It's wild. For one thing, the CD is really as good as any major record label debut I've seen. But it's more than that. I'm telling you, this guy has a rabid, rabid following around here. They can't get enough of him."

Brenes is not alone in his assessment of Lindell's appeal. Sonoma County Blues Festival producer and KRSH 98.7FM DJ Bill Bowker hired Lindell to play the festival, and watched as thousands of people were whipped up into a dancing, singing frenzy. "He's breathing new energy into the art form of the blues, that's for sure, " says Bowker. "A lot of old-time blues people like him, and he's attracting a younger group of people to this kind of music. He has all the capabilities to break out to the next level."

"For a white guy, he's got a whole lot of soul," laughs Jacek Kras, owner of Jasper O'Farrell's Pub and Restaurant in Sebastopol, where Lindell has played a number of times. "He likes playing to the crowd. The bigger the audience, the better he likes it. He sure fills our place up, mostly with younger faces, but the older ones still stick around, and that's not something you see very often."

"I like the idea that I'm somehow preserving something from a musical form that I dig a lot," Lindell says. "Hopefully, I am carrying something on. I really like old music. I mean, my stuff isn't old--I write all my own songs. But I take what I can from the old stuff and spice up what I write myself."

Citing vintage Stevie Wonder as his "ultimate inspiration," Lindell can't name any other contemporary whose music he likes. "I'm kind of not into the new stuff," he says, laughing. "My only music box is an 8-track, so that probably tells you something right there."

With his local exposure reaching the point of near saturation, Lindell has eyes on touring. He plans to spend some time in Hollywood next spring to follow up on some recording business leads.

"I dig it when I play and I can see people, right there in front of me, having a reaction to my music. Music is for people, right? Not just musicians.

"Now I want to take it out to more people," he adds. "Let's see how far I can go."

Eric Lindell and his Reds play the Inn of the Beginning on Friday, Dec. 20, at 9:30 p.m. The Chrome Addicts open. Tickets are $6. 8201 Old Redwood Hwy., Cotati. 664-1100.

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From the December 19-25, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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