Interviews

Never Looking Back - An Interview With Ryan McGarvey

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Many people would have been tempted, at a certain moment of their lives, to retrieve back to that comfort zone that is their place of birth. The place where you were born and raised, where your family and best friends live and you know they will always be there for you.

Ryan McGarvey has never been tempted by that. Since a very young age, the Guitarist and Singer/Songwriter from Albuquerque, New Mexico has always aimed to go to the next step of his musical journey, to risk the unknown and to push himself always to the limit.

He has certainly succeeded on that. McGarvey, since his 2007 debut album Forward In Reverse has not just collected numerous awards and played with the cream of the blues/rock worldwide but also gained the unanimous blessing of the music press on being one of the most inspired and talented guitarists of the last decade of rock and roll.

In the last couple of years, McGarvey has been incessantly touring his latest album to date, the 2014 The Road Chosen and Bluebird Reviews has had the opportunity to talk to this extraordinary artist at The Borderline in London, United Kingdom, where we discussed about life on tour and what the future has got installed for McGarvey.

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(Photo courtesy by Supro)

 

BBR - Ryan, welcome on Bluebird Reviews, great to finally meet you. This has been, so far, a sort of Neverending Tour for you, after the 2014 The Road Chosen album. Have you written new material whilst touring the world, in the last couple of years? If so, when can your fans expect to hear a new Ryan McGarvey's album?

RMG - I have indeed. I'm expecting to release the new album by this fall and then to be back on tour again to support the new album. There are quite few musical projects I am involved into right now. There should be a live CD and DVD hopefully released this summer to celebrate the amazing time I had on the last couple of years on tour. Then I have also an album of rock material ready to go, an album of blues songs ready as well, which is something I wanted to do for a very long time and I am also considering to release an album of acoustic material, which is something else that I really wanted to release for quite some time. Quite a lot going on. We are playing some new stuff in what I call right now Part 2 of The Road Chosen Tour and it's very interesting for me to see the way the crowds react to the new songs. 

BBR - You have been always recognised as one of the most inspired and talented guitarists worldwide of the last decade of blues/rock. Given how constantly you are touring and playing night after night, how often do you get to do some practice on your guitars?

RMG - I get that a lot and I am also a complete hypocrit with myself because I am always the one telling everyone "Hey, you have to practice more because if you skip a day, you'll need two days to get back to where you were". And that comes from somebody that never gets to practice anymore, really! (chuckles). I guess that, the fact we get to play every night, helps me to make it up for that. At the end of the day, I pick up a guitar at least once a day anyway, even when I am at home, when trying something new, like a new guitar riff or an idea for a song I have in my head. So the chances I get to skip practicing on guitars are virtually zero. 

BBR - Ryan, out of all the three album you have written so far, which is the song you are most proud of?

RMG - It's a good question. I was trying to think about this the other day and I guess, for me, is more a matter of having a favourite song for each album I have written so far. It's all related to state of minds, feelings, on why I have written some particular lyrics on a specific track in a particular time and what they mean to me. On some of the slower songs, the ballads, I can picture exactly what I was writing about. To those slower tunes, I also like to give things a twist, because I like to write and sing my songs in a way that doesn't feel necessarily related to personal stuff but they could be songs in which virtually everyone can see themselves and their lives reflected in somehow. I love the fact that after the shows, people come up to me and say how much they felt connected to some of the songs and what they meant to them. To come back to your original question, I would say that some of my favourite songs from my albums, perhaps the ones closer to my heart are My Heart To You, Always & Forever and So Close To Heaven. I guess I like those songs particularly because I liked the arrangements and every aspects about those tunes.

BBR - Many fans and people in the music industry have always applauded and highly appreciated the fact that you release albums containing solely original material. Have you been ever tempted to record and release a cover album containing songs of artists of the past and present, very close to your heart?

RMG - I thought of doing something like that. Most of my favourite music, growing up, have been covered by the late great Jeff Healey. I have always loved the way that he covered songs in a very wide spectrum and in a very cool way. We have been playing live few covers through the years and I would love the idea of recording an album of covers, one day, and to give them my own interpretation but still respecting the core of the songs themselves. Maybe someday will happen, you can never tell!

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(Photo by Rhonda Pierce0

 

BBR - Ryan, why do you think that a genre like the blues has been able to survive for almost a century now, in an industry where even iconic bands like Radiohead do not sell records anymore as much as they used to?

RMG - I guess that the main reason is that the blues it's one of the very few pure and honest genres. It's one of those styles that speaks very openly to people, you just can't fake it. I have to say, though, that yes, certainly the blues is a very genuine and honest genre but I guess that what you asked is mostly related to the type of artist you are watching, on the night, more than the genre that he or she is playing. It happened and still happens to me, at times, to see somebody playing live and to think "This guy really sucks". But some other time there have been artists that have been mindblowing to watch. Their music was speaking to people and the crowds were finding a true connection with what the artist was playing because they were able to feel what he was playing. But, coming back to your question, at the very end, it all comes back to the blues. The younger generations may go to a rock, a rap or even a country music concert and during the performance, not to be able to figure out that some of the guitar riffs on some of the songs may come straight from the blues. The root of all genres.

BBR - How was the music scene of Albuquerque, back when you were a kid and how eventually did it influence your growth as a musician?

RMG - It was pretty cool. There was a good number of bands, blues bands back in those days. I remember playing in a bar band for something like 4-5 hours every night, for good crowds or sometimes even for a couple of people. But into my head, back then I always had goals and I have always been a very motivated person and wanted to move forward. I remember that, at the time,  there was a club I always wanted to play into but I had not managed so far to get any bookings there. When I then succeeded to finally play there, I was getting so many booking request from that venue that I was getting a bit bored and tired of it and just wanted to move to something bigger, more challenging for me as a musician. I have always wanted to move forward, in my career and grow up more and more as an artist. Growing up musically, in Albuquerque, has been certainly a positively, formative experience for me.

BBR - Ryan, the number of followers you have in Europe is almost superior to the one you have back in the States. I have bumped into few people today telling me that this is is going to be the fourth or fifth time they are coming and watching you playing. What is really the secret behind your phenomenal popularity?

RMG - To be honest with you, it is really hard right now, in the States, touring regularly for an artist. Over here, in Europe, it is completely a different world. The kind of promotion we get in Europe is different and bigger. It's different for an artist or a band in terms of fans appreciation too. The fans here in Europe come and see us, on an average in a Tour, something like five or six times, following us around in many different parts of the continent. Maybe the fans here in Europe have got more opportunities to follow us around because countries are in a much closer proximities then in the States. But it's truly remarkable, here, as I said, not just the promotion that we get as artists but also the loyalty of the European fans. If you get somebody coming to one of our shows for the first time and he or she will love what they hear, than the fan here will not just come to more than one show but will also buy your entire discography! And at the next show, that very same fan will know already by heart all the lyrics of each song and sing them loud. It's so rewarding to meet the crowds after our shows, all dressed up in our merchandise, coming up to me saying: "Man, I saw your advertising poster in the streets and I couldn't miss the chance to come and see you and get to hear you playing live again", which is so awesome to hear for me. I had that happening at home in the States sometime but that certainly doesn't happen as often as it happens here. 

BBR -  B.B. King once stated: "I've said that playing the blues is like having to be black twice. Stevie Ray Vaughan missed on both counts, but I never noticed". What colours has music brought into your life as a musician and as a human being?

RMG - That's a tough question. It's a very beautiful one, wonderful for sure, although I cannot immediately tell you what the colour might be. I think of this musical environment as a tight-knit big family, where people you have never met in your life which you are a fan of or bought their CDs have the extraordinary capacity to bond with you almost immediately. The minute you run into them, it becomes a completely mutual thing, because you find out they feel exactly the same thing about you. And if you see someone that you really admire, you feel connected to, it becomes, as I said, an instantenous bond. I remember, once, I was at a merchandise table in Denver, Colorado, at a music festival, after one of our shows. After we had been there for so long time, meeting and greeting fans, selling our CDs and all the merchandise, there was still a huge crowd waiting to meet us but the organization told us to move away because there wasn't time left anymore. As we were leaving, a guy steps out of the queue and comes to me saying: "Hey Man, I just wanted to say I really enjoyed the show" and all that stuff. As I thanked him and we were parting company, he said something like he was going on stage and play later and headlining the show, so I said: "Wait a minute. Are you Bernard Allison?" And he said Yes, and I went "Oh, my gosh, I love your music, Man". So, to cut a long story short, in the end, we hugged each other, like old friends would do, with all the people around us taking photos and what have you. It was like that special feeling that gets through me when I get to see friends like Kenny Wayne (Shepherd) or Joe Bonamassa, probably two of my closest musical friends. The special bonding, the cameraderie, that great friendship on and off the stage. Hey, I think I made up my mind about the colour you asked in your question. Let's go for red, a very harmonic colour, which defines probably in the best way possible what I just said.

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

 

 

Brothers Beyond Blues - In Conversation With Stevie Nimmo & Ben Poole

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(Photo by Adam Kennedy)

 

The moon in Uk tonight is more brighter than the normal, in this beautiful evening in Farnham, South of England. It may be because, paraphrasing the title of the album of one of tonight's performing artists, the Time Has Come for the british gunslingers Ben Poole and Stevie Nimmo to join forces and take on tour together their new albums Time Has Come (Ben Poole) and Sky Won't Fall (Stevie Nimmo).

 

When The Northern Light (Stevie) and The Southern Breeze (Ben) get together with Bluebird Reviews to talk about their tour together, one gets the immediate feeling that this is something that these phenomenal blues/rock artists wanted to do for a long time. (Nimmo) "The idea came up quite quickly. Ben was already with Manhaton, our record label and when I joined in as well, it was like: "Two musicians, using the same musicians as our rhythm section, having two records being released more or less at the same time. This is so obvious, why we shouldn't go on a tour together?". (Poole) "It was such an obvious thing to do together indeed because, as Stevie was saying, we were sharing the same rhythm section on our respective albums and artistically and financially it was the most wise choice to do too. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to do something special together, at the end of our personal sets every night. Despite the fact that we play our music using different styles, every night it was always special to finish the show together combining our styles together on stage. We really enjoyed working together on this tour and we hope that the fans had the same feeling too".

 

To share the same stage, for Poole and Nimmo, might mean as well to change the setlist they play every night fairly often, especially now that they both have new albums out. (Nimmo)"My setlist has been pretty much consistant from the beginning of the tour. I picked what it was, for me, the right mix of some of my older material and stuff from my new album. What it really changed, every night, was the way that each song started, then developed in something very unexpected and ended up in something even more unexpected. Some songs have some kind of structure on which it's dificult to  escape from but other songs haven't and you just can play the latter exactly in the way you are feeling in that particular moment. To let it loose according to the way I feel every night, that it's the best way that it works for me on stage. (Poole) "I feel pretty much the same about improvising on many songs, as Stevie often does on his sets. Also, should one of our sets go on for a bit longer than what we initially planned,for any reasons, I don't know, because of a little banter with the crowd or a guitar solo that went on for a little longer, there is never any big deal or any argument between the two of us.  Because we both know that, sometimes, when you really feel a special bond with a crowd or something magical happens on stage when we play our sets, you just have to let it flow because it's right to do so. We both respect so much one another and we don't mind dropping one song in our setlist in favour of the other, when that happens".

