All posts by MaureenElizabeth

Writer, photographer

Revisiting An Interview With David Maxwell

DavidMaxwellPianoEyesSometimes it is only in retrospect that we can truly appreciate a moment, or a word, shared with another human being. For me, this human being was David Maxwell, a man I had the wonderful opportunity to interview a few years ago. When I heard of his passing I wanted to revisit the conversation we had and in doing so I realized some wonderful things. In essence, David told me that music was ultimately a healing experience for him and that, above all, he has lived a rich life and he has been “basically, pretty happy…”


Maureen Elizabeth: David what is your perception of “the state of the Blues” today?

David Maxwell: That’s a tricky question. Things have to evolve, art forms go into modification. There was a pretty big watershed when SRV was around. He was an amazing guitarist and I think he set the tone for a lot of guitarists after him. Then there’s the old school kind of stuff. I was influenced by Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, all those piano players like Pinetop, and Slim – I knew them personally. And there were so many more that I heard on CDs or with whom I got together, like Charles Brown. I think that there are a lot of really talented Blues artists out there today. The palette has really changed a lot – it has expanded – and I am all for that. I play a lot of jazz, world music, and I think there is a lot of soulful music all over the place. I’m not saying that I’m a died in the wool pure Blues player, but when I do play the Blues my reference point is the kind of stuff that came out of Chicago, primarily, and all its influences from Mississippi and all the deep Blues that came out of there. Some people say “well there’s Deep Blues – capital D, capital B, almost like it’s a museum piece. I try to keep it alive and when I play I stick to the language, but I add my jazz predilections or whatever and I stretch it a bit maybe rhythmically or in its tonality, but I really try to stick to that sound that, to me, really represents the Blues.

ME: You stay true to the sound while still breathing new air into it?

DM: Yeah. I think that the danger is groups sounding too generic – where you have the guitar playing overriding everybody in the rest of the band, where it’s just a rug or a vehicle for the guitar player to shine, or the singer, or whatever. I liked it when everybody was contributing, just as it was back in those days, like with Muddy’s band, Howlin Wolf-all those bands out of Chicago. But not only there, other cities as well, but it was more of a group spirit. I think that there are some really good players out there today. I record with Chris James, Pat Rynn, Rob Stone- they’re on Earwig -and they kind of keep to that tradition. But there are so many other musicians who maybe don’t play in that style because if everybody did it would be kind of boring, but they have their own style and I think they are great. There are some great singers out there and a lot of my old friends. So there’s a combination of the so called old school and some of the recent developments of great players as well.

DavidMaxwellWithRonnieEarlME: Your style is often described as as post-war Chicago Blues…

DM: Well, there’s Chicago blues – I guess they use the war as a demarcation because we‘re dealing with more electrified instruments and clubs where you have electric guitars and microphones. It’s not the acoustic kind of blues that you might associate with some of the clubs of the 30’s and 40’s when the so called “rediscovery period” happened. When I was growing up in the mid 60’s and I was at club 47, I heard people like Skip James, Son House, Booker White and Fred McDowell. Later, Muddy Waters came through with James Cotton on harmonica and Buddy Guy, Jr Wells… but that was something different, that was considered kind of “too electric” in a way by some of the standards of the time. You know, we were sort of gravitating toward the kind of thing where you wanted these deep acoustic blues or folk music. I heard that stuff, but when I heard Otis Spann with Muddy Waters I just thought “wow” – there was something so soulful with his playing that just led me to really want to go after that kind of sound. I fell in love with it – I was really passionate about it

ME: So Otis and Muddy really opened the door for you…

DM: Well, yeah. In high school I really didn’t hear that much blues. I was into jazz and I was playing piano so I learned a little about chords, but it was around the early 60’s where I began. I knew Alan Wilson, he lives in the town next door to me, and he later joined Canned Heat, but in high school he played trombone and we used to have jam sessions. We’d be playing soul, jazz stuff – he’d always been into Dixieland, New Orleans, real rootsy stuff -and then he got into the early Mississippi blues and he kind of turned me on to that. I was getting into it and then we found Muddy Waters and everything kind of changed. I really began to try to learn that style, that Otis Spann style, Sunnyland Slim, and I started to play with people to back people up and it went on from there.

ME: I find it fascinating that when I talk to musicians about their early experiences hearing the Blues there is always a real passion or a real draw…

DM: Well, I’ll tell you what happened to me. In 1963, I was in my junior year abroad in Paris. I had been going to the University of Rochester for two years and I wanted to get away from the college –it wasn’t really happening for me- It was a little bit stultifying for me.

ME: What were you studying?

DM: Classical Music – and I was playing a little bit of jazz.   I was doing a music major and a liberal arts major at the same time, so I went to Paris, to a school there, and I got exposed to all kinds of music because many international artists would come over from India, Iran… from everywhere, and I was totally into that stuff. But then the Blues Caravan came over, I think it was probably in ‘64, in the spring. I was probably in the third balcony of this huge theater in Paris, with a friend – and we were diggin’ it- and there was Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Muddy Waters and then Otis Spann played something solo – he played “Goin’ Down Slow” and what he did was just… I’m not sure if I knew it was Otis at the time or I figured it out later. There were other piano players there – there was Memphis Slim- but this was not Memphis, this was Otis, the style. What it was, was that this guy was just so magnetic and so electrifying, and a little inebriated – I think he almost fell over on the piano bench – but he was singing and he was playing this stuff with all this right hand figures – it sent shivers down my spine. Now that’s the moment that you are looking for. Later on, when I got back to Cambridge and went back to school, Muddy came through with Spann and Cotton and the Band, I heard Spann again, and that began a relationship ship that lasted until Span died in ‘70. I got to know him, and eventually I got to sit in with him at the jazz workshop up in Boston. I kinda’ followed him around a little bit and Muddy was really supportive. One night I even replaced Spann on piano when he was sick – this was the late ‘60’s when Paul Oscher was in the band. Paul and I are fast friends, we’ve been friends forever – but that was the key, when I heard that sound. I had a friend who taught art classes at MIT- those were the days when you could just requisition the student lounges, so we staged these jam sessions – and one time, when Muddy was in town, we had the pianos back to back, you know, Otis Spann and me – it was great – stuff doesn’t happen like that anymore. That’s when Big Momma Thorton came through and I backed her up for a week. I would play with a bunch of local Boston musicians as well; J. Geils and all those people – you know, that was a breeding ground. But for me, when I went out on the road with Freddy King in the 70’s, I would have my Eric Dolphy tapes and my Cecil Taylor tapes at the same time and my Otis Spann and Freddy King tapes too, so I’ve always been interested in more than two facets of it.

ME: When the music speaks to you – you must answer its call…

DM: Exactly. Lots of music speaks to me, but the Blues speaks to me in a way that really comes from the heart – you have to play it with subtly, getting the right inflections, the right kind of feeling to it, otherwise it becomes just another form.

ME: It’s not an intellectual exercise…

DM: No, not at all. I’ll save all my intellect for figuring out Herbie Hancock or somebody like that – it’s all about expression and communication from that point, where you are dealing with a specific language – you don’t want to violate the language, but you want to enhance it.

DavidMaxwellAtPianoME: And you want to make it your own…

DM: Exactly.

ME: Looking back, what would you consider a peak moment in your career?

