Rhett Tyler to Headline Music-Filled Christmas Benefit

December 11th, 2015, 11:00 am by Greg

Story by Don Wilcock

On Saturday night (December 12) internationally renowned blues-rock guitarist Rhett Tyler headlines a Christmas benefit performance at TJ’s Flightline Pub in Glenville with a rare acoustic set. Also featured will be performances by the Heavenly Echoes gospel group and JV & the Cutters rock band.

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This triple-header event is being held to raise money to bring gifts to needy children from more than 90 families in Schenectady County. Now in its tenth year, Fruit of The Spirit is a unique organization founded by my stepdaughter Tanneal Green that goes beyond the usual Christmas toy drive in that it provides gifts that recipient children specifically have asked for rather than the generic doll or truck “for every boy and girl” that other Christmas charities provide. Fruit of The Spirit works in conjunction with Schenectady Municipal Housing and Schenectady Community College.

The performers on the surface might seem to have little in common musically, but the connecting thread is summed up in the title of Tanneal’s organization. Each of these acts embodies “the fruit of the spirit.”

Rhett Tyler is an almost mythical blues guitarist who opened for B.B. King’s last area performance, was a regular at the Big Apple’s trendy Manny’s Car Wash for 16 years and was named one of the 100 greatest guitarists of all time by David Fricke of Rolling Stone. Tyler told me in 2003, “It’s not even about the playing so much. It’s about the spirit of it. I’m always on the edge. I always want to take the music to the edge where it’s either going to be super great or fall apart. I don’t really care.”

Tyler turned down Ozzy Osbourne, who wanted him to replace Randy Rhodes in 1982, because Tyler didn’t think Osborne was “serious enough.” He’s been told that his name came up to replace Brian Jones in the Stones but that Keith Richards didn’t think he was famous enough. And for years he wondered why Stevie Ray Vaughan sounded so familiar to him… until someone came up to him during a gig at Terra Blues in New York and said that Stevie had spent hours and hours learning to play guitar from a Rhett Tyler audition tape that Rhett’s dad had left at the studio where Stevie recorded his first five albums.

The Heavenly Echoes are Capitaland’s go-to gospel group playing weekly at African American churches in Albany and Troy. They turn the Motown classic “My Girl” into “My God” and are as tight and emotionally taut as the best Otis Clay gospel show in Chicago’s West Side. The members of this group include Earl Thorpe, who started his long career playing for the Coasters and other iconic rhythm and blues groups that gave birth to rock and roll in the ’50s. Rarely appearing in a nightclub, the Heavenly Echoes truly appreciate the spirit of this event and promise to bring to the stage a gospel tradition honed and polished by each from their time in church almost before they could talk.

Opening the night at 8pm are JV & the Cutters, a very electric and original blues-infected rock band that effortlessly glides from Rolling Stones hits to originals by singer-songwriter-guitarist Joe Abbey whose muse is the contemporary equivalent to Willie Dixon who wrote half the hits of Muddy Wates and Howlin’ Wolf.

Abbey, who does double duty as both the bass player in the Heavenly Echoes and leader of JV & the Cutters, calls blues the first cousin of gospel but is influenced as much by the Rolling Stones as he is Albert King or T Bone Walker. He has a rare insight into the true spirit of Christmas.

One of the songs his band will cover Saturday night is the Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want,” which he sees as a secular version of a gospel idea that God always listens. He may not answer your prayers in the way you envision, but he gives you what you need.

Abbey is a veteran area performer. He has been with the Heavenly Echoes for 11 years and recently hosted “Moving Heaven and Earth,” an October benefit for Troy’s Sanctuary for Independent Media that celebrated the connections between secular and religious music. One of the most unique electric bands in the area, think of JV & the Cutters as Curtis Mayfield/Jimi Hendrix stripped down to its Zen roots, sweet and minimal.

Chris Shaw and Bridget Ball’s Saturday night “Mountain Snow and Mistletoe” show at The Egg is sold out. I look at the Fruit of The Spirit benefit as a new alternative to the 25-year legacy of that show which is ending its run this weekend. But as Chris Shaw said to me last week, “The one thing I’ve learned about life is when you create a void, it gets filled with other things and gets filled rather quickly.” So, it’ll be interesting to me to see what this particular show’s void gets filled with.

And what a void we have to fill. Our Christmas spirit is being attacked from evil around the world. Show you believe in the spirit, the music, and in these kids whose only Christmas will be fueled by your generosity at this benefit.

WHAT: Fruit of The Spirit Benefit Concert
WHO: Rhett Tyler, the Heavenly Echoes and JV & the Cutters
WHERE: TJ’s Flightline Pub, Glenville
WHEN: Saturday (December 12), 8pm