When I spoke to Victor Wooten, one of the things he made clear to me was that he is not the only member of his family with musical talent. One of five brothers who formed a band in their formative years, he also has aunts, uncles, cousins, etc., who sing, play instruments, etc. One he particularly talked about was Keyaunna “Keymace” Danielle Mace, a 20-year-old singer from the Washington, D.C. suburb of Upper Marlboro, Maryland. Keymace—a childhood nickname that evolved into a stage name—is, to use her words, “ready to break out and take over.” She is working on her first album, “The Sultry Sounds of Keymace,” a compilation of ten songs, nine of them original. One features rapper Rick Ross, who heard it and liked it enough to rap over it after someone sent it to him. Keymace started even younger than Victor, literally singing when she popped out of the womb. Soon after she was delivered at a Washington D.C. hospital, doctors on her ward nicknamed her “the humming baby.” At nine months, she would hush her crying and pay rapt attention whenever her mother, Kym Mace, played Regina Belle’s “Make it Like it Was.” Over the years, she became a prominent presence at annual family reunions, recalled Wooten, her second cousin on her mom’s side. “I’ve known her, Keymace, since before she was Keymace,” said Wooten. “I’ve known her since she was born and every year when we have family reunions they have like a little family talent show and she would always just get up there and sing you know, so she’s already a big star within the family. And we have a big family. We have a huge family. So when she started doing her bigger thing, actually with a full band and show and CD and stuff, her mom and dad contacted me and so I just try and support her and include her wherever I can because she has the ability of becoming huge..definitely much bigger than I am.” Keymace sang in her church and high school choir while growing up. She sang at the Kennedy Center with the prestigious Children of the Gospel Choir, a group organized by the Washington Performing Arts Society. She finally decided to take the plunge into a music career in November, 2009 after winning a singing contest at South Carolina’s Allen University, which she was attending with the intention of becoming a veterinarian. A family member in advertising hooked her up with producer/songwriter Chris Absolam—known for his work with Donell Jones—and off she went. Last June, she joined Wooten on stage at D.C.’s 9:30 Club and sang Anita Baker’s “Angel.” “He called me up on stage,” she recalled. “We went to see him and he called me up on stage…I went up there and I did it, and right after that he called the next day and asked could we come to Carrboro, North Carolina and do it again. We got up, drove to Carrboro and did that show with him as well.” During the same period she opened for the rhythm-and-blues group Dru Hill at Bobby McKey’s in National Harbor. Whenever he hears his cousin, Wooten, 46, thinks of Baker, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, Mahalia Jackson and other old school singers he grew up listening to. But he also thinks of the new singers. “She has the capabilities that the newer singers have because nowadays we have acrobatic singers, meaning they can do all of these runs and tricks with their voice,” he said. “But, you know like when Keymace did the Anita Baker song with us, that was just a sultry ballad. It’s nice to hear that side of her come out, to let you know she’s a well-rounded singer.” Keymace likes the older singers too (her song “Seen them” borrows a hook from “Have You Seen Her” by the Chi-Lites, a group that was on the scene years before she was even born!) and particularly Baker, whom she says is number one on her list. She talks about that in this interview with Beldon’s Blues Point: BBP: It sounds like you like the older people. Keymace: I do. And to be honest with you, when I do shows, a lot of the older crowd takes to me. Not just because I sing the Anita Baker song (Angel), but all of my music. And that’s what I want. I don’t just want my generation or my age. I want younger than me, I want older than me, I want everybody. I want music that everybody can listen to. Like, for example, you’re sitting in a car..okay, we’re on our way to a family reunion: me, my mother, my little sisters, my grandmother. We’re on our way to family reunion in North Carolina and my grandmother wants to listen to (asks her mother, Kym) what would she want to hear? (Her mother shoots out “Etta James.”) Yeah, Etta James or something like that. My mom will want to listen to Angie Stone and my little sisters will probably want to listen to Miley Cyrus or the Cheetah Girls or something like that. And me, I’m trying to sing like some Chris Brown or some Jazmine Sullivan or Rihanna or something like that. You can put my CD in, everybody will be happy! BBP: What about Anita Baker do you like? Keymace: Her music is real. And it comes from the heart and it’s about love..it makes you fall in love. And it’s very positive. She sings from her heart. She’s amazing live! BBP: But you like some new singers, right? You mentioned Jazmine Sullivan and Chris Brown. Keymace: Jazmine Sullivan, you can tell where everything comes from, how’s she’s able to use her voice. She kind of inspired me because when I first started singing, I used to sing, what we call “in the basement.” Really deep voice. Raspy. Her sound is jazzy, but she is able to switch it up so she inspired me and let me know that it’s okay to sing in the basement sometimes, and use my voice in different ways. Chris Brown, I take from him the struggle. He struggled after what happened, it’s like “keep your head up at all times.” BBP: And I read you like Michael Jackson. Keymace: Michael Jackson, he started it, so… BBP: How did Rick Ross get on your album? Keymace: What happened was, they sent the song to him, and he liked it and he said he wanted to be a part of it. BBP: What do you mean when you talk about versatility in what you do? Keymace: When artists come out, you have a pop lane. You have an R and B lane. You might have an R and B soul lane. You have a rock lane. You have a rap lane. You have a gospel lane as well. When you come out, people try to categorize you. I don’t want to be categorized, because I want to be able to do it all. And nowadays if you can’t do it all, you won’t last long. As you can see, it’s not really R and B anymore, it’s pop. Pop has taken over right now. So if you can’t do pop now, you ain’t on the radio, you ain’t on the videos, you’re not doing anything.” BBP: Tell me how you write a song. Keymace: Songwriting is like, wow. I mean you put a beat on, and it just goes, goes, goes, goes. You know because it’s all about the melody. It’s all about the melody, how your melody is different from other people’s melody. And it doesn’t take me long if I have a concept. If I have a concept for a song it doesn’t take me long. It took about an hour to write “Seen Him,” if that. So it really doesn’t take long. The writing process doesn’t take long; it’s the arrangement of the song. It’s the arrangement. You know, where the verse goes, where the bridge goes, how many hooks you want in there, the “B” section, everything. That’s the hardest part, to be honest with you. That’s the hardest part. But it really doesn’t take long to write a song.
Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Grammy-award winning bassist Victor Wooten already had a bass in his hands at an age when some people are still learning to talk.
Raised in a military family with four older brothers known for their musical ability, Wooten started learning the bass when he was two years old from his then ten-year-old brother Regi.
By age three he was with his brothers as they played concerts in their Hawaiian neighborhood. At age six he was with them when they opened for Curtis Mayfield.
The brothers continued to play as the family moved first to Sacramento, then to the east coast. After landing in Newport News, Virginia in the early 1980’s, they began work as musicians at Busch Gardens theme park in nearby Williamsburg.
Convinced by his brother Roy that he could play the instrument, Busch Gardens offered Wooten a job as a blue grass fiddler. Ironically, Wooten had never played the instrument and had to give himself a crash course to take the job.