To talk with incredibly talented artists is a trye joy. There are laughters, banters and smiles all around. With such great friendship between the two guitarists, BBR wonders what they have learned from each other, by touring together. (Nimmo) "That he needs to practice a lot more! (chuckles)". (Poole) "I was going to say the same thing about you! (giggles). Seriously, it has been such a big honour to watch Stevie playing and singing. I have certainly learned few tips about techniques on vocals by watching him every night on tour. The camaraderie between artists playing this genre is something truly unique in this business. There might be one or two exceptions, sometimes, as it always happens everywhere but on the whole, all the people and fellow musicians I have come across in this business have all been extremely generous with me and there has always been great support between one another. No egos, no competition, just the desire to play our music and support each other. We all try to make a living as well, at the end of the day, so what is the point really to fight one another?". (Nimmo) "The mutual help and respect between artists is the key to be able to keep playing our music and share it with our fans. You may have noticed as well that, on this tour, the two of us are neither the support nor the main act of one another. It has been like this since Day 1 and it will be the same way until the end of this tour. We even help each other with tips during the sound-check, with things like, say,  "This mic sounds better positioned elsewhere" or stuff like that. It’s on those little but important things  that you see the mutual respect and the appreciation of what we both do as artists and friends. We want our shows to be good, to sound good and we would do anything we could to help and support each other in the best way possible to make that happen".

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To tour together is often the perfect opportunity to write some new material together that may end, perhaps, on the two British artists' next records. (Nimmo) "We almost did it for Ben’s album, you know. It was discussed before this tour took place but it didn’t happen. My point of view has always been and still is that I want to write a song WITH someone rather than FOR someone. I like the feeling of being in the same room with the fellow artist I collaborate with, to get to know that person, know what he is like, know what he sounds like and then start writing material together. I am sure that, to write with Ben is something that it’s going to happen soon. We know each other pretty well by now, I know what he sounds like and on that respect, to be on tour together has been very beneficial for both of us". (Poole) "To work together is something we spoke about and Stevie said he’d love to help to write some material with me in future. Stevie has got such a natural flow, an ability to write lyrics that, I must admit, it is something I struggle with, sometimes. Stevie writes his whole material all the time and he is very gifted. When I write new songs, I may need sometimes the help of external songwriters to write lyrics on some of my songs. To write something together it’s something I definitely would love to do with Stevie and I hope it’s going to happen soon".

The Stevie Nimmo & Ben Poole Tour has been a highly successful one, as expected, so perhaps now that the tour is over, it is a good time to relax a little or maybe are these two hugely talented Blues/Rock Brothers starting to tour again straight away? (Nimmo) "I shall take some time off and play in a couple of festivals this summer. It will be a fairly relaxing summer for me, not overloaded with tour dates. That was a deliberate choice, because I like to live my life as well. Balancing personal life and work is very important for me. In September and October I shall be busy like hell and it will be great playing with Robin Trower on some dates. Then in November and December I shall be touring around Europe, than back in UK and France until 2017. As you can understand, I shall be so busy that a summer break it's really very much needed for me to have the batteries fully charged for what it's going to happen next". (Poole) "I'll have a little bit of time off myself too after this tour, because the last four-five months have been insanely busy for me. After this little break, I shall be playing few festivals outside the United Kingdom, in places like Spain, Germany, Austria and France. In September my European Tour will kick off and I shall be touring several coutries including the United Kingdom in October and I cannot really wait to be back On The Road full time. You never know, myself and Stevie may cross paths again anywhere. After all, the world is much smaller than what many people think it is!".

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

Sky Won't Fall by Stevie Nimmo and Time Has Come by Ben Poole are both out now and available on Manhaton Records

Gio Ben Stevie

 

 

Songs As The Key Of Life - In Conversation With Laurence Jones

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It's a pleasant, breezy evening in the south of England, when Bluebird Reviews gets the opportunity to meet one of those artists that is constantly rising, year after year and album after album to music stardom, the young and hugely talented Laurence Jones. The gig tonight in Aldershot, Hampshire is not only going to be a special night of music just for the fans of one of the most inspired British guitarists and singer/songwriters but also for his manager Golly Gallagher, that lives in this quaint Army town.

There is a certain energy in the air, even prior to the concert tonight. Some of the fans can hear from a distance Jones doing the last bits of his soundcheck and it certainly doesn't take a magician to read the happiness beyond the smiles of the many fans waiting to enter the venue and see this phenomenal artist.

When BBR meet Laurence Jones, we are greeted with a warm welcome and one of the wonderful smiles that every night Jones gifts his fans with, during his live shows. Jones looks in great shape, very relaxed and happy, which is quite incredible, given how long he has been touring his current album What's It Gonna Be.

 

BBR - Laurence, What's It Gonna Be is and has been a hugely successful album for you. A record that, in our opinion, establishes you as one of the best blues/rock acts worldwide. Which are your immediate memories in recording this album?

LJ - Just having a great time with my band. I have always done that type of recording with session musicians before and it was great to be there, for a change, just with my band. As you know, I produced the album myself together with my bass player Roger Inniss and I learned, through that experience, a lot of tips while producing the album that producers I have worked with in the past taught me. It was just great, there was no pressure whatsoever and we did exactly what we wanted to do. The whole experience of recording the album with my band has been totally free-style, we just plugged our instruments in and we were off!

BBR - You started playing music since you were eight years old. Did your parents encourage you to play an instrument and was the guitar your very first choice?

LJ - Yes, absolutely. My dad had a classical acoustic guitar and he used to play The Animal's classic House Of The Rising One to me. I remember that, since I was a child, I wanted to be able to play that song better than him! (chuckles). He made me practice something like two or three hours a day and I was so determined, as I said, to be better than him. Then last year, when I played at the Royal Albert Hall for the Lead Belly tribute night, I ended up being on stage with Eric Burdon himself and I knew my dad was in the audience that night. I said to him, after the show, "You see, I am better than you now, because I actually got to play with Eric on stage!" (chuckles).

BBR - Laurence, your songwriting style on What's It Gonna Be shows phenomenal maturity. What is the process that you follow when you write songs?

LJ - There is not a certain order that I follow, while I am writing and that is the beauty of it. A song may come to me by writing the lyrics first then the melody and the vocals, or I can start a guitar riff and build a song around it. Especially with this album, I wanted it to be more about songs and connecting with people, rather than just blasting the album with plenty of guitar solos, which occasionally some guys in this business do. I saw a lot of people in the audience, night after night, coming to my shows and connecting to certain songs from my previous album Temptation and I just wanted to follow that same emotional path, on What's It Gonna Be.

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Laurence Jones with bass player Roger Inniss

 

BBR - How was your experience working as a producer with young Toby Lee (11 years-old blues/rock guitarist), on his debut EP album?

LJ - That was really cool, actually. He is just a great talent and he has got a lot of potential, for his age and he is very confident. It was so good also because having produced my own album previously, I had more of an understanding about how to produce an album. So I put a good team around us, with Phil Wilson on drums, Jack Alexander on bass and Victoria Klewin on vocals. Plus, as a very special guest, the great Bernie Marsden on one of the songs. Toby is going to go a long way, definitely.

BBR - The last 12 months have been for you quite special. The Lead Belly Tribute nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London first, then the one at The Carnegie Hall in New York gave you the opportunity not just to play in two of the most famous venues in the world but also side by side with the cream of blues and rock and roll. Was there ever a moment in which you had to pinch yourself and realise that you were indeed "living the dream"?

LJ - It was certainly a great experience and what I am going to say about artists and cameraderie may surprise you a little bit. It was great to share the dressing room with Buddy Guy at The Carnegie Hall in New York, although I had barely the chance to see him when he got on stage for the soundcheck and we just said hello, you know, the usual thing but he is such a great guy. What really stood up for me the most that night, though, at the Carnegie Hall, was what happened when all the artists present that night were down below and I had to go back to the dressing room to get a drink. I found my good friend Walter Trout practicing, in my dressing room, all alone on his own. Walter saw me and said" Can I be in your dressing room, please? It's so nice and quiet" and I was like "Sure, no problem". So I pulled up a chair and sat next to him and it was really a surreal moment for me. He played a song called Transition from one of his early albums with the same name, which was coincidentally the first blues album I have ever heard in my life. Walter said he has never ever played that song live in his career and the fact that he played that song to me, in that room, with only the two of us there, meant a lot to me and made me feel so privileged and honoured. 

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(From L to R) Walter Trout, Laurence Jones and Dana Fuchs

 

BBR - You have been working for such a long time with your manager and mentor Golly Gallagher and played hundreds of concerts with that very talented bass player that is Roger Inniss. How important is it for you to be surrounded, on your day-by-day- musical journey, by a band of brothers like this?

LJ - It's so important. You spend all of your time together, in a tour van, even more time than I spend with my family, to be honest and it's vital to have great bonds between all of us. Last year we did something like 250 gigs together, therefore you can imagine how important it is to get on well with everyone. Golly is a true inspirational figure for me. He taught me so much about this business, with all the great experience that he has. He was in the music business long before I was even born, you know (smiles), working for Sony and many other majors. Golly really showed me the way and taught me how important it is to have a good team around you and I feel privileged to have him as my manager.

BBR - Laurence, we understand that your new album is rumoured to be released late this summer and produced by a real authority of the business, Mike Vernon. Is the new album yet untitled or have you already thought how your next album is going to be called?

LJ - I always like to be a step ahead of the game! (chuckles). I always like to think forward about the next album and the songs I am going to write. To write songs is something that happen very naturally and I feel very fortunate, in that respect because I know that some people in the business really struggle often, when it comes to write new material. I just keep writing and writing because there are so many experiences on the road that I like to write about and share with the fans through my songs. We will be releasing the new album in July/August and it was indeed a big honour to have Mike Vernon to produce my album. He has been working with top artists in his career, people like Bowie, Eric Clapton, Peter Green and on the famous John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers album, an album that really set the scene for the British Blues, back in the day. It was great working with Mike and I was really surprised about how much he let me be myself throghout the recording process. I have been working with producers in the past where they costantly tell you what to do and tell you "that is the way it's going to be". With Mike, it was a completely different ball game. He just stepped in at the right times, when he knew it was right to do so while we were working together. In comparison with What's It Gonna Be, on the new album you will find less overdubs and more of a raw, live sound. We loved working in that way and I am sure the fans will love that too. The raw, straight-to-your-face kind of sound on the new album will be exactly the same one the fans will hear when we will play the new songs live, once the new record is released.  The whole experience of recording with Mike was very relaxing and I sincerely hope to work with Mike again in future. The new album is going to be called Take Me High and I cannot wait to play the new songs to the fans.

Take Me high

BBR - We are aware that your summer tour schedule is building up nicely, with several dates already booked around Europe. When will the American fans have the opportunity to see you there again on tour?

LJ - We are going back to America by the end of August. So far we have just three dates confirmed, one in New York, one in Massachussetts at the Blues'N' Brews Festival in Nashoba Valley and one at the Chenango Blues Festival. It's going to be awesome and I am really looking forward to play there.

BBR - You have previously stated that "Music is my healer". How much has the support of the fans helped you through the healing process?

LJ - It helped me massively. I have had loads of people come up to me, since I have been working with the charity Chron's and Colitis UK (Laurence suffers of Chron's Disease himself) saying: "You are an inspiration and your music really gets me through the day" or things like "Just to see you going up on stage knowing what we are going through with Chron's Disease is amazing". Without playing music I would get easily down and thankfully, I get to challenge my feelings into my music and just trying to be true, to me and to everyone that love my music. If it help the fans as it helps me, that would be the best feeling ever. I can't thank the fans enough for the support. We do a lot of fund raisings for this cause and we raised £15.000 last year, which is amazing and again, I cannot believe how incredible and supportive all the fans have been so far.

BBR - Laurence, the blues is among the very few music genres worldwide able to survive and reinvent itself through time, without losing contact with its history and tradition. What is, in your humble opinion, the secret of this genre's longevity?

