Cardiovascular Blues (Inner Secrets)

“I’m going to have to shave you,” nodded the nurse, holding up a little white Bic razor.

We both looked at my chest. Standing there on a treadmill, soon to sport more electrodes than William Hurt in Altered States, I sighed. It took me 30 years to grow that!

“One Way Out,” an Elmore James/Sonny Boy Williamson razor strap, smolders infidelity, but mortality ain’t materializing any great escapes either. There’s only one way out of this life, and “oh, baby, I just don’t know.” The Allman Brothers’ cover of “One Way Out,” Live at the Fillmore East, 1971 (originally from Eat a Peach), chops bone.

Fade In: the whistles, the crowd. The buzz. Dickey Betts’ guitar. Loping just ahead of a swarming rhythm section, his fleet-fingered riffing bounds with animal grace. Airborne. Enter Duane Allman’s slide guitar, dripping with disembowelment.

A singular sound in the rock & roll library, Allman’s Coricidin bottle sliding across steel strings pressed atop steel frets burns ears and brands memory. Once heard, you’ve got the scars to prove it. Allman (1946-1971) wipes the face off “One Way Out” even as he flips its switch. Locomotive on track, baby brother Gregg Allman unwinds his predicament as if Mother Earth herself were reciting the book on tape.

Ain’t but one way out, baby. Lord, I just can’t go out that door.

Ain’t but one way out, baby. And Lord, I just can’t go out that door.

Cause there’s a man down there. Might be your old man, I don’t know.

After the second verse, Allman the younger trapped, eying the window, Dickey Betts returns, searing out of Dodge at lightning speed. Guitar alarm. Faster and faster, fiercer and fiercer, his solo trips more incendiary devices than a minefield. Devils never breathed hellfire like Betts' minute-long exhale. And just when temperatures reach cremation, back bullets the rhythm crew, led by Gregg’s “Put your hands together.” Betts then smacks Duane a blazing backhand, Allman lashing back a glass scream. Back and forth hit the duelists until the band’s runaway train re-tracks in another rhythmic dimension. Betts, drummers Butch Trucks and Jaimoe, and bassist Berry Oakley (1948-1972) lift off. Duane and Gregg jump it home. Heart attack.

Duane’s defibrillating guitar isn’t the only cauterization herein applicable. Carlos Santana’s radiation therapy, Latin jazz furnace style, neutralizes foreign agents quicker than chemotherapy. Santana burns natural too.

“Jimmy Page reminds me of Wayne Shorter in the sense that even though he’s a great player, his peers acknowledge him even more as a supreme writer. We all know Jeff Beck is the cat on guitar, but for song construction, Jimmy Page is the guy. ‘Open Invitation’ was just that for me, like learning certain attitudes about rock & roll.”

So writes Santana in the liner notes to ruby-red time capsule Viva Santana. Its previously unreleased live version of “Open Invitation,” all 16 tons of it, revives late-Seventies power-chord immortality, but its side two predecessor on 1978’s Inner Secrets, a cover of Buddy Holly’s “Well All Right,” jolts aortic. Lubbock’s firebrand forefather would’ve completely spazzed out at the Tijuana-born guitarist’s reboot of “Well All Right.” Santana’s steel girder leads rocket skyward.

“Well all right, so I’ve been foolish…”

That’s what got me to Texas Cardiovascular in the first place.

“Well All Right,” “Open Invitation,” “The Facts of Love,” and opening Mack the Knife, Jim Capaldi’s “Dealer/Spanish Rose” all swagger on cocaine-era studio finesse, Santana’s guitar the ultimate power transformer. His all-axe Santana Brothers, 1994, propped on a fluorescent bed of synthetic programming, lights only one instrument: Santana’s radioactive Ibanez. Desert oasis “En Aranguez Con Tu Amor” and mad witch doctor “Brujo” act as polar extremes. Loose the red jaguar.

When Eric Clapton walked onstage during Santana’s Cotton Bowl set in 2004, Slowhand’s Crossroads Guitar Festival weekend peaked. A long lost bootleg tape once faced the pair off in Seventies L.A., one furnace stoking the other, and in Dallas three decades later, the comet came back around. Shield my eyes.

Duane, Carlos, Eric – bolstering, boasting blues. Clapton’s scruffy Money and Cigarettes claims “I’ve Got a Rock & Roll Heart.” In two weeks I find out if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. My new bald patches, meanwhile, itch.

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Cardiovascular Blues, Allman Brothers, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton

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