The Death Whisperer Series

The Death Whisperer Series
The Death Whisperer Series available at

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blues Saraceno & Benoni Pinot Noir

Blues Saraceno is an American rock guitarist, composer, and music producer who currently resides in Los Angeles California. Saraceno was a first call guitar sideman and session musician, most often recognized from his time playing w/Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker as well as his brief tenure with the band Poison. Saraceno's early success in the music industry eventually blossomed into a career in producing and composing for television and film.
As a child he was surrounded by music and often credits his parents, both of whom were musicians, this for his initial interest in becoming a professional musician. He started to play guitar at the age of nine, but didn't take it seriously until the age of thirteen, when a fall from a go cart resulted in a broken elbow. Saraceno asked the doctor to position the cast so that he could remove it from his sling and practice guitar during his recovery period.
His professional career began one week after his 16th birthday when his manager sent a demo tape to Michael Bolton who decided to enlist Blues' guitar skills on a Cher song. That late night session which included songwriter Desmond Child resulted in a release on Cher's "Heart of Stone" record. Word quickly spread and other producers soon followed suit.
His success landed him an audition with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker in New York City. Despite blowing the amp up during the audition, Saraceno was offered the gig. After two successful US tours Saraceno was quickly becoming referred to as the "kid that replaced Eric Clapton". After another year of overseas touring, Baker departed and was replaced by Simon Phillips (Who, Toto) and eventually Gary Husband (Level 42). In 1994 Saraceno left Jack Bruce to fill in as lead guitarist and songwriter for the band Poison after guitarist Richie Kotzen was fired. After a short overseas tour, Saraceno's playing was recorded for the Poison album Crack a Smile.
In 2000, he founded the band Transmission OK, which served as a platform to showcase his lead vocal abilities and songwriting skills as well as demonstrate a lot of the recording techniques that he had picked up over the years of doing sessions. Transmission OK offered the opportunity for Blues to step out from under the "guitar hero' moniker and started his venture into the world of record producing. Still, he’s a heck of a guitarist and I hope you enjoy him.
I’ll pairing Blues with a 2010 Benoni Pinot Noir ($20.00), one of the best Pinot’s I’ve tasted in recent years. So good, in fact, that I order four more bottles. Its nose explodes with raspberries and wild cherries. Rich core of cherries, raspberries and a hint of vanilla. Very persistent finish. A perfect match for Saraceno’s blues and a warm summer night. Enjoy!

Monday, August 29, 2011

Matt Scofield and Yering Station Shiraz Viognier

Matt Schofield was born in Manchester UK in 1977. From an early age he was immersed in the blues thanks to his Dad’s record collection. He became a professional guitarist at the age of 18 then spent four years with British Blues Diva and David Bowie prodigy Dana Gillespie, touring the UK, Europe and as far a field as India.

Seven years into his professional career, he formed his own band - a trio - with Hammond organist, Jonny Henderson and drummer, Evan Jenkins (now with BBC Jazz Award winner, Neil Cowley). The trio was unconventional in having no bass player, bass duties being handled on the Hammond organ, a format favored over the years by American bluesmen such as Albert King and Jimmie Vaughan. These days, however, Schofield has a bass player.

Schofield's seamless playing emulates the great styles of American blues guitar. He’s one of only two living British artists to be given a four star (excellent) rating in the Penguin Book of Blues Recordings and in 2007 Guitar and Bass Magazine picked Schofield as one of the "Top 10 British Blues Guitarists of All Time".  If you’re a blues guitar fan, you’re going to like him.

I’m pairing Matt with a 2006 Shiraz Viognier from Yering Station in Australia. Deep purple color with a perfumed bouquet of dark fruit and violets, the latter due to the 5% Viognier. The palate shows blackberry and cassis flavors, firmed by supple tannins, that add grip to the back end. This wine clings to the palate, leaving a dark berry preserve quality behind. It received ratings of 92 and 91 from International Wine Cellar and Wine Spectator respectively, and at $20.00 a bottle, it’s a steal. So kick off the Monday with some great blues and a wonderful wine. Enjoy!


