Guitar Army fires up audience with tasteful precision

Tahoe Onstage
Guitar Army’s Joe Robinson, left, Wes Little, Lee Roy Parnell and Robben Ford perform at the first seated show in the Crystal Bay Casino’s remodeled Crown Room on Friday, Sept. 23.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Kurt Johnson

Joe Robinson shouldn’t be considered a prodigy anymore.

After all, the musician from Temagog, New South Wales, Australia, has released three full-length albums and three EPs, and at the age of 25, he’s hit the quarter-century mark on this earth.

Tahoe Onstage
Joe Robinson can handle a Telecaster that is twice his age.

But clean shaven and baby-faced, Robinson looked like a kid standing onstage beside 64-year-old Robben Ford and 59-year-old Lee Roy Parnell on Friday night. Even the well-worn Telecaster in his hands was twice Robinson’s age. But, man, he can play.

At the first seated show in the remodeled Crown Room in the Crystal Bay Casino, Robinson created a buzz with his stinging guitar licks.

A man leaned to a stranger and said, “Every note he plays pops.”

“I heard he’s just 22,” a woman said to a friend.

Robinson, however, did not steal the show. That would have been impossible.

The band is dubbed Guitar Army. The three guitar virtuosos were supported by accomplished drummer Wes Little and bassist Brian Allen.

Guitar Army started the show in full force, as each gunslinger took turns with solos on a tune called “Lee Boy’s Shuffle.” Having three lead guitarists perform without stepping on each other would be a monumental challenge for mere mortals. With harmonic savvy, the band played exquisitely, taking the blues a step farther into a most tasteful and easy-to-experience jazz realm. And with just 200 appreciative listeners in attendance, the show was intimate.

Each took a turn in the spotlight as the other two guitarists stepped aside, Ford sitting on the steps behind the soundboard during his breaks. And both Little and Allen had chances to shine with their own solos, again delivered with tasteful precision.

Ford and Parnell, of course, had been young guns.

Robben Ford
Robben Ford

A native of Ukiah, Ford started in a blues trio with his brothers before joining Charlie Musselwhite’s band. Soon after, he was hired by Miles Davis. But Ford shunned being called a jazzman. “I’m just a blues player,” he famously said.

In 1974, Parnell moved to Austin and performed with Kinky Friedman’s Texas Jewboys. He played a 1956 Les Paul until he grew into a star with his own Lee Roy Parnell Signature 1957 Les Paul Goldtop. Parnell was the only member of the trio to use a slide, and his country — and hill country — fuzz contrasted but blended just right with Ford’s jazzy style, and Robinson’s precision that makes his strings sound like vocals.

Speaking of vocals, each is a superb singer. They are great songwriters, too, and have the proverbial tag of “triple threat.” A trio of triple threats must have inspired some of the concertgoers on their way out through the casino to stop at the roulette table and place a wager on 9.

Those who entered the Red Room for the after-party were treated by another great performance. Making its Crystal Bay Casino debut, the Wesley Orsolic Band put on a show worthy of being shared on a bill with Guitar Army. Playing its own original blues-jazz music, the relatively new band already is clearly Lake Tahoe’s best. Robinson certainly was impressed. He joined the Wesley Orsolic Band for two songs, and music lovers who had been sitting all night took the opportunity to dance.

  • Guitar Army
    Sept. 23, 2016, Crystal Bay Casino
    Lee Boy’s Shuffle
    Ebb and Flow
    Hours In Between
    Cut You Loose
    Hold your Head Up High
    (Robben’s) Same Train
    (Joe’s) Solo Spot
    (Lee Roy’s) Love Without Mercy
    Out Alive
    Midnight Believer
    On the Rise
    Gold On My Shoulder
    Somebody’s Fool
    Encore
    T-Bone Shuffle / Slow Blues

    Lee Roy Parnell
    Lee Roy Parnell
    Allen and Parnell
    Bassist Allen and Parnell
    Tahoe Onstage
    After it captured the audience, Guitar Army says thanks.

    Tahoe Onstage
    The Wesley Orsolic Band makes its Red Room debut.
    Kurt Johnson / Tahoe Onstage

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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