Category Archives: Interview

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 DavidMaxwell.com

 

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA           OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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!”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

~~~

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

CONTACT: SHANE SPEAL
shanespeal@yahoo.com
717-781-6463

shane-speals-snake-oil-band

 

 

 

Michael Cloeren Interview – Pennsylvania Blues Festival

PABluesFestBoardThe Pocono Blues Festival had been a Pennsylvania tradition for 19 years, bringing the best of blues music to the Pocono Mountains and fans from around the globe. In November 2010, it looked like the tradition might be over. Michael Cloeren, the founder and producer of the festival was called into a meeting with the president of Peak Resorts and was told the company was going in a different direction and that the resorts were no longer going to do any summer or fall events. However, Michael did not want to see the tradition of the festival and what he calls a “family reunion” fade gently away.

By the end of 2010, Michael Cloeren met with the administrators at Blue Mountain. Fortunately, their general manager, Jim Daley, had attended Pocono Blues Festival and was familiar with the clientele, acts, vendors, and perhaps most importantly, the popularity. The name Pocono Blues Festival could no longer be used and from the ashes of the Pocono Blues Festival a new festival was born. Michael says Blue Mountain is “a wonderful facility; very user friendly, closer to more people and fully embraced by the staff.” Blue Mountain is indeed closer to the fans, seated 45 minutes south of the original site, it’s closer to Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton, and Philadelphia which are the core markets for Blues in the Poconos. Plus Blue Mountain is ideal for a festival since it has all the perfect facilities like parking, real restrooms, a natural amphitheater, and camping on site, which the other facility did not. Camping has had an unexpected but very welcome effect on the musical adventures too, “Camping on site is extremely popular and is a direct positive result how the nightly Jams have taken off since year #1 (2011).” You never know who is going to take the stage and it’s easier to stay up late to take it all in if you’re not driving.

Lil' Ed At PA Blues Fest
Lil’ Ed At PA Blues Fest

In just a few short years, Pennsylvania Blues Festival has taken the torch of nineteen years of blues history in the Poconos and run with it, regaining the status of its legendary predecessor. Much of the success is owed to Michael Cloeren and his sterling reputation and track record. According to Michael, “changing locations takes time to get on people’s radar.” He adds, “I feel this year will be very special.” Michael recently told us the transition from Pocono Blues Festival to Pennsylvania Blues Festival has been “a great experience – I feel that the event is growing in momentum and we continue to educate new customers in a positive way.” That positive way is reflected in the lineup of acts Michael brings to the festival, “I feel I program a lineup different than just about anyone in the USA. My programming work for 23 years speaks for itself.” It does indeed. You may see some familiar faces at Pennsylvania Blues Festival but you’re in for a few surprises too. Michael says he likes to schedule “1/3 blues icons, 1/3 strong festival circuit names and 1/3 acts that most people never have seen before.” Michael has a knack for getting acts out of their comfort zone too and gets some amazing performances on the smaller stages. He tells us, “I know every act that I have ever booked (since 1992 around 400 acts) and through experience I know how and where to slot them. That stuff comes easy to me.”

LinseyAlexanderPABluesFestIt may come easy to Michael since he’s been a blues fan and champion of the art form for many years. Michael told us he first met the blues on “March 30,1975 at the age of 18. I went to the Philadelphia Spectrum to see Eric Clapton and the opening act was Muddy Waters. Muddy’s show that night changed my life and I have been a blues addict ever since.” When Michael introduces bands on stage you can hear the love and admiration in his voice. You also get the notion sometimes that he knows he’s about share a secret with you and he can’t wait. Every year you have to get there early because Michael will be sharing some of the Blues best kept secrets all day long. One of my personal favorites was Linsey Alexander’s tent stage performance a few years ago. I had never heard Linsey before and had to go back for his second set later in the day. Linsey outdid just about everyone and it was revelation. You’re going to find the heart of the blues beating under the tent and you’ll get some lasting memories of special performances like the Lonnie, Ronnie and Wayne Baker Brooks performing an acoustic set. The love between father and sons was tangible as was their respect for each other and the good time they had playing together like they would in the living room at home.

LonnieBrooksPABluesFestOver the years Michael had several memorable moments of his own including James Peterson starting his set in 1996 from the chairlift, Eddy Clearwater starting his set in 1998 on a white stallion horse in full headdress, Shemekia Copeland entering the stage in 2002 on a Harley Davidson Motorcycle, and booking Lowell Fulson in 1996, which was his last east coast appearance. His other personal highlights include Ruth Brown in 2005, Luther Allison in 1995, and Otis Rush in 1998. Michael says his initial vision was “a blues festival in a mountain setting” and it has blossomed into a remarkable event hosting music legends every year. Michael says attendees should expect “a weekend of World Class Music, a wonderful facility and a staff that welcomes them with open arms.” He continues “I would suggest that people should attend this and other like-minded events with an open mind and they possibly could have a life changing moment like the one that happened to me on March 30th, 1975 at The Philadelphia Spectrum.”

Michael Cloeren is directly and indirectly involved in several like-minded events including The Philadelphia Folk Festival which he says is “The longest continuous music festival in the USA and Canada at 53 years. It offers eight stages of music, fifty thousand music guests from all over the world, and 2500 volunteers.” If Michael is involved, you can be sure the music with be exceptional and the environment will be fan friendly. A few years ago, at the time of the first Pennsylvania Blues Festival, I spoke to Michael Cloeren and he shared his approach to the booking the artists and it gives great insight to his process and what you’re going to see and hear at his events. “I program differently than a lot of festivals out there. I try to get to the core of the subject matter. To me, the core is the artists that live it, breathe it, and die it. With all respect to classic rock artists who have been in it for 30 years and just discovered the blues or put out a blues record, that’s not what I’m looking for. That’s not what I do. Obviously, the headliners are important, and they’re great acts, but it’s not always about the headliners. It’s about the entire bill. After years of experience, the guests know to get there early because some of the best sets are early in the afternoon. They may not have heard the act before but they know from history that I’ll never book a bad band. And that’s what’s great about this music, as you know, you think you’ve heard or seen a lot and then there’s a band that blows you away that you’ve never seen before. What I try to do is mix them between contemporary and traditional blues, New Orleans music, Sacred Steel, gospel, acoustic, and electric; I try to give the audience the full spectrum of blues music.”

Pennsylvania Blues Festival is taking place July 25-27, 2014. There is an amazing array of talent lined up for the event so make plans to visit the Pocono Mountains for some red hot summer blues. For ticket information and festival information please visit the website. We hope to see you there.

Our thanks go to Michael Cloeren for taking the time from his hectic schedule to answer our questions.

Blues Biscuits will be live tweeting from the festival so be sure to follow us on Twitter @BluesBiscuits and look for #PABluesFest and remember, #thatsahotbiscuit !

