Blues trio skilled beyond their years
Johnny Duke & the Aces is a young band.
Two of the members of the electric blues trio are 17 and the other is 16.
The vocals of lead singer and guitarist Johnny Duke Lippincott can veer sometimes into an uneasy warble.
By RYAN CORMIER / The News Journal
And bassist Ian Walsh says, "I didn't know that!" when Lippincott mentions that his mentor David Bromberg played with Bob Dylan back in the day.
But you shouldn't mistake their youth for inexperience.
All three have been playing their respective instruments for six to eight years. And, if you sit back and close your eyes, you will be awed that a band this young can play so well, especially the howling guitar solos of Lippincott.
Day by day, performance by performance, they improve, much to the awe of the producer of their new, self-titled debut album.
"Because they're so young and the learning curve is so steep, I could notice an improvement from week to week in their vocals and musicianship," says Kevin Walsh, Ian's father and lead guitarist of the local band Vinyl Shockley. "So this album is just a snapshot in time."
Along with drummer Cam Tyler, the threesome have made a name for themselves in the year they've been together, playing mostly in New Castle County, where all three live with their parents.
While the members of the band are each into varied styles of music, Lippincott brings the hard-core blues drive to the band and writes almost all of their songs. He usually spends his summers living with his father in Scobey, Miss. -- and that's where he gets his Delta blues flavor.
A fan of bluesmen like Albert King, B.B. King, Freddie King and Stevie Ray Vaughan, Lippincott is well versed in blues history for a 17-year-old.
Just look at the four cover songs on their album: Howlin' Wolf's "Killing Floor," Willie Brown's "Mississippi Blues," Buddy Guy's "First Time I Met the Blues" and Jimi Hendrix's "Who Knows?"
Each song gets a reinvention by Johnny Duke & the Aces, making a 40-year-old song like "Killing Floor" something that even the teenage girls in the audience can dance to.
"When we play 'Killing Floor,' people love it," Ian Walsh says. "They just eat it up."
Lippincott traces his blossoming guitar skills back to the first time he went to a blues jam session at 4W5 Caf? in Wilmington, usually hosted by Bromberg, who lives in town.
He impressed Bromberg, who called Lippincott "the best electric-guitar player in town" in a Philadelphia Inquirer article earlier this year. The two have become close, with Bromberg even co-writing and performing on one of the songs on their album called "Something's Wrong Here."
"I just came up with a cool riff and he said, 'Let's make a song out of this,' " Lippincott says.
Lippincott also has been working with Bromberg recently on his vocals and his showmanship, two things that have taken a bit of a back seat to his dogged focus on his guitar work and songwriting.
"I'm really lucky to have somebody like that," Lippincott says of Bromberg.
Not every 17-year-old guitarist has a legendary master musician in his corner.
Bromberg even sat in at a Johnny Duke & the Aces show at Wilmington's Blue Parrot last year.
"We were just doing a regular show and then we said, 'We'd like to call up a good friend," Ian Walsh remembers. "Then big David Bromberg gets up there, tears it up and blows everybody away."
And Bromberg isn't the only famous guitarist Lippincott's played with. Last month, he traveled back to Mississippi to take a workshop with B.B. King, one of his heroes.
"I'll remember that one when I'm 300," he says.
Along with help from Bromberg, Lippincott also is taking voice lessons at the Grand Opera House, determined to become the total package.
"I don't want to be known as a good guitar player with [mediocre] vocals," he says flatly.
Though they aren't even out of their teens, the band is headed toward the end of the road.
College is calling.
Lippincott is preparing for his senior year at Sanford School and already has snagged a scholarship at Boston's Berklee College of Music, and Tyler is looking at prospective schools.
Walsh, who is entering his junior year, is preparing for life without his bandmates when next summer rolls around.
"Oh, and my girlfriend is leaving, too," he says, mentioning that she's a year older than him, and headed to college as well. "My life ends senior year," he jokes.
Reach Ryan Cormier at 324-2863 or firstname.lastname@example.org.