Hank Easton is the guitarist for the Steely Damned, a local Steely Dan tribute band also featuring members of Rockola. The New York native began playing guitar at age five and was classically trained as a teen at the Cleveland Institute of Music. He moved to Southern California after graduating from Ohio State University in 1985.
While best known for playing jazz and blues, Easton has lately been nursing his inner rocker on the electric guitar. He says his playing is influenced by the likes of Hendrix, Beck, Clapton, Carlos Santana, Steve Howe, and even Peter Frampton. A highlight of Easton’s Steely Damned set is a medley reproducing the guitar solos from several Steely Dan guitarists, including Larry Carlton, Denny Dias, Elliott Randall, Rick Derringer, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. Steely aficionados typically marvel at how Easton slips from one guitarist’s signature riff to the next — the jaw-dropping medley frequently earns him standing ovations. The first time I viewed it on YouTube, I gave him one too, standing right there in front of my computer.
Easton released three CDs in 2007: Snapshots, Nylon and Steel, and Eleven. His albums feature some of San Diego’s best-known singers, including Tony Davis, Keni Yarbro, Leonard Tucker, and John Toomey.
In addition to the Steely Damned, Easton performs around town solo — currently appearing at Trisler’s Wine Bar in Mission Valley every Thursday — and with his four-piece fusion band, the Hank Easton Group.
WHO’S ON YOUR FAVORITE iPOD PLAYLISTS?
1. “James Taylor. Great writer and a great singer. I love the natural flow of his music and his productions. He’s one of the few artists whose new music is as good as his older work.”
2. “Steely Dan. All their music up through Gaucho, including [Donald] Fagen’s album The Nightfly, an awe-inspiring collection of work. Top-notch studio musicians on every song and always perfectly produced.”
3. “Stevie Wonder. Incredible voice, writing, and musicianship. One man shouldn’t be allowed to have that much talent!”
4. “Elton John. All the old stuff — I love the songwriting and the productions. Especially on the earliest tunes, when his voice was still incredible.”
1. “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Great story, with classic Jack Nicholson at his best.”
2. “Spinal Tap. I get a good belly laugh every time I watch it. In fact, I named one of my CDs 11, after a gag in the movie about amps with a volume knob that goes higher than 10.”
3. “The Sting. Lots of twists and turns in the plot and an all-star cast.”
4. “Dirty Harry. I’ll need at least one great Clint Eastwood film.”
FAVORITE STEELY DAN GUITAR RIFF?
“Larry Carlton’s in ‘Kid Charlemagne’ is probably my favorite overall. The two solos are a perfect mix of jazz and rock: melodic and powerful, with incredible tone highlighting the chord changes perfectly and wowing the listener. He takes a great song and makes it an incredible song, which is what a solo should do.”
WALTER BECKER OR DONALD FAGEN?
“After listening to the respective solo works by both Steely Dan main men and seeing both of them at live shows, I’d have to say Fagen. Although I do love some of Becker’s guitar solos, like ‘Bad Sneakers’ and ‘Josie,’ to name two. They work well together, though, that’s for sure.”
INSTRUMENT YOU WISH YOU PLAYED?
“I think I picked the right instrument, although I wish I were a great keyboardist. I would like to sit down at the piano and just play whatever I want, like I do on the guitar. Also, it would be a lot easier to lay keyboard parts in the studio.”
YOUR WORST JOBS?
1. “Bus boy: Disgusting work, little pay, and you’re treated like a lower life form.”
2. “Dishwasher: Same as above.”
3. “Cleaning boats: Really hard work with really bad pay. Plus, many people who own a yacht are fastidious, ungrateful, and cheap.”
WHERE DO YOU HANG OUT?
“Anthology, because first and foremost it was designed for live music. Also, Humphrey’s, because I know a lot of other people who hang out there.”