Here’s the line-up:

Friday, July 25th 2014 – Friday Night Jam

8pm to Midnight in the Adventure Center – doors open at 7pm.
Cover charge at the door is $10 & Jam Buffet is $8 (food optional).

PA Blues Fest Showcase with The BC COMBO featuring Bev Conklin, Slam Allen, Mikey Junior, Joe Mac & Lonnie Shields – sponsored by WDIY 88.1 fm, Lehigh Valley’s Community NPR Station!

Saturday July 26th 2014 – Gates open at 12pm

MAIN TENT STAGE

1pm to 2:15pm – Tad Robinson
2:45pm to 4pm – Shawn Holt & The Teardrops
4:30pm to 5:45pm – Barbara Carr
6:15pm to 7:30pm – Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters
8pm to 9:30pm – The James Cotton Blues Band

ADVENTURE CENTER STAGE

1:30pm to 2:30pm – Rip Lee Pryor
3pm to 4pm – The Ursula Ricks Band
4:15pm to 5:15pm – Meet The PA Blues Fest Artists!
5:30pm to 6:30pm – Rip Lee Pryor
7pm to 8pm – The Ursula Ricks Band

Saturday Night Jam in the Adventure Center

9:30pm to 1:30am – doors open at 8:30pm.
Cover charge at the door is $10 & Jam Buffett is $8 (food optional).

PA Blues Fest Showcase with Dave Weld & The Imperial Flames sponsored by WDIY 88.1 fm, Lehigh Valley’s Community NPR Station!

Sunday July 27th 2014 – Gates open at 11am

MAIN TENT STAGE

1pm to 2pm – The Como Mamas
2:30 to 3:30pm – The Jarekus Singleton Band
4pm to 5:15pm – Chris Cain Band
5:45pm to 7pm – The Heritage Blues Quintet
7:30pm to 9pm – CJ Chenier & The Red Hot Louisiana Band

SUNDAY VIP BRUNCH

11am to 1pm – NON-VIP ticket price $30 includes Brunch! (included in VIP Package!)
VIP Sunday Brunch with The Murali Coryell Band with Special Guest – Dave Keyes!

ADVENTURE CENTER STAGE

1:30pm to 2:30pm – A Little Bit Of Blues with Warner Williams, Jay Summerour & Eric Selby
3pm to 4pm – Super Chikan (solo)
4:30pm to 5:30pm – A Little Bit Of Blues
6pm to 7pm – Super Chikan (solo)
7:30pm to 9pm – The Jarekus Singleton Band

 

 

Throwback Thursday – Richard Briggs Interview 2012

Next Friday, July 11, 2014, the Briggs Farm Blues Festival will kick off its 17th annual event with a stellar lineup of national and local acts, great food, and an eclectic array of vendors. In 2012 I had the opportunity to chat with festival organizer Richard Briggs on the occasion of the festival’s 15th Anniversary.

Briggs2014WebBanner

Let’s fire up the Wayback machine for a short trip in time to 2012 and Richard Briggs…

 

Briggs Farm is a 350 acre family-run farm nestled in the small, rural Pennsylvania town of Nescopeck and one weekend every July since 1998 it has been home to blues musicians and fans from around the world as they gather for the Briggs Farm Blues Festival. 2012 marks the 15th anniversary of the Briggs Farm Blues Festival which has hosted dozens of artists from legends like David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Big Jack Johnson, Eddie Shaw, Louisiana Red and Johnny Rawls to local favorites Clarence Spady and upstarts like Vandelay Industries. The festival features acts on the Main Stage and the Porch stage which is literally a back porch set up under a tent and the spot where Honeyboy Edwards sat telling stories about his time with Robert Johnson, Harper instructed the crowd on the finer points of didgeridoo playing, and festival favorite and BBQ Pit Master Lonnie Shields perennially lights up the night with his electrifying performances. For the 15th anniversary, the folks at Briggs Farm have put together another all-star lineup including Sam Lay on the Back Porch, Friday headliner Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Saturday headliner Bernard Allison, plus Moreland & Arbuckle, Rory Block, The Butterfield Blues Band, Linsey Alexander, Alexis P. Suter Band, and many others. The festival takes place on July 6 and 7, 2012 and is sure to be a hot weekend of blues.

Alexis P. Suter makes sure Jimmy plays it right for you.
Alexis P. Suter makes sure Jimmy plays it right for you.

The Briggs Farm Blues Festival is the brainchild of Richard Briggs, blues and roots music fan and former TV producer. We caught up with Richard recently to take a look back at 15 years of Blues and family fun down on the farm. Richard Briggs’ experience as a producer gave him a different perspective when he attended festivals as a fan, “I like to go to other festivals, not just to see musicians but to see how it’s produced. I produced TV shows for PBS station WVIA and I was there for 22 years. I started this project here on the family farm while I was still doing TV, so I come from that background and I really enjoy putting on a show.” The idea for the festival came to him at the Philadelphia Folk Festival, “I always thought I could do better. I was at the Philly Folk Festival thinking ‘I could do this.’ Everything was ready and I just had to put it together. It took a few years to get it together and convince people that it wasn’t outrageous. It took a lot of convincing at first. The township was concerned and wanted to make sure it wouldn’t be a bad situation for the community and neighbors. We’ve had a gradual growth in attendance over the 15 years so it wasn’t like a horde of crazy people coming in to town. Traffic problems never occurred, parking wasn’t an issue. It’s really become a good thing for the community. In addition to the local business people who are involved, there are families who come to visit relatives and go to the blues festival. People come from Texas, Canada, California, all over. ”

Terry "Harmonica" Bean brings Hill Country Blues to Briggs Farm
Terry “Harmonica” Bean brings Hill Country Blues to Briggs Farm

Richard was confident he and the festival could succeed but he’s not afraid to admit he over-reached a bit that first year. “I had planned to do three festivals,” he said with a laugh. “But I learned my lesson. People still say to me ‘why don’t you do a jam band or a country festival?’ – but they’re crazy! It’s a lot to put together, but that first year I had a folk festival also and there was another one I cancelled. But the blues people were just really nice. They were comfortable and it was well enough attended that I really didn’t lose any money. Now, we get a lot of people coming back and they bring more people and whole families and groups of friends. It’s a comfortable place for people.” Comfort isn’t usually something you often expect at a festival, but the laid back atmosphere and farm fresh food at Briggs Farm is a big part of the comfort factor. Their willingness to allow coolers and outside food and drinks also helps, and you can’t beat camping at Briggs Farm, especially if it rains. “It was initially a one day event and the next year we had really bad weather. In fact the second year attendance was less because of the weather so we decided to do two days. We already had everything set up so we thought if one day is rainy and one day isn’t then it’s not a loss if people only come one day. Then we had some people who wanted to camp so we started letting them stay overnight. So camping turned out to be the best idea because people camping don’t care if it rains and it makes it very easy for people to come a long way. They don’t have to find a hotel and don’t have to drive if they’ve had a few drinks. It’s a lot of fun to have people stay overnight.”

