It can’t be easy having a last name that’s just one letter away from “Dude.” Before they’ve even met you, some people are going to picture you as a longhaired, Harley-riding type, who plays air guitar to Steve Miller’s Fly Like an Eagle album between bong rips.
If that’s the image that comes to your mind when you hear the name Les Dudek, you’re off the mark. Yes, Dudek is longhaired. And yes, he’s been known to ride a Harley. But this guy actually played guitar on Fly Like an Eagle and a few other Steve Miller albums.
He’s also an ex-member of Steppenwolf, a former backup player for this year’s Blues Fest headliner Boz Scaggs, and the co-writer of The Allman Brothers “Ramblin’ Man” (his acoustic guitar kicks off the song). He used to make music and romance with Cher, and he appeared in the 1984 movie Mask as a biker named Bone.
In short, Les isn’t just some dude—he’s the dude.
Nearly as impressive as the gigs Dudek has taken, is the list of opportunities he’s turned down: Were it not for prior commitments, he’d have been a member of Journey, The Marshall Tucker Band and/or Bob Dylan’s backup band. “There was a while there when guitar players were dyin’, and I was always getting a call,” says Dudek, whose last name derives from the Slavic duda, meaning street musician. “When Duane Allman died, I got the call. When the guy from Chicago shot himself in the head and killed himself, I got the call. When Lowell George [of Little Feat] died, I got the call. It’s amazing when I think about all the gigs that I turned down over the years because I was knee-deep in doin’ another project. It’s like, where are those projects now? ’Cause I got the time!”
Not that Dudek isn’t busy with a fruitful solo career. A fine guitarist by anyone’s standards, he covers an impressive amount of musical ground with his solo offerings, all the while managing to stay within the southern blues-rock genre. He’s currently mixing a new album featuring various songs he describes as “Hendrix meets Spencer Davis,” “Foreigner meets Van Halen” and “Dwight Yoakam meets Steve Miller.”
Yet Dudek’s versatility may be his downfall: He laments that in America, the only truly marketable styles are hip-hop and country. “You go to Europe, and it’s different,” he says. “I mean, it’s like the old America: you have jazz audiences, blues audiences, rock audiences. You can still do what you do, and there’ll be an audience there that will appreciate you.”
The guitarist acquiesces that there is a market for blues music in America, but he’s quick to note that even this has narrowed. “They’ve gotten really stickler with that to make it really a traditional kind of blues. You have to be a traditional 1-4-5 blues player to fit into that,” he says. “The blues places always call me rock; the jazz places always call me blues or rock.”
How does he classify his music? “I’m more of a white man’s blues—I’m more from the Allman Brothers/Cream kind of days, where it’s kind of electric blues, like the way Johnny Winter used to be, or like Stevie Ray Vaughan,” he offers, adding that this sort of music is a rarity nowadays. “That bluesy, white man’s kind of music—southern rock, blues rock or whatever—kind of merged into country, it seems. Sometimes when I listen to some of the country that’s coming out of Nashville, the music sounds like something off a southern rock record, but it’s sung more country—with a twang, you know?”
Dudek will swing by The Catalyst Atrium on Wednesday to remind us all what twang-free, southern-fried rock ‘n’ roll is all about. As he puts it, “I like to rock, man!”
Les Dudek plays at 9 p.m. Wednesday, June 8 at The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $12/adv, $16/door. For more information, call 423-1338.
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