Busch Garden administrators never knew he was anything other than an experienced fiddler.
At the park, Wooten met New York and Nashville musicians and in 1988 moved to Nashville, where he met New Grass Revival banjo player Bela Fleck. The two joined with Wooten’s brother Roy (also known as Future Man) on drums and Howard Levy on harmonica and keyboards to form Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, which Wooten still plays with today.
He began his solo career in the 1990’s, first forming Bass Extremes with fellow bassist Steve Bailey. His 1996 debut album A Show of Hands is considered a seminal bass recording. He went on to release What Did He Say? In 1997, the Grammy-nominated Yin-Yang in 1999, and the double-CD Live in America in 2001. In 2005, a literal who’s who of bassists that included Bailey, Bootsy Collins, Rhonda Smith, Will Lee, Oteil Burbridge, Gary Grainger and Christian McBride joined Wooten, his brothers and other musicians for the Soul Circus CD.
His 2008 album Palmystery featured the Lee Boys and bluesman Keb Mo. A song from Palmystery,”I Saw God,” was featured in the movie “The Moses Code.”
Also in 2008, Wooten joined two of his heroes, Stanley Clarke and Marcus Miller, to form “SMV.” The three toured together and released an album, Thunder.
The five-time Grammy winner is also a three time winner of Bass Player magazine’s Bassist of the Year Award, the only musician to have won the award more than once.
He is also known for Victor Wooten’s Bass/Nature Camp, an instructional camp for musicians located near Nashville.
Wooten talked to Beldon’s Blues Point about his own life after discussing his cousin, rhythm-and-blues singer Keymace (you will hear from her—and from him talking about her—in an upcoming post, so don’t go away):
BBP:If I recall, your brother Regi taught you the bass when you were like, what, two or three years old?
Wooten: Exactly. Exactly. I was about two or three years old when he started teaching me. And I’m the youngest of five brothers, so I have four older brothers, and by the time I was five, I was lucky enough to be out doing some gigs. Like I did a tour opening for Curtis Mayfield when I was about five or six years old. And so I was lucky, in that sense, I was surrounded by my parents and my brothers and I was kind of inducted early on into this music society. And I’m kind of seeing the same thing with Keymace. Even though she may not have been part of a regular band when she was young, she was still singing and performing and surrounded by her relatives and her cousins that were musical, so she kind of has a similar background to me.
BBP: Let me ask you about something I heard about you. Do you run a camp in California for bass?
Wooten: It’s in Tennessee and it’s really for any instrument, not just bass. It started out in the year 2000 as just for bass players and now we’ve grown because now we have our own property that we run these camps on and so now we’re doing any instrument, all ages.
BBP: Somebody told me that you do training, not only on the instruments, but a lot of breathing exercises. How does that figure into it?
Wooten: Well, you don’t perform if you don’t have the body and the mind to perform with. And so a lot of us musicians take care of our instruments, but not our bodies. You know, there are people who will go out and wash their car every day, but don’t take care of their body. And so, it’s like when you speak, when we’re talking right now, you are using an instrument to talk with. But you know, because talking is a natural thing you’ve done your whole life, you now know that the instrument you are talking with is not all important. In other words, the focus doesn’t go to the instrument, the focus goes to what it is you have to say. Because nobody is interested in your instrument. If I’m sitting in front of you, I’m not staring at your mouth, I’m listening to what you have to say, what’s coming through the instrument. So a lot of us musicians get caught up and get lost in the instrument. “Oh man, what kind of instrument you got?” And it’s not about the instrument. When you sit that instrument down, it doesn’t make a sound. The music comes from you, from the inside. And so I do a lot of things that deal with your inside. Who you are as a person. What is your life’s story? Because once you have a life’s story and you have something interesting to say through your instrument, then people will listen. That’s why we love someone like B.B. King, Michael Jackson, or the Beatles or Elvis. It’s not just that their music is good, but they are telling a story that we all can relate to and we all want to hear it. And to me that is one thing that is a little bit missing from the younger artists here. That you can tell that the story they’re telling in a lot of cases—and this is not to criticize anyone—a lot of times the story is not authentic. Not like B.B. King, or Stevie Wonder or whatever, or Ray Charles, where you can really feel that thing. And so, that is one of the things that I work with a lot with musicians is that inner story, that inner beauty that we have, and I cultivate that. And then the instrument, the rest of it is easy after that.
BBP: You started out playing with Curtis Mayfield at five and you were at Busch Gardens for a while. I used to go there when I was a kid. Were you part of the house band there or were you kind of playing with different bands that toured through there? How did that work?
Wooten: I played for a few years in the country music band, in the bluegrass and country show. And me and a few of my brothers worked at that park for a few years on and off. And it was at a time that we weren’t doing a whole lot of touring and recording, so we got some musical work there. Rather than working at McDonald’s or something, we got musical jobs. And it wound up being a blessing. You know, I wouldn’t be where I am right now today without that because that’s what turned me onto Bela Fleck, the banjo player that I play with today. Everything’s got a blessing in it if we find it.
BBP: You kind of experiment with different kinds of music. I know you’ve kind of been involved in Indian music. I guess your watershed band would have been Bela Fleck. What did that do for you being part of that band?
Wooten: For one, it expanded me as a musician, because here I am playing different kinds of music. But I’m blending my background, my soul, R and B, Motown background, I’m blending this now with jazz, bluegrass and country-time stuff and we created a whole new sound because of it with this band. And then it also expanded the other musicians, because my brother and I—my brother Roy plays drums in that band. Because of our background—and we were very confident in our music and our ability—it actually pushed the band in an original direction. But music to me—styles of music are like people, and so for me I don’t want to just associate with one race or group of people, I want to know about all kinds of people. And what I find out in learning about these people is that even through our differences we are a lot alike. And I find that music is the same way. The more types of music I play the better musician I am. The more types of people I mingle with the better of a person I am. And so to me it all worked together that way.
BBP: Tell me about the double-thumbing technique. I understand that you first learned that from your older brother?
Wooten: I did. I learned it from Regi, and it was before it even had a name. But he taught me that because that’s the way he uses a guitar pick. Any guitar player uses a pick in a down and an up direction, where most bass players use their thumbs in only a down direction. So my brother Regi showed me that because he could use it, we could do it. Any guitarist can do it. Because it’s just like using a pick. So when he showed me that, it just made complete sense to use your thumb like you’re using a pick. And so basically that’s all it is. Bass players have made it a little more difficult, but if you think about it it’s just like what a guitar player does, but instead of using a pick we’re using our thumb. That is not easy but it’s very beneficial.
BBP: And tapping (a rough definition: fretting and playing notes with both hands, so that you are playing your bass in the same manner that someone plays a piano)? How does that figure into what you do?
