Uncle John Sawbriar
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Uncle John Sawbriar

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Uncle John Sawbriar @ WestSide Cafe

Frederick, Maryland, USA

Frederick, Maryland, USA

Uncle John Sawbriar @ College Perk Coffee House

College Park, Maryland, USA

College Park, Maryland, USA

Uncle John Sawbriar @ Unitarian Universalists Meeting House

Fallston, Maryland, USA

Fallston, Maryland, USA

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This band has not uploaded any videos


The best kept secret in music


David Eske is bringing some top guitarists to the Gordon

By Geoffrey Himes

Guitarist David Eske is drawing on his years as a “road house” musician to book the innovative Road House Guitar Series at the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts.

David Eske hasn't always worked in a facility as nice as the Gordon Center in Owings Mills. For most of the 1980s, he played rock 'n' roll keyboards with bands like Avalanche and Risque in places opaque with cigarette smoke, sticky with dried beer and noisy with clacking pool balls and blaring TVs.

Often in these "road houses," as Eske calls them, a few tables were pushed aside to make room for the band. Yet it was here, he said, that he encountered some of the best musicians he has ever heard.

It was a lesson he never forgot: You can't judge the quality of the player by the quality of the venue. Now, as the Gordon Center's technical director, Eske has put his experience to use by organizing its upcoming Road House Guitar Series. It's the biggest innovation in a typically busy Gordon season of jazz, bluegrass, folk and children's performances.

For the three initial shows in the series, Eske has booked three of his favorite "road house" guitarists: Uncle John Sawbriar, Arty Hill and Lance Lewman.

"There are no pretences in a road house," Eske insists. "There you find the players who aren't conformists, who choose not to gloss it up for the bigger public.

"Uncle John Sawbriar is a good example of what I mean," Eske continues. "I went to see him play at a bar in North Baltimore, and there were only eight people there. But he didn't care; he played his heart out just the same. He reminded me of Leo Kottke with a little Michael Hedges on top."

Uncle John Sawbriar (aka John Miesch) kicks off the series at the Gordon Center at 7:30 p.m., Sept. 18. His speed and agility come from his well practiced fingers, but much of his tone comes from his unusual guitar.

"I play a Taylor W14CE, a custom-made, steel-string guitar," says Sawbriar. "I call it 'Frankenstein' due to its construction from an unnatural yet very resonant 'tone wood' created from the grafting of English walnut branches onto the trunk of a Claro walnut tree. ... It's one of the finest guitars I've ever played."

Arty Hill's singing and songwriting so impressed Jason Ringenberg, leader of the alt-country band Jason & the Scorchers, that Ringenberg agreed to write the liner notes for Hill's latest album, "Back on the Rail." Hill delivers "that jumping, old country vibe so many try to nail and so many fail at," Ringenberg wrote.

he highlight of the album is "I Left Highlandtown," the ambivalent confession of a man who stole his lover's bracelet and cigarettes as he left her behind in the southeast Baltimore neighborhood.

Hill won the 2003 Hank Williams Songwriting Contest and you can hear Williams' influence in Hill's twangy, honky-tonk vocals on "Tammerlane," about the reaction to an interracial romance. "The savior's name got passed around," he warbles, "like a hand grenade."

Arty Hill headlines at the Gordon Center at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 17.

Guitarist Lance Lewman and his wife, Kristan King, have been writing songs together since 1982, and co-led the band called King Lewman since 2000. Filling out the trio is Danny Junk, who plays guitar, bass, keys, mandolin, flute and saxophone.

The group's latest album is "Full Circle," a collection of original songs in the soft-rock or adult-alternative vein. King Lewman headlines at the Gordon Center at 7:30 p.m., Nov. 21.

The opening act

Eske not only booked the Road House Guitar Series, he is opening each show with his own solo-guitar instrumentals. When he finally tired of the hard-rock, cover-band lifestyle, he took a job selling keyboards at Golden Ring Mall in eastern Baltimore County, then started doing light design, set design and sound design for theaters in Washington.

His reputation led him to a job at Toby's - The Dinner Theatre of Columbia, and then in 2004 to the Gordon Center. Something there reignited his own musical ambitions.

"Working every show at the Gordon Center, I saw all these guys coming through with their acoustic guitars while I was at home working on my own stuff. At a certain point, I said, 'I have to get out there and share what I'm doing and see if anyone likes it.'"

He found making the transition from playing electric guitar in a band to playing solo acoustic quite a challenge.

"You can't play them the same, because they have very different characters. The acoustic guitar brings out its character only when it resonates with its natural wood. You can not only hear when it's working right, you can also feel it."

The Road House Guitar Series is just part of the schedule at the Gordon Center this season.

The regular season puts the spotlight on The Brubeck Brothers, at 8 p.m., Sept. 30. Drummer Dan Brubeck and bassist Chris Brubeck grew up playing with their legendary father, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, and now lead their own jazz quartet.

