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From bluegrass to blues, guitarist jumps genres

| Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2002

Guitarist Tony Furtado says his musical influences are many, but he's trying hard not to jumble them up.

"So I won't sit down and try to write an Irish, folk, rock, banjo song," says the musician who will easily play in any one of those genres. "Usually, I will try to write in whatever style sounds right."

Furtado and his band, the American Gypsies, will bring their broad mix of music to Club Cafe, South Side, on Wednesday.

"It's inspiring to me to see people like Ry Cooder and Bonnie Raitt who can borrow from a lot of sources," he says.

That certainly shows on his new album, "American Gypsy," which is full of tunes including the Celtic-tinged "Tinker's Fancy," the bluesy "Oh Berta, Berta" and the hauntingly melodic "Hartford."

The variety reflects his desire to stay away from being pigeon-holed, as he once was as a bluegrass banjo player. Having a fondness to musical styles ranging from traditional Irish to Appalachian folk, Furtado says, he was irked at being seen as a bluegrass specialist.

"So I had to follow what I was hearing," he says. "If that meant learning slide guitar, that's what I would have to do."

He appears to be winning the professional battle. He says he and his band are working "a couple hundred" gigs a year and now are on a six-week swing that eventually will lead Furtado back toward his home in Portland, Ore.

He says he has been enjoying avoiding stereotypes and working in a variety of musical settings.

"I just love going to Irish sessions and sitting in," he says. "Or going to blues jams. And sometimes I don't seem strong enough to focus on any one kind of music. If I concentrated on it, I could be, but that's not in my heart."

That gives him the freedom to explore all the musical styles he loves. Doing that can be a bit tricky in working with other musicians, he admits.

"Some people who are good at the blues might not do the other stuff," he says. "Or there are people who do jazz who aren't good at the blues."

On this visit to Pittsburgh, he will be accompanied by drummer Tom Brechtlein and keyboardist John R. Burr, both of whom play on the "American Gypsy" album. Bassist Patrice Blanchard will fill out the roster here.

Furtado will play at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tickets are $10.

Details: (412) 431-4950.

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