Live at Hill Country's Backyard Barbecue: Frank Bang & the Secret Stash (Guitarist for Buddy Guy)

Live at Hill Country's Backyard Barbecue: Frank Bang & the Secret Stash (Guitarist for Buddy Guy)

Frank Bang describes his new album, Double Dare, as “driving music — something to get you from point A to point B.” For this 11-song thrill ride of a disc, that’s got a double meaning. Songs like the slamming title track and the spanking riff rocker, “Lose Control,” certainly keep the pedal to the floor, but more contemplative numbers, like the slide guitar ballad, “Wonder Woman,” and the celebration of life’s simple joys, “This Is What It’s All About,” also bridge the points between life’s connections — romance, family, joy. “The things you really need to get you from point A to point B,” Bang observes, chuckling.

Bang’s own journey has had many stops on his way to becoming a vibrant songwriter-guitarist and frontman, including a five-year apprenticeship as guitar foil for blues legend Buddy Guy. And they all fuel Double Dare, a set that finds Bang at the creative zenith of his composing and performing powers, riding a raw and original line with his band the Secret Stash straight through the rock, blues and country that he’s absorbed as a musical traveler.

“There isn’t one thing on this album that isn’t true,” Bang relates. “There are stories about my family, about my life and experiences, about things that have struck me as funny or interesting. Even the guitar sound goes right back to the buzz I got plugging an electric guitar in for the first time — getting that real pure tone and letting it rip.”

Double Dare, helmed by Umphrey’s McGee and Rod Stewart producer/engineer Manny Sanchez, ignited when Bang wrote the song “Wonder Woman,” a warm slide guitar powered tune about the inspiration and healing power of love. “I knew I had a song with heart and meaning, and that set the bar for the rest of the songs that I wanted to write,” he explains. Similarly, “All I Need” chronicles the turns of life over a bed of gently grinding six-string and a glide of organ, brought to an emotional arc by Bang’s soaring solo.

Those numbers and others mark Bang’s arrival as a potent songsmith, a status achieved through years of absorbing the influence of his musical heroes from the American South and seeking wisdom from John Hiatt, Malcolm Holcombe and other brilliant tunesmiths with whom he’s shared both friendships and the stage.

Bang’s musical journey began in his native Chicago. He was born in the Austin neighborhood into a music-loving household where everybody from Lou Rawls to the Village People shared time on the family’s turntable. Bang, whose actual surname is Blinkal, saw his first live music at the lounge where his mother waitressed. His father, a Chicago police officer, was initially disapproving of his son’s interest in playing guitar. But Bang persevered, and at age 16 bought a cheap six-string and amp that he was only allowed to play in the garage.

It was rock — everything from AC/DC to Metallica to Z.Z. Top — that caught his interest as a budding guitarist. But when Bang turned 21, he made his first visits to Chicago’s blues clubs, where he began to grasp that the genre provided the musical bedrock of his favorite artists. He also got a copy of the Johnny Copeland, Albert Collins and Robert Cray album, Showdown!, and was inspired by the furious interplay of the three blues guitar aces.

Still, it would take nearly a half-decade before Bang would set out on the path to discovering his own artistry through the blues.

“I went to college for mechanical engineering and playing guitar became my therapy — the way I blew off steam after doing too much advanced trigonometry,” Bang says. Feeling that he was on the wrong road, Bang quit school and got a job at Chicago’s Hard Rock Café, which he used as a springboard to see different parts of the country, transferring first to San Diego’s Hard Rock and then to Houston’s. While in San Diego, meeting Stevie Ray Vaughan at an autograph session at the Hard Rock provided the second signpost for his musical direction.

“I was a fan, and I started to tell him how much I liked his music, but when he found out I was from Chicago he immediately started telling me I needed to check out Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Albert Collins, and all the other Chicago cats,” Bang relates.

So when Bang moved back to the Windy City, he took Vaughan’s advice. He also took a one-night-a-week job at Guy’s club Legends as a doorman. Over the next few years, his involvement in the club grew to even occasionally traveling with Guy and his crew to major concerts. But it was late at night, after Legends closed, that his real blues education continued.

“Me and my good buddy Wayne Baker Brooks” — son of blues giant Lonnie Brooks — “would drag the amps out on stage after hours and we’d play together, trading licks and trying to learn some of what we’d just heard that night,” Bang recounts. “Every evening we got to see the very best Chicago and national touring blues acts and a lot of great rock musicians, too. It was tremendously inspiring.”

Besides expanding his guitar vocabulary, Bang got his professional name during his Legends years. He’d occasionally take time off to road manage for club regular Larry McCray, who started calling him “Bang” due to the speed at which he accomplished tasks — as in “bang,” job done.

Bang began playing during the Monday night Legends jams. He assembled his own blues-rock group, the Buzz, who became regulars at the club. He also came into his own on slide guitar — which plays a major role in Double Dare — after discovering the daredevil musicianship of Robert Randolph, Aubrey Ghent and the other slide-based players from the Holiness Church sacred steel tradition.

As Bang’s six-string prowess grew, the bluesman who’d influenced two generations of guitar heroes including Vaughan, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton took notice, and with it came the invitation to join Buddy Guy’s band. At the same time, Bang and the Buzz were on the verge of signing a deal with Capricorn Records to make an album produced by Warren Haynes. But like all of Bang’s friends, even Haynes suggested that he hit the road with Guy and learn at the side of a master instead.

Bang circled the world five times with Guy, headlining clubs and theaters, and opening on major tours in some of the biggest arenas and amphitheaters. Along the way, Bang shared the stage with the Rolling Stones, Santana, Robert Plant, R.E.M., Jimmie Vaughan, Dave Matthews, B.B. King, Clapton and other blues and rock titans. He also performed alongside Guy in many television appearances, including the The Tonight Show and Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

Bang continued to forge ahead on his own, too. In 2004, he cut his debut album, Frank Bang Alive One, followed by the studio set, Frank Bang’s Secret Stash in 2005. In 2006, he made Homegrown Live from Martyr’s. With 2007’s And They Named It Rock And Roll, Bang began to take song craft more seriously.

“I felt that I really had to step up my game and write songs that had a deeper meaning, because I realized my music had a deep meaning for a lot of people,” Bang says. “People would, and still do, tell me my music lifted them when they were down, and helped them through hard times. I wanted to live up to that.

“After going through a divorce, spending a few years at home playing with my kids and reevaluating my life, I decided to focus even harder on music,” Bang explains. “It felt right, and I think Double Dare bears that out. The album really is me. I’ve taken elements from my experience and put them into the songs. I’ve taken a little bit of everything I’ve learned from players and bandleaders like Buddy, from Warren Haynes and the slide players, from songwriters like Malcolm Holcombe and John Hiatt and from leading the Buzz and the Secret Stash, and I’ve made it all a part of my own voice and sound.

“I’ve set a high bar of artistic maturity and musical integrity for myself,” he says, “and I hope people hear that in this album.”

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Hill Country's Backyard Barbecue! Featuring Hill Country’s award-winning Texas-style barbecue, ice-cold Shiner beers, and signature cocktails on the spacious and picturesque West Lawn of the National Building Museum (401 F Street, NW; www.nbm.org; 202.272.2448). Gates open at noon!

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Live at Hill Country's Backyard Barbecue: Frank Bang & the Secret Stash (Guitarist for Buddy Guy)

Thursday, August 22 · Doors 12:00 PM / Show 5:30 PM at Hill Country DC

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