“As much as I respect the Beatles, there’s never been an intense emotional connection with them,” Anise Garrett said. “With me it was always the Rolling Stones, maybe because I come from a soul and dirty R&B background.” She’s a guitarist with Wess McMichael’s band that performs regularly Wed. evenings at Cohiba Lounge. Beatles or Stones is an aural argument that’s gone on now for generations. This young woman doesn’t shy away from any controversy in the debate. “I almost ended a friendship over this once,” she said. “The Stones’ frayed edges appeal more to me than the polished Beatles.”
Nearing her third decade, Garrett was raised in Pauls Valley by a mom whose housework soundtrack was classic Motown. “People talk about Al Green being bedroom music but for me that’s toilet cleaning music,” she said. “It’s Comet-tinged in my brain.” Sly and the Family Stone, Parliament Funkadelic and The Meters had little Anise dancing around the house. Garrett began playing guitar at 15. Rebellion against Pauls Valley includes very little fondness for country music. She was a punk rocker into Bad Brains. Next was an infatuation with finger-style guitarist John Fahey (1939-2001) along with the entire Takoma Records acoustic folk sound. Garrett came to Norman and began meeting local musicians such as Caleb Mcgee and Wess McMichael. “Caleb invited me on stage at a blues jam,” she said. Although women playing guitar often draw skeptical focus, Garrett shot down any naysayers. “One comment I received was ‘Holy s---! you’re good,’” she said. Garrett describes influences from rhythmically intense Turkish music to all-American funk. Her esoteric listening background includes Sir Richard Bishop (Sun City Girls) and Jeff Buckley. “I love playing blues and had to tell one guy to shut the hell up because he compared me to (blues great) Albert Collins and there’s no way I deserve that compliment,” she said.
Norman guitarist Wess McMichael invited Garrett to be part of his Wed. Night Blues Connection combo at the Cohiba Lounge. These include a rotating cast of players that usually include drummer James Wyrick and bassist Roy Dickinson. “We play a lot of blues standards and some R&B stuff when we have certain singers with us,” she said. “I like the slow blues best because it’s where I can be most expressive.” Don’t ask Garrett the actual names of songs they play. She tends to remember the compositions by their chord progressions rather than titles. “I’m horrible with lyrics,” Garrett said. “Give me a guitar and I’ll play it for an hour and a half without ever singing.” She doesn’t write songs in the conventional sense. “I always tend to play pieces differently from each time before,” she said. “The groups I play with like that. I’ve been told I have good ideas and interesting phrasings. I think that comes from listening to funk music.” Garrett is not a formally trained musician but she has demonstrated a talent for teaching others to play guitar.
Performing for an audience with band leader McMichael is good discipline. Garrett has a propensity for what she described as falling down the improvisational rabbit hole. “When I’m by myself I play a lot of drone-y Near-Eastern modal folk music,” she said. “With Wess it’s a different vibe, it’s much more up-tempo and it’s on stage. No one wants to hear me play improvisational guitar for an hour.” One aspect of her personality that undoubtedly appeals to the older and more experienced male musicians she’s playing with is confidence. She credits that buoyant self-belief also for success in various service industry and corporate sales day jobs. She likened the team work with others in those gigs as being similar to playing with a band. “People remember me when I was meek, uptight and kind of had my cardigan all buttoned up,” Garrett said. “Playing guitar live has given me an appreciation for living in the moment. When a song is going incredibly well and we’re locked in a groove are among my most amazing times. It’s a great feeling and gives me a sense of contentment.”
If You Go
What: Wednesday Blues Connection concert by the Wess McMichael band.
When: every Wed. 9 p.m. to midnight.
Where: Cohiba Lounge, 105 E. Boyd St.
Cost: no admission charge.
Guitarist Anise Garrett is prone to falling down the improvisational rabbit hole.