Magic Dick and Shun Ng team up for some high-octane blues
By Victoria Wasylak
Musical collaborations are always a complicated form of matchmaking, but every once in a while the universe strings together unlikely artists resulting in pure sonic harmony.
The best of the blues collided when J. Geils harmonica legend Richard “Magic Dick” Salwitz received an email from friend Ralph Jaccodine, proudly announcing that he had just signed the guitar-plucking virtuoso Shun Ng of Singapore. Dick, who had been searching for a guitarist to collaborate with, immediately noticed Ng’s similar blues roots and vowed to make music with the young singer-songwriter.
Soon thereafter, the kindred spirits met, set New England tour dates together, and released their own version of the James Brown classic, “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag.”
“The choice of “Papa’s Got a Brand New Bag” as our first video was deliberate and intentional,” Dick said.
Their music video of the cover tune delivers the message loud and clear — both of these artists are back in the saddle, equipped with a bluesy-rock thump big enough to wake the dead and get them dancing.
“I recognized that he [Shun] was a minimalist like me, and that the two of us could really make some interesting music together,” Dick said. “I felt like I had been waiting for this for a long, long time.”
Dick, a seasoned blues musician, should have no problem jamming out with a skilled musician like Ng, but performing live with a new partner can always be tricky.
“I’m nervous as hell; Shun’s probably not nervous,” Dick admitted just a few days before the pair’s first show.
“Oh, I’m nervous,” Ng chimed in.
The 23-year-old Ng comes with his own list of impressive credentials, including working with record industry legend Quincy Jones. Dick likens Ng’s playing style to Robert Johnson, and said that together, with his hard-driving harp playing and Ng’s flawless fretwork, they can “cast a musical spell” on blues-hungry listeners.
The pair made their debut at the Bull Run on Saturday, July 19 with a set that ranged from lazy font-porch blues to sizzling Miles Davis covers. Live, Dick reels to and fro with passion on the harmonica and Ng twitches with passion as he strikes his guitar. Despite only using two instruments — three if you count vocals — their soulful sound was big enough to shakedown the Bull Run’s Tap Room.
“This minimalistic format …we find that it’s so quantum, it’s so electric, because everything is so subtle,” Ng described. “Everything is so fine, everything is so intricate, there’s just so much to explore.”
And therein lies the secret of the duo’s vibrant sound.
“Space,” the sole song that the pair has written together, reflects this kind of tone and melody that the two-man band strives for. What Dick calls “a delicate little thing,” the soundtrack-worthy instrumental proves beautifully that the spaces between the notes are just as important as the notes themselves.
“I think the fact that both Shun and I are musical minimalists means a great deal to us,” Dick said. “It’s not that we decided to pare everything down to just two instruments, the point is to fashion music in such a way that it conveys to the listener a sense that there’s a lot more going on than just the two instruments.”
Catch Magic Dick and Shun Ng on August 23 at Alex’s Place (Martha’s Vineyard) and on August 30 at Book & Bar (Portsmouth, NH).