LJ - Like you said, it's all about history and people, nowadays, crave for history. It's a bit like going to places where it all smells of history, say a place like Rome, for someone from Italy like you or a place like my hometown and Shakespeare's land Stratford-Upon-Avon for me. History is always there, it's part of our heritage and it's something we know that we can relate to anytime. In the same way, the blues and its history can be found in so many different genres that it could never be lost, ever. It's in pop music, rock, soul, you name it. Blues is the common ground, the genesis for all genres. Think about the 60's and 70's, when England had a massive blues invasion, influencing our music culture. Bands like The Rolling Stones made of the blues their music manifesto in those days. They were not just one of the biggest bands in the world but also the only band able to take a blues tune to the No.1 of the music charts worldwide ever with Little Red Rooster. The Blues is always going to be on top in any time of the world, because it is the root of everything, when it comes to music. And we all know that nothing, without roots, it's going to survive.

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

Take Me High is due to be released by the end of July 2016 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon

 

 

 

 

It's All About The Journey - In Conversation With Kenny Wayne Shepherd (The Rides)

The American Blues/Rock guitarist extraordinaire talks to Bluebird Reviews about the making of Pierced Arrow, the new album with the supergroup The Rides and also about his future with The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band 

 

 

KW Shepherd by Greg Logan

(Photo by Greg Logan)

Two decades in the music business and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, one of the most iconic blues and rock and roll artists worldwide, sounds and looks as in great shape as ever.

Shepherd is one of the architects of the contemporary blues/rock renaissance and it is not a surprise to see his artistic path often crossing with giants of the music business, going through the re-discovery of the traditions and the history of the last half a century of American music.

In this respect, by working with the supergroup The Rides, Shepherd has been able to explore even further, together with his fellow bandmates Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg, his love and passion for American music at 360 degrees, something that Stills and Goldberg share too with the Louisiana-born artist.

Pierced Arrow is the band's second album and is the ultimate America's songbook. The record is a true homage to this great country, celebrating half a century of music history. From Rockabilly to R&B, blues and soul, the album takes an impressive turn to the band's highly acclaimed debut album Can't Get Enough. Bluebird Reviews is wondering whether taking such turn was the the plan all along for Pierced Arrow or did the new songs changed their shape during the recording process. "Well, we didn't really have a plan, except that we wanted to go ahead with The Rides and make another great album together. The songs got their shape at Stephen's house, just like what we did on our first album. We wrote the songs over there between myself, Stephen and Barry and we brought also in Kevin McCormick (rhytm section bassist) to join us on some of the songwriting sessions. We never meant to steer the album towards one direction or the other and as a result, you can hear many different musical influences on Pierced Arrow. I think that this new record really further defines the sound of The Rides. It's the sound of a true American band that started as a blues band and then gradually spread its wings towards the genres that made the music history of our country, just like you mentioned. In Pierced Arrow there is blues, there is some old school, vintage rock and roll and much more. Our goal was fundamentally to do a great album and to be able to follow the lead that the songs we were writing were taking us to".

When listening to Pierced Arrow, there is a real feeling that Shepherd, Goldberg and Stills were having a real good time recording the album and letting it loose. A sign that, perhaps it didn't take long for The Rides to write and record the new album. "Well, it took a little while, to be honest but not because it was hard to make it but because of our personal schedules. We finished our first Tour in November 2013 and got back together, at Stephen's house, around the end of January 2014. We immediately started writing songs for the follow-up of the Can't Get Enough album but my schedule and Stephen's schedule with Crosby and Nash was so busy that we had to search for opportunities to reunite over the course of 2014, when we were at home in the same time. That is what we did and since then, at any possible opportunity we got together every few months and wrote new songs at Stephen's place. We gradually wrote Pierced Arrow over the course of 2014 but, by the end of that year, we figured that we had enough material and songs to go into the studio and record the new album. The recording process started at the end of January 2015 and then we mixed the album in March 2015. Our hope was to get the record out in 2015 but the mixing process took a little bit longer then we had expected. Stephen had to leave in the middle of the mixing process to go to Japan with Crosby & Nash and during that time I was offered to go on Tour with Van Halen in the United States for the entire summer, offer that I accepted. Those circumstances forced us to postpone the release of this album until this year. It took a while to get us finally here and to be able to release Pierced Arrow but if you would have taken all the obstacles out of the equation, to write and record the album happened relatively fast. We normally like to record our songs on the first or second take and we still approach our music that way. We tried to record everything in the most authentic and organic way as possible, with very minimal overdubs, which is always the way in which we like to make records".

Pierced Arrow is an album that took many fans by surprise in a great way. Bluebird Reviews doubts that this new record carries any "leftover" track from the recording session of the first album. "You are correct, there were not. There were some ideas that came up, on the first album, by jamming together that then developed further in the studio when we finished the first album. The outcome of those jams though did not make it on the Can't Get Enough album and we did not think they were worth revisiting, while making the second album. There were, however, some songs that we recorded for our new album that were not included on this record. There were a couple of extra songs that I am not sure whether in future they will show up or not on one of our next records, you never know".

The Rides

The Rides - (From L to R) Stephen Stills, Barry Goldberg & Kenny Wayne Shepherd

By the sound of what Shepherd just said, such songs that did not make it for the album's final tracklist may see the light of the day, perhaps, on a possible live album in future. "Maybe, why not? We are recording all the shows that we are doing on the current Tour and we did the same with all the shows we did on the first Tour together too. I have been thinking about, maybe, putting together some performances from this Tour with some from the first Tour and perhaps releasing one live album or maybe two live albums, which would be very interesting". 

Pierced Arrow, among many highlights, also unveils a phenomenal delivery of Gladys Knight & The Pips' classic I've Got To Use My Imagination but in the version made by the great Bobby "Blue" Bland. "Well, that was certainly my most favourite version of that song. I mean, I just love the way that Bobby Bland recorded that song. It is my personal preference, I just love his take even more than the Gladys Knight's one. When we did the first Tour, that's when we started playing that song at first. As you may understand, on our first Tour, at that time we had only one album to play and there was obviously not enough material to carry a show for an hour and a half. So we had to look into each other's catalogues to find additional songs to help and fill in the set every night. We did some of Stephen's songs, some of my songs and then I started looking for some songs that could have been good enough and fitting enough for the live shows. When I heard the Bobby Bland's version of I've Got To Use My Imagination, I thought "This would be a great song for us to do". So we did that on the first Tour and we realised that it worked very well with the audience. So much so that we decided that we were going to record our version of that song on the second album and that's what we did".

The band's name perfectly defines the musical journey The Rides are on and the love for vintage cars that Shepherd shares with Stephen Stills. The guitarist and singer/songwriter, among many cars he owns, has got also a couple of splendid vintage Dodge in his eclectic collection. BBR is wondering, using a language close to Shepherd's heart, whether The Rides pushed enough the accelerator on this album as much as the artist would do on one of his Dodge's. "Yes, I would say so (chuckles). The music, the concerts, our whole relationship and cameraderie as artists, it all takes you on a journey that it's pretty much comparable to an experience one can have by driving a fast car, just as you said. It's that special feeling of having your foot firmly planted on the floor of your car, shooting away on the highway and watching the world go by. I would certainly say that this experience with The Rides resembles for me that type of wonderful feeling. We are a high energy band and there may be times when we push hard on the accelerator, while playing or some other times we can slow down a little but the engine of our band would always remain as smooth as one of the cars you just mentioned".

Life In The Fast Lane is a song from the glorious band The Eagles that sums up well the rhythm of Shepherd's career in the music business. An unstoppable musician, Shepherd always works very hard and tour relentlessly for the best part of every year. After The Rides Tour is over, will this hugely talented artist release new material as The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band anytime soon? "I have been writing songs and making several trips down to Tennessee over the past several months, writing with new songwriters that I have never written with before and working with some of the people that I have been writing with my whole career. So, in answer to your question, yes, I have been writing songs and a new album is in the making. At the moment, I am not exactly sure how the next album it's going to sound like, to be honest with you. We have been writing different kind of songs, some of which sound like nothing I have ever done before and I am not trying to steer the album in any direction in particular. I am just writing songs and going where the music takes us while we are writing. I would anticipate that by the end of this year, I'll be in the studio recording the new album, which should be probably coming out by some times next year". 

Pierced Arrow

The new The Rides album sees also Shepherd harmonizing with Stephen Stills on a couple of songs. In BBR's view, one of such songs, Virtual World, represents one of the most intense musical moments on Pierced Arrow. An experience that must have been truly special for the blues/rock titan. "It has been amazing. It was something I would have never expected to do in this band. I figured that, within the band, I would have been singing just lead vocals, just as Stephen would have but I didn't really anticipate us becoming a harmony group. When that happened on a couple of tracks of the album, it really felt like a truly remarkable experience. I mean, Stephen is legendary when it comes to harmonize. When I think about the great artists he has been harmonizing with throughout his career, people like Neil Young, David Crosby, Graham Nash, just the idea that my name is now added to that fantastic list, makes me feel really happy and proud".

The Rides are currently touring the United States (see the band's full schedule on their website http://www.theridesband.com/) but on their schedule there is no mention of touring European countries or any other part of the world so far. "Well, I wish that there was the chance to tour out of the States but I can't say that there is. I have been trying to push for an European Tour schedule at least but it is a little bit complicated to do that, with this band and this organisation. I don't know whether that might happen, I wish that would really happen but at this moment in time, I couldn't possibly say".

Kenny Wayne Shepherd is not just a phenomenal and versatile musician but also somebody with a deep knowledge and understanding of the roots of one of the music genres that he loves the most, which is the blues. The Guitarist released, almost a decade ago, a wonderful live album and music film about the tradition and the history of the blues through the tales and the songs of some of the most influential blues artists. The CD/DVD is called 10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads and it is one of the most impressive music documents of the last century on the importance and the influence that blues had and still has in contemporary music. BBR is hoping that Shepherd, one day, will be able to do a follow-up of that memorable project. "Well, it is my intention to release a follow-up to it. The plan was to have much more work accomplished on this project than we have but honestly, with my band, with touring and now having a second band with The Rides and touring with them too, I have not had a lot of extra time, lately, to work on the next 10 Days Out Mach II. It is still something though that I intend on doing and hopefully, soon, I hope to find the right time slot to allow me to pursue this project so close to my heart".

The Maverick guitarist from Shreveport has played and still does with the elite of blues and rock, from BB King to Eddie Van Halen, not least his fellow compadres in The Ride's project. Before parting company, we ask Shepherd whether there are any musicians, of the past or present, that he would have loved to record with in his splendid career. "Well, to be honest, I don't sit around thinking about stuff like "I want to work with this guy or this other guy". I just let things happening and see, in the end, with which artists I was meant to play with, you know? For the longest time, I never had the opportunity to play with Eric Clapton until several years ago, when I was able to play with him on stage. I mean, to record with him, that would be fantastic but, I reckon is hardly ever going to happen because he is very focused solely on doing his own albums. Basically, I am open to make music with anyone that really makes sense to me and I can make some great music with. I think that as long as I remain open to that idea, you never know what it might happen!".

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

Pierced Arrow is out now and it can be purchased via Provogue/Mascot Label Group

 

The Texan Torchbearer - In Conversation With Lance Lopez

Lance Lopez 2

(Photo by Mark Bicham)

 

When it comes the time to work hard on creating and playing music, very few people in the world does that better than a blues or a rock musician. The Shreveport, Louisiana-born guitarist and singer/songwriter Lance Lopez knows that very well. Since he moved to Texas at the tender age of 13, Lopez had the opportunity to be "raised" musically by outstanding artists such as Johnnie Taylor and Lucky Peterson, two instrumental figures in Lopez's growth as a guitarist and singer/songwriter.

Lopez is now considered one of the best guitarists of this generation worldwide and universally recognised by fellow musicians and music press as the heir of the great Texan tradition of blues/rock guitar.

After a few year's hiatus of releasing new material, Lopez has now been involved in two records just released, one as a member of the supergroup Supersonic Blues Machine called West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco, the second as a solo artist, releasing a live album called Live In N.Y.C.