Briggs Farm crowd 2011

Camping tickets are a hot commodity and have greatly helped the Briggs Farm maintain its reasonable prices, which is important to Richard and the folks at Briggs Farm. They view their festival as a family event and want as many people to enjoy the music as possible. “If we have to increase the price we agonize over it. We’d rather have more people come than raise the prices and have less people. We have the space so we want people to come have a good time. We don’t want it to be an expensive event. I think our prices are good and we’re going to keep them there. We’re making it at this price. We didn’t start out to make a bucket of money and be done. We want a yearly event that we all love to do and have it be financially stable, which it is. We like the bands we’re able to afford at this point. We’ve been able to grow our audience and we can pull from a larger pool of artists now because we can pay more. Now our second stage is becoming as well booked as our big stage.”

Lonnie Shields makes sure you get the good stuff.
Lonnie Shields makes sure you get the good stuff.

Another integral part of this successful festival is the food, which is overseen by none other than Lonnie Shields who is not only a blues maestro but also a barbecue master who offered his services to a frustrated Richard Briggs. “One of the early years, Lonnie headlined on a Friday night and that’s when I met him. He’s one of those guys that’s always talking barbecue and we continued to talk over the years and we’ve had him back a few times. Eventually he offered it to me. Originally we were making the food ourselves, and then we had vendors in and I was not happy. Then again we had vendors the next year and I still wasn’t happy. Lonnie was there and he wanted to help out. We made the smokers and cookers to Lonnie’s specifications. We buy 500 to 600 pounds of pork and he comes up and starts cooking on Wednesday night.” Richard continues, “Making the food is something we always wanted to do ourselves and with Lonnie’s help it’s going well. We’re adding some new things in the style of home cooked Delta-style food. We definitely want something home cooked instead of from a cart or a truck and Lonnie loves doing it. Now he brings his sister Pearly Mae up from Helena, Arkansas to help him out. They have a little family reunion. He has other family within reach and they all come to the festival and stay over.

EliCookOnTheBackPorch
Eli Cook channels Son House on the Back Porch Stage

Lonnie also knows all the musicians coming in and he often goes and plays with them on the main stage after his set on the Porch Stage. He entertains all the volunteers too. He has plenty of stories! I was concerned that at some point he might not be able to do it so I asked him about it and he said I’d have to tell him not to come, and that’s not going to happen.”

A Bluesman's work is never done.
A Bluesman’s work is never done.

Over the course of 15 years there have been some great memories made for fans and musicians a like but a few stick out in Richard Briggs’ memory, “We always try to get some older guys for the Porch Stage so that can be really close to the audience and relate some of the history. This year we have Sam Lay and in 2010 we had Louisiana Red – a lot of those guys are leaving us, but Red was here. We had a lot of rain that Saturday night and I remember him sitting in the green room tent backstage waiting to go on and water is coming in under the tent – it was raining pretty hard – but he wanted to go on. He’s saying ‘If there’s any way we can go on, we want to play.’ So I told him as soon as the sound guy gives me the go ahead we’ll get you out there. It was real late and the rain stopped so Red went on and then it started to rain again but he kept going! He played until around two in the morning. His wife wanted him off stage because it was really late but he wasn’t pausing between songs long enough for us to comfortably get in there to get him off stage. It was quite an experience.” He continues, “One year, Eddie Kirkland, who was about 80 years old, drove up in the beat-up old 80’s station wagon, popped the hood and started working on it. I looked in and it was held together by wire and duct tape! (laughs) It’s just been great to meet all those guys.”

Luckily, everyone attending Briggs Farm Blues Festival also gets the chance to meet the performers, usually at the merchandise table after their sets but many stick around for some of Lonnie’s pulled pork or some fresh sweet corn cooked to perfection, and can be found chatting with fans and fellow musicians all day long. The interaction between musicians and fans, the relaxed atmosphere, the volunteers, the fresh food, and great music makes Briggs Farm Blues Festival a true family destination that is affordable and enjoyable. There is a tangible sense of community that permeates the festival, putting smiles on faces even before the music starts and Richard Briggs is particularly proud of it, “I want people to get that as soon as they drive in and I want them to be wowed by it and get that excitement.”

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.

WalterTroutWMBF-OnFire

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.

WalterTroutBBKings-2

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.

danny-jon_usa_tour_2014

 

 

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 http://www.davemasonmusic.com/homewhere 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 www.workvesselsforveterans.org

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

Flashback Friday – Paul Nelson Interview

paul_nelsonAlright kids, it’s time for a flashback. This week we’re flashing back to an interview I did with Johnny Winter’s manager, guitarist, producer, and all-round good guy Paul Nelson. Down And Dirty, the film about Johnny Winter, is debuting this year and Johnny has a new guest-filled album, Step Back, coming out in September. This interview should whet your appetite for more wild Johnny Winter stories and get you ready for Down And Dirty.

At the time of this interview, Paul Nelson had just received a Keeping The Blues Alive award. As it turns out, he has kept Johnny Winter and Johnny’s career alive too, and given us fans more time with the man, the myth, the legend that is Johnny Winter. My utmost thanks go to Paul Nelson who was so generous with his time.

Okay, fire up the Wayback machine and drop us back in 2011…

The Blues Foundation recently announced the 2011 recipients of the Keeping The Blues Alive award. The KBA recipients are chosen by a panel of blues professionals and awarded to dedicated, hard working individuals actively promoting, supporting and documenting blues music worldwide. In the press release, KBA chairman Art Tipaldi said “The recipients of this year’s awards – as with every year – are people and organizations who are an integral part of not only promoting blues music, but of preserving it as well. Their work applies to the business of recorded music, but also to live events, print media, radio and visual broadcasts, and increasingly, the internet.” This year’s winners are from as far from Memphis as Norway and Poland and as close as Mufreesboro, TN.

The winner of the Keeping The Blues Alive award for Manager this year (2011) is Paul Nelson. Paul has been managing Johnny Winter since 2005 and playing guitar in the Johnny’s band even longer. The two met while Johnny was doing sessions for his “I’m A Bluesman” album at Carriage House Studios in Connecticut. Johnny heard and liked Paul’s playing and asked him to write a few songs, one of which became the title song. Johnny liked Paul’s work enough to ask him to play on the songs he wrote, and then a few others on the album.