Wooten: Tapping came about for me because I used to copy all of my brothers. Whatever they did, I wanted to do. But for some reason I would learn their techniques on my bass. Like I never practiced playing the piano and I still really can’t play piano today. But I would pay attention to what my brother Joseph was doing. And I’d also hand him my bass and say “hey play this like a piano, let me see it.” And he would lay it in his lap and use all ten fingers to play notes, and I was like “whoa, this is cool.” Then I would start messing around with it. But then in the early nineties, no eighties, I heard a guitar player named Stanley Jordan and all of a sudden here is this guy that is doing it exactly. I mean it sounded like he had perfected just a simple idea I was stealing from my brothers. So when I finally saw Stanley Jordan actually doing it on a guitar, that is really what set me off in the proper direction. Once I heard him and then once I saw him, that’s really where my confidence in tapping came from.
BBP: And the lower action (Another rough definition from an amateur bass player. The action is the distance between the strings and the neck. Theoretically, the smaller the distance, the less work it takes to play) on the bass. That figures into a lot of what you do, am I right about that?
Wooten: Well you know, I don’t know. I guess. See my action for me is not low or high, it’s right where I need it. It’s like, if you play basketball, you’re going to wear shoes that are comfortable. And whether the heels are high or low, I don’t know. It doesn’t make a difference, it’s what’s comfortable. So I’ve met some bass players where my action is very low to them, and I’ve also met some where my action is high for them. So, you know, for me it’s right. I just put it to where it’s easy for me to play. Because if I’m going to do this every night, I don’t want to work hard at it. I want it to be as comfortable as possible. And so for me, it’s not high or low, it’s just right.
BBP: Who is your favorite bass player now? Who have you learned the most from as a bass player?
Wooten: Well, I learned from everybody. Stanley Clarke was one of my heroes. Larry Graham. Bootsy Collins. James Jamerson. I could name a bunch of them. Jaco Pastorius. I could really name a lot. Chuck Rainey. And then there’s a bunch of newer bass players, a lot of friends of mine that I grew up with down in Virginia who are now famous players. I like them all. But I don’t have one favorite. Because music is too big for me to pick just one person.
BBP: You mentioned Stanley Clarke, and I know the three of you did an album together. Marcus Miller, Stanley, how’d that come about?
Wooten: Believe it or not it was an idea of mine that I just never let die. Years ago, early 90’s, whenever I would see Stanley Clarke or Marcus. Then when it finally started getting to a place where I was starting to make a little name for myself, they would come to town or I would see them at a music festival, I would talk to Stanley and Marcus and say “hey, man, the three of us, we should do something one day.” And I just kept saying that, kept saying it over and over, years and years. Literally. And then, what happened is a few years ago, Stanley Clarke was given a lifetime achievement award by Bass Player magazine up in New York. They asked Marcus and me to present the award to him. And then they asked us to get on stage and play “School Days” with him. And once we did that, it was over. It was like “Okay, we got to do this now.” That was where it finally really came together. And it got in their heads “This is too good, we got to do this.”
BBP: After the album and after the tour was there any way that that collaboration changed you as a bass player?
Wooten: Definitely. Definitely. It would have been a wasted opportunity had it not changed me. I’m a better musician because of it, but at the same time I learned a whole from them. Not so much about the instrument, but other things. You know, just being on tour with them and seeing how they run their lives, when they call their wives, when they go to the room to write music, when we’re in the studio and there’s a problem, meaning there “I don’t understand how to solo over this.” Seeing how they work through that, you know, just learning that these guys are human. Cause for years they were just gods. Which is cool, but you learn more about them when you understand that they’re human. They make mistakes, here’s how they get through it. That to me was really, really nice. That helped me out a whole lot, just to be able to understand their process. I knew their playing, I already knew they were gods on the bass, I’ve known that forever. But to get to see them more as human beings really helped me out in my life, not just my musical life.
BBP: I noticed you played with Prince at one point. What was that like? That must have been a real experience for you.
Wooten: Yeah. To get a chance to play with any of your heroes that as a kid you were listening to is always a treat. But it’s also a challenge, because, you know, to go back to Stanley, I met Stanley when I was nine. So even to this day when I get around Stanley, I feel nine again, you know, so to get around someone like Prince, it’s hard to get around him. He doesn’t let people close. So when you do, it’s like wow! You have to work hard to control yourself. And the first time I did it, the first time we didn’t play together, but my band was playing in Paisley Park, his big compound in Minneapolis. He had hired my band to play a party. And just being around there and him coming up and showing us the place, saying we could go wherever we wanted and whatever, you know, it was so cool. And then when they came to Nashville, after that I was invited to the show. And I was invited to the afterparty. The afterparty was a big jam session. So it was like Larry Graham and Prince and his band and Rhonda Smith (singer/bass player who, among others, played with Prince) was on bass—I got a chance to play with all of those guys. And that was a treat. It was a highlight I will never forget.
BBP: It must be an honor to have Prince hire you to play a party.
Wooten: Yeah. Yeah. I can remember getting that phone call. I was like, “Wow.” Okay.
BBP: Everytime you say something, it kind of brings up another question. You said you met Stanley Clarke when you were nine?
Wooten: Yeah, when I was living in Virginia, he was touring with Return to Forever (fusion band of the 70’s that was reunited for a 2008 tour). And so my brothers took me to that show. And after the show was over, we hung around. So you know you got these five kids hanging around to meet the band, they met us. They let us in the dressing room, you know, and Stanley Clarke gave me a mailing address to mail him. I did. He sent me back autographed photos and stuff. And he remembers that. To this day he remembers these kids and he tells me “I knew you were going to turn into something great.” And a lot of it is due to his friendship towards me way back when. He wasn’t like “Get away, little kid.” He was very friendly. He actually wrote me letters and stuff. So, you know, that’s really nice, and that helps me make sure I treat people the same way.
BBP: Did he actually hear you play the bass then?
Wooten: He did not. Not until later. Not until much later did he actually hear me play.
BBP: What was his reaction then?
Wooten: He loved it. He loved it. Because he saw me with Bela Fleck and the Flecktones and I was spinning the bass around my neck, you know, I was doing crazy stuff and his eyes lit up. It was really nice. Really nice.
BBP: I just want to throw in this last question. I understand that you are a practitioner of (the martial art) Wing Chun?
Wooten: Yeah. That is true. That is true.
BBP: Does that figure into your playing, any aspect of that?
Wooten: Absolutely. Absolutely. Yeah, I haven’t really talked publicly about that until recently because, a lot of times when you mention martial arts, other martial artists want to immediately know how good you are. And I’m not interested in that. So, but yeah, I love doing it, and again, anything that enhances or even just minutely affects your body and your mind, and uh how you can control your body and your mind and vice versa, allow your body and your mind to take control over you, how that happens is directly related to music if you allow it to be. So, even at my camp, my wing chun sifu usually shows up and offers some things, some suggestions, some exercises and some ideas to every student. And the students are surprised at how beneficial what he has to offer is. And for a lot of people it’s their favorite part of the camp.
BBP: Huh. Wow. And I guess you have a lot of guest instructors at your camp. Who have you had there?