DM: I’ve had many, many, many, and I’ve probably forgotten half of them because it’s always the gigs where you say ah man that was so great, we couldn’t have done it any better than that. But if you want some names, playing with Freddie King undoubtedly was one of my greatest experiences. I played with him for a couple of years- baby grand or grand piano- and it was great to be a part of that. It’s on DVD – they were big on the video cameras back then in ‘72, ‘73 and it’s on You Tube – I have muttonchops and a beard and my hippie beads and my platform shoes. I was the only white guy in the band so I was straddling both worlds, but there was definitely some extremely moving moments like when he sang “Have You Ever Loved a Woman” and other slow Blues tunes. I also played with James Cotton in the late 70’s and we had some great, great moments. Playing with Bonnie Raitt was very special. Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin -playing with those guys, there was something very, very special about that. And Louisiana Red – I recorded an album with him. Red is singularly a huge force – there is nobody like him. And then Ronnie Earl – we have this magic together that is pretty inspiring – I’ve know Ronnie since the 70’s and I recently had a CD release party for Conversations in Blue –it’s about Otis Spann and how I reinterpret his work. Ronnie and I played together many times over in the last 30 years. There’s been a lot of great experiences and to mention one particular gig – the short answer to that is “yeah – there probably is one night where everything magically fell together and I wish we would have recorded it” but I can’t remember the night or when it was but the general answer is all the people I mentioned- those people are really special.

ME: Any regrets along the way?

DM: No too many. I’ve just tried to be who I was. Basically I have been pretty happy.

ME: You’ve lived your life doing what you love…

DM: Sometimes I think, well, maybe I should be playing more jazz or maybe I should be composing more, but you generally do what you are good at and you continue to work at the other things that you want to accomplish.

ME: What is your hope for the next generation of musicians?

DM: What I hope is that they really just find what they are interested in and really give voice to that and appreciate whatever turns them on. That may sound simple, but a lot of kids are pressured to do this and do that and some of them are working 35 hours a week and don’t have time to practice. But just to revel in the beauty and the sensuality of the music… music is ultimately a healing experience for me, that’s where it goes, that’s the primary thing. For years I’ve been intrigued by other musical systems like Turkish or Persian where they have particular scales that relate to particular ailments. I’m totally into that and I play a lot of what you might call totally improvised music where I’m just painting or sculpturing or making architecture with just sound…

ME: That’s beautiful…

DM: It is, at its base, kind of mystical and at its best it’s, hopefully, uplifting and cathartic…

ME: Is there any other thoughts that you would like to share with our readers?

DM: It’s been a pretty rich life. I’ve been able to play with a lot of cool people, a lot of legends… We make our choices and we do what we want… and I’m always open to new things…

ME: Thank you David for being such a gift to us…Rest in Peace…


Prior to his passing, David was nominated for a 2015 Blues Music Award for
Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year.
You can vote for David by clicking the icon below:


All photos in this article were used by kind permission of


Throwback Thursday: Devon Allman – On The Cigar Box Guitar and Breaking All the Rules

With the Allman Brothers Band calling it quits this year and winding down in New York City this week and next, I thought we’d take the opportunity on Throwback Thursday to look backward and forward with this piece by Maureen Elizabeth. It was previously published at our alma mater American Blues News.

Maureen spoke with Devon Allman who quite organically found his way to the family business. Devon is making music on his own terms and like his father’s band, he cannot be pigeonholed into one genre. He makes music. Honest, soulful music done with integrity, care, and skill. In that way he is carrying the family tradition into the 21st Century. So as the Allman Brothers Band disappears into the distance, we can rest assured Devon Allman will be out there making music for years to come. Remember to check out our review of his tremendous new album Ragged & Dirty.

Alright Bicuiteers, step into the WABAC machine and hold on to your hats…

devon allman1

Inspired? Yes. Intentional? Not really. Beautiful? Absolutely. Devon Allman’s first evening spent with his own cigar box guitar inspired a melody in a quiet moment that soon became a fan favorite – “Yadira’s Lullaby.” Devon spoke with American Blues News about how the gift of his cigar box guitar reconnected two families and the excitement of playing an instrument that has no rules…

When was your first introduction to the cigar box guitar?

It’s kind of a funny genesis. I was playing a show in Tennessee and I have a fan who comes to all the Tennessee shows. He had mentioned on a fan site that he was going to be bringing a gift for me and I thought “cool!” He came to the show and my assistant brought him backstage. He has this thing in his hands and I said “what do you have there, Jim?” And he pulls it out and he said “man, this thing, I just have a feeling that you are really going to dig this” and he gave me this cigar box guitar. I was blown away! I had never seen anything like it. I had always been a pretty traditional guitar player and I just sat there immediately and started plucking away at it. I just fell in love with it.

What is it about it that attracts you?

I don’t know, I think just… visually – it is so unique – there’s no doubt about that. And when you play it the tonality of it is so Americana and I really dig that aspect of it. The guitar is such a standardized thing – you have a certain body style and neck radius and number of frets- and this kinda’ breaks all the rules.

From what I am hearing, that seems to be a large part of the appeal….

It’s cool – especially with getting down to 3 or 4 strings. It really makes you think differently, melodically, and I found that you can pop on the top string with your thumb and hold the base line while you get melodic with the other strings – it’s a cool approach.

It offers something a little different – a little new…


I would be curious to know your opinion – what do you attribute this renewed interest in the cigar box guitar?

I don’t know what to attribute it to, really, because the dynamic of people being attracted to something is so fleeting – people are fickle, you know – it’s one thing and then it’s on to the next. For me, I would think that the simplicity of the instrument and the unique look definitely draw people in. Once you play it- the different vibes that it embodies are definitely astounding – it can bluesy, it can be country, it can be swampy, it can be classical and that is pretty cool.

That’s amazing for one instrument.

Yes. Obviously, the guitar can be all of those things too but typically, when you have a brother or a sister of a guitar…let’s talk about mandolin, let’s talk about banjo, those instruments pretty much lean into one venue of music whether its bluegrass with a banjo, or folk music with a mandolin. The cigar box guitar crosses all genres and when I held it I fell in love with it right there. Later that night I was talking to my girlfriend on Skype – I was on tour in 7 cities-and I just wanted to show her the guitar because I was so jazzed about it. I literally wrote a tune on the spot as a lullaby to put her to sleep and it’s crazy how that song has become a fan favorite. It’s going to be on the next album. The cigar box guitar instantly inspired me to do something that I would have never done which is write a lullaby! Rockers don’t write lullabies! (Laughing) But- personal reasons aside- musically, and on an esthetic level, I was so pleased to be able to do something as simple as a lullaby. And to actually have it be something personal and poignant is cool but to also have it as worthy to put on an album or worthy to pull this out and play on the stage live and get such a crazy response has been a win, win. When I pull the cigar box guitar out you can hear the cat calls from the crowd – “what is that thing?” It’s absolutely a joy to play.

It is inspiring then?

Definitely, definitely! The fan that gave me the guitar put me in touch with its creator, Travis Woodall, and strangely enough Travis’ Uncle was really great friends with my Dad who obviously has been a musician for a long, long time in the Allman Brothers. So it was cool to make contact with Travis and know that our families were connected 30 years ago when we were kids!

There’s a lot to be said for serendipity!