Around this time, Paul was asked to join Johnny’s touring band and he was thrown head first into the swirling turmoil that was then Johnny Winter’s career. His first gig as a member of the band was supposed to be at Bishopstock Festival in the UK. It was there that Paul got his first glimpse of the paralysis gripping Johnny’s life and consciousness. Johnny suffered from anxiety and was using alcohol, and anti-depressants. His playing had slowly lost its edge, his voice was weakened and off-stage he was detached and zombie-like. Before the Bishopstock gig, which Johnny was headlining, Paul got a call from then manager Teddy Slatus saying that Johnny had fallen asleep on his arm and pinched a nerve. They had to cancel the show. It was one of many missed opportunities and it took Paul no time at all to realize something needed to be done. Paul had managed other artists and saw that management was largely to blame for the stupor in which Johnny existed. When Paul attempted to speak up he was regularly told not to question authority or speak directly to Johnny about what was going on. However, Teddy Slatus had alcohol dependency problems of his own and in a short time Paul became the last remaining voice of reason. He recently told me “I used to have to pick the guy up in my arms and carry him to clinics. The manager was in worse shape than the artist and the artist was a wreck.”

As Paul’s relationship developed with Johnny they were able to discuss the situation. Johnny grew to respect Paul’s opinion and together they began to reclaim Johnny’s legacy and make him relevant in the 21st Century. Johnny has gone from playing a few weeks a year before 2005 to 100-140 shows a year since. The fire and fury have returned to his playing and his voice is once again strong. They have been releasing archival audio recordings with their Bootleg Series CDs and video recordings in the form of two DVDs – “Live In The 70’s” and “Live In The 80’s.” They continue to tour regularly and plans are underway for a new album in 2011.

Paul Nelson has worn many musical hats over the years and was an accomplished guitarist, producer, arranger, writer and manager before he met Johnny Winter. He went to Berklee School of Music and was one of Steve Vai’s first students. Beyond blues Paul is comfortable with rock, funk, jazz, and pop music. His influences range from Albert King to Tommy Bolin including Jeff Beck, Billy Gibbons, Larry Carlton and Jimi Hendrix. Paul has even written music and played guitar for the WWF’s short-lived XFL Football broadcasts. Thankfully, his many talents and adventures prepared him well to help out his friend and living legend Johnny Winter. Paul Nelson has been integral to Johnny’s reawakening and resurgence. He recently spoke with American Blues News about the sometimes difficult, sometimes funny, often gut-wrenching journey that has brought Johnny and his career back from the abyss.

Paul Nelson guitar EDIT“I was doing lots of session work and touring with tons of artists from The Temptations to Halifax. It was during sessions at the Carriage House that I met Johnny. I was recording for the XFL – that football league the WWF was putting together. I was in there writing and Johnny heard me playing because Johnny was waiting to come in there next. Then he asked me to write songs for the new album and then he asked me to play on the new record, then ‘do you want to tour?’ and things just started developing and that’s how I started out with him.”

Blues and blues rock players were a big part of Paul’s development as a musician. “I used to listen to Johnny’s stuff like crazy. You had to have some blues in your playing, and it was blues rock so you listen to him, Aerosmith, and guys like Jeff Beck and Tommy Bolin.” Paul probably never imagined he’d be in a touring blues band one day, let alone with one of his heroes but he seems to be enjoying it quite a bit especially now that Johnny is healthy; playing and singing his best in years. “Oh, it’s great,” he said. “And now he’s mixing it up. He’s healthier and playing blues and rock. It’s great playing with him. We’re playing stuff from the old days and new ideas. His singing is great. He’s strong. That’s all I wanted to see”

Our conversation turned to the recent revelation that Johnny is finally off methadone and Paul revealed the inspiration behind his involvement in getting Johnny’s life back on track. He saw a fellow musician and human being in need and knew something had to be done. “As a musician I though ‘wow, I could’ve gone that route.’ I thought, if I was in that position, what would I want done for me? If I was in his position with everything that had happened and I wasn’t able to say or do anything to get out of it, how would I want somebody to save me from that? First thing, is as a guitarist, get a manager with knowledge of music, finance and managing. You know, somebody that knows the music. I think that’s why we get along so well, because we’re both musicians. It’s another strange thing that his manager is in his band. That doesn’t mean that while we’re playing I’m taking calls but sometimes it’s been pretty close!”

Johnny Winter-1For many years, from 1994 or so until a few years in to the 21st century, Johnny was off the radar. He seemed to disappear. “That was old management’s fault,” Paul says. “Johnny had the vices but management just wasn’t strong enough. They didn’t say no.”
It was at the dawn of the internet and information on Johnny was hard to find. Paul sees that as a blessing in disguise. “It was a good thing because while he was going through the bad years, the down years, the internet really hadn’t taken root. So, for some reason the timing worked out perfectly. Just when he started getting better Youtube started getting popular.” He adds, “A lot of the way he was wasn’t getting recorded. But I saw the phones starting to come into the shows and I thought ‘uh-oh, we gotta fix this quick or it’s going to be permanent.’” Fan-filmed video could make it hard to rebuild the reputation of the ailing icon, but it could possibly help too and that was not lost on Paul. “Every new step along the way in his career, whether it was musical changes or whatever, it was all being recorded. That was huge thing.”

Prior management under Teddy Slatus was not as concerned for Johnny Winter’s well-being and public perception. They didn’t stand up to or for Johnny and no one in the organization was willing to say what needed to be said. “I’m sure the same thing happened in the Elvis camp, Michael Jackson camp, or the Beach boys with Brian Wilson or the Ozzy camp. I just went in fresh and asked ‘what’s wrong with you?’ He (Johnny) says, ‘what do you mean what’s wrong with me? Nobody asks what’s wrong with me.’ I said, ‘this is bad’”

After a while, Paul’s questioning and caring led to respect between the two musicians. “I would say things before I was manager, actually working under management, and just say ‘how long are you going to do this?’ He ruled the roost. I got him off the alcohol, the anxiety pills he was taking and I was determined to get him off that methadone.” Paul’s quest to get Johnny off the drug finally came to fruition this year. Johnny was on it for almost 40 years as a treatment for his infamous heroin addiction in the early 70’s. It was a tough battle for Paul and an important milestone for both him and Johnny, even if Johnny didn’t know it was coming. “I knew if he knew what was going on it wouldn’t have happened, but I took it upon myself to go against doctors wishes. ‘No, he should stay on this. Certain people just need to be on it forever.’ I’m like, okay, whatever. I’m getting him off this. The doctor thought we were going to diminish it a little but I was lowering and lowering it. But, I had to monitor it so I needed a doctor to monitor him to see what effects there were.”

Paul slowly started to see the positive changes in his friend as they traveled around the globe together taking Johnny’s music to the masses once more. He elaborates “Being able to have a one on one relationship like that you can see the changes and get him off it slowly. It’s not like the clinics that say ‘Okay you’re down to this, goodbye’ and you go through withdrawals and it’s a revolving door. I knew it wouldn’t work that way, so I dwindled it off.” He adds, “Another thing too is that the rest of the world didn’t know what was going on because they’d come back and tell him!”