Wooten: Absolutely, yeah. Because I don’t want to be the only person. I don’t want everyone to come out of there thinking like me. So I have a lot of different people there. There’s a great six-string fretless player named Steve Bailey whose been there at every camp, from the very first one. As well as an older bass player named Chuck Rainey whose played on everything from Aretha Franklin hit songs to Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” to Steely Dan’s popular music to the hit theme song from Fred Sanford. He’s played on everything. But he’s on every camp. So those are like some of the staple instructors that are there every time. But at each camp there’s always surprise guests. And so people are starting to know that when they go there, there’s going to be surprises. And so a lot of campers will get together and say “hey, well who was at your camp?” And someone may say “I was at the camp where Stanley Clarke was there and Will Lee was there.” (As in response) “Oh man I was at the camp where Marcus Miller and Rhonda Smith and Michael Manring (check out our interview with Michael Manring: http://beldonsbluespoint.blogspot.com/2010/04/when-after-starting-his-class-with-ten.html ) was there.” (As if still another person) “Really? Oh man I was at the camp where Billy Sheehan was there.” So we’ve had Esperanza Spalding, Rhonda Smith, Dennis Chambers, harmonica player Howard Levy. We’ve had all sorts of people. Bela Fleck. You know classical players, all sorts of things there.
BBP: How long has your camp been open?
Wooten: Since the year 2000. We’re now headed into our twelfth year.
BBP: Amazing. Is there a direction you’re looking at taking the camp right now?
Wooten: Well, two and a half years ago my wife and I purchased a 150 acre farm. And so with the help of our students and some friends, we’ve turned that into our new location, which is called “Wooten Woods.” And that’s where all of our camps are being held. And so since we have the perfect place now, our goal is to have people come there. My goal is not to have a camp in this part of the country, that part of the country. I’d rather people to come to where we have it set up already. So the thing I’m leaning towards now is starting to do longer camps. For example I just did last summer a three-week camp where people were there for three weeks and we were really able to have some major transformations at that point. So I’m hoping that one day I’ll be able to offer a full nine-month school program which will be a music program like at a college but for one year where people can get college credit and come there and learn about music, but music as it pertains to life. Because in my opinion the world doesn’t need another good guitar player. We need more good people. But when you play guitar people listen to you, so I think we should have something to say. Not just a bunch of complicated licks.
BBP: Any advice you have for bass players right now? I mean I’m a bass player so I can’t let this go by without asking.
Wooten: Sure. The thing about becoming a good bass player is to understand the role of the bass. And that role is to support other musicians. The role of the bass is the same role as the foundation of a building: it’s got to be the strongest part. It has to hold everybody else up. It’s not there to get attention. You know, that can happen, but nobody walks into a house and starts complimenting the foundation. The goal when it’s doing its job is to hold everyone else up. So learn how to do that first. Learn how to support a vocalist, how to support musicians, where a lot of bass players are learning how to solo first and how to double-thumb and tap. But learn how to support a band. Once you learn how to do that you’re going to be in more bands than you can handle because everybody’s going to want you. And then what I would say after that is listen to music, don’t just listen to bass players. Listen to all music. Because it’s like you’re in a family when you’re in a band. And a family has to listen to each other. And that’s going to make the best musicians, to become a good listener. In my opinion the most important part of music, the best skill you can have, is not playing your instrument, but how well you listen.
BBP: Just one more? This is great.
BBP: Is there anybody out there who you’d like to play with who you haven’t played with yet? And what’s in the future for you?
Wooten: Well, there are tons of musicians whom I would still love to play with, in all different aspects. In the jazz world there’s people like Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, different people like that. In the rock world, you got Steve Vai, who used to play guitar with David Lee Roth. I love his playing. A guitar player named Allan Holdsworth. John McLaughlin. I could name a whole bunch of people that I believe it would be fun to play with. But then there’s a lot of young people. I find fun people to play with that I’ve never met when they come to camp. Music is just enjoyable, you know. So even getting to perform with Keymace (he called his cousin up on stage at Washington, D.C.’s 9:30 club, where she sang Anita Baker’s "Angel”) was a treat.
BBP: What are we going to see next from Victor Wooten?
Wooten: I have some things that are happening in the beginning of next year, some announcements I’ll be making that I’m not ready to go public with yet. Like some records I’ll be putting out. But I will say that I have a book that’s available called “The Music Lesson,” which puts a lot of these things that I’m talking about into a story. Rather than writing an instruction book about music, I wrote a story.
BBP: A fiction story?
Wooten: Exactly. About a teacher and a student that’s called “The Music Lesson.” That’s been out a couple of years and even the U.S. government has been sending the audio version to the troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, so that they can hear it. Because I just released the audio version, and so I’m going to be writing a sequel. Hopefully it should be ready to come out next year.
BBP: And what will the sequel be called?
Wooten: I don’t know the title yet, you know, but it will have something to do with…people will know it’s “The Music Lesson, Part II.” But I haven’t settled on that title yet. But the story continues…
BBP: That’s great. And it will be the same characters.
Wooten: And new ones. The main teacher, he will definitely appear in the book. There’ll be some new characters and some of the old characters.
BBP: Wow. That’s incredible. How about recordings? Are you going to stay with Bela Fleck?
Wooten: Yeah. Bela Fleck and the Flecktones will have a new record out, coming out in the summer. And we’ll be doing an extensive tour. But people should keep watching my website for an early announcement next January, where I’ll be announcing some new things that I have coming out.
BBP: We going to see Stanley, Victor and Marcus again?
Wooten: You know, I hope so. We don’t have a plan yet. But I’m hoping that we get back together and do something.
BBP: I do too.
Tuesday, December 14, 2010
One of the world’s great bluesmen is in trouble, and now is the time for the public to step in and help him. Guitarist/singer Chester Chandler, better known as Memphis Gold, has been unable to pay the rent on his home in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. He could face eviction. Supporters led by the D.C. Blues Society have been raising money for him, last week organizing a “rent party” where several musicians played for free. But more needs to be done. Chandler is in financial trouble through no fault of his own. Once able to supplement his income by working as a tree-trimmer, he had to give that up two years ago after severely injuring his spine in a work-related accident. He needed extensive therapy after his accident and now can only walk with a cane. This happened as the lean economy dried up gigs for a number of musicians, with those playing niche genres such as blues likely among the hardest hit. That Chandler can’t support himself as a musician is sad because he is a walking icon of blues music, the genre upon which arguably most American music is based. Born in Memphis, Chandler was introduced to the guitar at age four by his father, who played the bass fiddle and piano in church. Church was a good training ground for Chandler, who, by the time he turned eight years old, was good enough to play for pocket change on Beale Street. He crossed paths with many well-known musicians while growing up, among them the legendary Delta gospel player, the Reverend Robert “Tim” Wilkins. He went on to play with several Memphis area blues notables, among them Big Lucky Carter and the legendary Memphis juke joint group The Fieldstones. He later played with nationally-known guitarist and singer Deborah Coleman. Chandler has been recognized in blues publications around the world, among them Living Blues, which featured him on the cover of its February, 2009 edition. “Memphis is a great guy and a real deal bluesman,” said Living Blues editor Brett Bonner. “When we decided to put him on our cover in February, 2009 he had two well received records out and had been on track to jump-start his career when he had his tree-trimming accident. His is a fascinating blues story. He began, like so many others, learning music in the church, then as he expanded he schooled with some of the masters of early Memphis Blues….He became an integral part of the Memphis Blues scene.” Chandler, who served on active duty in the Navy from 1973 to 1981, is getting help with his medical expenses through the Veterans Administration. But he still needs to make rent. You can help by making out a check to Chester Chandler and sending it to: Chester Chandler C/O The D.C. Blues Society P.O. Box 77315 Washington, D.C. 20013 Better still, purchase one of his CD’s, the latest of which, Pickin’In High Cotton, is now being released. Or attend one of his shows. In either case, you will be getting more than your money’s worth.