The guy that was stuffing those boxes over in Honduras or over in Cuba 30 years ago -how would he know that this box would become an instrument that would bridge two families and inspire a song- that’s crazy! It’s just cool. The cigar box guitar phenomena –is very much under the radar. But I think that it is just healthy for music you know, it’s doing something a little bit different – it’s shaking things up- and that’s how I feel when I pull it out live and people go “holy cow what it is this thing?”

Maybe people are searching for something new and different- it gives you that little sense of awe because you don’t know what it is or what it can do…

The first time I ever saw one was on Beale Street in Memphis. There was a street performer out there – he is actually kind of known as the most popular street performer in the world – Richard Johnston. BI saw him sitting on the side of the street on Beale Street with a cigar box guitar with 2 or 3 strings – I can’t remember – and he had a kick drum that he worked with his right foot and a snare drum that he worked with his left foot. His thumb was working the base string and his fingers were working the melody and he had a microphone and he’s singing. He was drums, base, guitar, and vocal – a one man band! He was absolutely killing it – he must have had 100 people in a circle around him and he had these huge, these comically huge, cowboy boots that he was using as a tip jar -they were like size 15 and looked like they belonged to Kareem Abdul Jabir!  People were pulling out 20 dollar bills, 10 dollar bills – I know this guy was sitting on a grand right there and it was all because, well… number one because he kicked ass and number two because it was such a unique display! That was my first ever encounter with cigar box madness and it stuck with me.

That would leave an impression!

Richard is a great guy. He’s a monster. You know – people from Japan pay him to go over there and do the exact same street show in Tokyo. I played with him a few years ago and we’ve been text buddies ever since – he’s a great performer.

Have you built, or do you intend to build, your own?

You know, funny enough, once this fan had introduced me to Travis we just got along famously, instantly. I told him -dude it would be neat to have a double neck! He came to a show and brought me a different one – I had a 3 string and he brought me a 4 string and when I started plucking away at it I said “wow, this is an ENTIRELY different sound than the 3 string!” The 3 string was more swampy – more like a base and the 4 string was more like – I don’t even know- more of a twangy – I got more of a Led Zeppelin, Jimmy Page kind of vibe out of it – so I thought it would be so awesome to have both of those sounds on one guitar – what about a double neck -3 strings on one neck and 4 on the other? He made it in a month.

And how is it?

It’s a monster! Travis is really, really good in creating these instruments – they are not shoddy in any way. They don’t fuzz out or fret out. He installs the electronics perfectly– when you plug it in it sounds great and that’s the thing. One thing I was really concerned about once I plugged it onto my amp was- how was it going to sound true- how it does it sound acoustically and would there be feedback problems- which there wasn’t.

For something that‘s kind of “kitschy” -like a cigar box guitar- that may not play or sound as well; that’s more just kind of a novelty than an actual playable instrument – it kills! It’s really, really good! I foresaw writing some material on the 4 string and then I started thinking for the live show -it would kind of suck to pull out the 3 string and play the lullaby and then go to the 4 string and play something else – it would be neat if it was all in one.

And without rules it can all be accomplished – you just have to ask!

He was really great and I think his company has a really bright future – it’s nice when someone like Travis has it together that young and can stay under the auspices of his own creation – if he sold out to some company tomorrow they could easily drag the quality down.

And the fact that he is an artist creating something and therefore putting a piece of himself, his soul, into it there is an intimate connection that raises the value not just in terms of money but as in what has been created.

Absolutely, because you are making art on this piece of art. When you mass produce it you lose that soul. It’s like if you go to a store and you buy a thousand dollar Gibson Les Paul- yeah, it’s a nice guitar but if you buy the $5,000 custom shop -you’re not just paying for the name “Custom Shop” – you are paying for the guys who take the time, use the finest material and instead of cranking out 500 guitars in a factory that day – they maybe cranked out 5. And that attention to detail is what gets lost when these companies get big. That is my wish for him – that as he grows he keeps that personal touch.

When I was talking to Travis about the resurgence in popularity of the cigar box guitar he talked about how people turn to music no matter what the hardship is they are facing and that this instrument is a bridge for people who have always wanted to play but felt they couldn’t or couldn’t afford to. So it becomes that accessible instrument that anyone, really ANYONE, can hang on to –if they want to produce a little bit of music in their backyard.

It’s true. Somebody picks up a guitar for the first time – if it only has three strings – it’s a little less intimidating. You can kind of pluck away at it without thinking what should I do with all these other strings?

When you pick up the cigar box guitar what does it do for you?

It’s something different. If I had to give it a really lame analogy- it’s like if you already drove a really great car- say you drove a really nice Cadillac every day – you love it, you’re used to it, you’re comfortable in it but then you get to go off road in a really cool jeep – it’s a completely different feeling. Well, that’s how it is grabbing the cigar box guitar- it’s just kind of… there’s no rules… it’s a nice diversion.

So getting back to my earlier question…would you ever build one yourself?

You mean physically, with my own hands? (Laughing) Oh no, no, no, I don’t build them -I just play them! I’ll leave that to Travis!




Get Yourself Some Snake Oil Here! Holler! An Interview with Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band

Shane Speal wants you to be afraid. Very afraid. Because anything can happen. Speal’s Snake Oil Band performs with a near manic energy that is, at best, unpredictable. There is no homeostasis here – and the band wants it that way. What’s coming next?  You.  Just.  Don’t.  Know.

Vaudevire: A theatrical performance which incorporates song, dance, comedy, and magic… and, if you are lucky, rubber chickens.

Snake Oil: Various liquid concoctions, of deeply questionable medical value, sold as an all purpose curative medicine by traveling hucksters, to heal you.

Snake Oil1

This is the traveling tent under which you will experience Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band. The magic of the Snake Oil Band will captivate your mind, your body and – if you buy the snake oil – your soul. You cannot walk away untouched – flying rubber chickens and toilet paper cannons won’t let you. And if you give yourself over to the Snake Oil experience – you will have a damn good time.

Blues Biscuits had the opportunity to sit down with Shane Speal, King of the Cigar Box Guitar, and Ronn Benway, Master of Mayhem, Band Philosopher, at the Annual Guitar-B-Cue held in New Alexandria Pennsylvania. As I approached the well worn picnic table for our interview, Ronn was busy preparing his body (and yes, it is his instrument) for the evening show, with duct tape, thimbles and other assorted assemblages.


I had interviewed Shane Speal several years ago when The World’s First Cigar Box Guitar Museum opened at Speal’s Tavern. At that time Shane was primarily a solo artist, and, even then, performing with an intense energy that has only been magnified with the addition of Ronn Benway, Aaron Jones and Farmer Jon.

MaureenElizabeth: Tell us about the evolution of this particular incarnation of your music… Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band.


