Anson Funderburgh is one of the few – if not only – blues guitarists I’ve ever seen get an ovation for a chorus solo. Such applause might be common for jazz shows, but rare in a seedy blues club, where folks are more focused on dancing. The venue was the old Blues Saloon in St. Paul, Minnesota – a former polka hall fallen on even harder times – and in the midst of a song, Funderburgh played a simple solo that made most everyone in the room turn their heads.
For a moment after his improvisation was finished, you could almost have heard a pin drop – in time to the rhythm section, of course. Then the crowd erupted in spontaneous applause.
Funderburgh belongs to the Less Is More school of blues guitar. Along with fellow Texan Jimmie Vaughan, his playing is economical, precise, and imbued with deep-down, soul-stirring beauty. As Stevie Ray Vaughan (who was certainly not of this same school) once remarked, it must be something in the water down there in Texas.
Funderburgh hails from Plano, where he got his first guitar while in third grade. As a 15-year-old he was playing Dallas clubs and went on to form an early version of The Rockets in 1978. Over the past 25 years, his band has grown into one of the most impeccably tight ensembles anywhere.
It wasn’t until Funderburgh joined Mississippi Delta singer and harmonica player Sam Myers in 1984 that the Rockets truly took fire, however. Myers’ first recordings were cut alongside the late great slide guitar hero Elmore James for the Fire and Fury labels. He sings with a down-and-dirty baritone voice, gravelly as a Mississippi backroads, and plays his harmonica with a jukejoint-rousing siren’s song. Together, Funderburgh and Myers have created a pairing fertile in rolling out deep blues.
Which Way Is Texas? is the band’s first album in four years. Produced by Funderburgh and recorded at Wired studio in Austin, it’s hard-hitting, smooth-grooved music, equal parts Mississippi and Texas. The Rockets are joined by the Texas Horns, packing a soulful wallop on seven originals along with covers like Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Tryin’ To Get Back On My Feet,” B.B. King’s “Jungle,” Tabby Thomas’ “Hoodoo Party,” and Homesick James’ “Crutch And Cane.”
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Oct. ’03 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.