Monday, December 6, 2010
When guitarist Coco Montoya first ventured into music, it was on another instrument: the drums. Born in Santa Monica, California, he learned the drums and throughout his youth and early adulthood played in several rock bands.
Still he had had curiosity—and exposure—to the guitar, which from time to time he had enjoyed fiddling with while growing up. When Montoya saw guitar great Albert King open for Creedance Clearwater Revival at a 1969 concert, a seed was planted. The seed took root and began to grow uncontrollably when another guitar great named Albert— Albert “Iceman” Collins—signed Montoya on as a drummer for a Pacific-Northwest tour. The two formed a mentor-protegee relationship in which the “Master of the Telecaster” taught Montoya his guitar style.
By the early 1980’s Montoya was again playing with bands—but this time with a guitar rather than drumsticks in his hands. One night, his audience included British bluesman John Mayall, known for his work with the 1960’s pioneering band John Mayall and the Blues Breakers, a group that over the years included guitarists Eric Clapton and future Rolling Stone Mick Taylor.
Montoya went on to play with the 80’s-90’s reincarnation of the group for ten years.
Montoya recorded his first solo album, Gotta Mind to Travel, in 1995, with Blind Pig Records. He released two more albums under that label, Ya Think I’d Know Better and Just Let Go.
Signing with Alligator Records in 2000, he eventually released three albums under that label. The last of them, Dirty Deal, teamed him up with members of the rock band Little Feat.
Montoya, 59, released his latest album, I Want it All Back, under the European Blues label Ruf Records. Beldon’s Blues Point talked to Montoya about the new release—among other things—after a recent performance he gave near Baltimore for the Baltimore Blues Society:
BBP: I notice on this new album you have Keb’ Mo’ producing and he’s also playing rhythm guitar. How did that collaboration come about?
Montoya: Well, we developed a really good friendship first. That’s the first thing we developed and we’ve always liked each other as people which is kind of like the blessing of it all, and we always thought that if it was the right time and the right circumstances that we would work to do something together. We wouldn’t do it just to do it, you know. It was more “it had to be the right thing at the right time” and this turned out to be the “right time and the right place.” It was actually a blessing. It was wonderful. It was a real great experience.
BBP: Was there a certain type of aspect or flavor that he added to the album?
Montoya: Oh, God, he added tons to it. I mean he really took the reins and decided what he was going to do with me. It wasn’t about what I was going to do as much as Kevin getting a vision and deciding what he wanted to do. What he was more interested in was developing my voice more than the guitar. The guitar he figured had already been established in the last six albums. So he said “nobody’s concentrating on your voice, we’re going to concentrate on your voice,” and he says “I’m going to beat you up,” and he did. And he and Jeff Paris, the other producer(he also plays keyboards on the album), super talented people, wonderful, and that’s the result of good people, working with great people and taking me out of my comfort zone, putting me some place where I think I needed to be.
BBP: Can I ask you about Albert Collins? What was the greatest lesson that he left you with?
Montoya: Many lessons. Gosh I can just think of—perseverance, you know, to just believe in yourself. I mean that’s probably the biggest lesson he gave me, is believe in yourself no matter what anyone says, hold your own. Just be yourself. You ain’t got to be nobody else.
BBP: How did you learn how to play in his style? It was almost like listening to him, that one song you did.
Montoya: Just influence, you know it’s uh—if you listen to a lot of what I’m doing there are so many really big influences in there. Freddie King, Albert King, you know B.B.’s obviously in there. Albert Collins is definitely a huge influence on my life, musically and personally. So he’s in there, there’s a lot of Eric Clapton in what I do too, you know, so—I steal from everybody, as many as I can get. Still do.
BBP: You turn them on and off at will. That’s what’s so amazing about it. Also John Mayall, you played with him for ten years. What did you take from that?
Montoya: Oh, confidence builder too. John was a big confidence builder for me. Took a few of his scoldings but they were all for the good, you know, and he’s another guy that persevered and saw his visions and wouldn’t let up on them no matter what anybody said. He’d just go around obstacles and get to where he wanted to be and I think I learned a lot from John Mayall that way.
BBP: Let me ask you about something that (guitarist) James Armstrong talked about. You guys played together with Mitch Mitchell (of the Jimi Hendrix Experience) one night. What was that like?
Montoya: Mitch played in my band a couple of months. He played about a couple of months worth of gigs with me. And James was up and coming. And he was there and played. I can’t remember exactly, it might have been Club 88 or something in west L.A. But James—I’ve known him since he was a kid in high school—he’s a great songwriter, he’s a really really great songwriter and a hell of an entertainer too. He’s come a long, long ways.
BBP: I noticed that you are a left-handed guitar player. It’s a right-handed oriented world and I guess the music is too—right—with the type of guitars that are out? You had to really figure out how to play…
Montoya: Well..no, it’s self-taught. Where I’m coming from musically is basically I have a lot of holes in my education because I taught myself. I never take formal lessons or anything like that, I don’t know how to read music. I just taught myself by ear, everything I’m doing. So, really, nothing else really applies, because there was no one there to tell me anything applied to it. There was nobody there to tell me I was doing it wrong. But I did it anyway. So, it’s just when you’re self-taught you don’t know any better, you don’t know anything. By the time somebody made me aware of the fact that I’d done it wrong, it’s way too late.
BBP: I guess what I was trying to ask was, like guitars they’re made for…most guitars are made for right-handed people. I guess you really have to look to find a left-handed guitar.
Montoya: Well I’ve played right-handed guitars.
BBP: Did you play it upside down?
BBP: Like Hendrix…
Montoya: Well Hendrix, he restrung for lefty. I play like Albert King or Otis Rush where I just strung right-handed. Because they did the same thing, they picked up a right-handed guitar, and, being left-handed they turned it upside down. And developed their own style because there was nobody to tell them not to, or they can’t. Which to me speaks volumes about playing any instrument: if somebody’s not there to interrupt what you’re inventing, sometimes you come up with a whole original thing because there’s nobody there to stop you, and you’re left to your own devices to figure out how to do it.
BBP: This (I Want It All Back) is your latest album. What’s down the pike for you?
Montoya: Hopefully more with Ruf Records, and I don’t know for sure. We’re still in negotiation about what we’re doing next. Maybe a live album, maybe a live DVD, we don’t know. But probably somewhere around those lines; we’ll probably do something like that.
