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Guitarist Vince Converse rocks the blues with sassy wah-wah and other effects.

Thunderbird Management's misguided press pitch for guitarist Vince Converse suggests that, although the 27-year-old Houston native knows damn well that the "blues can rock," his debut album, One Step Ahead, shouldn't be called a blues record. Perhaps his handlers figure they can better sell the six-string slinger as a rocker who knows the blues, rather than the other way around, which is more accurate. Indeed, Converse is one of the freshest players on the club circuit precisely because he gives the usual blues chord progressions a classic-rock shot in the arm.

Like many contemporary musicians who aim to mine the blues/rock vein, Converse's inspiration clearly stems from Jimi Hendrix and his latter-day heir Stevie Ray Vaughan (another great axeman from the Lone Star State). From Hendrix, the influences flow back to electric blues masters such as Muddy Waters, Lowell Fulson, and B.B. King, and forward to rock 'n' blues hippie jammers like Johnny and Edgar Winter, Robin Trower, and Little Feat. Converse's set list includes popular standards like Willie Dixon's "I Ain't Superstitious" and Hendrix's "Red House," which, judging from his packed shows at the Boom Boom Room, appeal to a wide range of fans.

Though his One Step Aheadsports a punchy horn section, the guitarist tends to tour with a pared-down piano quartet that pushes his fretboard chops front and center. Armed with a sassy wah-wah pedal and other psychedelic effects, he blasts through the minor pentatonic scale as if he's been taking it intravenously since childhood. Which, of course, he has. Like a lot of blues rockers Converse can play mighty fast, but he also knows the value of a single, bent blues note. Tasty precision, it seems, ultimately rocks the house.

 
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