Saturday, August 27, 2011

Aki Tanaka & Antinori Chianti Classico Peppoli

Aki Tanaka is the 2010 winner of the Winfield International Fingerstyle guitar championship, outplaying 39 other guitarists to claim his title. He started playing at the age of 13 and was fascinated by American rock guitarists like Van Halen and Steve Vai. But several years later, a Japanese acoustic guitarist, Kotaro Oshio (reviewed here previously in 2010) caught his attention. Aki was  intrigued by Oshio’s ability to play drum, bass, and lead parts simultaneously on the acoustic guitar and decided it was a style he wanted to learn. He’s never looked back, playing as a solo performer ever since. I think you’ll like him.

I’m pairing Aki with a 2007 Antinori Chianti Classico Peppoli made from 90% Sangiovese, 5% Merlot, and 5% Syrah. Deep red with aromas of red fruit and a touch of vanilla, its taste is full of raspberries, cassis, and chocolate. Its well-balanced and elegant with a fruity finish. Very nice, especially when you’re listening to the music of Aki Tanaka. Enjoy!


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rik Emmett and Chad Pinot Noir

Rik Emmett is a Canadian guitarist with a fair bit of gold and platinum hanging on his wall. Highlights of his career range from Best Guitarist at the ‘81 Junos to Best Smooth Jazz Guitarist in 2005, along with induction into the Canadian Rock Hall of Fame in ‘93, the Music Industry Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Junos Hall of Fame in 2008.
Rik was a relatively unknown singer/songwriter/guitarist when he joined a newly-formed hard rock trio called Triumph in September of ’75. By ‘79 three albums had gone platinum in Canada and two charted in the States, receiving serious radio airplay. By ‘81 Triumph was firmly established as one of the premier touring rock acts in North America, with generous FM radio airplay support and a heavy rotation on the fledgling MTV cable channel.
In the next seven years, the band released ten gold albums, with four turning platinum in Canada. In the U.S., two went gold. Emmett’s name frequently appeared in guitar magazine polls and he won several prestigious awards, including Best Lead Guitarist nationally in 1981. The band was inducted into the Canadian Rock Hall of Fame in ‘93, the Music Industry Hall of Fame in 2007, and the Junos Hall of Fame in 2008.
Among his peers, Rik Emmett is widely considered to be one of the most proficient and versatile guitarists of all time. Although he is best known as a premier rock guitarist, his playing style incorporates rock, blues, jazz, classical, bluegrass and flamenco techniques. Similarly, his songwriting and discography demonstrate his ability to employ and blend multiple genres and in April 2005, Emmett was lauded with the Canadian Smooth Jazz Award for Guitarist of the Year. I think you’re going to like his music. Enjoy!

Since the temperature/humidity index spiked back above 107 today, I’m going to pair Rik with a beautiful, light 2010 Pinot Noir from Chad Wine Company ($18.00). It has a nose of cherry and spice, with a medium ruby color.  It’s a smooth, easy drinking Pinot, with cherries,  strawberry, Asian spice on the palate.  Excellent persistence and lively on the back palate, with a kind of freshness rarely found in Carneros. Very nice wine and perfect for a steaming hot night in the Midwest, or anywhere else as you listen to the guitar genius of Rik Emmet. Enjoy!


Sunday, August 21, 2011

Robben Ford, Larry Carlton, and Rockledge Pinot Noir

Tonight, I’m featuring the music of two of my favorite guitarists whose styles compliment each other beautifully. Robben Ford blends blues and jazz. Although his first instrument was the saxophone, which he played into his twenties, he began teaching himself guitar at age thirteen after hearing the two guitarists from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Michael Bloomfield and Elvin Bishop. He toured with blues singer Jimmy Witherspoon and later with jazz saxophonist Tom Scott and the L.A. Express. He caught the attention of George Harrison who invited him to join him on his "Dark Horse" tour of the U.S. and Canada, raising his musical profile even further. He went on to tour with the Yellowjackets, Michael McDonald, and Miles Davis. After all that jazz, he returned to his roots, namely the blues, forming his group the Blue Line.

