Lloyd Thayer is recounting the roster of instruments he plays as we enjoy Indian food in a Central Square restaurant. “There’s dobro, harmonica, guitar, I have a sitar I can play some nice things on, clarinet, saxophone, didgeridoo, and a hurdy-gurdy I can really make some wild sounds on, theremin — but I’m really bad at it — musical saw . . . ”
THE SLIDER: Thayer got into playing lap slide guitar because of Ozzy Osbourne.
“Wait,” I say, nearly choking on a bite of pakora before seizing a chance to solve one of life’s great mysteries. “Musical saw? What’s the difference between a musical saw and a regular saw? Can you get one at Home Depot?”
“I tried that for a long time and got every kind of saw and couldn’t get a sound out of them. You have to get one from a musical-saw maker. It’s the way the steel is tempered. The steel is crosshatched in a conventional saw, which makes it more rigid and durable. In a musical saw, all the steel’s grain goes the same way, so it will vibrate more. The key is to hold the handle between your knees and keep it in an ‘S’ shape, bending the tip down, and to use a violin bow on the smooth edge.”
Thank me later. But thank Thayer now — by attending one of his shows, like the gig coming up at Somerville’s Sky Bar February 24, or by buying one of his recent CDs via www.lloydthayer.com — for being one of the more interesting musicians in the Boston area.
His name may be unfamiliar, but chances are you’ve seen him in Harvard Square or on a subway platform with a guitar laid flat on his lap, a slide at the end of one heavily tattoo’d arm and fingers moving like a spider over the strings at the end of the other. Or on the stages of clubs and coffeehouses, where he’s become a frequent presence as a headliner or an opener for bluesy artists like Paul Rishell & Annie Raines and Johnny Winter. And his voice is as memorable as his incendiary lap slide — a gravelly pit bull’s bark that resonates with dirty soul.
In person, however, Thayer is a soft-spoken, gentle fellow, qualities he may have acquired through his practice of Buddhism. And they’re assets for him as slide-dobro and harmonica teacher at Club Passim’s music school. Still, he’s a man with a mission: to self-release three albums in 12 months. The first, Blues for Boston, appeared last May, followed months later by a headlining performance at Passim that dashed from conventional blues to folk, Eastern melodicism, bad-ass rockin’, and tunes by Stevie Wonder and Run-D.M.C. The second, Birds, has just come out, and he’s already at work on number three, recording at home with a computer, a handful of microphones, and the same patience that makes his performances on the first two both exacting and energetic.
“I got the idea for making three albums in a year from a conversation I had with [lap-slide guru] David Lindley. He was playing Johnny D’s, and I asked him how he was able to stay on top of playing so many instruments — oud, bouzouki, slide guitar. He said he thought of them as different heads on the same dragon. I thought, ‘Okay, that makes sense,’ and then when I got home, I thought, ‘What the hell did he mean by that?’ ”