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November 24, 1994 * Vol. 4, No. 25

Hector Qirko

by Chris Barrett

Not too many decades ago, almost all music in America was discernibly regional. Listening to 78s, you could tell which blues singers were from Arkansas and which were from South Carolina by their dialect. If they played guitar, they walked between chords differently. In some backwater Southern counties, they even strung their guitars differently.

The rabid expansion of international media like MTV and Rolling Stone has thrown regional music into a huge, commercial Cuisinart. Any East Tennessee songwriter who wants to sell a record to Sony these days figures he's got to sound the way they do in Bakersfield, Nashville, L.A. or New York. Regional music has practically become the stuff of anthropology.

Hector Qirko fronts the Knoxville blues band that bears his name. Justifiably content with the part-time market and fan base he's cultivated here in the land of bluegrass, Qirko doesn't aim his songs at Rush Street or Brooklyn. He and his band have given Knoxville a distinctive, local blues voice the likes of which it hasn't really had since the long gone McGhee brothers.

Qirko, who was born in New York and raised in South America, says that while the blues isn't an art form many would associate with East Tennessee, Knoxville is as good for him as any place else. And since he learned the blues while growing up in different countries in South America, he's used to considering his music out of context.

"Knoxville's a great place to write the blues, but any place is a great place," says Qirko. "Everyone has feelings about something or other that could be called the blues. We try to write and sing about those that are relevant to us.

"If I were born here and had been raised here, I'd probably play bluegrass, which I love dearly, and think is related to blues in a lot of ways. But I was in South America, which isn't much of a blues place either. I learned the blues by listening to rock-and-roll records my father brought back from the states. Hendrix, Clapton, the Allman Brothers—that's how I got introduced to the blues without really knowing what it was."

The Hector Qirko Band, with its current lineup of Jim Williams on bass, Steve Brown on drums and Dirk Weddington on sax, has been together for six years. The bulk of "local" bands (no matter the locus) often see recordings as label bait, to be hopefully cast into the hopeless quagmire of distributors, dragging bottom for a contract and a ticket out of town.

The Qirko Band doesn't have any bags packed. They record to mark their own progress. The Blues Is A Living Thing, which recently landed on local music store shelves, is the band's third studio souvenir.

"Unlike bands that record songs and then perform to promote them," Qirko explains, "we learn songs, spend time with them, and then record them to document them.

"It's also something for the fans."

Living Thing was recorded live, straight to two-track, and it shows. It's once more into the breach, with no hint of tentativeness from Qirko or his mates.

"We're proudest of this record," Qirko says. "Can't Help It, our earlier disc, was recorded a track at a time in Nashville. I played two guitars on most tracks and we added a lot of stuff to the songs. Living Thing was recorded live, right here in Knoxville."

The disc has a Knoxville feel to it. Even the original "Stax/Volt," an undisguised tip of the hat to Booker T. and the MGs, seems to suit a stroll through an Old City alley better than it would old Beale Street.

A Carolina brakeman once sang that the blues ain't nothing but a good man feeling bad. No good man who's ever felt bad would argue. Qirko irrefutably espouses that precept on the title track of the new record, with plenty of string-stretching fret-walking and what just might be a tear or two:

I wasn't born in the delta,
I've never been to New Orleans,
I spent some time in Chicago,
But I still don't know what mojo means.
But I know the blues,
Because the blues is a living thing.

© Metro Pulse