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Australian Guitarist’s Down Understatement

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Throw another pig foot on the barbie, mate, because Australian blues guitar hero Dave Hole is coming to town.

Hole, who will appear Thursday at the Blue Cafe in Long Beach, comes from a country largely lacking in blues musicians, handles his guitar in an unconventional way and never planned to become a recording artist.

His story may be unusual, but Hole’s natural talent has impressed many blues aficionados in recent years.

Hailing from Perth, where kangaroos outnumber blues fans, Hole, 49, had a hard time finding blues to listen to as a young man.

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“When I was 16, I joined my first blues band, and I was listening to what everyone else was--the Rolling Stones, the Animals, Them, the British blues-rock bands,” he said in a recent phone interview. “Then I realized that these bands were covering Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and so on, so I sought out the source.”

The records had to be ordered, requiring a wait of about three months, if they arrived at all.

“We were total blues nuts, and we were very academic about seeking out the sources,” Hole said. “We were very unusual for that town. We’d play that music, and most people were mystified by it.”

He recalls being particularly taken by the sound of slide guitarists such as Waters, Elmore James and Robert Nighthawk. Hole set out to learn the style, but an injury forced him to approach the instrument from a peculiar angle.

“I realized how it was being done, with the slide on the little finger, and I started out to learn that way,” he explained. “But [then] I broke my little finger. While I was recuperating, I came up with this style of putting the slide on my index finger and [fretting the strings] over the top of the neck. I thought it would be a temporary thing, but it started to feel natural, so I never reverted.”

This unusual style accounts, in part, for the searing, steel-guitar-like tones that Hole wrings out of a standard guitar. Long, fat, sustained notes that screech like a siren and a wildly tremulous vibrato distinguish his sound.

Hole’s playing has drawn frequent comparisons to slide master Duane Allman. According to Hole, the similarities are born of common early influences rather than a study of Allman’s records.

“To be honest, up until the last two or three years, I hadn’t listened to much Duane Allman at all,” he said. “The only time I’d heard his playing was on that Eric Clapton record [‘Layla,’ by Derek & the Dominoes]. But people were constantly telling me I sounded like him, so I picked up a bunch of his stuff--it’s fantastic. . . . I still think he sounds quite a bit different than me, but maybe I’m too close to it.”

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As Hole became a fixture in Perth nightclubs, fans began demanding that he make an album. When he entered the studio for the first time, in 1990, he had no clue it would begin a belated career as an international blues artist.

On a lark, Hole sent a cassette to Guitar Player magazine, prompting the editor to rave in print about this blazing talent from Down Under. Bruce Iglauer, owner of Chicago’s Alligator Records, read the story and signed Hole the following year, releasing the Australian demo--a recording with a $3,000 tab--as the debut.

“I never intended for it to land me a record deal,” he said.

“Slow Fuse Blues” showed Hole to be deeply mired in bar-band mold. For all its dazzling guitar technique, the album was loaded with overdone covers and derivative originals.

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But Hole came into his own with 1993’s “Working Overtime” and 1996’s excellent “Ticket to Chicago.” Proving himself as an effective composer of molten blues-rock tunes and improving dramatically as a vocalist, Hole is now among the more exciting artists in the contemporary blues field.

Hole has been enjoying a little recognition. On his third tour of America, he seems to genuinely relish the road.

“I spent my teenage years and my early 20s dreaming what it would be like in Chicago or Mississippi,” he said. “It’s been a fantastic experience to play here and meet the people and rub shoulders with some of the blues people who are really my idols. Sometimes I have to pinch myself.”

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* Dave Hole appears Thursday at 10 p.m. at Blue Cafe, 210 The Promenade, Long Beach. Max Bangwell opens. $7. (562) 983-7111.


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