In a super-busy moment of his musical career as this one that Lance Lopez is living right now, it must be not easy to balance many things at the same time. "It actually helps me to stay very busy. It makes me much more creative when I am that busy, as long as I don't get too tired. When I am moving and travelling and playing and working on many different things, I find working on many things very helpful to me. It keeps me excited and happy, thinking about all those things happening and to look forward to. When I am working between different projects, it is important for me to do the right amount per time on each project, in order to keep things very fresh. It's all about balancing but to be busy, it's something that certainly helps me to stay very focused and creative".

Despite being a very prolific songwriter and an excellent guitarist and singer, it has been a while now since Lopez released either a studio or a live album (Handmade Music was his last release in 2011). Given his extensive touring schedule, Bluebird Reviews is wondering whether this was a stop gap from releasing new material that he chose purposely to do or Lopez thought that the time was not right to release a new album until now. "There were many different things happening that stopped me by releasing new material. I needed to find a new record company. The right one for me with the right deal, which has been for some times a major issue to resolve. Also, with putting out albums and especially working with Fabrizio (Grossi, producer and fellow compadre on the Supersonic Blues Machine project), I just wanted the albums to be very good and I wanted to be satisfied with them. I did not want to put out something just for the sake of it. We spent, therefore, a lot of time working on those recordings and making sure they were absolutely hundred per cent fantastic, before we released them. Those were really the main reasons. After I have been touring Europe, I think it was 2013, I came back to Texas, in the States, where I have been for the last three years writing more music, more songs and working on the SBM album. It has been a long time coming for new music to be released but that gave me the opportunity to focus on all these projects and ensuring I was releasing the right material at the right time, just when I was completely satisfied with them".

Bluebird Reviews has been talking to Lopez's brother in arms on the Supersonic Blues Machine project Fabrizio Grossi a little while ago. Through his larger-than-life personality, he brought to us all the excitement that Grossi, Aronoff and Lopez felt in recoding the band's debut album and how great it was working with so many music giants and fellow musician friends on the record. Our website was wondering whether Lopez felt as well that the album was going to be so incredibly magic too. "Yeah, absolutely. When I began working with Fabrizio, we felt immediately a great connection, musically speaking. We realised almost immediately that we were meant to work together. I knew it was going to be phenomenal, especially considering how much work we put into it. We really took our time and we really worked very hard on every single aspect of that album. That's what I like about Fabrizio so much. He is a hard working man and he likes to be a perfectionist, two things we certainly have in common, when it comes to music. The special connection between us made to work on the album being a very enjoyable journey, although hard to achieve. I have always worked very hard on producing and ensuring that all aspects of the production side were perfect on each of my previous records and I am aware that not everyone is happy to do that, in this business. Everybody just wants to hurry up their records and get them finished, while with Fabrizio, we just decided to finish the album when we felt the time was right. Many producers and many engineers don't like always to do this and that was really a major factor that made working with Fabrizio a fabulous experience. Now that the album is finished and it is out, it is nice to seat back and appreciate all the hard work that we put into it".

Supersonic Blues Machine

(Supersonic Blues Machine - From Left To Right Kenny Aronoff (Drums), Fabrizio Grossi (Bass), Lance Lopez (Guitar, Vocals))

 

Together with the Supersonic Blues Machine album, this extraordinary artist has also released a live album recorded in New York City and our website asked Lopez whether recording the album in NYC was a purposely pre-planned idea or did Lopez rather thought that, among all the live recording taped, the NYC performance was the most satisfactory for him. "That was not really planned. What happen was that the late great Johnny Winter invited me to perform at his 70th birthday party and he wanted me to perform for him, which was a big honour for me. Rather unfortunately, that was goiing to be the very last birthday party for Johnny (Winter passed away few months after). That night, given the very special occasion, we went on stage, played our socks off and give it all because we knew that was something that myself and the band did in Johnny's honour, not imagining in the slightest that a couple of months later, Johnny would have sadly passed. Rather unexpectedly and shortly after Johnny's passing , Paul Nelson, who was Johnny's manager and I was also working with, told me that they recorded that performance and were so enthusiastic on the outcome that they really wanted to release it as a live album. I told him I was going to check the recording out and see whether it was good enough for me to be released. When I heard it, it really blew me away, I thought it was fantastic. I saw somebody's video recording of that night on YouTube but obviously, the perception of sound you get from a roughly recorded video is completely different from a proper sound recording system. We had some engineers in New York mixing the live tracks and when I got the final mix sent back to me, I thought it was so wonderful that I really wanted it to release it as soon as possible. I didn't want to use Johnny's name for the promotional aspects and did not want to release the album shortly after Johnny's passing as a sign of my deep respect for his music and his artistry. I felt that now the time was right to do so and honour the memory of such a great musician and friend of mine in a very special night of music. That is the reason why the album wasn't released earlier".

Checking out the setlist, the material handpicked for the live album belongs mostly to Lopez's last studio album Handmade Music, with the sole exception of the crowd-pleaser El Paso Sugar (from the Higher Ground album) and a brand new track, Tell The Truth. We asked Lance Lopez whether there was any particular reason why the Texan artist decided not to add anything from a solid, beautiful record such as Salvation In Sundown. "Well, we were still, at that time, touring the Handmade Music album after a couple of years of its release, therefore it felt kind of natural for us to play tracks mostly from that album. What you hear on the album, it is just a condensed setlist of what we used to play on regular nights at that time. We generally played each night tunes from that album but also from the Salvation In Sundown album and my previous ones too. However, for the set at the BB King Blues Club in N.Y, we had to condens and shorten the setlist but still wanted to include the fans favourite El Paso Sugar and a song that is yet to be released on any of my studio albums, Tell The Truth, which is a song on which Fabrizio and I have been also working on for a future studio album".

The live album clearly reinstates the stature of Lopez's talent, a true performer at the peak of his game. But does Lance Lopez follow any particular ritual before he goes onstage? "I just like to warm up beforehand. I must make sure that the band is very well rehearsed and that my amplifier and all my equipment work properly. Then I like also to take some time before the show, say half an hour before going on stage and play some guitar backstage. That helps me to get in the moment, in that special zone in my head because when I then go onstage, in the middle of some of those guitar solos, I go to a different place in my mind and every time that special  moment feels like living a spiritual experience. That is why I feel I need to take that time before the show, to start channeling that kind of experience and share it with the fans".

Lance Lopez 1

(Photo by Sanders Photography)

 

Chris Reddan on drums and Mike Nunno on bass provided a fabulous backbone to this artist's thunderous guitar style and vocals on Live In NYC. "I actually lived in New York City many years ago for a while and Chris Reddan was a long time drummer for Popa Chubby. Mike Nimmo played with Lucky Peterson and various blues artists so I have known them both for a while. When I was touring the East Coast, I would use them as my rhytm section. Chris has worked for many great blues and rock artists and he is one of the number one drummers in blues/rock and one of my dearest and best friends. We all have a very good connection and Mike is absolutely one of the best bass player in New England and the whole of the East Coast. To play with those guys, that night, was a magical moment and I am really glad we managed to capture that moment in time and frame it forever on this record".

Lance Lopez's incredible talent as a guitarist has been compared to geniuses of the instrument, like Hendrix, Winter or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Many tend to forget though that he has also one of the most intense, powerful and deep voices on the current blues/rock scene. To be not recognised adequately for the quality of his vocals must be something that may disappoint Lopez, sometimes. "I am also a vocalist, you are very correct and I guess that, often, my guitar playing and the solos I do onstage might overshadow that aspect of my artistry. To be honest with you, I am not overly disappointed about that because I know that it is something that, my fans or whoever has listened to my studio albums. are aware of and appreciate a lot too. On this subject, working on the Supersonic Blues Machine album was also extra special because it gave me the great opportunity to showcase even further my skills as a lead singer, due to the amount of fabulous Special Guests playing guitar that we had on the album. That allowed me to relax a little and free me up, as a guitar player and focus more on the singing side".

Deep inside, many artists dream to reach immortality through their music. But how would Lance Lopez love to be remembered in a hundred years in an imaginary universal musical encyclopedia? "Nothing too fancy, maybe just the fact that I was the torchbearer of the next generation of blues/rock music. I feel I definitely followed the footsteps of those great artists of the past and present, people like Johnny Winter, Billy Gibbon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Freddie King and all the greatest that came from the US state where I live. What I would love to convey as well, is also that I have tried to be the best musician that I could possibly be, playing in such a great band like Supersonic Blues Machine and performing with many artists, not just from Texas or American but worldwide for international audiences".

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

 

Live In NYC and the Supersonic Blues Machine album West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco are out now and available on Amazon

Not Going Crazy Anymore - An Interview To Mike Zito

Mike Zito 2

(Photo courtesy of Mike Zito's Official Website)

 

There must be something special about blues and blues-rock. Something that helps spiritually and emotionally music artists going through rough patches in their lives to give them the necessary strength to live through those difficult times and come back stronger, both as artists and human being.

Mike Zito knows that very well. A hugely talented guitarist and singer/songwriter, the Missouri-born artist has lived in his own skin through the tough times, luckily rising victorious from the heavy problems related to alcoholism. Zito is now happily at the top of his game again, even more so than when he was working with that incredible music project that was Royal Southern Brotherhood. With a new, splendid solo album with his band The Wheel out now called Keep Coming back, this extraordinary artist seems to have found the perfect personal and artistic balance to express his great talent as a musician and a songwriter. Bluebird Reviews is deeply honoured to meet one of the most loved blues artist worldwide and discuss his new album and this moment of his life and career.

 

BBR - Mike, thank you for talking to Bluebird Reviews, such a honour for us. Keep Coming Back is your first solo album after leaving the Royal Southern Brotherhood. For how long had you in mind to go solo again?

MZ - Well, I'll be honest, I never thought that I wouldn't go solo again. Part of the idea with the Royal Southern Brotherhood was we could do both, touring as a band and have our separate career at the same time. But the Brotherhood became so popular that we kept holding on the idea of doing both things, because we were doing so great and for a couple of years we kept going. Somewhere in there, I guess, after working with the band for so long, I thought I was starting losing touch with my solo career. I thought that, if I was not going back there soon, being a solo artist, maybe I might have lost all that I have been doing for such long time. I wanted to go back to do what I love to do best, which is playing blues and doing my own things.

BBR - Bluebird Reviews has been a great admirer of your music and your talent for a very long time. This is the first album though, where we can actually feel that you are at peace with yourself. Did you feel any different when you wrote and recorded this splendid album?

MZ - I did. You really hit it on the head, in your question. I am very much at peace with myself in these days. I think that the album really captures this feeling. As a songwriter, I feel that this is one record where really I stepped more away from the blues that I have ever done before. I just wanted to share that inner peace I am in right now, kind of let everybody know where I was at. Yeah, you really hit it on the head, this album to me is really where I am, at this moment in time in my life. I am really grateful and very lucky to have the life I have and I hope that I expressed this special moment of my existence through this record.

BBR - Keep Coming Back is a real tribute to American Music. You are able to dazzle into genres like rock, country, blues with great grace, intensity and passion. Through the eyes of a consumate artist like yourself, are there still many musicians out there able to carry the baton with the same determination and craftmanship you show on each passing record?

MZ - Oh, yes, certainly there are many, I definitely think so. There are so many wonderful artists out there right now. Thank you for the kind words about the record. It is indeed an Americana type of album, with some rock'n'roll or country songs, just as you said. The truth is, when I made this album, I decided I would not hold myself back this time. If I wrote a song, I just wanted to deliver it in the way it was originally conceived in my mind, whatever genre it might be. There are so many brilliant artists nowadays, people like Gary Clark Jr. or Tedeschi Trucks Band, for example, able to bring together so well in their music formula many different genres still maintaining their identity as artists. I guess this evolution in music is what kept the Blues alive. In the States, for example, Blues artists have pretty much evolved their ways to play and incorporated in their sound elements belonging to different styles of American music. This is one of the reasons why the Blues continues to survive. In America, genres like Country music are still very popular but that particular genre, in the past years, has changed a lot. To the point that many Country music fans are now saying that they are not able to recognise that genre as such anymore, because it's changed too much. It's evolved in a way where it has been completely turned upside down, altering completely the origin of this music genre and becoming something else. The Blues, instead, still maintains its origins. The sound has just evolved but the foundations are there, still very solid.

