The Badger

badg-er (bj'er) n.

1. A burrowing animal with a thick, grizzled coat.

2. The fur of a badger

3. -v. To harry; pester.

That is the American Heritage Dictionary definition of a badger. It doesn't quite describe the Badger who is a well known San Francisco Bay Area acoustic guitarist (although the furry part is apt).

The Badger has been described as a "Guitar Wizard". He is a popular accompanist as well as a creative artist in his own right. His specialty is a style of guitar he refers to as "American Primitive..." somewhere in the realm of John Fahey and Leo Kotke. Southern delta blues filtered through the crucible of urban white-boy angst.

Earl Oliver first met the Badger one Tuesday evening at the legendary Berkeley folk music venue the Freight & Salvage. The Freight has been the site of a Tuesday evening Hoot Night for more than 20 years (it is the longest running music venue in the Bay Area) and a place where Earl spent much of his formative years as an acoustic musician. In fact he was a Tuesday night regular at the Freight during the late 60's and early 70's, and so when he returned to live in the Bay Area in 1990 (after 16 years in Los Angeles) he was delighted to discover that the Hoot Night was still going strong.

The first chance he got, he went out to the Freight on a Tuesday night and the Badger was the first performer on the program on that evening. The host of the show (comic songwriter Jim Carter) had a policy of allowing people who had drawn a late spot in the lottery to choose to go on early and do just one song instead of the usual two. The Badger had chosen too exercise that option.

Earl describes the event this way: "The first act that evening was young man with the unlikely name of the Badger. He got on stage with a Martin dreadnaught and made a few rather droll remarks before proceeded to blow the audience away with his rendition of an instrumental number called Old Country Rock. The reaction of the crowd was so great that Carter wisely decided to allow him a second song even though it violated his own rule about performers exercising the 'one song' option."

The Badger then switched to an Epiphone guitar with a raised nut (handed up to him by someone in the crowd) and plunged right into a blistering slide version of Robert Johnson's Travelin Riverside Blues. It was a classic performance and one that made Earl determined to get to know this guitar wizard.

He went and introduced himself after the set and a few weeks later asked the Badger to come out to his house in Walnut Creek for a jam session. "I rarely have just one person over for a jam, I like to get a few different points of view for these sessions, but this guitarist so intrigued me that I wanted him all to myself."

Shortly after that session he and the Badger made their first joint appearance at the Freight. They wowed the audience that evening with an intricate fingerpicking number called Weary Rag which Earl had written in 1972 as the theme song for a short-lived acoustic music TV program called "East Bay Blues". As Earl tells it, "I had performed this song solo for the Freight audience on a couple of occasions - it was always well received but the reaction that night was a revelation. I found out how good that song really was - the Badger's contribution transformed the material!"

When asked to contribute some words of wisdom for this home page his reply was characteristic:


"I realize that I am neither the first or the last performer to make this statement: when I first heard Robert Johnson some twenty or so years ago, I didn't want to play and sing like him; I wanted to damn well BE Robert Johnson. This revelatory moment occured at a time when many generic lifestyle patterns were in their formative stage. Many of these non-musical aspirations needed to be played out prior to playing behind the microphone to appreciative ears.
That's all the biography I have at my disposal, folks. Musically I'm followed on a daily basis by the ghosts of American roots music. While they hide behind doors and windows, I find time to soak up inspiration from friends and the airwaves. The guitar remains a multidimensional puzzle to me; every time I pick it up, I realize it may be the last time I get a crack at it. Watch and hear me confront this puzzle, or just take a moment to share a thought with me or my friends."

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