Santa Cruz guitarist steps into the big time
August 23, 2012
CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. – Destiny called Danny Mayer and his name was Alan Evans.
Drummer of the renowned trio Soulive, Evans picked Mayer to play guitar in a new project, the Alan Evans Trio. Evans and keyboardist Beau Sasser live in Massachusetts while Mayer is from Santa Cruz.
“I still wonder why he picked me,” Mayer said. “I am so grateful he did because this dude could have had anybody in the world playing in his trio. Not only that, he consistently plays with my favorite guitar players. It’s extremely flattering and a little confusing.”
Evans is a well-known producer, recording engineer and songwriter who also plays guitar and percussion. He performed last winter at the Crystal Bay Casino’s Snowlive, a four-day event featuring Soulive as the house band with various guests including Matisyahu, George Porter Jr., Anders Osborne, Ivan Neville, Karl Denson and Luther Dickinson.
Bass player George Porter Jr., who was with the pioneering funk band the Meters and is a member of the 7 Walkers, has much respect for Evans.
“I really like playing with drummers who pay attention to what’s going on around them,” Porter said. “They tend to play off the rest of the band and Alan is one of those players. It’s not like you are just following where he lays everything at. He’s actually making his drum patterns musical. There aren’t many players like that in the world.”
Evans produced two albums of Mayer’s hometown band, the On the Spot Trio, which includes drummer Jeff Wilson and Hammond organ player Kristopher Yunker. After making the second record, Evans, Mayer and Yunker as the On the Spot Trio played a three-week tour which included a show at the Cal Neva Resort in Crystal Bay.
Only a few people witnessed the December 2011 early morning show in the Wigwam Room, but Evans, whose Soulive toured with the Rolling Stones, told Lake Tahoe Action he didn’t mind.
“If 10 people show up, 10 people paid to see you play, and those people deserve the same exact energy, the same show that you would give to 10,000 people,” Evans said. “That’s how I play. … People ask, ‘What’s it like when you open for the Rolling Stones in the big stadiums?’ Well, it’s the same as me playing in a little club. I’m going to play just as hard and with as much passion.”
As Evans gave his all for the performance, he also evaluated Mayer. Then the drummer who often plays with guitarists like Eric Krasno (of Soulive), John Schofield and Derek Trucks, made his proposal.
“Hey man, would you be interested in playing some gigs and doing some touring?” Evans asked the surprised Mayer. “You, me and this organ player. You guys would be perfect.”
Mayer, 32, said he answered yes in a half-second.
“I don’t think I am at that level but he saw something in me and he knew I would fit together with this other organ player really well,” said Mayer, who has exclusively played in guitar-drum-Hammond organ trios. “My rhythm playing is definitely funk-based and the soloing is my own thing. It’s definitely blues-based with a lot of psychedelic influence.”
Evans, on the band’s website, explained his decision.
“Danny was straight killin’ it, playing guitar exactly the way I would,” he said. “I knew that Danny and Beau together would be scary.”
Evans sent charts and demo recordings of 10 songs to Mayer, who in February flew to North Hampton, Mass., met Sasser for the first time and in four days recorded an album. Sasser played five years in a trio with legendary soul guitarist Melvin Sparks, who died in 2011.
The Alan Evans Trio had a four-week tour in May which included the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.
“We only had one gig booked in New Orleans,” said Mayer, who along with Sasser expected a day of relaxation with only one item on their itinerary: watch Soulive perform its annual Royal Family Ball in the venerable Howlin’ Wolf. (Royal Family Records is the label for Krasno’s bands Soulive and Lettuce and is headed by his brother Jeff Krasno, the promoter who started Squaw Valley’s music and yoga festival, Wanderlust.)
Mayer and Sasser were drinking beer and celebrating the festival when the both received a text from Evans: “Get the (blank) down to The Howlin’ Wolf as soon as you can. We’re playing.”
They thought Evans was joking. But the follow-up message – “I am serious. Show is sold out” – had Mayer and Sasser sprinting to their hotel for a quick shower and change of clothes.
Their hotel was walking distance from The Howlin’ Wolf and Mayer and Sasser passed beside a blocks-long line of people waiting to go the show they were to play. After the set, Mayer received congratulatory high-fives from “all of my musical heroes.”
The Alan Evans Trio is now on its second tour, this one for six weeks and to include the West Coast, Rocky Mountains, Midwest, East Coast and South. The third show on the tour will be Thursday, Aug. 23, in the Crystal Bay Casino Red Room.
“It’s pretty awesome,” Mayer said.