Mike Zito 3

BBR - You are and have always been a very prolific songwriter. We have heard that now you are enjoying also being a columnist for a very important Blues magazine in the United Kingdom. Does this represent something you always wanted to fulfil in your life or did you discover that you had a great talent as a music writer purely by accident?

MZ - I guess I discovered it purely by accident, although despite the fact didn't play music at all, my mother was a writer. She was a real poet, she wrote all her life. It must be something deep inside our family's DNA. I have been writing for a long time myself but never considered writing for a magazine. I started to write a blog about five years ago and I did it purely to help myself, while I was on the road, to get my feelings out and share them with the fans. It became, after a while, really well received. People liked what I was writing, saying that they enjoyed the fact I was expressing my feelings straight from the heart and it was so overwhelming to discover how many people was following and liking my writing. Suddenly, Ed Mitchell from The Blues Magazine in UK contacted me, saying: "We have been reading your blog and we have really enjoyed it. Your writing is very good, would you be interested in writing a column for our magazine?". I was almost shocked, I couldn't believe these guys in UK were asking me this. Of course I said "Yes" and I have got to say I take great pride in doing it. I really enjoy writing and it's one of those things I like to do purely for myself. I don't consider myself really the greatest writer on the planet but I feel confident to talk about what I do or about music, in general. The column is such a pleasure to do, so enjoyable, because I get the opportunity to share the topics of the magazine or to talk about the state of the Blues genre to many fans in the world. I have also been writing a book, about my story of getting clean and sober. It is still in the making but, when it is finished and it come together well, I might try to release it. I am in no rush though to write my autobiography, because I consider myself still a young man! But surely, one day, that book will be out there.

BBR - Mike Zito keeps coming back to his music roots and also to work again with The Wheel. The record really underlines a perfect chemistry between you and the band. When you went to the studio to record the album, did it feel like you and The Wheel never stopped playing together?

MZ - It certainly did. The band is totally in tune with me, my songs and my songwriting style. We certainly try always to record albums with a live dynamic, where we get into the studio, set up and just play and record as we play. I think this album, among all the albums we have done together, it has been the easiest. The thing is we all know where we are coming from, musically speaking, I know what everyone's capable of and they know what I am bringing to them. Everyone is also very comfortable, I haven't got to ask any questions, I don't need to tell to anyone to do anything, we all just know each other so well. It was so easy to dive into the music, into this record, there is a real comfort there, in working with one another. It's like being married to someone for a year or two initially, then, if all is well, the marriage keeps ongoing for 10 years or even longer. The comfort level, the chemistry, keeps increasing and get deeper, the respect for each other grows as the years go by. We were at that high level of comfort I just described when we entered the studio and started working on Keep Coming Back. As a consequence, the recording process felt really good on this record.

BBR - Mike, I like to think that in your title track, when you sing about "This Old Man He Took My Hand And Brought Me To The Light" that you are not just referring to God but also to the moral support that somebody like Walter Trout gave you in a tough moment of your career (although Walter might not appreciate too much to be called "Old"). How important has the friendship and cameraderie of many blues/rock fellow artists been, to help you battle your inner demons?

MZ - Walter Trout is such a great friend and he has been a hero of mine for so long. To have him as a friend, absolutely helped me along the way, encouraged me, inspired me and just the fact he has always been there for me, feels really wonderful to me. And you are absolutely correct when I refer to God, metaphorically, as the Old Man. When I sing in that song "He Pulled Me Out A Seat", it's like when you get to the recovering meetings and they always ask "have a seat" and talk about you and how to get sober and cleaned... You feel that the Old Man is there with you and will stick with you forever. And you are quite right about all the people that helped me along the way and I am talking about everyone, not just fellow musicians. Surely many great artists have been through the same issues I have been through and of course, Walter is the most significant and again, you were quite right also about the fact that Walter surely wouldn't appreciate to be called an Old Man! (chuckles). He certainly is not and he doesn't play either like an old man, that's for sure.

BBR - We understand you are due to release a new acoustic album called Troubadour Volume 1. Can you tell us more about the making of this new record?

MZ - It is just something I recorded for my fans. I just have it with me at my shows. I do several acoustic shows, I do some acoustic guitar sometimes while I am touring and people always tell me how much they enjoy the different acoustic interpretations of some of my tracks I play at shows. I have my own home recording studio and I decided to set up a couple of microphones, get out my nice acoustic guitar and I went through my first three albums I did on the Electro Groove Records label. Through the help of some people, they ticked what they thought were their favourite tunes, out of those albums and I interpretated them acoustically and record them acoustically and put them on a disc. In this way, every time I play live at shows, they cannot keep asking me anymore about making acoustic albums, I would just say to them "Hey man, you asked for it, here you go, you got it". Maybe one day it will get officially released by a label but for the time being, it is just something I did purely for the fans and to keep them happy. On top of that, I like to think that this acoustic album also gives the opportunity to people to discover my early songs under a different dress and quite frankly, it was a lot of fun for me too to record it, as an artist. 

Mike Zito 1

(Photo courtesy of Mike Zito's Official Website)

 

BBR - Mike, you are currently touring the United States in support of the Keep Coming Back album. Will your European fans be able to see you live anytime soon?

MZ - We are working on that. There have been a couple of shows in Europe this month, one in Norway and one in Germany but it was not a whole tour, unfortunately. There are some dates coming for the summer but I do know that in the fall we have a full tour of all of Europe, I believe it is a 5-week one and it is currently in the making. I hope the European fans will be patient enough and wait for me and the band to perform live later this year.

BBR - It's great to see the healthy way you are living your life in Texas, the place you have been calling home for quite some time now. Has the young boy from Missouri finally found the perfect design for life to live happily ever after?

MZ - I sure hope so. I believe in my heart I have. I am very happy and peaceful with myself.  It's a nice acceptance for me about where I am at and what I am doing at this stage of my life  and I don't feel I need any more of what I already have right now. I feel blessed to have so much in my personal life that it's sometimes overwhelming. I just need to keep plugging away with my recovery, you know, make sure I don't go crazy anymore but thankfully, I've got a lot of support at home. I have got a wonderful family to support me and the music to keep me going. I just want to make sure that I don't rest on my laurels and don't get too comfortable. I want to make sure I continue to make great music and challenge myself, without going crazy. That's the plan!

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

Keep Coming Back is out now and available on Ruf Records

Sidemen / Long Road To Glory - In Conversation With Film Director Scott Rosenbaum

Sidemen

There are no other genres in the history of music able to tell stories like the blues does. Some of those stories may have a happy ending, some other a less happy one. Still, they are genuine real life stories, whose players often go through hard existences, highs and lows, good times and bad times. The genuinity and honesty of those life tales is what creates the empathy, the real connection between artists and the blues fans. 

Through the last quarter of a century, very few directors have been able to portrait the spirit and the message of the blues as well as director Scott Rosenbaum has been able to do with his new film, Sidemen - Long Road To Glory.

The film/documentary is a phenomenal and moving celebration of the life and career of pianist Pinetop Perkins, guitarist Hubert Sumlin and drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, three of the most important and talented Sidemen in the history of blues, which worked side by side with giants of the genre like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.

Bluebird Reviews is truly honoured to talk to director Scott Rosenbaum about the making of this wonderful labour of love for blues music and tribute to some of the greatest blues musicians of the last century.

Hubert Sumlin photo by Brian Smith

Hubert Sumlin (Photo by Brian Smith)

 

BBR - Hi Scott, thank you for being with us today to talk about Sidemen. The film is not just a heartwarming homage to the blues genre but also to the life and career of three wonderful musicians like Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie Smith. How long did it take for you to prepare and assemble all the footage?

SR - Ultimately, it ended up taking 7 years to complete the film. It was initially conceived as a concert film, celebrating the music that they were either directly part of, also in terms of the legacy they represent with the music of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and all that music that inspired the rock and roll generation that I grew up with. So it started out as a couple of years' adventure, but ultimately, after their deaths in 2011, the logistics required to complete the film ended up being much longer.

BBR - To be Sidemen, as Pinetop, Willie and Hubert have been, takes dedication, sacrifice, hard work and an immense love and respect for music. Why, in your opinion, did it take so long for the music industry to recognize the value of their talent and award them, coincidently, in the same year in which they all sadly passed away?

SR - Well, you know, I think in some ways and also by speaking to a number of people, even to the musicians themselves about this, I think they (Pinetop, Willie and Hubert) were some of the very lucky ones, in a way. I mean, when you think about the blues, how many guys for every Willie, Pine and Hubert, how many great musicians are there that no one ever really knows about? When these guys were coming up, the music was mainly made down south and if it wasn't for people like Alan Lomax and his father, who went down there and recorded Muddy's music and all the stuff coming from the plantations, all that material would have been otherwise lost forever. As far as it did take for these guys to be recognized and awarded, I think in the end it was really a great thing that they got the recognition at all. Hopefully, Pinetop, Willie and Hubert will represent, through that award, all those fantastic musicians that had long gone before and never be known to the world 

BBR - Your personal relationship to Pinetop, Hubert and Willie goes way back, I believe, to 2008 when you worked together on your debut feature film, The Perfect Age Of Rock'n'Roll, released in 2011. Is it true that you initially thought of making, instead of Sidemen, a blues version of Scorsese's The Waltz, dedicated to the tradition and the legacy of the Delta and Chicago Blues?

SR - That is correct. When I had the good fortune to meet these guys, originally, I wanted to do a modern day version of The Last Waltz, with these fabulous bluesmen to be the core band of the movie and then to get all the rockers to use the blues as the inspiring muse that brought them to come out and play. The perfect example of what I had in mind is the Robbie Krieger sequence, in Sidemen. It's the scene when Robbie is playing Little Red Rooster with Hubert. Naively, when I was a kid, I knew that song originally from The Doors as I knew as well, originally, Mannish Boy to be a Rolling Stones' song! So that was the genesis of it all. To see The Last Waltz the first time and seeing Muddy Waters, that feeling brought the initial thought of a concert film. Of course, it was never going to be like the Scorses's way, by calling up Eric Clapton or Mick Jagger, asking to come down and do the job. What we did instead, was to put a tour together and we shot three or four concerts. Along the way, the Tour Manager, the agent of these guys had some relationships within the music industry and was able to reach out to artists like Robbie Krieger, Elvin Bishop and Timmy Reynolds from the Dave Matthews Band, to help with this project. It wasn't though a full concert of songs, like I had wanted, of all the Muddy, Wolf and John Lee's most popular songs. Then it all cast away, two and a half year in the filming. When I got in touch with (Producers) Pat Scalabrino and Fabrizio Grossi, at the time I was still trying to keep the project going, especially after the death of those guys and I couldn't really figure out what the film would have been about, at that point. It was completely an uncharted territory for me and I got to the point where I was very disillusioned about the whole project. I had no idea how to reach out to all the blues and rock artists appearing in Sidemen, celebrating these guys' life and career until I met Pat and Fabrizio. Through them, I got the right shot in the arm that I needed. They opened me the doors to so many of these artists and that was really much needed for me to allow the project to go ahead.

Pinetop Perkins photo by Kim Welsh

Pinetop Perkins (Photo by Kim Welsh)

 

BBR - How easy was it for you to reach out to all the music stars of the current blues/rock scene and ask them to share their feelings and experiences about Pinetop, Willie and Hubert?

