Jimmy Adler taught himself to play guitar at the age of fifteen, heavily influenced by Eric Clapton’s early recordings. And now he's one of Pittsburgh's premier blues axemen.
But don't expect any riffs from him that are aimed at the rock generation. Adler is a throwback to the old, 1950's blues genre. He plays a nasty slide guitar and growls his vocals, evoking some comparisons to Otis Rush and BB King as a player and Joe Cocker and Dr. John as a singer. Not bad company to be running in, hey?
He's been a fixture on the local blues scene for the past couple of decades. His stage act began when Adler and local bluesman Larry Nath formed The Mohicans in 1988. They had a regular Tuesday night gig at the old Backroom Bar on East Carson Street.
Adler and Nath went their separate ways, but on good terms - the two still perform occasionally as an acoustic/electric duo - and Adler joined Eugene and The Night Crawlers.
The Nighcrawlers, led by frontman Eugene Morgan, performed mainly in the Beaver Valley and Butler county. He also added to his resume by playing with the Mojos, Butler's Natili Restaurant's house band, along with Morgan.
Later Adler joined forces with blues harpist Wil E. Tri and the Bluescasters, who performed Saturday nights at Brother Olive's in the Strip District and gigged throughout the region.
After two years with the Bluescaster's, Adler began subbing for Lenny Smith in The Billy Price Band. He also began playing guitar with Jill West and the Blues Attack, filling in for guitarist Donnie Hollowood. West's band is one of the prime blues incubators in the area, and Adler is another chick she helped nurture.
He also finally got recorded, when he played on three tracks of old bud Eugene Morgan's "Count On Me" CD issued by the Mon Valley's Bonedog Records in 2001.
Adler then got the call to work full-time with Gary Belloma and the Blue Bombers. He recorded one album with the band, "Pack Your 'Chute" (2001 - Moondog Records), and was a member of the Bombers from 1998-2002.
He left Belloma because he felt he had paid enough dues to be fronting his own band and playing his own brand of blues, original stuff with its roots in the past. West, Belloma, and Price had all allowed Adler to sing a song or two, he had done some song writing, and figured he was ready to step out on his own.
So he formed the Jimmy Adler Blues Band. It had a rotating cast of players from the Pittsburgh blues gang, and became a regular act on the circuit.
In 2005, he released the band's first CD "Absolutely Blues! Live at the Boneyard," with John Burgh on piano, Harry McCorkle on bass, and Randy Roth on the kit. The recording was done live at Boneyard Studios, and got some pretty strong reviews.
It featured classic blues, along with tastes of swing, boogie, and New Orleans jazz. Five of the songs were covers, but Adler showed his writing chops by penning the other eight tracks.
The Blues Band followed up with "Swing It Around" in 2008, featuring original tunes written by Adler and Pittsburgh vet Mike Sweeney. The tone was similar, blending Chicago blues with jazz-tinged jump-blues.
The band for this recording consisted of John Burgh & Sudden Steve on the keyboards, Mike Sweeney & Harry McCorkle on bass, Kenny Crisafio & Kenny Kellner pounding the skins, and Eric Spaulding on sax. It was released on the Boneyard label, too.
Adler, like virtually all Pittsburgh musicians, has a day job. He's been a high school English teacher for the Pittsburgh Public Schools for 15 years, and has shared his passion of the blues with many of his students.
Using that background, he was instrumental in organizing and coordinating this first Blues in the Tent event for kids at the 15th Annual Pittsburgh Blues Festival in 2009. Adler's workshop was entitled "Blues History: From the Delta to Chicago" and focused on the legends of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Jimmy Reed.
So hey, if you're a blues fan, don't run around moping about what a dying art it's become. There are still plenty of tasty bands riding the local circuit that know and play in the tradition, and Jimmy Adler's Blues Band is on the short list.