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By Laurie Heuston

Posted Jan 22, 2010

Medford Mail Tribune

Inspiration for Charles Guy’s album of nuevo flamenco began about five years ago when the Ashland guitarist started taking winter breaks on beaches and hilltops in Mexico. “The way of life there — the pace, the spirit — is inspiring,” Guy says. “There’s certain feel to it. It’s a culmination of ocean air, bougainvillea and sitting underneath a palapa playing guitar.”Guy, along with cellist Daniel Sperry, bassist Jeff Addicott and percussionist J. Billy Rock Smith, will debut the new album, “Sakes Alive,” as the Charles Guy Quartet.

Guy steers clear of the big resort cities along Mexico’s Pacific coast, where live music is more about catering to American tourists and less about Mexican culture. He finds his muse in the less populated areas.

“If you go to the smaller towns where the real people are, you get to hear the real music,” Guy says. “It is its simplicity that is the most appealing.”


Sayulita, just north of Puerto Vallarta, is one of his favorite destinations.  “I met some musicians at a restaurant there a few years ago who played beautiful Spanish-style flamenco on nylon-stringed guitars,” Guy says. “It sounded like an acoustic version of the Gypsy Kings, and it was so heartfelt. “The way they played the music, the guitar could be the melody, the chords and the percussion. It’s very danceable, like a whole band.”

Guy performs at several places in Sayulita when he visits, and he writes a lot of songs while staying there.

“Writing songs while I’m there helps me capture moments and bring them back home with me,” Guy says. “Each song is a little story for me, a feeling. I’m not good with words. That’s why I play guitar.”

Back in Ashland, Guy teamed up with Sperry and percussionist Jeffry Smith to create “Sakes Alive,” a collection of nine of Guy’s south-of-the-border compositions, save “Claire and Deva Song,” written 14 years ago when his twin daughters were born. About half the tunes on “Sakes Alive” contain lyrics; The others are instrumentals.  There’s “Tango Luz de la Luna,” written about dancing to a Cuban salsa band on a moonlit beach, and “Local Brew,” about strange beverages (and women) in foreign lands, to name but two of the tunes.It (“Local Brew”) is a bit fictitious,” Guy says. “It’s about visiting an exotic place and discovering something you didn’t know existed.”

A carpenter by trade, Guy got back into music as new home construction fell off in the Rogue Valley.

“I thought maybe this is the time for me,” Guy says.  Guy grew up in Shelby, N.C., where he learned to play bluegrass, soul and a regional genre called Carolina beach music. The beach bands came into popularity as early as the ’40s, influenced by the R&B artists of the South and, later, the sounds of Motown. The music also is associated with a style of swing dance called the shag.  “Carolina beach music is specific to North and South Carolina and Georgia,” Guy says. “Bands like The Tams, The Catalinas and The Embers played it. If you lived back there, you would know what it is.”

Guy did some stints touring and playing in Los Angeles before moving to Southern Oregon. In Ashland, he founded In Flight in the early ’80s, a contemporary pop band that packed clubs around town. Moving from electric guitar to acoustic, he later recorded his A Thousand Suns project called “Spark of Light” with flutist Debra Harris. He also founded the local dance band Heart and Soul.

“Sakes Alive” features Guy on guitar, vocals, keys and bass and is a good representation of the Spanish flamenco and Southern influences. The sound is enhanced by Sperry’s earthy cello.