Things are definitely looking up on the business side too. “Now he’s in great shape and we’ve got a record deal. His whole business was a mess. No DVDs, no CDs. Interviews were non-existent. At a point when everyone was being retrolized, he wasn’t. He’s an icon. Now there’s tons of stuff. I’m finding old archival footage; stuff found in attics; some held by old disgruntled employees.” There is indeed an influx of Johnny Winter products including archival CDs & DVDs and an instructional DVD.

101_0492There’s also the book, Raisin’ Cain, by Mary Lou Sullivan. “You know what a pain in the ass that book was?” Paul asked. If the tribulations of the last 15 years were any indication, it was probably quite an exasperating undertaking. He continues, “She was fired by the old management. She started digging a little and got information on them. They kept telling her they wanted to read it and she said no. So he (Teddy Slatus) told Johnny’s wife that Mary Lou had the hots for Johnny. So then it stopped. I knew Mary Lou was trying to put the book out on her own so as soon as I took over I told her ‘We’ve got to get this book going. You spent too much time on it.’”

Even with new management there was still an important issue to resolve. Johnny’s wife still believed that Mary Lou was after Johnny. Paul said “I told her (Mary Lou) ‘you’ve got to get together with his wife and work this out.’ So I took them both to lunch and sat them at the table. The wife didn’t want to do go and I said we’ve got to do this. There’s been too much time spent and now that he’s healthier we can have an ending to the story. They had no ending before. And Mary Lou didn’t even know I was taking him off the stuff (methadone). She only interviewed him until 2003 and he was still alcoholic then. That’s why she’s running around now saying ‘oh yeah, we sat down with a bottle of vodka…’ He hasn’t had a drink in years!”

Paul found himself having to do damage control all over again and he wished Mary Lou Sullivan had taken the time to update the narrative. “I said you’ve got to take it easy. He’s not like that anymore. New stuff was developing. That book is like a sugar-coated tip of the iceberg. Right after Johnny finished her interviews he was still out of it. When she came back in I said ‘I know you have all the notes and stuff but you’ve got to interview some of those people again. There’s other stuff going on here.’ And she never did. The stuff going on behind the scenes while she was wrapping it up was insane – the firing of the manager, Johnny kicking it, the alcoholic stupor.”

Teddy Slatus drank heavily and eventually it led to his accidental death. In a drunken state one night, he fell down the steps at home and died in the ambulance. By the time of Slatus’ death, Paul Nelson was on his way to rebuilding Johnny’s career and reputation. He now had Johnny’s cooperation. “Johnny, by then, was just totally fed up. All the stuff we had found out – the attorneys, the records, all that stuff was just crazy. So much more than what’s in the book. But he’s doing great now and it’s all good. As far as managing goes, it’s a great situation we have. We live close together, we’re in the same band, we travel together.”

When Paul speaks about his accomplishments with Johnny, it all sounds so simple. “I just made sure that every aspect of his home life and life on the road was taken care of – from finances, to drugs, to his relationship at home.”

It’s that kind of attitude and selflessness that led Paul to be this year’s recipient of the Keeping The Blues Alive award for management. Paul comments, “I never thought I would get this award. I wasn’t going for it. I thought, wow, that’s pretty wild. The guy that called me from the Blues Foundation said the guys that get it never expect it and the ones that think they earned it never do. I didn’t even think about it but it’s pretty nice.” It is obvious that Paul cares very much about Johnny personally and professionally. He is thrilled to have Johnny healthy and happy.

101_0494Many of us have probably been wondering if Johnny still has it. For several years, the audio and video making the rounds did not pain a pretty picture of Johnny’s withered abilities. Music fans everywhere were skeptical about going to a Johnny Winter show. Paul has gone above and beyond on many occasions to make sure Johnny is healthy, playing well and giving people exactly what they came to see and hear. He shared one such story with American Blues News. He looked back with amusement at what had to be immensely frustrating and daunting at the time. “The confidence had to be built back up with all the promoters. One time, when I had first taken over and I fired Teddy Slatus, Johnny had a gig in Texas that was three weeks away. It was a run of shows for concerts that had been cancelled due to health and the old management. Here I come along, fire the management, fire accountants, fire all these other people, handle lawsuits against him for all this other crap, handling all that and his wife calls me up ‘Johnny fell and broke his hip.’ I go over there, pick him up, put him in the car, drive him to the hospital. He weighed about 90 pounds – now he’s around 150 something – but he’s about 90 pounds, sitting there in the hospital. ‘I’m sorry’ he says ‘here you just took over, I broke my hip, these shows are so important.’ I said ‘This is it.’ So, I talked to the doctors and said ‘look, he sits down while he plays.’ The doctor says ‘when are these shows?’ I say three weeks. He says ‘well, don’t cancel anything yet.’ I said ‘What?’ The doctor says “how does he get to these shows?’ I said ‘He goes in a wheel chair to the bus, from the bus to the airport and on to the flight. He sits in his seat.’”

“The doctor says ‘Is there a wheel chair all along?’ I said ‘yeah, we wheel him to his seat. He gets off the plane, we put him in a wheel chair and he goes to the show.’ (ed. note – Johnny had broken his hip previously forcing him to be seated on stage) The doctor says, ‘Well, he can do those shows. He’s just going to be sitting down. He’ll spend 3 days in the hospital, then we’ll send him for rehab and he’ll be walking in 12 days.’ I said ‘Are you kidding me?’ I go to Johnny’s room and he’s saying ‘I’m so sorry, you take over, I’m happy with the way things are going, I see progress, it’s great and I know these shows are important. You know I feel so bad you had to cancel the shows.’ I’m just looking at him. He says ‘you did cancel the shows right?’ ‘No.’ He says ‘What!? What do you mean? I can’t go. Are you insane?’ I said to him, ‘Think about it. You’ll be sitting down all day. The doctor tells me you’ll be here for 12 days. That’s perfect.”

Johnny would be able to play the shows, but nothing is ever as easy as it sounds. Paul continues, “So this is huge. His mother didn’t know he broke the hip, his brother didn’t know. He said ‘Can I tell anybody?’ I said ‘You don’t tell a soul that you broke your hip.’ This news can’t get out. We had just signed with Piedmont Talent, the booking agent. They didn’t know it was broken. They got a series of gigs and I’m gonna call them up and tell them Johnny Winter is broken in half? We’re going. We go down there. We get there and the second plane doesn’t have a wheel chair. So I’ve got to pick him up and carry him to his seat on the plane. Imagine all the Johnny Winter fans – ‘honey, you’re never going to believe this. There’s some guy carrying Johnny Winter in his arms down the aisle of the plane’ I carried him to Texas.”