BBP: Who would you like to collaborate with who you haven’t collaborated with yet?
Montoya: Well, there’s so many people, it’s hard to even fathom. Because there’s so many people I would like to collaborate with. Millions..I can’t think of…they’re just millions. There’s great musicians all over, there’s people that have become my friends. There’s people I don’t even know, I’ve never met. Who knows what’s down the road, you know. But I’m pretty much open to a lot of things.
BBP: Would you at some point step outside of the blues?
Montoya: I think with this album I pretty much have stepped out and if you listen to my other albums I venture into many different areas. I don’t consider myself a traditional player very much. I don’t think anyone else would either (laughs). But I think music is just a wonderful vast area without fences. Well, the music industry decides to put fences up, you know, where they think country has to stay over there, jazz has to stay over there, blues has to stay over there, rock has to stay over in this corner, you know. I don’t believe that. I think it’s just whatever moves you, just go there and play it.
BBP: There was one song you did, it was just an amazing song, the slow one you did, “It’s a good day, it’s a bad day…”
Montoya: “Good days, bad days.”
BBP: Where did you get that song?
Montoya: That song was written by Gary Nicholson out of Nashville, Tennessee. A great, incredible writer. He writes great stuff. He’s written several songs that I’ve done, I’ve done several songs of his, and he’s tremendous. And we picked up on that tune, and just took it to where we took it on that album(Suspicion, for Alligator). Now it’s taken another life live, it’s completely different from the album cut, so..
BBP: I was watching you while you were playing it and you were just really, it’s like the audience wasn’t even there.
Montoya: Yeah, it takes me somewhere. Especially with my guys. I got some great musicians playing with me. My guys, Randy Hayes on drums, he’s been with me over ten years. Great drummer. I got Brant Leeper on keyboards and Nate Brown on bass. I got some of the best guys with me, I’m really proud of them.
BBP: Are you touring with a different bass player than who’s on the album?
Montoya: On the new album, I Want It All Back, well that’s Steve Ferrone on drums from Tom Petty’s band, used to be with Clapton?
Montoya: Yes, I’m very, very—I can’t believe I tracked with him. And the legendary Reggie McBride (bassist known for work with Stevie Wonder and Minnie Riperton, among others) on bass. So uh, and Kevin’s in there and Jeff Paris, the other producer, they filled in all of the other stuff. Just tremendous, what a great experience.
BBP: I know you want to get out of here but I just want to ask you one more question. The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise. What was that like?
Montoya: It’s a gas, it’s fun. It’s an amazing way to get close to the other artists, you know, to see people I haven’t seen in a long time, and hang out.
BBP: Were there any kind of collaborations that you were involved with on that cruise that stick out in your mind?
Montoya: Well, uh having (guitarist and harmonicist) Mike Morgan and (guitarist) Jimmy Thackery come up and play on that song you were talking about, “Good Days, Bad Days.” I had Thackery come up on that, and I got Mike Morgan up and we played crazy stuff. I mean it was just—yeah we’re good friends and we haven’t been able to do that kind of stuff in a long time. So when we had this opportunity..and hanging out with the Los Lobos guys was great. Kim Wilson (of the Fabulous Thunderbirds) is always a great guy to hang out with. I just really respect him as a musician and have known him since my drumming days with Albert Collins.
BBP: Were there any recordings made of that session you were talking about?
Montoya: Not that I know of.
BBP: So if you weren’t there, you missed it.
Montoya: Probably (laughs).
BBP: Do you spend a lot of time with Los Lobos?
Montoya: Not a lot, no. I know the guys, we’re getting to know each other more and more as years go on. I have a lot of respect for those fellas. Great players.
BBP: Any kind of collaboration with them coming up?
Montoya: Nothing on the horizon, no, but friendship’s good. I think that’s the basis of everything. You get that going and if it’s the right time, if it’s the right place and the right situation, then it will happen. Never force those issues. Those things just have to be. Everything has to be in alignment for that to happen.
Friday, November 26, 2010
Growing up in Irvington, N.J., Robert Randolph was so involved in playing the pedal steel guitar—his “sacred steel”—in church that he didn’t hear much popular music. No small irony that since then he has been running and collaborating with many A-list popular musicians, among them Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews and Santana.
Go to one of his shows and you hear the dichotomy. Sometimes it’s like being in church. Other times, it’s like attending a high voltage rock concert or a funk/rhythm and blues show. In all cases, it appears that Randolph has the skill to do anything he wants with his sacred steel.
Randolph was trained on the “sacred steel” in the House of God Church. But his path changed after a friend gave him tickets to a Stevie Ray Vaughan concert, according to his website. “After that, I wanted to play pedal steel like Stevie Ray played his guitar,” the website said.
By 2000, Randolph and his new group, the Family Band were making its mark on the New York club scene, gathering a following even though they hadn’t yet secured a record deal. Their popularity spread to other cities.
Randolph’s reputation continued to grow the following year when he joined the Word, a gospel/blues style collaboration between avant-jazz organist John Medeski and members of the blues/rock North Mississippi All-Stars band. The musicians toured together, with the Family Band opening for The Word.
Randolph and the Family Band released their debut album, Live at the Wetlands, in 2002. It was a recording of an August 23, 2001 concert at the legendary Wetlands night club in New York City, which closed soon after the performance.
That same year, ABC hired the group to write its new NBA theme song. Entitled “We Got Hoops,” the song was used for both NBA and WNBA promotions, even though it only appeared in three telecasts.
The group released its first studio album, Unclassified, in August 2003. That same year, Rolling Stone Magazine listed Randolph as #97 on its list of the 100 greatest guitar players of all time.
“A pedal steel guitarist who made his name playing gospel, Randolph’s family band is one of the most intense live acts in all of jamdon,” wrote the magazine. “His thirteen-string instrument has a chillingly clear tone, and his solos are dotted with howling melodies and perpetually cresting, lightning-fast explorations.”
By this time, Clapton had started to take an interest in Randolph, and the Family Band joined the famous guitarist on his 2004 tour. The following year, Randolph joined Metallica lead guitarist Kirk Hammett to play on “Trinity,” an instrumental featured on Carlos Santana’s All That I Am CD.
Released in 2006, Randolph’s next album, Colorblind, featured guest spots by Clapton and by Dave Matthews, whom the Family Band has joined for some shows over the years. NBC and the Discovery Channel used a song from Colorblind, “Ain’t Nothin’ Wrong With That,” for promotional purposes. ABC used another song, “The Thrill of It,” for its College Primetime games throughout the 2007 season.
As a live act,the band began to appear more often before television audiences through venues such as the David Letterman show and “The Jimmy Kimmel Live Concert Series.”
Randolph tapped veteran producer T Bone Burnett for his latest album, We Walk This Road, released earlier this year.
Now 31, Randolph, in the following interview with Beldon’s Blues Point, talks more about where he’s been and where he’s going:
BBP: Robert, tell me what’s going on with you right now, as we speak.