Shane: It all started as jams at a bar… the band has never practiced. We take the stage without a set list and we just feed off the audience. It started with me being a solo performer back when I ran an open mic out in York, PA. Ronn is originally from Las Vegas and Venice Beach, California and for a while he was busking…

Ronn: I was busking in Seattle; just singing and street performing in the market area and it became clear to me that if I didn’t get there early enough… it’s a real shot for the best spot at the market everyday because you want the 12:00 – 1:00 spot. So, I kept this washboard with me and if I couldn’t get the best spot to play, I could pony up with another guy and say “hey, look, we can make more money if there is two of us together.” That’s how I started with the washboard – I just bought it – I didn’t know how to play it! It was $3.99 in the Mexican market and it was the first washboard I ever bought. I went to Lowes ® and bought the least amount of screws and stuff I could put on it and started playing it. When I moved here in 2011, I left my washboard in Seattle. I went to Shane’s open mic and there was a washboard sitting there. He had a washboard on a stand with cymbals and cowbell…

Shane: I jokingly called it my drum set for the open mic because here I am, running an open mic, playing Cigar Box Guitar using a footstomper. So, I brought a washboard as the house drum set and Ronn walked in…

Ronn: As far as I could tell no one was touching it.

Shane: No one was…

Ronn: And it just sat there…

Shane: And when Ronn saw it he went nuts!


Ronn: I couldn’t believe I walked into a bar in Pennsylvania and there was a washboard. So I said “hey, can I play this?” and Shane said nobody plays this. I said I can play this! Anyone who runs an open mic for any length of time is like Oh? You can do that? Go ahead! You get to know who in your audience can do what… you know this guy does poetry and this guy sings…

Shane: That’s a good point! That’s an excellent point. Ronn would sit in with me and I would play the first forty minutes of the set and Ronn would play washboard.

Ronn: After a while when my friends would ask me to go to play trivia at another bar I would say I kinda have to go practice washboard with Shane – not like it’s a burden- but like as a “thing.” I need to go do this! At first I was just coming into open mic and we were just hanging out and singing and putting my name on the list and suddenly I needed to go practice with this guy every Wed night.

Shane: “Practice” meaning sitting in, live, in front of people!

Ronn: It was as if something was growing and we had to keep helping it grow and keep nourishing it. Farmer John had a plastic bucket when we started…


Shane: Farmer Jon, our bass player, built a washtub bass out of a plastic bucket – he showed up just to be goofy and we tried to put microphones on it just to make it work – it was just fun. One night I brought in parts and we electrified his washtub bass and plugged it into the P.A. system and it worked. So he started sitting in. Ronn on washboard, Farmer Jon on washtub bass and Aaron Lewis, who is one of the best harmonica players in Central PA, ended up coming out to the open mic and sitting in as well. So, once a week, for the first half hour of an open mic, four people got onstage without any practice and just ripped the place apart. I looked at these guys after a few months and said “you know, I’m gonna start booking gigs, you are that good.” So we booked our first gig, showed up with no set list, no plan – everybody just plug in and go – and we rocked the joint. These guys watch me constantly. If you ever watch a Snake Oil Band concert, they (the band members) are dancing in the crowd, they are going nuts-but they always have on eye on me and all I have to do is lift my guitar up once and strike it down and everybody stops. It’s almost like Frank Zappa, the way he used to lead his band, with one motion of his hand the band would stop. We are now that tight that I can do that and -Boom – the band stops.

ME: It’s becoming intuitive…

Shane: Yes, very intuitive.

Ronn: You learn to read your leader.

Shane: Lately we’ve been performing our album from start to finish, which means for the first time in our existence we use a set list. And these guys don’t like it. It’s weird.

Ronn: Yes, it’s weird.

ME: Lacking the spontaneity!

Shane: Yes, because if we are feeding off the crowd and someone starts yelling something at us we want to play what they want!

ME: Do you feel that this was certain alignment of stars that brought you all together?

Ronn: (laughing) Nooo – we’re people that just like to drink…

Shane: We like to get together and drink and jam.


Ronn: Everything in my life works out this way. Everything just drops in my lap and it just happens. We all create what we need in our lives and we all hope for what we want. Some people hope for horrible things and get them. Some people hope for wonderful things and get them. Literally, I joined my first band the first week I moved to York. I remember one of the first times I played with you (Shane) was at the Revolution Field at a beer fest at a minor league baseball stadium at second base. Shane said “ why don’t you come out and join me out there?” and I said “oh, okay.” We had never really played outside of the open mic-we were nowhere near close to amplification at that point – and he leans over to me and says “hey, we’ve practiced in this bar why don’t we play a baseball stadium!” (At this point Ronn and Shane erupt into laughter at the sheer absurdity of the moment.) When we were playing at the stadium, Shane leans over and says “man, I know what you want to do Ronn Benway – I am sitting on this stool, banging on this box with my foot. I cannot dance with these people, but you can – go dance with these people!”


Shane: And Ronn looked at me and said “you get me.” And that is the magic of this band – even though my name is one the top of the bill and I’m in the center of this stage – Ronn has become the star of this band – people talk about him and his washboard playing once we leave – yeah, I’m playing 3 string cigar box guitar doing Led Zeppelin on it and they go nuts about that, but they go insane about Ronn. Each member of the band has their own distinct personality just like the Beatles and Kiss – both of those bands were four parts of one whole and that is what I love about this band.

Ronn: Oh, I forgot all about this (story). I’m at the Hive, which is in the Royal Square, it’s an art studio, and a photographer from the York Daily Record comes up and takes some pictures from across the street. I’m playing guitar and Michael Sallemi is playing upright bass and we’re singing and dancing around, putting on a show… we’re gathering a crowd in front of the studio and this photographer comes over and she comes up and she’s a little confused… and she says “you’re Shane Speal?” And I said “I’m not Shane Speal” and she says “but you’re in Shane Speal?” And I said “I am a member of Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band” and she says “and what’s this?” And I said “not the Snake Oil Band!” (Laughing) and she says “well, what do I call this?” I said “I am Ronn Benway.”

Shane: York is going through an Art renaissance right now, so there is music everywhere… so that’s how we started, just four guys jamming around an open mic, getting an audience. Our shows got more and more insane – we added the confetti cannons, we began throwing rubber chickens at the audience …whatever we could to bring the theatrics -because I’m all about theatrics. I grew up with Kiss and Blue Man Group – lately our newest weapon is our toilet paper gun –we’ll be firing that off tonight as well.

ME: I’m going to hide – I’m feeling very unsafe right now!

Shane: It’s hilarious – but any time we do these things, it’s a fun interactive thing – and, let’s face it, no Blues band I know of is doing anything like this. We are a Blues band – we’re playing Blues, we’re playing old Blues, we playing our new version of it. – the day we put the album to bed we sat there in the studio and looked at each other and the feeling was… we think that we created a new genre or a new subgenre of the Blues. As we were listening we were all thinking no one is doing anything like this – it’s all homemade except we are mixing stomp/rock blues sort of like R. L. Burnside based, a little Led Zeppelin thrown in there, a little bit of punk with jug band and prison chants

ME: I love the chants on your new CD.

Shane: It was something no one was doing…

ME: Oh, I want more!

Shane: Thank You! I’ve been listening to them and wanted to do a project based all on prison chants and I had one record company interested in it but it ended badly.

ME: Ronn, watching you play the washboard – that looks like a skill…

Ronn: Skill? (Laughing)

ME: It doesn’t look like just anyone can pick it up and just do it!

Ronn: Easier than digging a ditch I’ll tell you that! A couple of times I have put it (the washboard) on a drummer and just have him not know what to do with it because he is a drummer and they drum! They don’t play themselves! I get washboard players who don’t like my technique. They want me to bring it down, like you’re trying too hard, really that’s not the way you play washboard.


