"The first guitar I was given," says southpaw strummer Dave Hole in an British-inflected Australian drawl, "was a right-hander. And it was clear, 'This is how you play it. You put your right hand here and your left hand here.' I never really queried it. But I write left-handed and so forth." Unlike some of his lefty heroes, notably Jimi Hendrix (who restrung his guitar with the bass string on top) and Albert King (who simply played his right-hander upside-down), Hole learned to play backward. And he likes it that way.
Hole's unorthodox slide method came about as a result of a football injury to his pinky. "I was learning to play slide, but had only been tinkering with it for a few weeks," he recalls. "And during my recovery from that injury, I did sort of devise this way of getting a bit of a tune out of the guitar by hanging the slide over the top of the neck. It felt comfortable and it kind of stuck. By the time the cast came off my little finger and I was able to return to the so-called correct way, I had gotten more accustomed to the other thing."
A bit of a tune, he says. Hole's stinging, burning, mean, and mangy slide work, sort of like a hive of hornets turned loose on the neck of a guitar, has made him one of the hottest blues buzzes that few (at least here in the States) have actually seen play. He was a hard-working musician mining the pub scene in Perth for twenty years before -- "on a whim, really" -- he decided to send a copy of his band's promo album to Guitar Player magazine. Editor Jas Obrecht was so knocked out by what he heard that he wrote a glowing review and put Hole in touch with Alligator Records, where the Aussie eventually signed and released two albums. A step of global proportions for Bruce Iglauer's independent blues label, but the Alligator didn't get where it is today by biting off more than it could chew.
"There was the usual to-ing and fro-ing, hemming and hawing," says Hole from a hotel in Arizona, "because they had never worked with an overseas artist before. I mean, a vast majority of Alligator's artists are located in Chicago, where the label is. So it took a little bit of thought on their part to take the plunge. And it's been fantastic for me. It's opened up the possibility, which I'm now doing, to tour here. And to me, that pretty much is a dream come true, as you can imagine. I mean, being twenty years influenced by the American blues greats, but never really foreseeing the possibility of coming here to play."
Growing up 13,000 miles removed from the Mississippi Delta and light years away from the rural African-American experience, Hole, who is white, makes an unlikely blues hero. But he found the emotional tug of the music irresistible. "Muddy Waters was the first real deep blues that I heard," says Hole, who, like many of his American counterparts, started with the Stones and went on from there. "I clearly remember one of the other guys in the band I was in bringing a Muddy Waters record to rehearsal and I'd never heard anything like it. It absolutely knocked me off my feet and that's when I became committed to wanting to play [the blues] and sort of shaped the rest of my life really."
Also like many of his Stateside soulmates who learned to play from wearing out the grooves in their favorite vinyl slabs, Hole had no inkling that the weird noises Muddy was getting came courtesy of a small metal canister on his left pinky. "As a matter of fact," Hole says, "I played standard guitar for about seven years before I even decided to play slide. When I think about it, that's what I enjoyed a lot about blues, the slide-guitar playing. Because the people I gravitated most toward were sort of slide players. I loved Elmore James from the first time I heard him, and Robert Johnson and so on."
Although Hole's passion is blues, he also knew what he had to do to get by with demanding pub crowds. "Initially, I was playing Rolling Stones kinds of things, mixed with my own interpretations of some of the blues classics by some of the greats. The reaction was fairly good because obviously the Rolling Stones were popular. But I've mixed as much of the blues stuff as I could in with what I felt was more palatable to the audience. It's all been kinda bluesy. Whatever was the bluesiest thing that I thought I could put forward to the audience and still retain their interest, y'know?"
Touring the U.S. for the first time behind his second release, Working Overtime, Hole and his all-Australian band (John Wilson, bass; Rudy Miranda, drums and percussion; Bob Patient, keyboards) are certainly living up to the disc's title. "It's a pretty tough one," Hole says of the nine-week excursion that has him crisscrossing the country. "They give us a day off every now and then, but they give us about a thousand miles to drive in that day, y'know?" Working from the center to the periphery, the band's first gig, fittingly, was at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago. Although smitten with the town, Hole's work schedule prevented him from checking out as much of the city's blues as he would've liked. "We had a bit of a look around," he says. "That club scene is, of course, where the electric blues grew up."
And electric blues is clearly where Hole is most comfortable, although several of the tunes he plays on Working A Big Bill Broonzy's "Key to the Highway," Muddy's "I Can't Be Satisfied," the lovely original instrumental "Berwick Road" (written about his long-time family home in England), and his "Terraplane Blues" update, "Mean Old Airplane," are influenced by his acoustic elders. The other seven songs, all original, demonstrate hard-rock sensibilities (the title track, "Nobody Hears Me Crying") such as those displayed by Johnny Winter in the Seventies. "To me," Hole reflects, "music is music. I don't particularly like to be categorized. My first love of music is blues. But over the years I've played a lot of rock and roll, and so my style of blues is very much rocked out. I think I fall squarely between blues and rock and roll."
And after you hear Dave Hole, you'll realize that's a very noice playce t'be, really.
Dave Hole performs at 9:00 p.m. Saturday at the Stephen Talkhouse, 616 Collins Ave, Miami Beach, 531-7557. Tickets cost $10 and $15.