Paul laughs but he wasn’t too happy at the time, and, he continues “It gets worse! I roll him in to the back of the club. I didn’t want any pictures of him in the wheel chair. I covered up the wheel chair with some black cloth, he’s sitting at a table and it looks like a regular lounge chair. Even his brother walks in and doesn’t know he’s in a wheel chair with a broken hip. So now I’m wondering how in the hell am I going to get him on stage? It’s the first show, old manager’s gone, Johnny’s healthy – he was already playing and singing great, he was off all this stuff – so I knew all I had to do was get him out there, but he had to look healthy. I had a guy working with us sit in the front row. This is at soundcheck, so I said, I’m going to sit in Johnny’s chair. I screamed to the houselight guy ‘When I say GO shut off all the lights in the house.’ He says ‘Okay, I gotta we gotta notify somebody…’ I said ‘just for a second! I’m going to count to 15 – the time it would take to get Johnny from the side of the stage to his chair.’ I told our guy in the front row to let me know if you can see anything at all. So they turn off the lights, I walk to the stairs, down the steps and back up again and ask ‘what did you see?’ he didn’t see anything, it was pitch black. ‘I said that’s it! That’s how we’re going to get Johnny up to the stage. We’ll pretend there’s a power failure in the auditorium, I’m going to run him up there, carry him in my arms and no camera will see me and I’ll place him in the chair. You see, previously they had said there were curtains in front of the stage but they said we couldn’t use them because they had Budweiser advertisements on them.”

“Come show time – remember, I’ve got to time this right – I’m going to run out there with him, those lights gotta come on when he’s there. So, the band’s playing the introductory music, the lights go off, I grab Johnny, pick him up – he’s like ‘What the hell!?’ – and I run up the stairs, I put him in the chair. I go to run off and they turn the lights back on! So I jumped behind the chair and hid behind his chair for the whole show. On stage!” Paul chuckles. “Edgar walks out to jam. He’s looking at me like, do I play now? I’m giving everybody cues from behind the chair because I don’t want anybody to know Johnny was lifted. Then the Mayor comes out and wants to give him the fucking key to the city, looking at me behind the chair like ‘do I do it now?’ I’m like, yeah just stretch. Everybody’s looking behind Johnny for this person who’s ‘not there.’”

“So, the show goes through. I’m thinking how do I get him out of here? So I’m signaling, going kill the lights, kill the lights! So they kill the lights and I run him off. Then I look at the press for the show and it was ‘Johnny Winter back with a vengeance’ and as if by magic no one can figure out how Johnny appeared on stage. It was poof! And then he was gone.” Paul laughs. “They didn’t know how the Hell he got off stage.”

Paul Nelson BilltownSo that was the start of Paul Nelson’s career as Johnny Winter’s manager. Johnny was wondering what he got himself in to. Paul remembers “Johnny says ‘is this how it’s going to be?’ I said yep, we’re doing it. And we’re going to use the music that got you into this situation to get you out. The music is going to be your exercise – walking to hotels. And then I piled on the gigs. I piled them on! He was doing two weeks a year now he’s doing 100 to 140 a year. He also needed it for the income – he needed to pay for all that stuff to get fixed and he needed it for his own health. He was sitting around turning to mush. But nobody ever knew he broke his hip! And it’s not in the book.”

Ever since, Paul has guided Johnny’s career and legacy upward and onward and the hard work is paying off. Johnny Winter is back in the magazines, playing high profile festivals like Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Festival and The Allman Brothers’ annual Wanee Festival in Florida. There are official archival recordings readily available reminding everyone what a treasure Johnny’s music was and is. Above all, Johnny is healthy and happy and the blues world is recognizing the hard work Paul put into the success. Paul says “You think back and say maybe I did take that extra step but I had to. You don’t think. You’ve got to do those things. You have to make on the spot judgments on his behalf and you do as much research as you can to make sure he’s safe, doesn’t get hurt, his career isn’t tainted. He looks like a pro coming in and out and you just do it. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since.”

Thanks to Paul and Johnny’s hard work, cooperation and determination long time fans, skeptics and newcomers can now feel confident when they buy a ticket for a show. Johnny will be there, he’ll be healthy and he’ll be blowing the roof off the joint with his inimitable style of rockin’ blues. Congratulations to Paul Nelson for receiving this year’s Blues Foundation Keeping The Blues Alive award.

Please support the artists and Blues Biscuits by shopping at Amazon by clicking our links:

Throwback Thursday | Ronnie Baker Brooks Interview

A few years ago I had the chance to interview Ronnie Baker Brooks for American Blues News. it was part of our Father’s Day special feature. ABN has since become dormant and the expansive content has been lost to the ether. Since Father’s Day is this weekend, I thought it would be a perfect time to throwback to that feature and this interview with one of the leading sons of the blues: Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of Lonnie Brooks.

Ronnie Baker Brooks-1Ronnie is on tour this summer with his own band and as a special guest with Big Head Todd & The Monsters. Tour dates can be found here: RBB Tour Dates. I’ve been fortunate too see Ronnie’s show and he always leaves it all on the boards. He is a veteran showman, skilled entertainer, and ace guitarist. His show will leave you wanting more.

Now let’s get in the WABAC machine and check in with Ronnie Baker Brooks circa spring 2011…

JK What was it like growing up with your Dad (Lonnie Brooks) as a famous blues musician?

RB When I was younger I didn’t realize what impact Dad had. He was just Dad around the house. Me and my brother Wayne used to just try to emulate Dad around the house with brooms, spoons, pots & pans, and when I went to see my Dad play at the Chicago Blues Fest when I was around 11 or 12 years old, that’s when I was like “Wow! This is not normal.” It was something special and something different. I didn’t really, really embrace it until I got on the road with him after I graduated high school. That’s when I realized it was so special.

JK Did you go out with him as a kid accompanying Dad or as a musician?

RB Well, I went out with him on weekends from around age 14 to 18. I would carry amplifiers, set up the stage, tune guitars, and sometimes he would let me play one song a night. Then when I graduated from high school I went out full time doing that – being a roadie. Whatever the band needed; I sold albums – back then it was vinyl – I set up the stage, drove the van, everything they needed and my Dad would reward me by letting me play one or two songs, then two led to four, then four led to one set and one set led to being in the band.

Ronnie Baker Brooks-2JK When did you start playing guitar?

RB I started playing and my Dad started teaching me when I was six. My first time on stage in front of an audience I was nine, at a club called Pepper’s Hideout.

JK What was that like for you?

