The guitar geeks descended upon the Weesner Family Amphitheater at the Minnesota Zoo on Thursday night. Guitar hero Ry Cooder was making a rare Twin Cities appearance, even if it was merely as a sideman in an old gospel/old country/old bluegrass group fronted by the husband-and-wife duo of Ricky Skaggs and Sharon White.
There were enough hints at why Cooder was ranked No. 31 on Rolling Stone’s 100 greatest guitarists list in 2011 (ahead of Prince, the Edge and Tom Morello, among others).
The jazzy passage on the country waltz “Sweet Temptation,” the twangy slide on the train song “Pan American Boogie,” the tremolo on “A Fool Such as I,” the Hawaiian/pedal steel take on the Louvin Brothers’ “Wait a Little Longer Please Jesus,” the Tex-Mex sweetening on “Gone Home,” the bluesy groove on “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin.’”
Cooder also sang a few tunes, including Flatt & Scruggs’ “On My Mind” and Hank Snow’s “A Fool Such as I,” with his serviceable voice. One fan yelled out for a song Cooder had recorded but it wasn’t “Jesus on the Mainline,” which would have fit in with this repertoire.
During the 95-minute performance, there was not enough Ry and plenty of hammy Skaggs, who was an entertaining host and respectful bandleader. (Best Skaggs bit: After a bat flew over the stage, the singer/mandolinist flapped his wings and in his best Transylvanian voice said: "I'm out to suck some bluegrass blood.")
Skaggs took his fair share of nifty solos on mandolin and fiddle (and one on electric guitar) but also called for plenty of passages from pianist Buck White.
The 84-year-old played the perfect boogie woogie, gospel riffs or honky tonk licks. He earned probably the loudest cheers of the night when he practically turned into Jerry Lee Lewis during Skaggs’ 1981 country hit, “Don’t Get Above Your Raisin.’” Buck did his daughters (Sharon and Cheryl) and son-in-law (Skaggs) proud.
Props, too, to Cooder’s son Joachim, who was solid on drums. Just wish pops had been more of a featured artist than a sideman.