Shane: I don’t want Ronn to play rhythm – I want Ronn to play MAYHEM. Just like Farmer Jon, I don’t want Farmer Jon to play bass _ I want him to play rumble. What blew our minds was nobody could really hear Jon on stage and then when we were in the recording studio and we had done some isolated tracks – Jon went into the studio and did tracks on top of what we did. When we were listening to it later we all looked at each other and we’re like he’s playing gospel running bass lines on a washtub bass! None of us realized how intricate he was playing. He doesn’t have time to listen to anything that any of us are doing. He’s stomping on his feet, he’s picking up the next guitar and, not to be insulting to Farmer Jon, I don’t think that any of us thought that he was playing much on the tub until we listened! We sat there and listened and we thought wow he should be playing in a Black Baptist Church! It was just insane what he was playing!

Ronn: But none of us can hear him usually because we are all busy…

Shane: …and it’s always been enough rumble to give the bottom end to this band that we were lacking – and I wanted that low rumble! Just like with Ronn – I don’t want him to play perfect washboard, to play perfect Rock. No, I want him dancing, I want him slamming whistles, and I want him shaking his butt with the women in the audience

Ronn: And these are all things I enjoy! Coincidentally enough!

Shane: Nobody ever accused KISS of being good musicians – yet they were one of the biggest bands in the world.

ME: Very theatrical.

Shane: Yeah and that’s why you go to a KISS show. But, if you actually break KISS down, you realize that Gene Simmons is one of the most underrated bass players in history. With us, too, I’m not too worried about musicianship, but if you break the musicianship down, everyone is a baddass in my band. And they’ll rip any musicians head off. The harmonica player, Aaron, – the funny thing about him is I like him better than any other harmonica player because he knows when not to play. I need John to be the rumble, I need Ronn to be the rodeo clown, I need Aaron to step back whenever he needs to step back, and then I just do my thing. Trust me, I’m a lazy man and I would never force this band to have a practice, but I would lose it if I lost any of these members because I can get on stage, no preparation, and know that we are going to blow away the audience. The shows we pay – nobody can touch us. They may be better musicians – but nobody can touch us.

Ronn: I have a little workout regimen that I do before I play – a little stretching – and people will ask “what are you doing?” Or when I am taping up before I play “what are you doing?” and I say “just relax, this will all make sense in a little bit.” Don’t worry – you’re gonna love me or hate me in 20 minutes.”


Shane: And that’s what we’re all about. There are a few ingredients in this band. Number one is the theatrics, number two is the novelty of the instruments that we are playing, and number three is that our music has hooks. We have hooks in all our songs.

ME: And those hooks do stay with you!

Shane: Ronn used to run a music store out in Venice California, so Ronn is my music trivia nemesis.

Ronn: Before the internet, you know, when you just had to know stuff.

Shane: Well, Ronn’s a music expert and we’re both huge Bowie freaks, Beatles…all songs with hooks and Ronn is a songwriter too. He’s going to start opening up Snake Oil shows, and so is Aaron, and all his songs have hooks and sing along choruses. We want to take things back to the roots. Howlin’ Wolf used to crawl across the stage in concert, he used to bark at the audience, if you ever go on You Tube and see some of his concerts he’s eating his harmonica, licking it and eating it and shoving it in his mouth and pulling it out and playing it. It’s all his theatrics and it was dangerous. The Blues used to be dangerous and it’s not now. You go to a Blues festival and there is nothing dangerous about it. We want to bring that back. We want people to be afraid you’re going to get electrocuted when you go to one of our shows (laughing). Or hit with a rubber chicken.

ME: Well, I’m getting a little nervous….

Ronn: I have the worst aim with those rubber chickens – I hit children. I hit a lady in a wheelchair…I have these worst aim…

ME: Where does your theatrical background come from, Ronn?

Ronn: I was born in Las Vegas, my parents both worked in the Sands Hotel with the Rat Pack on stage. I used to go to Wayne Newton’s Christmas parties – I am born and raised Las Vegas and all the BS that goes with that is in my soul. I am the party commissioner. I am here to make sure that everyone has a good time. I didn’t drink alcohol for 14 years and that was great time for me because I would go out and think how much would I spend if I was drinking. I would buy the bar drinks and then once everyone got liquored up enough I could be myself. I don’t need alcohol to be like this –although I enjoy alcohol – and I can get a little out of hand sometimes if I have too much of it – but I don’t need alcohol to perform a show. And I have this thing too where I really try to play every show like as if I might walk out of the venue and get hit by a bus. I don’t want anybody to go like “wow did you see his last show?” “Yeah, it was alright.”

Shane: He leaves everything on stage. This whole band leaves everything on stage. That’s just how we are.

Ronn: I play like I’m never going to play again – that’s the only way I want to do it.

Shane: And we’re getting older and older and it’s getting tougher and tougher.. and we still drink.

Ronn: I was old when I started this!

ME: So how long is recovery time these days?

Shane: Red bull is my best friend.

Ronn: If I’m not feeling it, then how are you going to feel it? I mean we are selling snake oil here. In general the music business is snake oil – it’s hey look over at this it’s shiny and pretty – it’s a trick. We’re tricking people to have a good time. You go to a bar, you buy the beer, you think you want to have a good time, and you sit there with your arms crossed and say “impress me.”


Shane: A lot of bands show up with their hats and their 2000 Stratocasters and play Messin’ with the Kid. I’ve heard that that motherfucking song 15 million times and if another Blues band does Messin’ with the Kid I’m going to fucking cut ‘em. I swear to god we did a Blues fest last year and I heard it three times! I’m sorry but our goal is to shake up and destroy the Blues status quo and take it back to a dangerous period!

ME: What drives your anti-establishment vision?

Shane: I’ve always been that way. It even goes back to being in school and being a nerd misfit –not like the rest of the kids. Back in the 80’s everybody was listening to Duran Duran and that’s when I decided to go through my Beatles phase.

Ronn: That’s why you hate fedoras!

Shane: If I see the waves are going one way with a trend I will immediately go the opposite way. I don’t know why – it is ingrained in me. In the 90’s everyone was playing Strats and wanted to be Stevie Ray, so I started playing the shittiest guitars I could find – the stuff that Hound Dog Taylor played – because to me Hound Dog Taylor was the opposite of clean Blues. From Hound Dog Taylor I got into the Cigar Box Guitar. I’ve always gone against the grain. We have only one goal – to make it impossible for anyone to follow us – and we will pull out every anti-establishment trick.

Ronn: I love that someone came up to us after a festival and said that we blew Tesla off the stage!