SR - Well, that question requests a two-parts answer. The entire film would only be possible because of the love that so many people and so many musicians had for Pine, Willie and Hubert. They were so well known, certainly within the music community, if not, by even a wider audience. Once I was able to get through the artists, through their managers and all the people that revered Pine, Willie and Hubert, as soon as they knew that a film was going to be made about them, helped me to open contacts with all those artists. The other part of that equation, of course, was people like the producers Pat Scalabrino, Fabrizio Grossi and the agent Hugh Southard, who represents these bluesmen. Those guys were really instrumental in helping me to interview the great musicians appearing in Sidemen and to speak to them about the influence they got from Pine, Hubert and Willie. We had such a great response from all those great musicians we interviewed. In the end, we had something like 50-60 interviews ready, but we couldn't put them all in the film. This is just to give you an idea about the enthusiastic support we had from all those generous musicians, while we were making Sidemen. 

BBR - The film is beautifully narrated by Marc Maron, a comedian with a strong legacy to the world of music. Has he been the first choice as the main narrator since the beginning?

SR -We had talked about several choices for narrators and we put together a shortlist. Marc Maron was definitely at the top of that shortlist , partly because my co-producer Jasin Cadic and I are big fans of his podcast and what he has been able to do with that interview format that he so well does. I think his voice is really one of the foremost voices of pop culture and culture in general, right now and we wanted the film to have that freshness coming from a non-stereotypical narrator like Marc. Add to that the love and appreciation that Marc has about history of music, as much as we have too and you will be able to figure out why Marc was the perfect choice for us.

BBR - We absolutely loved the way you turned on and off the light on Sidemen, with Pinetop walking onto the stage in an old, abandoned theatre in absolute silence at the beginning of the film and to have him walking off stage after the end credits with the camera gently fading out. One gets the feeling he really connected with you, during the making of Sidemen. What are your immediate memories about Pinetop?

SR - The memories, not just of Pinetop but of all of them, are pretty similar in terms of having had the good fortune to have met them and to hear their stories on first hand basis. Greg Allman said in the film, and I really relate to that: "It's just like sitting down with your Grandpa!". And it was, but these were Grandpas that had these incredible stories, with first hand knowledge of Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, of course Muddy and Wolf and all these legendary bluesmen. Just meeting them and having this wonderful experience with them was for me personally a once in a lifetime opportunity. I feel so fortunate that I met them when I did, when we had initially the notion of making a film together, at the time.

BBR - How difficult is it, in today's movie industry world, to put together a group of people prepared to invest and to believe in this magnificent labour of love and passion for the history of the blues, which is Sidemen?

SR - It's very difficult. I don't know whether it is more difficult today than it was 40-50 years ago but I know that it's always challenging to get somebody to believe in a concept or a vision. This film was completed two ways; on one side we had a seriously good investment made by our executive producer early on, which was critical to start the project. On the other one, we really made Sidemen out of sheer passion. We brought our own cameras, we went out, we made it largely on ourselves without a lot of support. After these three musicians, which became our friends too, passed away, it became something so much more than just making a movie. Of course, we wanted to complete the film but we really took very seriously the fact that these men trusted us with their legacies and we had captured some of their last performances, interviews and general footage. I would venture to say that the material we recorded of those incredible men was of such a highest quality that I don't believe anyone had ever been able to capture in the same way before. So, it became our own mission, a mission from God, quoting a line of The Blues Brothers' movie.

BBR -  I heard you are working already on the follow up to your 2011's film debut The Perfect Age Of Rock'n'Roll. From where does the special bond that you have between filmography and music come from?

SR - That's a good question. Music was always part of the household. I grew up between my dad, a big music fan that had at home a turntable with all these fantastic records that I was just fascinated by and my uncle, which was a drummer and a little bit of a legendary figure to me. He was my gateway to music, telling me all these great music stories. He also turned me on to The Band, which was not maybe the most fashionable band for kids growing up in the 70's-80's but I do remember how seriously hooked I was to that fantastic album that is The Last Waltz. I guess that the bond you referred to in your question might have started back there, with that album, which incorporates so many elements of traditional blues. Music has always been a big component of my life, always will.  It's something vital for me, a bit like oxygen that allows me to live and breathe. 

Willie Big Eyes Smith photo by Jesse Lirola

Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (Photo by Jessie Lirola)

 

BBR - Scott, this is a very critical moment for music on many levels. It is becoming increasingly difficult for rockstars or popstars to sell records worldwide. Blues, though, this ultra-octogenarian evergreen genre, does not seem to suffer in this respect as much as other genres. In your opinion, what is the secret that keeps the blues alive and kicking after all these years despite all?

SR - That's a great question and it is relative to the state of the global music industry today, because other forms of music have not gone essentially through to what blues has been through the last century. If you think about the highs and lows, fading in and out of style, all kind of transitions that musicians have to deal with, which today happens to be streaming or digital downloading, to be a musician is not easy at all. But as far as blues and its survival goes, there's something to me and I think all people who are attracted to the blues, that makes the genre so special and is the fact that the blues is so elemental and pure. The blues is the foundation, it is the root, from which many different music genres have taken inspiration from. There is something so powerful about the guy or the girl sitting down with the guitar making music that will always attract people, no matter what. Just to give you an example, time ago I was screening the film to people that has no connection or knowledge about the blues whatsoever and suddenly I  realised once again how much of an impact the blues can make on people when they hear it. Besides being moved by the film, those people I was referring to came to me after watching Sidemen saying: "You know, I really liked that music, perhaps I should listen to it a bit more". That's what it is. When you hear it, blues can make a really strong grip on people forever, almost becoming part of your DNA.

BBR - Should you define with one adjective each of the musicians featured in Sidemen, which one would you choose?

SR - Just perseverance. Absolute perseverance. That has been so important to me too. You know, struggling to make this film over seven years, it's not too difficult to stop and think, as you are getting down: "Wait a minute, I am making a film about three guys who spent, six or seven decades pursuing their careers and going through a lot of low times". So, their perseverance has always been an inspiration in making this film and, as an artist, it will  always be an inspiration to me. Because they went through such hard times that, when I think about my situation, personally and I compare my life to theirs, they really went through hell and back and still persevered to play until a very old age, despite going through highs and lows. What a tremendous inspiration they have been to me. I hope we were able to catch that perseverance in Sidemen too. They were the nicest guys in the world. I feel very fortunate to have met them and have this experience with them. I hope the film captures just how genuine and talented and sweet these men were and the audience can get the same feeling that we had while we were making the film.

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

http://www.sidemenfilm.com/#!about/m6qj2

Tales From Beale Street - In Conversation With Christina Vierra From Mississippi Bigfoot

mississippi bigfoot

Between East Street and the Mississippi River in Memphis TN, there is a special place that holds a lot of secrets and tales related to the history of the blues. This place is called Beale Street and there, in this almost 2 miles-long stretch in the heart of Downtown Memphis, anything can happen, especially when it comes to music.

Beale Street is the birthplace of Mississippi Bigfoot, one of the greatest blues/rock revelations of 2015. Their debut album, Population Unknown, previously reviewed on our website, has been unanimously recognised by the music press worldwide as one of the best releases of the past year.

To track down the band has not been that easy but in the end, Bluebird Reviews managed to reach Christina Vierra, the band's singer/songwriter, to discuss about the making of Population Unknown and how the band got together. 

BBR - Christina, 2015 has been a special year for you all, thanks to your fabulous debut album Population Unknown. What inspired you to call the album in that way?

Christina - We liked to evoke that idea of unknown, the uncertainty about how many millions of people are really spread around the globe. There are still so many things to learn about this world and this idea of being unable to quantify how many millions of people live out there, this big Unknown, is what inspired the idea of the album title.

BBR - We have read differing opinion about your style from the music press,  due to your great ability to combine elements of the traditional Delta Blues with 70's rock with tinges of funk and R&B. How would you guys call your unique playing formula?

Christina - Well, that sounds like a pretty good description to me. We definitely like to pay homage to our music scene, what we have down here in The Delta, where some of the great roots of music come from. Though, at the same time, we like to have the freedom to take our music to other directions and have the opportunity to crush genres together. Fundamentally, we don't like to stick by any rules or play what people think we should play. We just let our musical flow run and break new grounds. It's a pure free-form expression, our sound is what we are.

BBR - Your album has been one of the best surprises of 2015. How long did it take to write and record Population Unknown?

Christina - Thank you. Some of the songs of the album have been written over few years, some other have been written almost instantenously. A song like Mighty River, which is the first one I have written here in Memphis, was born pretty much within minutes. It tells the story of my experience on going down to the Mississippi the first time, riding my bycicle and feeling deeply inspired by its sound and the almost hypnotic way it runs.  As far as the recording goes, we spent something like 8 days in the studio and we managed to record Population Unknown exactly in the way we wanted. It was pretty amazing for me, because I have never done so much work on an album in such short amount of time. It was really intense.

Mississippi Bigfoot3

(From L to R: Doug McMinn (drums), Christina Vierra (vocals), Ashley Bishop (guitars))

 

BBR - The opener Burn That Woman Down digs immediately into very deep subjects, like the importance of women in modern society. Was there a particular episode that inspired and triggered such powerful lyrics on this tune?

Christina - I appreciate that you guys noticed that. It's a song about women being at the fringe of society. It's not about a specific one but I just wanted to get an important message out there about the role of women in nowadays' world and how they are perceived. I felt like it was something that really mattered to me and I wanted to get it out there. Many songs on the album attack subjects like that. It's pretty heavy stuff.

BBR - Clarksdale is perhaps the key song of the album that brings everything together, carrying hints of Mississippi Hill Country Blues. Has Clarksdale really managed to "save your souls", as you sing? And why does the devil say, at the end, that he's "coming back just for Johnny"?

Christina - (Chuckles) I am not sure my soul has been saved through that song. When we were down in that area, that expression that I sang did really come up. I brought it up to the guys in the band and Johnny (Holiday, guitarist) said, "No, you don't wanna do that". What we talk about in that song is really a serious subject. Some people think that it is just a story, but I feel that there are some elements of truth about Clarksdale and its dark misteries, although we managed to express them in the song in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. Maybe we should have not put in the end that thing about Johnny and the devil but, hey, guess what, we did! (chuckles).

BBR - Christina, we sense in the lyrics of You Did something almost autobiographical. You sing with a special power and intensity on this track, like you are feeling that song deep in your skin. Is the tune about yourself?

Christina - It is a song very close to me and it's about memories of times when my heart has been broken. Being that tune so personal, I guess I was able to deliver my vocals with a particular conviction and I am glad you felt the intensity. The song is about that moment when all you want from your partner is to admit and acknowledge what sometimes happen between a couple and accept responsabilities. So many people don't get that message about what real respect is between two people. The song almost wrote itself, it was just a personal take about making a point and do not give the satisfaction of holding back but rather say: "Hey, you did that, not me". For everytime I have felt myself in that way, I always found very liberating just to tell it as it is. I hope that kind of feeling resonated on You Did too.  

BBR - Did you guys work with one another, prior to that famous gig in Ground Zero in Clarksdale, where it all started?

Christina - Ashley (Bishop, guitarist) and I met in Beale Street some time ago, close to the time I moved around the area. I was trying to meet new people, to connect with new friends but, for some strange reasons, people seemed almost scared of me, maybe thinking "Should we join her or fight her?". Ashley had approached me asking whether we could work together and he had been the first one to do so, when I moved to Memphis. He just said: "Stick by me and I shall find the best guys in the establishment".  When Doug (McMinn, drummer) got involved, we all knew that the nucleous of the band was there. Doug had been playing with many big names in the music industry (The Drifters and The Platters, among many) and that dragged even more attention to us, because many people was dropping by and see us playing, since they heard Doug was in the band too. When it came down to find the missing dots within the band, we have been also very priviliged to get on board Cade "Missippi Mudd" Moore to complete the circle. Having Bigfoot as part of the name of our band also says a lot about us. Not only about the passion for music we all share but also about our sense of humour and our imagination. Those are important elements that help to keep the spirit high and happy within the band, things that many tend to underestimate nowadays.  

