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Chris Beard bends the blues 

Chris Beard — a k a The Prince of the Blues — was shopping around for labels to release what would be the fifth album for the blues rocker. But execs didn't get it, didn't want it, or were simply uninterested. Beard was running into walls and out of options. He was frustrated. This was a good record after all — funky, modern, classic — done by an all-star cast supporting Beard's barrelhouse vocals and bombastic guitar.

It was Alligator Records big wig Bruce Iglauer who flew out to see Beard perform and gave Beard some advice that led to an epiphany.

"He said, 'Maybe you need to get with someone that shares your vision 100 percent,"' Beard says. "And that was me."

So Beard went into business with himself and pressed "Eye of the Witch" on his own Destin Record Label. This decision, along with the day-to-day work that goes into running a label, prompted Beard to relinquish some control in the studio. He brought in Carlton Campbell (of the Campbell Brothers) to produce as well as play the drums, and tapped an all-star cast to produce his best disc to date. Beard doesn't disagree — it ain't braggin' if it's true.

"I think it is my best," he says. "I've been through a lot and I've been out here for a while. The last three CDs, I produced myself — which I don't think is a bad thing. But what I did this time, is I kinda stood back and let somebody else produce it. I let Carlton Campbell take the reins on this one."

He did so to certain extent.

"I can be open minded to somebody else," Beard says. "And I need to be humble. Humble, but at the same time, I do know my abilities so I know what I can do. But I also need to be open to what they want me to try because I could surprise myself."

Though "Eye of the Witch" is the genre-busting blast of blues that fans have come to expect, Beard feels he has grown vocally. This makes him truly a double threat, though he cops to the guitar first.

"I noticed on this record and the last one I was able to achieve things I couldn't do before with my voice. I'm a guitar player that sings. I've been playing guitar since I was 5 years old. The singing part of has been there the last 25 years or so, but the guitar has been with me forever."

In fact, on the song "House of Shame," he tells his guitar, "You can talk to her better than I can."

And as attached to the guitar as he finds himself, and in the spirit of adventure, Beard has gone and tried something that isn't typically in a guitar player's bag of tricks: The tearjerker tune "Keeps Me Believing" contains no guitar solo at all (you heard me), which according to Beard doesn't take away from its sex appeal.

"Women love it when they hear it," he says. "And they say, 'That's the song.'"

Despite Beard's slant on contemporary blues, with or without guitar solos or twitterpated fans, he still acknowledges the tradition. He still acknowledges his roots, particularly on the cut "Older Fool," whiche he recorded with his dad, Joe Beard. This song sort of balances out Beard's new blues with the traditional strain found in the blues of his father. So how far can artists like Beard stretch and manipulate the genre until it's no longer blues?

"You know I was born in the house of blues," he says. "I was just born in a different generation. People hear the word "blues" and right away in their mind they go to an old man on a porch with an acoustic guitar and a bottle of wine, like Son House. If you talk to a blues purist that's what they'll say. But the blues is so much more to me. It's my freedom. It's my fulfillment. It's better than sex."


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