From his home base in Traverse City, Jabo Bihlman has crisscrossed the globe, helped lead Son Seals and risen up the Billboard charts with Grinder Blues. Today, he reveals recordings that impacted him most.
EDITOR’S NOTE: All musicians can trace their inspiration to key recordings that influenced their careers. Writer Ross Boissoneau today showcases music that changed the world for acclaimed northern Michigan guitarist Jabo Bihlman. Scroll down for a Spotify playlist of his picks along with two tracks from bands that he’s recorded and toured with.
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Guitarist and vocalist Jeff “Jabo” Bihlman has been around – literally and musically. He’s called Chicago, Los Angeles, Las Vegas and Traverse City his home base, with the lattermost currently serving as such once again.
He’s taught guitar at Musicians Institute and Interlochen Center for the Arts, and has toured the country and Europe as lead guitarist and music director for Son Seals, with the Bihlman Brothers Band and Grinder Blues. Today it’s the lattermost – a hard-rock blues trio with his brother Scott on drums and bassist dUg Pinnick (Kings X) – that takes up most of his musical energy.
The band’s latest album, 2021’s “El Dos,” debuted at No. 14 on the Billboard Blues Chart, and the group is prepping for a late summer/early fall tour in Europe. Before that, he’ll play solo and band gigs at area wineries and breweries, as well as shows in Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo and Detroit.
“I’ve always straddled hard rock and blues. One day I’ll listen to Muddy Waters, the next Metallica. I was always a huge Rush fan growing up. I picked up guitar, (got into) Stevie Ray Vaughan and Joe Satriani,” Bihlman says.
The Emmy winner also has contributed music to television series including “Sons of Anarchy,” “Burn Notice,” “All My Children” and “Manifest,” as well as films, including “Deadrise,” “Love and Dancing” and “Surviving the Bradley.” He’s also on the air as a DJ at WQON, Q100 out of Grayling/Mackinaw City/Traverse City.
“I get to play anything I want,” he says. Not that he limits himself. “I’m continually seeking out and bringing in new music people don’t know about yet.”
Bihlman plays St. Ambrose Cellars solo on Sundays starting May 28, Ciccone Vineyards on June 29 and Sept. 28, and Bay Harbor in Petoskey Aug. 18. In addition, Jabo’s Family Jam plays Thirsty Fish in Traverse City for several dates June-September, with the Jabo Bihlman Band at Union Street Station on Aug. 19. Grinder Blues hopes to play a few Michigan dates in June.
1. Joe Satriani, “Surfing With The Alien” (1987) – He’s my favorite guitar player, and I still listen to that record today. It was one of the first pop guitar instrumental albums, (though) Jeff Beck invented the genre. I love Satch’s playing, his progression, modes. It changed my whole world when I heard that.
Listen: “Surfing with the Alien”
2. Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Texas Flood” (1983) – I grew up outside Chicago. I watched Son Seals, Lonnie Brooks, all the Alligator artists. Then I heard Stevie. What struck me was his use of rhythm guitar and moving bass while he’s soloing. It’s very different sound. Chicago blues was call and answer, singing and following with a lick. Stevie was also a little more rocking, and the speed and clarity of his guitar playing with a pretty clean guitar tone. Stevie was better technically and had more control than Jimi. I still lean Chicago blues, but Stevie came out with a different sound.
Listen: “Love Struck Baby”
3. Soundgarden, “Superunknown” (1994) – It’s my favorite record of all time. Grunge changed my life again. I was in L.A. at the Whiskey sitting at the bar and heard “Man in a Box” from Alice in Chains. I heard it and dove into grunge. I’m a hard rocker at heart. If you can’t find two and four, it’s hard to make it into a pop hit. Soundgarden managed to take interesting chord progressions and time signatures and make them into popular songs. Chris Cornell was one of the greatest singers in rock history, and his lyrics touched me. His use of imagery and opposites was really amazing. They were unbelievable songs that changed my life again.
Currently Loving: Rival Sons, “Feral Roots” (2019) – It’s their best record. It’s super great. Rival Sons keep getting better. When they started, they were not mainstream. “Feral Roots” is mainstream but maintains a super heavy edge. I’ve been a Rival Sons fan for a while. I discovered them while I was in Vegas. I think dUg Pinnick turned me on to them.
Listen: “Do Your Worst”
ALBUMS THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: Jabo Bihlman’s Playlist on Spotify
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