Larry Carlton, also known as Mr. 335, for the trademark Gibson ES335 that he often plays, has had an equally illustrious career. Interestingly, his early career included a stint as the musical director for an Emmy-nominated children’s show, Mrs. Alphabet, where he also performed as one of the characters, Larry Guitar. He performed and recorded extensively with the Jazz Crusaders and became one of L.A.’s most in-demand session players, backing stars from every imaginable genre, ranging from Sammy Davis, Jr., and Herb Alpert to Quincy Jones, Paul Anka, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Jerry Garcia and Dolly Parton as well as playing many of the leads on the rock group Steeley Dan’s albums. He has more than 3000 studio sessions under his belt and by the early 1980s had picked up four Grammy nominations. In 1981, in collaboration with Mike Post, he won one for the theme to Hillstreet Blues.

While working on one of my favorite albums, Solid Ground, Larry was the victim of random gun violence, and was shot in the throat by gun-wielding juveniles outside Room 335, his private studio near Burbank, California. The bullet shattered his vocal cord and caused significant nerve trauma, but through intensive therapy and a positive frame of mind, Carlton completed work on Solid Ground in 1989. He bounced back stronger than ever forming the non-profit group, Helping Innnocent People (HIP), which aids victims of random gun violence and his guitar playing is as smooth and mello as ever.

The duo of Robben Ford and Larry Carlton blend blues and jazz at its best. So, kick back and enjoy some smooth blues.

With this smooth blues duo, I suggest a 2010 Rockledge Pinot Noir ($20.00). It’s a deep ruby color with a powerful nose of cherries, raspberries, and cinnamon. The palate reminds me of a French Burgundy, rich with a surprisingly long finish. It’s great for a summer evening tapping your feet and nodding your head in time to the smooth blues music of the Carlton-Ford duo. Enjoy!


Monday, August 15, 2011

John Knowles & Valduero Crianza

John Knowles is an American fingerstyle guitarist and one of only 5 people in the world to receive the CGP(Certified Guitar Player) Award, from the late great Chet Atkins. Atkins only gave the award out to guitar playing musicians who were at the absolute top of their craft. And those who have received it are among the best guitarists in the world.
John started off as a child, picking out melodies on the piano. He switched to the accordion then took up the ukulele. When John was 13 he discovered the music of Chet Atkins. He thought it was impossible to play guitar like Atkins, but immersed himself in Chet's style. His later influences included Christopher Parkening, Pepe Romero,and Robert Guthrie.
John is a master chord soloist and single string improvisor. His repertoire is quite diverse and includes everything from Christmas songs, traditional folk, piano rags, classical, and pop tunes. Although his guitar style is heavily jazz-influenced, there are traces of a classical guitarist in his style, too.
One of the most interesting facts about John, at least to me as a scientist, is that he has a Ph.D. in physics from Texas Christian University that he earned while playing music on the side. I can empathize with that. Hope you enjoy his music.

I suggest a 2007 Valduero Crianza from the Ribero del Duero region of Spain to accompany John. This dark ruby wine made from the Tinto Fino grape is bold and full bodied. The wine spent 15 months in French and American oak, so I suggest airing it for at least an hour before you drink it as the substantial barrel tannins will soften considerably, revealing an aromatic core of black cherry fruit. It’s elegant on the palate, with a velvety texture, intense flavors, and excellent balance, just like the music of John Knowles. Enjoy!


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Brooks Williams & Benoni Pinot Noir

The heat has broken and it’s a great night for sitting on the deck with a glass of wine, watching the full moon and a spectacular meteor shower here in Nebraska. So, I’d like to introduce you to Brooks Williams, a blues/slide/folk guitarist and one of the premier players on the Americana roots & blues scene. He’s been named one of the top 100 acoustic guitarists with a style that draws you into the music of plain folks, expressing the emotions of life. When you see him play, it’s almost like he’s sitting beside you telling you stories around a campfire. I think your going to like him, and if you’ve ever seen the movie “Crossroads,” you’ll recognize the Slide Blues tune, as it’s one of the tunes that Ralph Machio “plays” when his girl leaves him. By the way, if you haven’t seen it, look up the guitar duel between Machio (Ry Cooder is doing the guitar playing) and Steve Vai (ripping it up as usual). Oh heck. Here it is. Enjoy! .