Randolph: I’m just out doing some of these shows with the Experience Hendrix Group right now. Celebrating Hendrix’s 40th anniversary. Also touring and supporting our record that’s been out, the T-Bone record We Walk This Road. So there’s kind of a lot going on.
BBP: So what specifically are you doing with Experience Hendrix?
Randolph: What we do is we go out and uh…I’m just part of the show that is, you know…I just go out and do a couple of songs with me and Steve Vai, me and Jonny Lang, we go out and do a couple of Hendrix tunes. Probably four or five…Purple Haze, Foxy Lady, Them Changes, and I think there’s one more…Red House.
BBP: I see. Is it easy to learn the steel pedal guitar and how did you go about learning it? What drew you to that instrument?
Randolph: Uh, you know, growing up in church, that’s where I learned how to play. I learned a lot of stuff growing up in church and watching other guys before me play. I wanted to be like those guys. Those were basically my Muddy Waters and Jimmy Hendrixes, you know, my world growing up. So I got a chance to witness those guys. I wanted to be like them until one day I started watching Stevie Ray Vaughn play, then I sort of wanted to play like him.
BBP: Yeah I did notice that. And I was wondering, I saw you on the Letterman show one time. How did you meet David? How did that come about?
Randolph: What? Letterman?
Randolph: He had seen us play. Actually, Paul Shaffer and a bunch of those guys came. They started to come to our shows early on, late at night when we started doing club shows. Because I guess at that time it was sort of like the big buzz thing and New York City and next thing you know we got on Letterman. He wanted us to come and I jammed with Paul and them and then we did a thing with our band. I guess it all kind of works out.
BBP: I understand that when you were growing up you really didn’t hear a lot of non-religious music. You basically heard a lot of religious music and you discovered non-religious when you of came of age. Tell me a little bit about that.
Randolph: I’ve been in church my whole life. My parents playing gospel music and my grandparents were preachers and stuff. Growing up in church. The thing is we had always sort of been—we used to listen, sneak and listen to R and B and things like that and hip-hop growing up. But I hadn’t really heard of rock and roll, I hadn’t really listened to rock or blues or any of that. So I got about 17-18 years old, 19 and I really started to get into it. I’m still being turned on to a bunch of stuff and that’s one of the things that T Bone (Burnett) sort of helped us with this time around, to help me get into American roots music with old blues stuff, going from a lot of the stuff that influenced blues, which is the earliest of the gospel music. You know, Sister Rosetta Tharp and Blind Willie Johnson and a lot of that stuff. So it was a great process to sit with T-Bone Burnett.
BBP: How did you guys come to a meeting and how did he come to produce your album?
Randolph: Really, when we started talking about recording a new record, you know, we started talking about a record, and you know we were trying to look for a producer who understood what gospel was, what blues is and how everything sort of comes full circle, you know with blues rock and gospel and how it all mixes. And T Bone was the guy who understood and when you got an artist like me who comes from a gospel background and you know sometimes a lot of young artists, they sort of get strayed away into this world of “let’s just do what’s on the radio,” “Let’s just do this and do that.” And T Bone’s like, you should just worry about making good music or bad music. Sitting down with him, he had already come to the meeting with this compilation of recordings of all of this music going all the way back to the sixties and the twenties really, you know. When he would sit with Dylan they would all listen to that stuff and let that stuff sort of inspire Dylan.
BBP: At some point do you want to experiment with hip-hop styles? Because I’ve listened to you and you sound more oriented toward the rock side.
Randolph: Hip-hop, I mean especially the older R and B and hip-hop is really what’s, I mean we were just talking about that the other day, me and the guys from Living Color, Steve Vai. You know, the old style R and B and hip-hop, that’s what I grew up on. I mean, I grew up in the inner city..I listened to all of that stuff. Hip-hop is just a new form. It’s just like how blues became rock and roll. It’s like, hip hop is just the most popular music right now. I’m friends with a lot of the hip hop guys. You know what’s funny is that most of the real hip hop guys are all real music guys anyway. You know that’s just how it is. A lot of the producers today, you know when you’re lookin’ at some of the top hip-hop producers you know, everybody was just…you’re looking at Dr. Dre, you look at Pharrell and you look at –a lot of these guys are musicians. A lot of these guys were in their high school bands and their grammar school bands.
BBP: Tell me who some of your earlier influences were. Your band is called “the Family Band.” I hear a little Sly and the Family Stone influence there, not only in the title of your band but in how you play. Am I right about that?
Randolph: Well, Yeah, I mean when you look at it Sly and a lot of us, we all come from church. And it was weird for me to actually listen to Sly, an interview that Sly did. I mean, it’s an old interview, you know. I mean, the Dick Cavett show or whatever it’s from and he was sort of talking about how he had this wacky musical mind, but he was really trying to mix in all of the sounds that he heard growing up in church. But he had this wacky rock and roll sense of mind that it should be a little wilder, you know. I mean, when you think about gospel music in the 60’s, it’s way different. So he came out of nowhere with that, because he heard the harmonies in the way people were singing. And the same with me. That’s why for me, all we ever did really was mix in the sounds that grew up in my tradition, in my church and we would just write different styles of songs. But in terms of the sounds and the way the energy was and the way we would sing and play that all came from my background in church.
BBP: I notice that on Colorblind, you have a guest spot with Eric Clapton and another one with Dave Matthews. How did you connect with them and how did you use them on that album?
Randolph: Well those were the first big guys that actually took me on a tour, you know, Dave Matthews being the first one and Eric Clapton being the second one. And we just all became close to where sitting around after sound check or something, we would all start jamming. Or late night after a show we would start jamming and those things just sort of came into play like that, you know, so like “hey, let’s think about doing something, let’s think about playing, let’s think about doing some tunes together and that’s sort of how it came about. The song that Dave Matthews had sung he had wrote that song for his band and he said “hey man, I think this sounds more like you and the Family Band. Y’all should do this song, you know. So we recorded it and went for it, you know. And it came out to be such a great recording.
BBP: Yeah, I understand also you toured with Pharrell and John Mayer. What was that like? And do you plan any collaborations with them in the future?
Randolph: Yeah, I think so. We’re all pretty much close when I see those guys and talk to them during the course of time. But yeah I mean we sort of had, with this T-Bone record, we had sort of took time and it was sort of cool that all of this time went by and really was able to gather all of this information from hanging around T-Bone and all of the people doing these great sessions with (session drummer) Jim Keltner and …and (guitarist) Robbie Robinson and (songwriter and session musician) Leon Russell and all of these guys sort of comin’ in and talking about music. It’s sort of great where we sit at now because now we still have been creating so much music with so many other artists since then and it’s been great. We got this record out and I’m sure there’ll probably be something out next summer again. And you know, it’s just been a great process.
BBP: You mentioned some of the old blues guys that you’ve been listening to lately. Which one of them has really influenced you the most?