Shane: We hear that a lot! Angry Johnny Stangry played ahead of us today – he could rip my head off on the guitar, he could rip my head off. That’s not what I want to be. He’s doing his thing and he is going to get famous because he is that good. Me, I’m playing three strings on a stick jammed through a box. I’ve got three guys behind me playing on homemade instruments. Even my harmonica player is playing his harp through a beer can microphone. I want to do everything different. I don’t want to follow any trends – I want to create the next trend and be the king of it. I call myself the King of the Cigar Box Guitar because nobody was stupid enough to choose it in the first place. Now that I’ve chosen it and I have used that stupid moniker for 10 years, people respect the name. I think it’s hilarious because it’s always been a joke to me. But, in the same way, I’ve always wanted to create my own sound and let everyone else follow me. Right now we are in a big movement of Bluegrass. Where we’re from, everybody is doing Bluegrass. My band refuses to do Bluegrass, but my band will get in to Bluegrass shows and I will plug my guitar into distortion and I will crank it up to feedback levels in the middle of a Bluegrass fest and people love it. They freakin’ love it because nobody’s crazy enough to do it. We’re antiestablishment. We’re punk rock on junk instruments –we’re junk. Jug band punk – junk rock. (Laughing)


Ronn: In life you are either your own product or you are helping someone else sell their product. That’s really what we all are. I owned a record store and I sold other people’s products and at one point in my life one day I said I don’t want to sell other people’s products anymore, I want to sell my own product. And if there is anything that is counter culture about us, it’s that this guy sits in his woodshed and makes this shit and makes it look easy – easy enough to sell to people. He is his own product. I am my own product. I moved to York and somebody said what are you going to do for money and I said I am going to go in front of the Strand Theater and play before the concert. Really? Nobody does that! Well I just made a hundred bucks doing that! I came to town and I created my own job. This guy (Shane) didn’t like selling advertising and so he created his own job and now he is his own product. And that’s the trick to being free. Everybody wants to be free deciding between Coke ® and Pepsi ® and the truth to being free is not being controlled by all these others – it’s taking your own destiny and making your own – making what you want to see in the world.

Shane: At the same time I still feel compelled. I have made my own genre; I’ve made my own music. But I still feel compelled to teach everyone how to do it. I actually started the whole Cigar Box Guitar movement by posting free plans on line. And now that I am playing, I do free lessons on line. How hard is it for me to set up my iphone and show my tips and cheats on guitar? I do it for free and other people are joining suit and their starting their own bands and showing up at open mics

ME: Giving people the opportunity to follow their own creative spirit…

Shane: Exactly. If you want to pigeon hole us, in a way, I am telling booking agents that we are bringing back Vaudeville. Vaudeville died when motion pictures took off – we’re bringing it back and we’re putting it in stage. Ronn is very much the comic relief on stage. We’re doing the Snake Oil pitch and everything else. When you come to see us you will see modern electric blues that is as rough hewn as R.L. Burnside , as funky as Bootsy Collins and as rocking as AC/DC in a Vaudeville setting. This is just who we are and this is just what we do.



Rubber chickens, confetti cannons and toilet paper guns aside… there is nothing like the live experience of Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band. Let me tell you, whatever they’re sellin’ – I’m buyin’. You will be healed.


Olivier Basselini would be proud.


Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band is currently touring the Mid Atlantic States.


shane-speals-snake-oil-band-sideshot-Freddie Graves Photography

Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band is:

Shane Speal – cigar box guitars, vocals and stomping foot

  • Ronn Benway – washboards, rubber chickens and stunts
  • Aaron Lewis – harmonica, vocals and confetti cannons
  • Farmer Jon – electric washtub bass and high fives






Flashback Friday! Walter Trout Looks For Common Ground

WalterTroutWMBF-1It’s Flashback Friday once again. This week, we tie in to our review of Walter Trout’s new CD The Blues Came Callin’. We now turn you over to Maureen as she takes up back in time to her insightful and illuminating interview with the legendary Walter Trout…

I had the opportunity to interview Walter following the release of his CD Common Ground. I was impressed and encouraged by his depth. As Walter now faces his greatest struggle his words ring even deeper….

me. Let’s talk about your latest CD Common Ground.   I was impressed when I read that the title track was written “in response to cruelty in the world.” Was there something in particular that inspired you to write that song?

Walter Trout: Well, I can tell you that that concept of “can we find some common ground between us” where we can sort of agree and get together and attempt to find our mutual humanity between us- I had that idea for years and I kept trying to write it as a political song, you know, I put on TV and I’d sit there and watch somebody on the left and somebody on the right just scream at each other and disrespect each other and laugh when the other person is trying to make their point and shake their head and just be so disrespectful of each side and I watched this over the course of the years get more and more polarized and I tried to write it for years as a political song and I could never get it done. One day it just dawned on me that it had to sort of be above that and it had to basically almost be a prayer and a call for help because I see us descending more and more into that more rash disrespect between people and I think the mass media does a lot to encourage it for ratings –it becomes entertainment to watch people get their balls cut off on TV. I find the whole thing disgusting and I’m a very politically savvy, well-read, opinionated person and I’ve got to where I don’t even want to know about it anymore. I don’t turn on news stations anymore; I don’t want to know about it anymore. So once I realized it had to be a call to whoever or whatever you believe is a higher power than man- ‘cause if we’re it, it’s a pretty sad universe-once that dawned on me, that song wrote itself in about 10 minutes-but it took 10 years. But once I got that concept, instead of making it political-make it spiritual, it was 10 minutes-not even 10 minutes. I have the page that I wrote the lyrics on and there’s not even anything crossed out. It just came out the way it is. And then once I had the lyrics, the melody also just…the song happened almost instantaneously once I changed my focus. I almost felt like that song was given to me.

me. Almost like it was waiting to be born…

WT:It was handed to me-I just had to open up to it.


me. That’s beautiful. In the 60’s, folk songs were truly aimed at creating change and affecting people…with this song, was that your active thought – or your hope for it – that someone would really hear what you are saying?

WT: I would hope so. You know, I grew up in the 60’s and I was out protesting the Vietnam War and protesting the draft – I was a part of all of that. I was pretty radical in the 60’s and I was the biggest fan on the face of the earth of Bob Dylan and those early songs Masters of War and A Hard Rain’s Gonna’ Fall and songs like that but I was trying to write one of those when I was trying to make it political and it never came out. So it really came out, I think, as a religious tune, but I think it could be listened to by a Hindu or a Buddhist or a Muslim as well as a Christian – and they would be able to get something out of it because I’m not mentioning any sort of specific prophets or beliefs. It’s just a call to a higher power saying we are scraping and crawling and floundering and we need help to get back in focus here.

WalterTroutWMBF-3me. Do you think that it’s still possible – having grown up in the 60’s and having music define my life – to have music impact and define us today the way it did back then?

