When blues guitarist Kal David was in his first band in high school in Chicago, he and his bandmates quickly mastered the chord progressions that make up many blues standards. But they didn't have the genre licked, not by a longshot. Learning to play the blues well takes time, David said, because its strength lies in elements you can't immediately grasp.
"We discovered that the nuances, the spaces between the notes, are very important," he said. "The blues is understated. It's more of an attitude and feeling than anything. Its like trying to describe color to a blind guy."
David comes to Juneau to perform as part of the Jazz & Classics festival beginning this Friday and running through May 24. He is the first act on the festival schedule, and will play three times: Friday at Centennial Hall, and twice Saturday during the festival's two Blues Cruises. He will be joined by his band, The Real Deal, and his wife and musical partner Lauri Bono.
"We make a lot of noise for four people," he said.
Bono and David take turns singing lead for the band, and have played together for decades. The pair owned their own nightclub for eight years in Palm Springs, called Blue Guitar, before selling it in 2004 to make more time for touring.
David said he feels lucky to have had such a long-standing musical relationship with his wife.
"We've only been together 30 years. But as far as the amount of time we spend, it's like we've been together 90 years," he said. "She is a great artist and a great writer and a heck of a wife."
David and Bono often collaborate on new songs together, throwing out ideas as they come.
"Theres no rules as far as who writes the words or who writes the music," he said of the song-writing process.
Being raised in Chicago made the blues hard to ignore, and David said he found himself gravitating toward the genre at a very young age. As a teenager, he met Etta James backstage at the Regal Theater, in downtown Chicago, and said he was stunned when he heard her perform. He later went on to play lead guitar for her for three years.
"She taught me a lot about the blues," he said. "The loud and soft of it, the subtleties and dynamics. Theres not a lot of difference in the harmony - the harmony is primitive as a matter of fact - but the dynamics and nuances are very complex."
David also played lead for John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers and for Johnny Rivers.
Rivers had this to say of his guitarist: "Kal David has become a combo of all the best blues/jazz guitar and vocal styles of the last 35 years."
According to David, he still loves listening to Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf, and has been lucky enough to meet many of genre's living greats, including Taj Mahal and BB King.
"He's an idol of mine, he said of King. "I consider him to be a national treasure."
Another artist he greatly respects is Ray Charles, adding that he was so in awe of him that when he had the chance to meet him he shied away. He remains a big influence on David's music.
"Anytime I have a musical decision to make I always think 'What would Ray do?'
David's guitar of choice is a Gibson Firebird, built in 1964 by "some guys that knew what they were doing" and purchased by David a few years later.
"I have alot of other guitars. But I still find myself gravitating back to that one."
He said he will bring one of his Firebirds for his performances in Juneau, and hopes Juneau audiences will enjoy his shows.
"I take a lot of pride in what we do," he said. "I try to wring everything I can out of every note I sing and play."