  Mississippi Bigfoot2

BBR - Your debut album has received lots of praises in the United States and now there are rumours of a European Tour due to start really soon. How thrilled are you to bring your high-octane fuelled sonic formula to the other side of the pond?

Christina - I cannot wait, honestly. That will be my first time in Europe, ever. I have been in places like Mexico and in the majority of the United States but never to beautiful Europe. It is all very exciting. We often meet a lot of Europeans in Beale Street and we always get great receptions from them. I am really over the moon about the idea of touring there. I hear that in Europe, music fans are very receptive and like to cheer bands all the time, hopefully they will do the same for us too! (chuckles).

BBR - The blues is, perhaps, one of the very few genres able to infiltrate the hearts and souls of musicians and music fans. It becomes almost a way of life, the air you breathe, a life path to follow for many. How does this phenomenal music style influence your everyday's life?

Christina - That was really well put. Like you said, blues is something able to reach some deep places of our souls. That happens not just for musicians but for fans too. Every time we walk in a room and play our music, there is nothing more special than hearing somebody saying back to us: "You really moved me on that song" or stuff like that. It is so incredible how blues helps to connect with people and how fans feel so emotionally close to the genre. Through our music, we just wish to bring to our fans some of our good experiences and hopefully convey to them our passion and honesty. It is a deep honour and privilege to be able to exchange our emotions with an audience, even just to a single soul. Back when I was 14, I went to see Howlin' Wolf live and afterward I felt such an intensity that I rarely felt in any gigs I have ever seen before. I always dreamt to become, one day, somebody able to transfer that deep feeling and emotions I experienced in that unforgettable day to our audiences, every time we play live.

BBR - Christina, one of the late great Luther Allison's favourite quotes was "Leave Your Ego, Play The Music, Love The People". Is this the winning recipe for Mississippi Bigfoot's success?

Christina - Wow, that is some quote! I think Allison's statement really sums up our attitude, who we are and what we want to convey to people. That is an awesome quote, I am afraid I cannot think of anything better to say after that. We can only play our music to the fans and being ourselves, that is all that matters to us. I guess that is what really Luther meant.

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

Mississippi Bigfoot are currently on Tour. You can find their Tour Dates at the Band's website

All Things Considered - In Conversation With Big Boy Bloater

Big Boy Bloater

 

Nobody knows his real name but, at the end of the day, his enormous talent and personality is all that matters to music lovers. Big Boy Bloater has become, through the years, one of the hottest names in the music business, not just in his homeland in the United Kingdom but worldwide too.

Despite a tribulated period of his personal life, Big Boy Bloater has managed to put together with his long time compadres The Limits, one of the most accomplished album of his career, Luxury Hobo. The album, recently released, is an entertaining photograph of life in the modern society, a didactic and allegorical outlook on the way that people live nowadays, almost in a mechanical way. Musically and vocally as well, Big Boy Bloater and The Limits have reached with Luxury Hobo one of the pinnacles of their glorious career. Bluebird Reviews is delighted to meet Big Boy Bloater to talk about Luxury Hobo and the artist's career so far in a dark, rainy day here in the outskirts of London. Two minutes into our conversation, though, Big Boy Bloater's big smile and charisma helps immediately to bring back that brightness that UK is unable to supply today.

 

BBR - Luxury Hobo comes after a difficult moment in your personal life. How long did it take to assemble together the songs that ended up in the album?

BBB - I wrote the first song of the album last year, that was the time when it all started. To be honest with you, I am not that kind of person able to pre-plan well in advance songs to be written and recorded. I find myself working better when I get close to deadlines. When the time came for the record to be completed, I just said to myself: "I have to get a grip and get the job done". I am a last-minute type of person, I find being under pressure getting the best out of me. 

BBR - Half of the record is fuelled with some real foot-stomping 70's rock, which brings back memories of the best periods of bands like Dr. Feelgood or the Stones of Sticky Fingers. Have you been listening to a lot of 70's rock records, prior to recording Luxury Hobo?

BBB - Yes, I think so. I remember I was listening to a lot of Mott The Hoople's material, T-Rex, Elvis Costello, that kind of stuff. I guess I was feeling in a particular 70's mood, which has probably infused unconsciounsly some of the material on Luxury Hobo.

BBR - It's fascinating and, somehow ironic, to hear someone like you, partially involved in the media business, talking about the debatable impact that platforms like YouTube bring into people's life in that beautiful tune The Devils Tail. Was the track inspired by a particular episode you witnessed throughout your side career as a DJ and music journalist or something else?

BBB - There is not an episode in particular I am referring to, in that song. It is just that I keep noticing in many people this insane desperation for fame. They would do anything for their fifteen seconds of fame. It is just an observation on the subject. I cannot understand, for the life of me, why people would reach some very low levels of dignity, in order to get few seconds of notoriety. It is just something that, to people like me, doesn't make any sense at all.

BBR - All Things Considered is, in my personal view, the song that mostly defines your artistry in Luxury Hobo, with your powerful deep singing style and your guitar penning one of the best songs I have heard so far in 2016. What influenced more your R&B roots, the Stax or the Motown sound?

BBB - I would probably say Stax. Especially the first Stax period made a real impact on me. There were some fantastic Blues and R&B songs generated in that period. You know, as hard as I try, I don't think I can reach with my voice those fabulous peaks that Stax's artists were able to do, back in those days. I am getting there, though, little by little (chuckles).

BBB

(Photo by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato)

 

BBR - How much does it still annoy you the fact that some music press keep labeling you as a blues artist? Because that certainly annoys me.

BBB - This is something I have to fight every single time I deal with press or media in general. It is not because I consider a bad thing to be called a Blues artist at all. I love Blues myself but I feel Luxury Hobo is much more than blues. Also, I think that when you put a tag on something, people would just say: "Y'know, I am not that keen on blues, I am not willing to give a go to this album or that artist". I rather prefer they call it Alternative, if they really need to label it, because the people would be at least curious to give the record a spin and perhaps say: "Hey, I don't really know what this is but I like the sound of it!". I was once part of a band for a very long time, something like 15 years plus. We were playing just songs from the 50's R&B circuit and we reached the highest level we could possibly achieve in that time, we were at the top of our game. The down side though, was that you, as an artist, end up in a musical cul-de-sac with no ways out and I don't want that kind of history repeating again. Luxury Hobo has got certainly Blues elements but it has got also elements of Rock and Soul into it. In brief, there is something for everybody. To label it as a Blues album, is very restrictive and perhaps a little bit unfair. And for an artist, as you said, it is very annoying and frustrating.

BBR - In the past, you have always self-produced your records. This time around, on Luxury Hobo, you had the helping hand of Adam Whalley, a TeamRock (The music media platform BBB colalborates with) compadre to bring up a notch the production quality of your sound. Which has been the best contributing factor in your opinion, of working with Adam on this album?

BBB - That's a very good question. He really brought so much to the album. Despite being a young guy, Adam has got a very wide taste in music and a big knowledge too. He likes very much his Rock stuff but his knowledge goes much further than that. It was great to bounce some ideas off him and exchange points of view on songs or technical stuff. He even contributed to share his views about adding second guitars on some tracks. It was really great to have that precious second ear listening to my songs. Sometimes, when you write a song, you are so close to something but still unable to see it or feel it, without somebody that can actually hear you and point at you what the missing factor is. Adam's outside opinion was another added bonus to the great time we had in the studio working with him. The cherry on the cake, for me personally, was that on Luxury Hobo I didn't have the whole pressure of producing, engineering and think about all the different aspects of making a record. I knew I could rely on Adam while working on Luxury Hobo, which made the whole recording process much more enjoyable for me. Perhaps the most relaxed and chilled recording process I have ever done with The Limits. It really felt like a bunch of friends playing together without added pressure, because we knew that Adam was firmly in control. Hopefully, our fans will perceive how much we were enjoying ourselves on the album and have a good time through our new album.

BBR - I have read some time ago that chicken is your favourite food of choice. What's the reason why you don't like chicken cooked in Italy?

BBB - (chuckles) It's kind of a long story but I'll try to be as brief as I can. Few years back, I worked with a motorcycle clothing company and they were doing exhibitions in Italy. They took us out to play over there and the first night they took us out for dinner. The restaurant put some real weird looking food on the table. It didn't really inspire me at all, however I got on with it but i asked if I could have something different the following night so I asked for some chicken.  When we returned back to the same place the following night, the restaurant staff asked the chef to cook some chicken for me but I am convinced the guy never cooked chicken before in his life. All I got on the plate, was boiled chicken which, honest to God, put me off for a little while on Italian food. But I have been back there so many times after that and the food and drinks have always been fantastic. That was just a one-off situation. How the heck did you find out about this? (chuckles).

BBR - BBB, how did you come up with the idea of using Lego characters in the video of It Came Out Of The Swamp?

BBB - The whole idea goes back about three years ago. After my last album, before Luxury Hobo, I had a really bad and low period, I would call it a breakdown, really. To keep myself busy, at that time, I started doing things with Lego stuff in a room, on my own, because I found doing that sort of thing very therapeutic, mostly to keep my mind busy. I had this bag of Lego bits in my dad's loft and that brought a big smile on my face, when I I found it. I have been doing bits and pieces with Lego stuff for few years now, as a hobby. When I wrote It Came Out Of The Swamp, at that time I had a Lego set ready and appropriate to the context of the song so I said to myself: "Hey, this is a marriage made in heaven!". It made perfect sense to me and I knew it had to be done that way. I started working on the video around Christmas time last year and it took a little while to complete it. I wish I had few more weeks available to add more elements to the video but I had to stick to deadlines for the release date of the video. But I do remember that time making the video as a very enjoyable one, sitting in my office, fiddling with Lego bits, such fun!

BBR - You have announced the first dates of your UK Tour for May 2016. Will your American fans have the opportunity to see you performing in the States, sometime this year?

BBB - Well, I never say never but so far there is nothing planned yet. I have played few times in the States, over the years and I always had a fantastic time. It's a huge country and to tour it, it takes a lot of time to travel from a place to another. In Uk, you can go from top to bottom pretty much in one day, while in the States it is slightly more complicated. It certainly takes a lot of planning to do a proper tour of the States but I'd be there in a flash, if that was solely a decision that was up to me. I really love being there playing and I really hope it will happen sometime soon. If not this year, maybe next. One thing for sure, though. We will be touring in Europe, after our UK Tour, in places like Germany, Italy and few more, hoping to bring the good Luxury Hobo vibes to our fans all around the world

BBR -  A wonderful new album, a new record deal with Provogue/Mascot Label Group and a new tour starting soon. How excited are you, right now?

BBB - To be honest with you, I am so concentrated still in promoting the album and doing some more videos for Luxury Hobo that I have not quite yet realised the scale of all this. Inside my head, I can sense it's all happening and it is all exciting time. Sometimes, my wife Lisa reminds me all this, then I reflect for a split second and I tell her: "Well, yeah, I know, exciting, isn't it?". D'you know, I really think that I should sit down, sometimes, take a deep breath and smell the roses. Fundamentally though, despite all the rushing around for promotion and all that is related to Luxury Hobo, I can't honestly wait to be back in tour with The Limits and play our music. It has been a while now and It's good to be back.

