In 2007 I hosted an Open Mic Night at Bar La Leyenda in Madrid. Sparsely attended, the evening had a tendency to attract regulars. Occasionally though we would attract visitors from out of town. One night, one such visitor walked through our door, a singer/songwriter from San Francisco. His name was Avi Vinocur.
He asked if he could play a couple of songs and midway through the first song I realised that I would have been happy to have him play all night for us. One of the regulars asked me: “Hey, Jules, how come he gets to play four songs?”
“Because he’s a professional, Raúl.” I replied.
And he was. The boy could play. And sing. He played a few of his own songs and finished up with an excellent version of ‘Helter Skelter’ by The Beatles. I bought a copy of his New York EP and whilst I enjoyed listening to it, I was disappointed that it did not contain a song that he had played live called ‘I Miss San Francisco (But I Miss You More), an Avi Vinocur original that would not have seemed out on place on ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’. It was really that good.
I saw Avi perform at another open mic (the excellent Tres Tristes Trastes) whilst he was in Madrid and he came back to us at La Leyenda and played another set and threw in an excellent cover version of ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’. When he returned to America I followed his career from afar. He continued to play solo and for a period of time joined a band called The Stone Foxes. He also formed a group called Goodnight Texas.
In 2016 he joined James Hetfield’s third annual Acoutstic-4-A-Cure benefit concert at San Francisco’s Fillmore. Avi accompanied the Metallica frontman on mandolin during a set that included ‘The Unforgiven’. He repeated his turn on mandolin with Metallica during their performance at the Masonic in San Francisco on November 3 2018.
He released a solo album in 2017 called NO CAUSE FOR ALARM. In the words of Emma Silvers of the San Francisco chronicle:
Recorded entirely in the singer’s bedroom in San Francisco’s Sunset District, NO CAUSE FOR ALARM‘s intimacy and drama is heightened by the absence of drums; Vinocur lets his voice, paired with a 1998 Fender Toronado through a Milkman amplifier, stay front and center.
I concur. The simple fingerpicking and the melodic, melancholic (melandolic?) song structure that characterises NO CAUSE FOR ALARM is both tuneful and authentic. Over a decade had passed since I first saw that kid make a handful of people fall silent at Bar La Leyenda – but what I saw in him that night I saw in him again on ‘The Walls of Michigan’ video (below). The boy always did have a rare talent.