On Oct. 28, the Gordon Center hosts singer-songwriter Janis Ian, performing songs from her latest album, "Folk Is the New Black" (Rude Girl/Cooking Vinyl), a mix of satirical commentary and moody narratives.

The Four Bitchin' Babes returns to the Gordon Nov. 4, with its latest lineup of Sally Fingerett, Debi Smith, Deirdre Flint and Nancy Moran, followed Nov. 12 by an afternoon performance by New York magician Arnie Kolodner and company in a children's theater production of "Cinderella and the Magic Prince."

The year ends with the Nashville Bluegrass Band, a two-time winner of the bluegrass community's highest honor, the IBMA Entertainer of the Year Award, on Nov. 18, and the Lovell Sisters, who won the 2005 National Teen Talent Competition on American Public Media's "A Prairie Home Companion with Garrison Keillor," Dec. 9.

The new year will find San Francisco guitarist Brian Gore bringing a new edition of the popular International Guitar Night tour to the Gordon Jan. 31. This year's lineup includes Vishwa Mohan Bhatt from India, Sylvain Luc from France, and Andrew York from the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet.

In February, film and stage actor Jeff Daniels will sing songs from his recent album "Live & Unplugged To Benefit the Purple Rose Theatre" (Boomadeeboom); and a children's theater troupe called Sign Stage on Tour will use both American Sign Language and spoken word in "The Fantastic Mr. Fox," based on a story by Roald Dahl.

For calendar and subscription information on the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts, go to www.gordoncenter.com or call 410-356-SHOW (7469).

- Towson Times - Towson, MD


Steel Reinforced Neck, ©2004. A collection of single-take tracks recorded in one afternoon in a home studio near Inyokern, California--out in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Largely mellow rootsy tunes, with a ragtime, blues, and upbeat folk sort of sound.

Sawbriar: Soli for Six-String Guitar, ©2005. More single-take tracks recorded over a three-month period in a home studio in Towson, Maryland. More progressive than 2004's CD, this one has pieces that range from a progressive jazz sound, to new age dreamscapes.

Witcraft Manner Rough Cuts, ©2006. Several live and studio tracks recorded by Witcraft Productions, Baltimore, Maryland. Truly alternative sounds (such as the uniquely percussive "Wacka-Wacka"), with more of a rock and contemporary influence. Live versions of the crowd pleasers "Rollin'", "Quiet Reflection", and "Dream Out Loud" with percussion accompaniment.

Steel Reinforced Sawbriar, ©2006. A compilation of all tracks from the first two collections. Very well-received by all who've heard or bought it. Due to careful track arrangement, this one is often referred to as being "like one large work comprised of several movements". This record can be downloaded in its entirety--or by track--at: www.soundclick.com/unclejohnsawbriar


Feeling a bit camera shy


Uncle John Sawbriar is often told "I've never seen anyone play the guitar like that... I didn't know you could do that with a guitar!" That, or statements like it are typical--possibly because not many people play the acoustic guitar in such a manner, or have any idea of how to create that type of soundscape using a single instrument.

Beginning to study guitar at the age of fifteen on a borrowed cheap acoustic guitar, John soon became engrossed in the music of classic rock guitarists such as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Frank Zappa, Pete Townsend, Steve Howe, Duane Allman, Carlos Santana, David Gilmour, and Jeff Beck--but never managed to get a band together for very long. Although having been in several garage bands through those early years, he rarely ever had any public appearances with any of them. It was in the '70s that he discovered the music of Chet Atkins, John Fahey, Leo Kottke and Peter Lang. This was a benchmark in beginning to embark upon a wholly different style.

After several years in the armed forces, having had little time to practice with other musicians, John concentrated primarily on solo fingerstyle guitar, and on developing his own unique style. Upon returning to the private sector in 2002, he again endeavored to perform publicly and to record his original guitar compositions.

Although influenced by numerous artists over the years, the foundation of his style was built upon the picking styles and alternative tuning methods of John Fahey and Leo Kottke. In the last few years having a deep impression made upon him by such innovative solo guitarists as the late Michael Hedges, Don Ross, Preston Reed, Al Petteway, Kaki King, Adrian Legg, and the late British folk singer Nick Drake, Uncle John's solo compositions have evolved into something uniquely different from most anything else in today's music--and have in the last couple of years begun to create a fervor of great interest within his audiences in the Mid-Atlantic region's coffeehouses and local music venues.

Some very notable performers have had these things to say about the music of Uncle John Sawbriar:

"Infectious grooves!" - Al Petteway, Grammy-winning acoustic guitar soloist and recording artist. Winner of over 20 WAMMIES (Washington Area Music Awards).

"...very beautiful." - Liz Berlin, singer-songwriter, guitarist, and percussionist with Mercury recording artists Rusted Root.

"I went to see him play at a bar in North Baltimore, and there were only eight people there. But he didn't care; he played his heart out just the same. He reminded me of Leo Kottke with a little Michael Hedges on top." - Dave Eske, singer-songwriter and technical director of The Gordon Center for Performing Arts, Owings Mills, Maryland.