I’m pairing Brooks with a 2010 Benoni Pinot Noir ($18). I love Pinot Noir in the summer. They’re light and fruity, perfect for watching the stars. This one of the best I’ve tasted. It’s a brilliant ruby color with an explosive nose of elegant cherries and red raspberries. The taste is filled with cherry goodness, red berries, a touch of vanilla, and just the right amount of spice that persists into a long, luscious finish. It’s a perfect wine for a summer evening, enjoying the music of Brooks Williams.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Steven Curtis Chapman & Veladora Sauvignon Blanc

Today is my 35th wedding anniversary and in honor of that, I’m featuring one our favorite songwriter/singer/guitarists.  Born November 21, 1962, Steven Curtis Chapman is one of the leading singer/songwriters in contemporary Christian music today. He’s also a heck of a guitarist. He started his career in the late 80s and since then has won five Grammys, and 56 Gospel Association Dove Awards including seven “Artist of the Year” awards, a record for the association. More importantly, to me at least, is his character and the fact that he and his family have weathered some hard times. Three years ago, his son, Caleb (the second guitarist in the “Lord of the Dance” video below), pulled the family car into their driveway. His little sister, Maria, was excited to see her brother that she ran to the car to meet him. Tragically, she crossed in front of the car where Caleb could not see her and she was killed in the accident. Imagine for a moment how a parent might feel. Not only did they have to mourn the loss of their youngest daughter, but also had to re-instill confidence into their son who, I’m sure, was devastated by the events. Read Steven’s account of his family’s progress at .

He’s an amazing guitarist to boot.  Try playing his chord progressions some time and see if you don’t end up with cramps. Enjoy!

I’m pairing Steven with the wine my wife and I drank to celebrate our anniversary, a 2010 Orin-Swift Veladora Sauvignon Blanc ($25.00). Rarely do I like California Sauvignon Blancs. They tend to be bitter, at least to my taste buds. I much prefer a New Zealand version or a French Sancerre. However, the Veladora is the first California Sauvignon Blanc that I really, really enjoyed. Its bouquet is expansive and brings back memories of my grandmother’s gooseberry bushes, augmented by grass, figs, lemon, and citrus. It’s very complex and fresh.

The palate is slightly sweet with exceptional minerality, almost effervesant. It’s completed by the tastes of gooseberries, peaches, and figs, with a faint spiciness. This is by far the best California Sauvignon Blanc I’ve tasted. It compliments the music of Steven Curtis Chapman beautifully. Happy 35th anniversary to the love of my life, Sandy. Love you!


Friday, August 5, 2011

Norman Brown & Valduero Crianza

Had a hectic week, but excellent week and now it’s time for four days off to celebrate 35 years of marriage to the love of my life. Kicking back calls for something smooth and cool. Norman Brown is a giant of a smooth jazz guitarist, following in the footsteps of George Benson to whom he is often compared. Born in Shreveport, Louisiana, and raised in Kansas City, Kansas, Brown first picked up a guitar at the age of 8. His initial inspiration came from hearing the psychedelic sounds of Jimi Hendrix, but he soon discovered his father's favorite guitarist, Wes Montgomery, and found the style that fit him like a glove. After high school, Brown moved to Los Angeles to pursue his musical career, attending the Musicians Institute where he also taught for a time. Brown was discovered and signed to the MoJazz label, a division of Motown. His 1992 debut album, “Just Between Us,” was followed with the gold-certified “After The Storm” and 1996's “Better Days Ahead.” He switched to the Warner Brothers label where he teamed with producer Paul Brown and his 2003 recording, “Just Chillin',” earned him a GRAMMY® in the best pop instrumental category. Relax and enjoy some of the best smooth jazz guitar on the planet.

It’s pouring rain (go figure) here in Nebraska, something we haven’t seen in a month. So with the heat breaking, how about a 2007 Valduero Crianza from the  Ribero del Duero region of Spain. Let it breathe for an hour before you drink it to let the tannins calm down. Once that’s done, you’ll find scents of black fruits, smoke, and spice. It has an elegant, almost sweet palate full of black cherry and blackberry. The texture is velvety with nice balance. Just like the guitar of Norman Brown. Enjoy!