At the very moment when the University of Kentucky succumbed to Auburn on national television last week, an occasion marked by the collective groan from those watching the football game from the lounge at bd’s Mongolian Grill, Tee Dee Young and Ben Lacy sat down nearby and chatted as if they were lifelong friends.
But they aren’t.
Young and Lacy are two of Lexington’s most versed and versatile guitarists, with decades of local performance experience and considerable national and international touring to their credit. Young has long been Lexington’s prime ambassador of the blues, although his shows can easily incorporate touches of R&B and funk. Lacy is the technical pro : a one-man troupe who plays lead and bass lines simultaneously and dabbles in everything from pop and rock covers to jazz and jam instrumentals.
So despite hailing from very different stylistic camps, it seemed only fitting that the two guitarists would share a prominent outdoor concert bill for the Breeders’ Cup Festival. That, in turn, would suggest that they are also longstanding pals. But when asked how long they have known each other, both dissolve into an immediate fit of laughter.
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“We don’t even know each other that well, which is weird because we both play out all the time,” Lacy says. “It’s good to cross paths for something like this.”
“I heard you at the Lyric Theatre for the Lexington Music Awards,” Young says . “Ben’s great . He’s a great guitar player. I went online after that and listened to him do a few songs and thought, ‘No one’s doing what he’s doing. He’s unique.”
Lacy pauses a second to consider the compliment. “Unique,” he says. “I like that word.”
The admiration is reciprocal, as Lacy also is ready to pour on the praise for Young, whose Monday night shows and jam sessions at his East Second Street club have long been one of Lexington’s foremost weeknight music traditions.
“Tee Dee is awesome,” Lacy says. “Tee Dee is a killing guitar player. He brings that blues essence, that smoking guitar sound and is a hell of an entertainer on top of that. It’s a rare trait to do both of those well. You’ve got cats that can entertain pretty good but can’t really play. He does both and is an awesome singer, too. Tee Dee is a triple threat.”
A Lexington native, Young has been a guitarist since his teens and has held court at his club, Tee Dee’s, for more than 30 years. But his music has often spread beyond local stages. He has shared bills with musical giants James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Albert King over the years and has competed in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. He will take part in the Blues Challenge for the fourth time early in 2016, and he has a tour of Europe already confirmed for later in the year.
Here at home, though, he views the Breeders’ Cup Festival show with Lacy as a form of musical solidarity and a way to properly promote local talent at a time when a lot of outside guests will be flocking into and around downtown.
“I think all the musicians in town should come together and be one big family,” Young says. “It doesn’t matter what style they play. Musicians are musicians. It doesn’t matter who you are.”
Lacy took up the guitar at age 7 and, as his bio proudly states, quickly got on the wrong side of a classical guitar instructor after stating that the teacher was out of tune. Despite appearances in various duo and collaborative settings — and in concerts with guitar luminaries Al DiMeola, Larry Coryell and Phil Keaggy — Lacy is perhaps best enjoyed on his own. There, his singular approach to harmony, melody and bass designs — the combination of which regularly suggests multiple players at work — can be experienced.
“I’m going to make sure we come out rocking,” Lacy says of his Breeders’ Cup Festival performance plans. “I want to make sure we’re out there swinging. We don’t want anything too mellow. There will be a lot of funky improvs and some rock stuff, and Tee Dee’s got the blues covered, obviously. I mean, you’ve got to love a good outdoor show. It’s going to be high-energy, high-octane and a lot of fun.”