WT: Well, I agree with you, my life was defined like that too – it was the most important thing in my life and I believed very idealistically, when I was a teenager, that music could change the world and could change people. It was a social force. Now, back then, things like Rock and Roll and protest songs were still a little bit out of the mainstream-a little anti-establishment. You didn’t have Coca-cola sponsoring Bob Dylan or a Rolling Stones tour. It’s become big business, it’s become corporate. The radio has been taken over by corporate interests. It used to be FM radio, in the 60’s, played whatever they wanted and they could really mold their listeners, they could influence their listeners. Now, it’s all about demographics-one corporation owns 50 radio stations in America and they have some guy that sits in Minneapolis and programs all of them and has no idea that what’s happening locally in St. Louis may be different than what’s happening locally in Minneapolis. It’s a little sad to me-I feel it’s gotten watered down and taken over by the very people who the music was trying to be an antidote to back then. I think it’s still possible –I do believe it is still possible- that even bands who are big groups who are trying, maybe, to write some songs that have something to say-for instance, U2. I think they are a huge band but I do believe they are still trying to write some songs that maybe have some meaning other than “let’s party and get drunk and get laid” which is the majority of the crap that is out there now. Even bands like that – their tours are sponsored by big corporate interests and I think that’s a little bit sad. I think you have to look now out of the mainstream to find the kind of music that really might have some sort of deeper meaning to it, deeper thought behind it than “I want to make a single that sells a million and maybe I’ll get to tour with Kim Kardashian.” You have to look for it now – I think you can find it on things like satellite radio, I think you can find it on things like college radio, I think you can find it on the internet, but on corporate mainstream radio, you’re not going to find that anymore – that’s done. And to be honest, I think that the corporate mainstream radio is killing itself and they don’t even know it. They’re in their death throes, you know, and I think if they took more chances and were a little more on the edge and a little more unafraid to step out of their box that they’re in-they might survive. But I think corporate radio is on the way out. There’s a classic rock station in LA-it’s the last one left and it plays the same songs over and over and over. I used to listen to it but I can’t do it anymore. There’s more to classic rock than 40 songs-they’re killing themselves. They lost me! I used to listen to it-I won’t anymore. Even classic rock bands like the Stones who have been making records for going on 50 years now- on this rock station out here they play the same 4 songs. This band has 400 songs! For instance, Paul McCartney made a record a few years ago under a different name – The Fireman– have you ever heard that?

WalterTroutBBKings-1-1me. No!

WT: Well, he did this experiment where he would go in the studio and in one day he would write a song, he would record it and play all the instruments and then they would mix it. He would go in, in the morning, and by the end of the day they would have a brand new song recorded and mixed. He did a lot of electronic stuff, he did a lot of tape loops, he experimented and he thought it was so far out of what people expect of him that he put it out under a different name and it’s called Electric Arguments by The Fireman and it’s stunning. I’ve never heard it played on the radio and it’s one of my favorite, newer records. It’s very unique-sometimes it takes a little getting used to-but the creativity of it is astounding and the poor guy had to put it out under a different name. It never gets played but it’s worth your checking out. Matter of fact, the opening track is so nasty, I played it to my band in the van on the last tour-I said “I’m going to play you a cut here; I want you to tell me who this is.” I played it and at the end of the song everybody went “I don’t know.” My drummer said “was that Buddy Guy?” And I said “no, that was McCartney” and they all said “you’re kidding me!”

WalterTroutArmFlailingBBKingsme. One of the things that you mentioned on your website, about music giving you the opportunity to speak directly to people’s hearts-what is it you hope your music does for people?

WT: Well, one of the things that I have tried to do throughout my career of writing is to try to lean towards a positive message. Songs that can maybe make people feel better, maybe uplift them, maybe get them to believe that there is hope-not just wallow in sadness or wallow in frustration or wallow in desperation. I find a lot of music does that and there’s a lot of blues music that does that. If I write songs about even regular Blues themes like adultery-I wrote one about it called “Her Other Man” on Common Ground. I tried to stay away from the typical blues themes like this is “the backdoor man” or whatever –all the typical themes-but there is a line in there “as her lover kisses her it’s more than she can bear as she lays beneath her lover and she dreams of yesterday.” It’s yes, she’s doing this but it’s not making her feel good. It’s not hey baby let’s get laid and let’s party up. It’s yeah, you’re doing this but it feels like shit! I’ve tried to write songs that will make people feel good. I’ve tried to write something that has something to say and could mean something to somebody. That is what I hope my music can do – to move someone and make them feel something. That was a long-winded answer to your question.

WalterTroutWMBF-ToungueOutme. Actually, that was a wonderful answer to my question and it makes me think- because when I speak to people about the blues there is always the element of the humanity and human nature and the idea that the way the songs were written expressed that element of being human. But that doesn’t necessitate that “being human” always implies the negative-there is still the other side of that that can still be “Blues” but not always the down and out kicked to the curb kind of thing.

WT: Sure. You can always write Blues songs that are topical that talk about things happening in the world, things that have happened to friends of yours. I wrote a song on “The Outsider” called “Child of Another Day” and it was all about people I’ve met who I think are sort of living their life stuck in the past and I was trying to present that to people-here’s four different people I have met who I think are sort of stuck and maybe try to not get stuck if you can help it. Look towards tomorrow because yesterday’s dead and gone. Don’t get caught up in it, don’t stop.

me. So a lot of your writing is basically storytelling then?

WT: I think so. I do. And I think I’ve done a lot of writing to the working man, everyday common people and their struggle to find some dignity in this world and to find equality in this world. I’ve done a lot of that. I recorded a song that I wrote with Jeff Healey called “Workin’ Overtime.” I did one called “They Call Us the Working Class but We ain’t Working Anymore”-it’s about that.

WalterTroutWMBF-2me. You have a real connection with the working man…

WT: I feel for them. My Mom was a teacher, my Dad was a carpenter and when I hear certain politicians trying to get out there and say that teachers and firemen and policeman are what’s ruining our economy –it makes me throw up. Teachers are underpaid not overpaid.

me. It sounds like you are coming from a spiritual place…

WT: Yeah! I hope so. Sometimes it comes from a little bit of anger from things I see. “They Call Us the Working Class” was written in 2008, when everything collapsed – that was written with a little anger. The everyday, struggling people getting ripped off by the power elite and not really seeming to have much they could do about it.

me. I wonder too about how musicians struggle!

WT: Well they struggle, but it’s fun too! You know, being an artist, sure it’s a struggle. For me I’ve done 20 albums in 21 years and sometimes it’s a struggle to come up with “do I have anything more to say?” The travel is a struggle sometimes too, but to get up and play and to look people in the face when I am playing and singing to them and seeing that it affects them is the thing that makes my life worthwhile and I feel incredibly blessed to have been given that gift and I work really hard not to ever take it for granted. I know that if I ever lost the ability to do that I’d probably just shrivel up in a ball and fade away. It’s what gives me a purpose.


me. When you think about how one lives one’s life, that is, to me, a very spiritual practice to put yourself out there, to give to others on a daily basis – you are obviously giving from your soul and your heart and from all these things and your hope is that maybe they take away something that lifts them up a little bit!

WT: I’m not out to depress people I want them to come out of it feeling good and to wake up the next morning and say “wow I feel great this morning that was a really great concert last night and I’m in a good mood and I’m ready to go out and face this struggle.”


…and we’re back!

We hope you enjoyed this Flashback Friday feature. Walter Trout’s new album The Blues Came Callin’ is available now at all the usual outlets and on his own website. Walter Trout is a recent liver transplant recipient and will be out of action for a while. His band is out touring with Danny Bryant out front and special guest, Walter’s son, Jon Trout also. Please support the band out there on the road keeping Walter Trout’s music going while he recovers.

Tour dates can be found here.




Dave Mason: An Album, a Tour and a Heart for Veterans


Work Vessels For Veterans
Work Vessels For Veterans

Towards the end of 2013, when Dave Mason’s new album Future’s Past was still in production and plans were still being made for his new tour Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam, Dave was kind enough to chat with me about the Veteran’s charity that he co-founded – Work Vessels for Veterans. Work Vessels for Veteransis an amazingly under the radar non-profit that gives Veterans the opportunity to make a living by supplying them with fundamental tools to do the work they need to do as they reestablish life back home. Their website offers recent stories about their work to provide a wounded Iraq Vet with an ATV, a wounded Afghanistan Veteran with his first tractor for his farm and a laptop for a Vet who is returning to college. Dave spoke with me about this charity, the war and his love/hate relationship with the internet…

me. Just to start out, for general purposes – are you a Veteran?

