2003 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, or so claim the press materials hyping the release of the band's fine new album, Which Way Is Texas?
It's a statement that manages to be both true and false at the same time. It's true that Funderburgh formed an early version of the Rockets back in 1978. But it was a full eight years later before the band's rollicking take on Texas roadhouse blues collided head-on with the Mississippi Delta growl of Sam Myers. That's really when things got interesting.
Funderburgh is an exciting guitarist, though not a flashy one. He and his band play distinctly Texas-style music with a hard-driving rhythm section that draws as much from Texas swing music as it does from blues. The bandleader's songwriting is solid and often clever. But it's singer and harp player Sam Myers who is the band's not-so-secret weapon.
Born in Jackson, Mississippi, Myers was playing blues while the other members of the Rockets were wearing diapers. Now approaching 70, he employs an easy, no-nonsense approach to the music, which is often in stark contrast to the Rockets' propulsive, swinging grooves. In less capable hands the juxtaposition of sounds would be jarring, but these road-hardened veterans clearly thrive on the blending of styles.
The four-year lag time between the current album and its predecessor shows the band no worse for wear. Funderburgh himself even manages to take a few respectable turns at the microphone -- the first time he's done so on record. It doesn't represent a seismic shift in style, but it shows a band still interested in pushing itself.
Local blues fans will have plenty of opportunities to check out Funderburgh, Myers and the other Rockets live and in the flesh during their five-day residency at the Bottleneck Blues Bar in the Ameristar Casino later this month.