 

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

Let It Be - An Interview With Fabrizio Grossi (Supersonic Blues Machine)

Fabrizio Grossi

 Photo Credit: Al Stuart

I don't think I have ever been as impressed as I am now in looking at Fabrizio Grossi's portable agenda. The amount of Rockstars' phone numbers present on Grossi's personal devices is as impressive as the one that a Prime Minister of a world country may have. From Billy Gibbons to Stevie Vai, Robben Ford, Steve Lukather, the list goes on for hours.

Fabrizio Grossi, originally from Italy but now an American citizen, has become in the last 30-plus years one of the most acclaimed producers worldwide, working side by side with the cream of the music establishment. Among his many talents, Grossi is also an excellent bass player and he has been involved in several music projects, in his career for many years now.

Read more: Let It Be - An Interview With Fabrizio Grossi (Supersonic Blues Machine)

Rock 'N' Roll Heart - A Conversation With JD Simo

jdsimo3

Sometimes, although, sadly, not very often in the music business, there are music stories that have an happy ending. When that happens, especially when it comes to recognizing the artistry of special musicians like JD Simo and his band, it makes one believe that there are still people within the music industry that understands and encourages broad talent.

Simo is a collective that has got the attention of the worldwide music press, thanks to the powerful combustion of blues, rock and R&B that this band is able to generate, live or studio. Let Love Show The Way, their new album recently released via Provogue/Mascot Label Group, clearly demonstrates the excellence of their music message and the band's incredible eclecticism.

Bluebird Reviews are absolute prvileged to talk to JD Simo, band leader and the driving force of Simo, about how Let Love Show The Way is an album that captures the sound of a band at the top of their game and how pleased JD is, on the outcome of this excellent record. "I am very happy. To me, it is indicative of the kind of music, regardless of genres, that the three of us in the band gravitates towards. I feel that we were able to capture some really good performances and I feel it's a genuinely honest record. The songs were written in a very spontaneous, organic way. No sitting down, no premeditation, it's just happened very naturally. I would say that the whole record is very organic and deeply truthful on what we are, as a band. I don't feel that anybody that buys this record will be disappointed, because it's honest and we are all very happy about the way the album sounds and shows who we are".

Simo is a band whose core word is definitely "improvisation". It's so impressive how easily the band is able to switch to different music styles with such natural ability and still maintain their signature sound. Among all tracks present on Simo's new album, Ain't Doing Nothing is, undoubtedly, a key song of the album that truly defines the creativity of the whole collective.

"That particular song is a jam, and it is indeed pure improvisation. We just started to work, on the second day at the Big House in Georgia and that song was the first thing we played that day. Adam (Abrashoff, drummer of the band) started to play that groove then I walked into the room, put the guitar on and away we went. That was exactly as it happened. It wasn't composed previously. There were several jams, many improvisations like that which we recorded while we were making the record but that was the one that I enjoyed the most. I guess, because I thought it had a very nice flow. That particular song is truly the core of what we do, definitely. It's what the three of us do naturally, whether it's a soundcheck or a rehearsal or a live performance, that spirit about us going where the music is taking us at that moment, is something that we love to do and it's the true representation of the band's spirit. And believe it or not, the only reason why I didn't start playing until a minute or so in, on that track, it's because I simply wasn't in the room yet! (giggles) I was in the kitchen, which we transformed in our control room, during the recording and the minute Adam started playing I said "Hey, I wanna play that!". So I ran in and off we went".

simo let love show the way cover

The Big House in Macon, Georgia, where the band created most of the album, is truly an iconic place, with beautiful high ceilings inside. The Allman Brothers Band used the place to write some of the best music of their career, many years ago. Given the fact that JD Simo loves to let the amp determine the sound of his guitar, one wonders how JD managed to catch the marvellous feedback and reverb that one can hear on the album, in such an unusual location with such structure. "Well, it wasn't that difficult, really, if you have a bit of recording experience. The three of us have a lot of experience in that respect and we didn't have any real problem at all. For the guitar, especially, it was just a matter of putting an extra microphone and moving around the room, trying to capture that natural ambience. That extra microphone, in the end, became the guitarist's echo chamber. That's part of the appeal, to me, of working in places that aren't proper recording studios. The reason is because, when things like these happen, they add a special ingredient, a special spice to the whole recording experience and that was certainly one of them for me".

JD's reputation and artistry as a guitarist has not gone unnoticed, especially by fellow musicians. The Blues/Rock Titan Joe Bonamassa, in particular, has always been one of JD's greatest admirers. "The two of us met in two different incarnations. The first was about 15-16 years ago, originally, when he was first starting out on his solo career and I was a teenager at the time, playing in bands and touring around. Our paths went in separate directions and we were re-acquainted about 6 years ago, through e-mail, because we had some mutual friends and he reached out to me when our group first formed. He was really nice to me, saying things like "I really enjoy what you guys are doing" and he kinda opened the door for a friendship to happen. Since then, we have been communicating a lot via e-mails, text messages, phone calls for a year or so, until we finally hung out for real and we became very close friends, as we have been now for several years. We manage to hang out together fairly often and he has always been an incredibly supportive figure for us since, pretty much, the very beginning. He is genuinely somebody I admire and love very much, a bit like an older brother to me. We are due to start the Blues Cruise again with him, for the second year in a row and I can't wait to jam with him, because I know we always have a lot of fun when we get together. It's easy to say how talented and great with guitar he is, but I gotta tell you that he is really a good guy, he really is and trust me, that is not a common thing, especially in music business".

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(Simo - From left to right: Elad Shapiro (Bass) - JD Simo (Guitars & Vocals) - Adam Abrashoff (Drums)

The story behind Let Love Show The Way is very singular. JD had the album pretty much ready, prior to the Big House sessions, which were meant to just add bonus tracks to complete the album. Then, suddenly, something happened. "We indeed had a whole record finished, before we went to Georgia. The master was ready to be released and the Big House session was intended purely to record, as you were saying, some bonus tracks, as agreed with our record label. To be honest, the realisation of how much we accomplished when we were in Macon, came a week later, after the recording in Georgia. I had all this material and I thought that some of it was good, some was really good and when we got to do the mix with Nick, our engineer, after we mixed a couple of the songs, it was pretty obvious to me that I had to re-think my original plan about the album. I salvaged few of the songs from my original draft of the new record and add them to the stuff we recorded in Macon. Then, I re-sequenced the album, because I thought it was going to make a much better souunding one. Likely, our record label and our management agreed, which was a blessing for us. In retrospective, thinking about the time we had at the Big House, although I was very focused on the recording of the album, I think we all had a lot of fun and a great time. While we were there, I had the chance, for few moments, to stop and drink in the whole experience I was living at the House, thinking about the fact I was recording an album in the communal home where the Allman Brothers Band, some of my biggest music heroes have been recording. And to top all that, getting to play Duane Allman's Les Paul (very few guitarists had that privilege, ever), during that time, has been an extra special cherry on the cake".

Simo's new album is not just a true masterpiece from a sonic point of view but also when it comes to lyrics. Some of the lyrics, though, get a darker tone, when the subjects move towards losses or separation, like in tracks like Long May You Sail or Today I'm Here. Bluebird Reviews is wondering whether JD needs to be in a particular place of his soul or state of mind when writing lyrics. "Not a particular one, no. For me, whenever I am writing, I don't feel I need to be somewhere spiritually. As per many people on this planet, I believe that there are equal parts of light and darkness in my consciousness. I like to think of myself more as an optimist then a pessimist, though. When I am working on something, it's just wherever my head is at that particular moment and it's usually not about anything necessarily in particular either. Few things that I write lyrically are about something really specific, I guess. The ability to write, for me, it's more about the immediacy, whatever it's coming out at that specific moment.  I just let my subconscious flow with whatever comes to my head and I don't challenge it, I just let it flow, because I feel that my subconscious is telling me to write about that specific subject, at that moment. So I guess I let myself be myself, subcosciounsly. Hank Williams used to say: "God writes the songs, I just hold on to the pen". And that is a very true statement that mirrors my experience, while writing songs".

The Chicago-born guitarist has been travelling quite a lot, throughout his life. When he moved away from Chicago, he went and lived in Phoenix for few years until finally landing in Nashville, the place he now calls home. It is rather difficult to capture, in his guitar sound, which of those places might have inspired him the most, artistically. " I would say Chicago, just because of obvious reasons, given all the amazing years I spent there and the influences that originated my sound. That being said, any place I have ever lived had an impact on me in different shapes and forms. Nashville, obviously, was a very formative place for me, playing the clubs with different bands and working as a session musician really refined a lot of the musician I am today. But if I was forced to give a definite answer, I would certainly say my birthplace Chicago. I am very proud to say I come from that part of the world".

jdsimo2

Let Love Show The Way feels like the culmination of the band's musical experiences of the last 10-15 years. The album has got a definite blues depth, to which the band adds cleverly some powerful rock layers. Bluebird Reviews wonders whether this is indeed the arrival point of the band's hard work throughout their career or, perhaps, the beginning of a new musical journey. "It's probably both. Anything that you do, artistically, is a reflection of your past, no doubts about it. For us, at this point in time, in the last year, which would include the one we are in now, we have been afforded opportunities that we only dreamed of for years and years, so, in some ways, it feels like a new birth. And it's very exciting to be in the middle of it. In regards to blues and rock, Black American Music is what truly captured my attention when I was a little boy and it varied my musical tastes. It has always been the type of music I tend to gravitate towards in terms of default setting, although my personal music tastes are now predominantly directed to White American rock music. But I always relate to Black American Music in terms of emotional content. I could listen to black artists for hours, because of that emotional content they are able to infuse to me but in the context of what we do, if it is true that we play primarily blues, I wouldn't necessarily call ourselves a blues band but more a rock band".  

JD is an eloquent interlocutor and our conversation flows in a very natural and spontaneous way. But who really is JD Simo in everyday life, when he is not playing guitar? "I consider myself a quiet person and maybe somebody may find me even a bit boring, sometimes. I try to express myself more through my music, when I am playing, because I feel it reflects who I really am. In the way I play, I can sometimes whisper, some other times scream and that shows maybe a bit more about who I really am, rather than engaging myself in casual and maybe boring conversations".

There is no doubt that JD Simo is a true Rock'N'Roll heart, living for music 24 hours a day. Since 2016 begun, JD has released a fabulous new album with his band, recorded a session in Nashville with Jack White and his guitar playing has received many accolades by the music press worldwide! Before parting company with JD, we cannot avoid asking him where is the next stop on JD's train ride to stardom. "A venue near you! No, really, all that I hope from this business is to be given the opportunity to continue to express myself as a musician and try to do the best that I can, through my music. Really, above and beyond that, is really not up to me but to external factors. I am just grateful about the opportunity that we have been given so far as a band and I can just promise to do my very best as a musician, not just now, but hopefully in the years to come too".

 

Giovanni "Gio" Pilato

Let Love Show The way is out now via Provogue/Mascot Label Group. Follow Simo on tour through the band's Official Website

Out On The Tiles

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Should Jimmy Page Play with RHCP on their UK tour?

Last month, after coming home from the indie punk rock Sleeper Agent show at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston, a late night look at my inbox yielded an article sent by Jeffrey Jones, who runs the James Patrick Page group on Facebook. It says that the Red Hot Chili Peppers have invited Jimmy Page to join them on one of their UK tour shows, perhaps Knebworth, on June 23, 2012. Originally from Gibson Lifestyle, it was reposted on the Led Zeppelin.org site among others, so I knew there was some buzz. thumb fleaweb

Photography by Micah Gummel.

Article and Live Show review by Bluebird.

Many thanks to the Led Zeppelin Ultimate Fan Page.

Boston TD Garden.

May 7, 2012.

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Maine Music News

Dont let the name fool you! Maine Music News provides live concert reviews and photography for shows throughout all of New England. Our photographers cover shows in Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, New York, Massachusetts and anywhere else we can! Our writers provide detailed album reviews and expertly written interviews as well. We may be called Maine Music News, but we dont let the Maine border stop us!