In the early 2000s, Eric Lindell was hanging out at the King Biscuit Blues Festival in Helena, Arkansas, when a 1953 GMC tour bus pulled up backstage. As an aficionado of vintage cars and motorcycles, Lindell’s eye was immediately drawn to the retro ride.
“And then this guy with a pompadour gets out of the bus,” Lindell recalled recently. “It was, ‘Look at this guy, the king of cool. Who is this bad-ass?’”
It was Anson Funderburgh, one of the last of the great Texas blues guitar slingers. Lindell, no slouch of a guitarist himself, watched slack-jawed as Funderburgh and his band, the Rockets, lit up the King Biscuit stage.
Years later, Lindell crossed paths with Funderburgh again during Texas harmonica man Delbert McClinton’s blues cruise. They struck up a conversation in an elevator that eventually came around to Lindell possibly buying the vintage tour bus he had admired years earlier in Arkansas.
The deal ultimately didn’t happen, but Lindell wound up with something better: Funderburgh became one of his closest friends and a frequent musical collaborator.
“I have so much admiration for him,” Lindell said this week. “I love playing with him. And it’s a two-way thing.”
Now, after recording and touring together for years with Funderburgh as a “special guest" of Lindell’s band, they’ve formed their own stand-alone Gulf Coast blues ‘n’ boogie ensemble dubbed Zenith Sunn.
Together with bassist/organist Joe Ashlar and drummer Justin Headley, they stretch out on Lindell songs, songs they’ve co-written, and classics from Earl King, Fats Domino and other rhythm-and-blues greats.
Zenith Sunn makes its public debut Friday night in Pensacola, Florida, then headlines One Eyed Jacks in the French Quarter on Saturday, March 16. The Lafayette-based Lane Mack & the Balladeers opens the One Eyed Jacks show at 10 p.m. Tickets are $25.
Eric Lindell specializes in an especially agreeable brand of Gulf Coast boogie ‘n’ soul flecked with country, blues and other flavors, a rusti…
A native of San Mateo, California, Lindell cut his teeth on bass guitar before expanding his repertoire to include guitar and harmonica. A skate punk, he made a racket with various garage rock bands. His tastes eventually broadened to the blues and R&B. He built a following across Northern California before shipping out to New Orleans in 1999.
The city proved to be fertile ground for his groove-centric Gulf Coast boogie ‘n’ soul flecked with blues, country, reggae and other influences. He forged an ongoing creative partnership with Dumpstaphunk keyboardist Ivan Neville and Galactic drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Rob Mercurio as Dragon Smoke.
He eventually moved out of the city; he and his family now live near Santa Rosa Beach, Florida. But New Orleans remains his musical home. Lindell is booked at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on May 2, aka “Rolling Stones Thursday,” with his own trio; he’ll then head overseas for his first-ever full-fledged tour of Europe.
He is nothing if not prolific, having cranked out 16 albums in 16 years. For last fall’s “Revolution in Your Heart,” he returned to the roster of Alligator Records, the storied Chicago label that released three of his albums in the 2000s.
Working with Funderburgh has been a treat, he said. Funderburgh grew up in Plano, Texas, near Dallas; his neighbors included Boz Scaggs. He picked up guitar as a boy, inspired by such blues legends as Freddie King and Albert Collins.
For nearly 20 years, he and the Rockets, featuring Mississippi-born vocalist Sam Myers, were a staple of the blues circuit. Their debut album, 1981’s “Talk to You By Hand,” was also the inaugural release from the New Orleans-based indie label Black Top Records.
Stevie Ray Vaughan was a Funderburgh fan. Along with Jimmie Vaughan and Doyle Bramhall II, he upholds the Texas blues guitar tradition, even as Chicago blues looms large in his playing. In honor of his singular sound, Fender is reportedly issuing a Funderburgh-model custom guitar.
“It’s well-deserved,” Lindell said. “He’s such a humble master. His playing is so stripped down and classic. It’s definitely a style that people don’t play anymore.”
Following their shipboard conversation during the Delbert McClinton cruise, Lindell asked Funderburgh to contribute guitar to his 2012 album “I Still Love You.” Both were pleased with the results.
Lindell subsequently invited Funderburgh to join him as a “special guest” at Jazz Fest. The Jazz Fest sit-in became an annual tradition and the launching pad for what has proven to be a mutually beneficial collaboration.
“He ended up being one of my closest friends,” Lindell said. “We really love playing together and spending time together. With music, we’re on the same page; it’s a nice, easy fit.”
They finally formalized their collaboration as Zenith Sunn. “We wanted to give it a name and a separate identity, like Dragon Smoke,” Lindell said. The result “sounds exactly like Eric Lindell and Anson Funderburgh.”
With Funderburgh onstage, “it gives me a chance to play more harmonica and sing in more of a stripped-down thing. It’s fun for me to get away from what I do all the time.”