The Great Gordo’s Guide to Music in Asheville
By Jay Hardwig, Smoky Mountain News, April 6, 2005
The Hector Qirko Band
Hector Qirko is a hero of mine, and has been for 20 years. He has brought me a lot of joy in that time. I told him that to his face the last time I saw him, about two months ago now. I admit that I am at an age where such fawning drivel might seem out of place. Still, I thought he needed to know.
Who is Hector Qirko? A poet? A professor? A South American shaman? He is all of these, in his way, but in my mind he’s a guitar player, quite likely the best one in Knoxville. He’s my favorite, at any rate, and when I lived there I rarely missed a chance to see him play. It was the mid-80s when I fell under Hector’s spell. I was a gangly zit-faced high-school kid in second-hand T-shirts and Chuck Taylors, looking for those things that I could call my own. In ninth grade, I found the blues; after that, soul and swing and R&B. Hector Qirko was Knoxville’s finest purveyor of the same.
When I graduated to the nightclub life, at an age a little younger than the law allowed, it was Hector Qirko who played his way into my ears and head and heart. (Toes, too, if it must be known.) Together with a band of local stalwarts — Dirk Weddington on sax, Jim Williams on bass, Steve Brown on drums — Hector played some brilliant shows, three sharp sets of originals (“A Man Can’t Stumble When He’s Down On His Knees,” “The Blues is a Living Thing”) and some well-chosen covers (“Messin’ with the Kid,” “Dixie Fried,” “Feel Like Breakin’ Up Somebody’s Home”).
To say that the release of his 1989 cassette Road to Ruin was a watershed event in my life is an exaggeration, but not much of one. I wore that tape out, and when I returned to college, it became the soundtrack for everything I missed about Knoxville.
In the years that followed, I moved from Connecticut to Texas to North Carolina while Hector stayed in Knoxville, releasing a string of fine albums on a local label. I grabbed each one as soon as I could lay hands on it. 1992’s I Can’t Help It became a staple at my Austin bachelor pad. No dance party was quite as fun without the Latin-tinged “Fair Song”; no sweet seduction quite as sultry without his slowed-down take on “Midnight Hour”; no lazy morning quite as sweet without “In Sunny Tennessee.” 1994’s The Blues is a Living Thing accompanied me on my brief and ill-advised stay in a southern California graduate school, where at times, the blues was very much a living thing. Five years later came South, which found Hector and his mates laying down on disc what they’d been exploring live for some time: the album has a more relaxed and playful feel, with a strong international flavor that draws from the Caribbean and South America. It’s a supremely satisfying album, though quite different from the old Road to Ruin sound.
Although legend has it that Hector used to tour with Lonnie Brooks, played with some hep cats in Chicago (Junior Wells and Albert King among ‘em), and did some time as a session musician in Nashville, Hector Qirko never did make the leap to national prominence. This sad fact is due in some part to the ignorance of the greater world, and in some part to the band’s ambivalence toward the sacrifices contained in such a leap. Weddington is a successful lawyer in Knoxville, after all, and Qirko earned a Ph.D. in 1998 and is now an Assistant Professor of Anthropology at the University of Tennessee. The band rarely plays out of town: this is their first appearance in Asheville since I arrived in 2001.
I saw Hector play two months ago, at the Preservation Pub in Knoxville. Due to bad luck and bad timing, it had been 10 years since I’d seen him play live. I’m happy to report that the show was just as good as I remembered. Hector was singing and playing in fine form, and Dirk was blowing sax with his customary soul and steam. At the end of the night, a few Pabst tucked into my gut, I found Hector and told him how much joy he’d brought me over the years. It was a brief moment, but sincere, and one I won’t need to repeat come Saturday night. But I’ll be thinking it just the same.
The show will start around 9 pm, with a “minimal” cover. Call 828.252.5445 to find out just how minimal.