RB That was weird, man, because we always played with Dad at home and I felt pretty comfortable. It really kept me out of trouble because I grew up in the ghetto on the south side of Chicago. It was kinda rough over there. Being in the house playing music with my Dad kept me away from trouble and I really, really enjoyed it. I looked forward to it. Just to hang with my Dad and for him to give me that attention through music. I started playing on stage, my first time was at Pepper’s; it was packed and I had a mood ring on and it was turning all kinds of colors. My Mom was there with me and she was like “calm down, calm down. Just play like you do at home.” When she said that, it calmed me down and I got up on stage with him and the people didn’t believe it was me playing. They thought my Dad was playing so he held up his hands. When they saw it was me playing, they threw money on stage. I made more money than my Dad that night and I thought I was a superstar! I thought I made it, man.

JK So did you want to go back the next night?

RB Yeah! But my Dad said “we can’t have kids coming in there all the time.” It was a special occasion, like a birthday and coming home party. He had gone to Europe for six weeks or something like that and it happened to be around the time of my birthday. But, he said if I learned more songs he’d get me up there again. That was my big splash into the music business. I did some local TV commercials and I thought I was famous. It went to my head. Then I decided to quit and play basketball because my Dad said “You can’t do both.”  You know, most of my friends, I didn’t have any that were playing music. Most guys I knew playing music were my Dad’s age. Most of my friends were playing basketball or football – some kind of sport. I told my Dad, I want to play basketball. Well, he said “You can’t do both. If you want to be good you’ve got to concentrate on one or the other.” He later said I broke his heart when I decided to play basketball (laughs). He didn’t tell me until I got back into music. But my Dad would play until 4 am, get up and take me to my games at 9 am, watch me play, take me to lunch, take a nap and he go back out to work that night. I had no idea he was thinking “he broke my heart.”

JK That’s a good Dad right there. He let you pursue what you wanted to do.

RB I’m glad I did it too. Basketball taught me teamwork that I apply to my band today. Everybody can’t have the ball at the same time. We all have our roles to play to make this work.

Brooks Family DynastyJK There are a lot of parallels between a sports team and a band; it’s everybody working together.

RB That’s right. Dad didn’t tell me until I was back into music and back out on the road – “You know you broke my heart.” I said “what do you mean?” He said, “When you decided to play basketball. And I’m so glad you’re back into music, but you’ve got to prove it to me this time.” He didn’t pay me. He took a lot of grief for taking me on the road. We were riding in the van and his band members were saying, “Man, we don’t need him. Why’s he out here?” But I wasn’t getting paid. I was out there just to help Dad.  So I had to earn everybody’s trust. I loaded the van, tuned guitars; I was the roadie, the gopher guy. I did it so well that they depended on me. When I wasn’t there, they’d be asking “Hey, where’s Ronnie?” I didn’t realize he was preparing me for my own band. It was to prepare me to get my own career going. Everything from calling hotels, setting up load-in times, advancing the shows – it just prepared me. And I thank my Dad for that.

 JK It sounds like he taught you the whole trade.

RB Yes, he did.

JK Were the guys openly hostile or just griping?

RB Some were, man. I had to earn it. And my father was always saying “Look, I don’t want anybody saying you got anything because I’m your Dad.” I had to prove it, and not only to the band, but to the audience too. I didn’t want anyone to say “He got this because of his Dad.” And, I didn’t my father to feel responsible for carrying me. I didn’t want that pressure on my father. So, I had to do three times the work to earn it. I still feel like that sometimes.  I feel like the pressure is on, being his son I still feel like I have to do that for the music. Compared to rock & rollers, rappers and hip-hoppers, we have to work harder to prove we’re justified in being here.

JK I would think it would be harder to convince the audience. They might be thinking “Oh, it’s just his kid.”

RB You know man, I got that coming up. “What do you know about the blues? You don’t know no blues.” This was before Jonny Lang and Derek Trucks and all those guys getting those good contracts at a young age.  When I was coming up it was “No, he don’t know nothing about the blues. What’re you talking about blues?” It made me dig in that hole a little harder and I did my homework and learned about all the previous blues musicians I could – Muddy, John Lee Hooker, I was listening to the raw stuff too like Son House and Lightnin’ Hopkins, and I was feeling it. But I always had to prove it. Koko Taylor, Eddy Clearwater, Son Seals, Luther Allison, they all said “Do this. You are the future. You’ve got to keep this music alive.” There were a few though that were like “Put that thing down! You don’t know blues.” And they weren’t giving out contracts like they are now.

Ronnie Baker Brooks Bluestock-1JK Jonny Lang, Derek Truck, Joe Bonamassa – they all have something in common which is that they’re white. Younger people like you, Bernard Allison, Shemekia Copeland and so on get the interest from the blues labels but Trucks and Lang and the others get the interest of the big labels like Sony. Is that a cultural thing or is it just that the business doesn’t see you as a viable product? They’d rather sign Jay-Z and sell him to the black kids.

RB There you go. It boils down to money. The companies that put big money into an artist want to see it come back and it’s got to be a no-brainer. There are many great musicians out there deserving of that kind of attention but it comes down to money.  In America, if you see something you can relate to you’ll support it. If they see a black kid playing blues, they think “Ah, I don’t know about blues.” But if they see some hip-hop, that’s the thing in their neighborhood. They can see themselves doing that. That’s the ticket out. They see them making money and in the ghetto you don’t want to be reminded of the tough times. They don’t want to hear about blues. But you know what, it’s an educational process.  A lot of my friends who would’ve been teasing me about it back then love it now. You have to go through some of it maybe to understand it or enjoy it. Now they say, “Oh, now I know what they’re talking about.” Some of them come to my shows and tell me “I thought the blues was crying in your drink but you’re having fun!” It’s a hard thing to get across. I really believe that with the right African-American artist who had the chance, it would help the African-American kids back into the music. With Jonny Lang, Derek Trucks, & Joe Bonamassa the white kids see themselves so they think “I can do that.” Like “Mom, can I get a guitar like Jonny Lang?” You know? So they can relate quicker to them than they could me because they see themselves but it’s getting better and I’ll tell you what, I’m glad anybody listens to this music. No matter what color, how old or whatever, if we get one fan at a time I’m happy. If Derek Trucks gets 1,000 fans I hope they investigate more and find out about others. But that’s how it is. It’s been that formula for a long time. Eric Clapton and the British Invasion did the same thing for Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. It took the Stones and those guys to bring that music back here for the people to appreciate it.

JK Yeah. It’s ridiculous.

RB Yeah. But I’m not the one who started this; I’m just out in it. Hopefully we can get past the barriers that our music inherited.

Ronnie Baker Brooks - Bluestock-2JK Do the people you grew up with like blues music now?

RB They love it now man. Especially when they come out to the shows. Plus, they don’t want to listen what they’re kids are listening to. Some of the people that teased me come looking for backstage passes now and want to hang. So, it’s weird. I’m just glad I was exposed to it early fro my father and absorbed it. Even today I think back to when I was first exposed to it at such an early age and I’m grateful for that.