DM   I’m a Rock and Roll Veteran.

me. (Laughing) Good answer! You probably have some battle wounds from that lifestyle!

DM   Well, no explosions and no bullets flying

me. I’m guessing – and this just a guess – that you and I grew up in the about same era around the time of the Vietnam War and the anti-war protests – a time when the Veterans weren’t honored when they came home…

DM   Right

me. Looking back what were your thoughts on the war?

DM Well, that was pretty much when I moved to America and frankly I thought that, well, let me put it this way, I thought that the anger was pretty much misplaced and that it was directed at the young men and women who had to go fight – when the anger should have been directed more at the people who sent them. The way that the Vets were treated – especially from the Vietnam Era – was terrible. My point being that it was completely misplaced.

me. My neighbor is a Vietnam Veteran and he told me a story that really brought home to me how poorly they were treated and he made a good point – he said that with WWI and WWII, not only did they get greeted with parades , they came home as a group. He said that in Vietnam you were sent home by yourself – you didn’t have the company of the people that you were there with to return to your home and it was a very lonely feeling for him.

DM It undermines the morality of the country, socially, for that to have happened. In the First World War and the Second World War there were clearly defined reasons to go and defend a way of life – my Father was in the 1914-1918 War, my half brother was driving tanks in North Africa and basically up until 9/11 America had never seen anything here in its own country. Growing up I would go with my Father to places that were still bombed out – there were sections that were bombed out. War is ultimate madness, frankly. But like they say, the price of freedom is constant vigilance – so, again, there were probably more defined reasons back then – unlike what was happening with Vietnam.

me. So, possibly, the youth at the time knew something was wrong but didn’t know how to define it, to understand it. They protested because something wasn’t right- but the fall out was that the people we should have been supporting at the time came home and were vilified. The Veterans became the collateral damage from the war.

DM   Well, they were easy targets.

me. How did you become involved with this particular group – the Work Vessels for Veterans?

DM   We started about six years ago. A friend of mine named John Niekrash from Mystic, Connecticut, who is also a lobster fisherman, was looking to get a new boat. When he was thinking about trading in his old boat he said to me “I think I’m going to find a Vet and see if they can use this boat to do something with.” And that’s basically how it started. That’s why the little logo is a boat. So then we – myself, John , Dan Burns and a gentleman named Ted Knapp -we’re old friends – just started it up and then I suggested to them “why keep ourselves {limited} to just boats? Let’s look at the boat as a vessel – it gets you from here to here- so maybe we should just expand this to other things.”

me. That’s beautiful.

DM   We are pretty much under the radar, as an organization. In other words we’re an all volunteer group of people and so there isn’t any money spent on advertising and very minimal administrative stuff. So, all the money that we do get that passes through the charity actually goes where it’s supposed to go. We are the only charity out there with the Vets that actually specifically helps them start their own businesses. Our motto is that “We are not giving hand outs; we are giving a hand up.”

me. I like that. It’s to the point isn’t it?

DM   Well, you know, you can give someone fish everyday but if you teach them how to fish they can feed themselves for the rest of their lives. That’s the way we deal with things. We also, through Ted Knapp’s association, patch through a lot of laptop computers for education, or for business need or whatever. A gentleman, Adam Burke, who we helped start a Blueberry farm in Jacksonville, Florida four years ago – we acquired the land through the charity, the machinery, the fencing and all that stuff and he, in turn, hired other Vets. The plants themselves take about three years to mature so they are now up and running and they are a growing business. In March or April –somewhere around then – there is an award given that is the highest in the country – the Citizen’s Medal – and he was one of 12 out of 6,000 to receive the award and be honored by the White House. Again, they hire the Vets and on the farm they have a tree that has become a focal point because one of the things that has become a by- product of doing this is that these men are working through their post traumatic stress disorder far more quickly.

me. The work helps them heal….

DM I think that is has to do with the fact that if you can’t provide for yourself and your family it’s very demoralizing and so I think this gives them back some of their dignity and their pride in being able to support themselves and I think it helps their whole healing process. In other words, there’s nothing like good hard work to help the healing.

me. Engaging the hands, the mind, the body, the spirit…

DM   We have another gentleman who we helped start an office cleaning service who is doing very well in St. Louis. The company that Ted works for hires Vets and they find that Vets move – promotion wise – up through the ranks rather rapidly. These are very motivated people. They are used to working with a goal in mind. They are used to being focused. When they get rolled out of the service and are left here floundering around it’s another aspect of them falling to pieces, so to speak, not having any direction.

me. And, sometimes, no homes to go to…

DM   No homes…and I believe there is a suicide every other day.

me. I have heard that statistic and I have always maintained that “Homeland Security” should mean that no Vet remains homeless.

DM   Exactly.

me. “Homeland Security” should mean that they have a home to go to. It is really, truly hard to understand that our Veterans can be homeless when you consider what their contribution has been for our country.

DM   It is very sad.

me. Does this group point specifically to the Veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars?

DM   No, no, we’re pretty much open to all Veterans.

me. The song that you wrote “Thank You” is beautiful. What inspired you to write it?

DM   I wrote it with someone who played with me for a while, Johnne Sambataro – I was thinking about writing something for our charity anyway and he had an idea so we got together and I thought “why not just ‘Thank You’?”

Thank You

me.  A “Thank You” they all deserve… 


Future's Past
Dave Mason

me.   You have a new album…

DM   Yes. And I’d like to point out that there really isn’t any way for people to know that artists, like myself, have anything new out. There’s no national radio anymore – there’s classic rock radio but they don’t play anything new.

me. I agree. We have artist who continue to be amazingly prolific but we only hear the song selections from 30 years ago.

DM   You’re stuck with the songs that you probably have at home anyway.

me. My album collection – oh yes!

DM   There is no real outlet for anything. That being said, after sort of fighting the internet which, for musicians and people with the written word, has become a double edge sword –it’s killing intellectual property because people are just taking it but at the same time, the only way get to around it is by using it via my Facebook page. I’ve also been asking people to just go to my website and just drop me an email so that I can directly let people know there is something new out.

me. Your tour schedules continues…

Now I have a tour with “Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam” which is essentially a little journey through the first two Traffic albums and taking people a little bit through that era.

me. That sounds like a show that every Dave Mason fan will love to see! Thank you Dave!

Dave Mason’s new album, Future’s Past, is available on vinyl. The album is a combination of new material as well as rerecorded classics (Dear Mr. Fantasy anyone?). Six years after the release of his last album, 26 Letters – 12 Notes, Dave’s newest album also pays homage to Robert Johnson with his cover of “Come on in My Kitchen.” Check out Dave’s website at you will find his incredible rock n roll history, his upcoming tour dates and you can purchase his latest album.

Work Vessels for Veterans

According to their website… “Work Vessels for Vets, Inc. (WVFV), is an IRS 501(c) (3) non- profit organization, that matches donations of vessels, vehicles, equipment, tools and electronics to Veterans of Iraq or Afghanistan as they start a business or pursue career education.” Please go to their website at

Support the artists and Blues Biscuits by clicking the link below: