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Henry Kaiser in the Sweet Sunny South

If I mentioned that Oakland-based guitar guru Henry Kaiser ventured into the Deep South for a recording, you might think of Lynyrd Skynyrd, or if you’re younger, perhaps the Drive-By Truckers and Cee-Lo. But Muscle Shoals and Jacksonville must seem like mid-northern outposts to the globetrotting Kaiser, who earlier this year became the first musician to record a CD in Antarctica. The CD isn’t available yet, but his website provides proof of his use of the South Pole as a guitar slide. And I recently had the pleasure of taking my daughter Amelia to see his kid-friendly triple threat performance at Oakland’s Chabot Space and Science Center, in which Kaiser simultaneously lectured about Antarctica’s fragile ecology, narrated an Antarctic video he shot underwater, and played a few guitar riffs that would be completely beyond your reach unless your name is Richard Thompson or Nels Cline.

Kaiser, whose similarly named grandfather was the father of modern shipbuilding, has a fascinatingly well-rounded life and a staggeringly eclectic musical career. I first encountered his work in the late eighties, when he joined forces with Thompson, Henry Cow guitarist Fred Frith, and Captain Beefheart drummer John “Drumbo” French for the good-natured avant-geek supergroup French, Frith, Kaiser, and Thompson. Since then, he’s teamed with hirsute fellow traveler David Lindley for two first-rate musical anthologies, the Madagascar-based A World Out of Time and the Norwegian opus The Sweet Sunny North. His Yo Miles! collaborations with trumpeter Wadada Leo Smith and a roving cast explore and extend Miles Davis’ seventies electric legacy.

Despite producing a New Years Day event called Icestock with a poster assist from his friend Matt Groening, Kaiser wasn’t simply slumming it in Antarctica. He’s been there several times as part of his other career as a professional research diver, and his gorgeous video footage of Antarctica’s life aquatic, filmed while swimming underneath a twenty-foot ice sheet, will be featured in Werner Herzog’s forthcoming film, Encounters at the End of the World. Kaiser’s firsthand account of Antarctica’s melting ice shelf also might help persuade the three or four people left out there who doubt the reality of global warming (all of whom seem to hold public office).

From → Cut-Out Bin

  1. shacker permalink

    What an amazing man. Love the Big-Eyed Beans reference in the middle of the slide guitar around the world piece. On top of ship building, the Chron article says Henry’s dad Henry is “the man who brought you aluminum.” (!)

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