JK Does your Dad still tour?

RB A little bit but not as much as he used to. He’s 77. Back when I was with him we’d do 250 to 300 dates a year. But it’s changed a bit. He doesn’t have gigs during the week like he used to. Dad is at an age where they can’t sell him the gig like they can me, you know like “this can really help your career.”

JK He doesn’t have to take gigs. I can’t believe he’s 77. I would never have guessed that.

RB He doesn’t look 77 and he doesn’t always act 77 (laughs). He’s got a brand new record coming out soon, I don’t know when, but it’s got new material he wrote. I’m really proud of him. The older you get the more difficult it gets. You’ve really got to love it to stay with it for so long. I’m glad to see it and I’m really looking forward to the record being released. It might motivate him to get out there and play more.

JK What about your brother Wayne; he has his own record label?

RB Yeah, he has his own record company. He has a new single out by rapper Twista. He still does his own thing and still plays with my dad when he does shows. We’re all going to get together and play some shows over the summer billed as the Brooks Family.

JK Any chance of a Brooks Family record?

RB I hope so. We’ve talked about it from time to time.

JK Were you and Wayne in your Dad’s band at the same time?

RB Yeah. He came up the same way I did; being a roadie and tech, you know. Dad sent us to blues college, man.

JK Were you one of the band members giving him crap when he came out on the road?

RB (laughs) Well, no. Really I made it easier for him because I broke the ice. He caught it too though. That’s just part of being the boss’s son. You’ve got to prove yourself and pull your own weight.

JK Was there any different audience reaction when both of you were in the band? Audiences can be cynical especially with two sons out there.

RB We didn’t hear any of it. In fact it was kinda the opposite. I’ve had grown men coming to me in tears talking about “It’s great you’re up there with your Dad. I wish I could have that relationship with my father,” you know, that kind of stuff.

JK Was there any sibling rivalry on stage?

RB (Hesitates) Well…yes. Like I said, we’re all competitive. Wayne & I used to play basketball together no one wanted to lose. We’d play cards with Mom & Dad and no one wanted to lose. So, yeah, we have that drive, but we love and respect each other. We would drive each other to be the best we could be.  If you didn’t work at it, it would be exposed, but we all brought our A game and wanted everybody to look good.

JK I’ve noticed in your music there’s some funk and soul influences. Did you deliberately set out to be different from your Dad’s music or do you just feel it differently?   

RB It’s a combination of both. Dad would always tell us to be ourselves. Learn all you can from what B.B.’s done, Albert’s done, but remember, you’re never going to be Albert King. But you can take what they had to offer and make it your own. So that enabled me to be different when I wrote songs. I listen to blues, gospel, soul, R&B, even country music – my Dad used to play country music once in a while – and Wayne and I grew up in the hip-hop era so there’s that too. I try to apply all that to what I do, but I never think this is going to be a blues song or this is going to be an R&B song; it comes out as it is.

JK What’s your guitar set-up like?

RB I have a number of guitar pedals (laughs). But it all boils down to your fingers. Even my Dad always said you’ve got to have your own fingerprint. I use pedals to get different sounds. I’ve got a three piece so I use them to keep it interesting; so every song doesn’t sound the same. But really it’s in the fingers. When Buddy guy sat in with me he played my guitars and amps and sounded just like Buddy Guy. I try to establish that for myself.

Ronnie Baker Brooks - StratJK Do you usually use Strats?

RB On the road, yeah. They’re durable. But I have about 35 guitars. I use a lot of them in the studio and every now and then I’ll take some on the road if it’s a short trip, but some of the Gibsons are delicate. So, I take my two main Strats – the one I call “The Baby” and the other one I call “Champagne.” Those two go on the road.

JK What guitars did your Dad use? He had some guitars that looked like Strats but I couldn’t tell what make they were.

RB He had custom made Strat style guitars by Flynn Guitars, but right now he uses Gibson SGs or the 335.

JK I was surprised to see him playing an SG on the album covers because he had a slinky, trebly tone I wouldn’t normally associate with a Gibson SG.

RB That SG on the front cover of Bayou Lightning was my first guitar. That’s my Gibson SG on there. That was the first professional grade guitar that he bought for me. He got me a cheaper Sears model before he knew I really wanted to play but then he got the SG. Before I went out on stage with him the first time he bought me that SG. Then when I quit to play basketball he took it back! Then he did Bayou Lightning and Turn On The Night with that guitar. I got it back when I returned to the band.

JK what do you have coming up?

RB I’ve got some touring, I’m always writing. I’m getting a record together, either at the end of this year or beginning of next. I’ll be doing some dates with my brothers and father this summer.  I just produced Eddy Clearwater’s record and I produced this group from Holland called The Juke Joints. I did their CD which is out now over there. I’ve been making guest appearances. I’m on a record coming out soon called Living History of Chicago Blues or something like that. It’s got Buddy Guy, Magic Slim, James Cotton, Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell, John Primer; a bunch of people from Chicago got together and we did this record. I did my father’s song “Don’t Take Advantage Of Me.” I did that one over and one of my songs over. So, I’ve done everything for everybody else. I also helped Dad with his record. So now it’s time for me to do something for myself.

DSCN1491JK What’s it like for you as a producer to work with Eddy Clearwater or even your Dad? Do they take it well when you assert yourself?

RB Yeah. Actually, they listen to me. They want me to take control. Eddy said “If you want something done you tell me what to do. I trust that you know what you’re talking about.”  For him to give me that, it added a little pressure to be sure about what you want, because you’ve got a legend that you’re telling what to do. That was awesome. That was probably one of the best times of my life; for Eddy to embrace me like that and trusting me. First it was only supposed to be one or two songs and I went over to his house and it just started rolling. Ideas started popping out and everything was flowing really well and he said let’s just do the whole album. I’m honored. That’s something no one can take away from me. It was a great experience. He was the first person other than my father who said “I want you to do this for me and I know you can do it.”

JK What album is that?

RB West Side Struggle on Alligator Records.

JK To sum it up and put it in perspective for us, what do you think is the most important thing you learned from all the time spent playing with your Dad?

RB To be a man – a human being. Treat people how you want to be treated, be professional and do the best you can. You can’t please everyone but you can please yourself by doing your best. That keeps me grounded. You get compliments all the time. There are huge egos out here. You can’t start believing all that stuff and let it get to you. My Dad gave me a firm foundation to build on. That’s the best gift he gave me. He gave me a craft and I embraced it. He never forced us – me or Wayne – to do anything but once we showed him we wanted to do it, he sacrificed so we could do it. I’m very grateful and I feel like I have to carry this on; the family legacy.

My thanks to Ronnie baker Brooks for taking the time to explore his musical pedigree and I hope all you Fathers and Sons out there enjoy Father’s Day 2014.