Randolph: Stevie Ray Vaughn is the number one guy. That’s probably the most influential guy to me. It’s probably not a week that don’t go by when I don’t listen to Stevie Ray Vaughan, just Stevie Ray Vaughan. You got him sitting down and like guys like Eric Clapton and Buddy Guy, Albert King, you know, I listen to that stuff. It’s sort of cool.
BBP: This is for the musicians out there. I was watching you play and it’s almost like somebody playing an electric..I was watching the electric guitarist to see if he was doing it, but it was you. How do you get that kind of sound from the steel pedal?
Randolph: I guess it’s sort of being a little wild, man. You know, you gotta be a little crazy. You know my thing was always, I was always trying to implement the sound of all of these great singers like Aretha Franklin and Frank Sinatra, you know, Mahalia Jackson. I’ve been so focused on trying to sound as precise as they are, you know, with the way that they sing, and I’ve always been trying to play those notes, you know, as well as listening to Stevie Ray Vaughn, Duane Allman and the Allman Brothers and stuff like that, you know. So it’s a lot of different, I guess elements that sort of get me going.
BBP: When you say you’re trying to follow the singers, you mean with your voice or your instrument?
Randolph: Oh the instrument. I would try to play what they would sing. Especially when you get into all that stuff like Aretha, Stevie Wonder and crazy vibratos of Mahalia Jackson and Frank Sinatra. Those were probably some of the main ones that I was really listening to that I would try. The stuff that they would sing, I would try to do those licks. That’s why everybody would go “man, where did you get that guitar lick from?” I’m like: “Well, I’m listening to what the singers are singing that’s what I’m playing. I’m not really trying to play exactly what Stevie Ray Vaughan did. Even though I listen to him, it’s the soulfulness of what those guys do, like Stevie Ray and Albert King. To be able to listen to some of the great guitarists like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, it’s a cool thing.
BBP: So it’s almost like your trying to do two things at one time. The singers on one side and the guitarists on the other?
BBP: Wow. That’s incredible.
Randolph: All of my voicings mainly do come from the main singers, you know. So I’m not spending all day trying to learn BB King licks or Steve Vai licks. I’m trying to learn what Aretha Franklin was doing, Patti Labelle, or you know.
BBP: Also, T Bone Burnett, it’s interesting because he has a little bit of a country bent to what he does sometimes. Are you heading in that direction at some point? Is he trying to take you in that direction?
Randolph: You know I think now especially from really talking and being around these guys like Clapton and being around the Hendrix family and a lot of people that I’ve been able to be around, it’s just more so of being an artist, you know. When you’re an artist or a musician you really don’t think about whether its rock or country you just sort of…it just so happens if I want to play the acoustic slide guitar, it’d be classified as country or folk music. You know it’s like if you hear the old version of Jimi Hendrix… now everybody goes “Oh Hendrix, the rock guy.” But years ago Hendrix just said, “listen I’m just playing the blues, it’s just the way I’m playing it.” You know, so for me, I’m just playing music. Whatever songs I’m singing about or writing about or whatever, it sounds like I look at other people trying to classify it, to me it’s all gospel and blues.
BBP: Let me just get this last question in. In terms of albums, future projects you have going, can you go into that a little bit? What we may be seeing from Robert Randolph in the next year or so?
Randolph: Well we got this thing and then I’m doing a record with all of the guys I grew up with in my church watching. People can look out for that, the Slide Brothers, we call them. You know it’s all the older guys that I grew up in my church watching, the ones that are still alive. So I actually have them out on the road with me doing these Experience Hendrix tours. So people can look out for that and anything else that I’m doing. It’s just fun right now, you know.
BBP: How about the Family Band?
Randolph: We have a live record that will be out I think in December or January that we recorded. We actually trying to choose between what shows, will it be live in Portland or the show we did in Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago? Or one other show, from Atlanta I believe.
BBP: Any types of videos?
Randolph: Probably not any videos.
BBP: And let me ask you this one last question. Who out there do you like? Who out there are you watching?
Randolph: The Black Keyes are great. I like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Joe Bonamassa, you know. In terms of young guys, that’s really who I like to listen to. Of course, Red Hot Chili Peppers, of course Derek Trucks. You know. Those are the guys I like to listen to.
BBP: And of those guys, who would you like to collaborate with on a future project?
Randolph: It probably’d be Prince. You can probably look forward to that because we already been drumming up some ideas.
BBP: You and Prince have been talking?
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
It is Sunday afternoon at the American Legion Post in Silver Spring and a jam hosted by the D.C. Blues Society is in full swing. Among the musicians that come and go, a steady presence holds sway on the drums.
Studied and serious, Chett Hines holds down the bottom through a number of well-known blues standards. But he later shows us another side of himself when he takes the mike and—behind a slow blues crawl from the band—slides into “I’ll Drink Your Bathwater, Baby” a boisterous romp of a song about the virtues of drinking your woman’s bathwater. A burly man, it is personality rather than size that allows him to take control the stage and the house. Men guffaw and ladies squeal as he uses a barrage of slurping noises to emphasize his point that drinking a woman’s bathwater is the only way a real man can show his love.
Better known as Dr. S.O. Feelgood, 64-year-old Chett Hines is a one-man entertainment package. A drummer since the age of 12, Hines is now lead singer for the Dr. S.O. Feelgood Band and Show, a Washington-area based group that plays an average of 140-150 gigs a year in the east and midwest.
“Well, the Doctor I believe is out of the Mississippi Delta and he’s got a lot of those roots in his singing and in his feeling, and it is what he brings to the table,” says guitarist Bill Bates, who plays in Hines’ band along with with bassist Kenny Johnson and drummer Mike Elam. “And what we try to do is back him up to the best of our ability. We’re always keeping an eye on what he’s doing.”
But Hines can also serve as a deejay and master of ceremonies, roles he frequently adopts for the DC Blues Society. In October the D.C. Blues Society tapped him to host “Battle of the Bands,” an annual event held to determine which group will represent the D.C. area at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis next February.
The Pascagoula, Mississippi born Hines admits his love for the blues but adds that his tastes are “all over the map.” With more than 10,000 CD’s and 7,000 albums covering every genre of music, his record collection reflects that statement. “I’m still one of those people with eight tracks and cassettes and reel-to-reel because I listen to where my mood is,” he said.
Still, he has a special love for the singers of the 1960’s and 1970’s. “Simply put, they were characters musically in and of themselves,” he says. “Unlike—and I’m not indicting every musician today—but many musicians today are cookie cutter musicians. An artist comes out today with a hit song, and immediately the record companies feel like their artists have to do that same thing, follow that same track. And I understand the economics of why they do it, but it doesn’t add anything to developing and creating an artist. Whereas those people like Otis Redding, like a Joe Tex, Solomon Burke (who died in October at the age of 70), Teddy Pendergrass, these people had musical signatures in terms of their sound, their personality.”
He uses some original material, such as “Jump Down, Turn Around, Kick a Hole in the Wall,” a lively crowd pleaser which recently drew audience participation when he performed it during Blue Monday, a blues show held weekly at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Southwest Washington. “I tell people you may not know it, but you’re not going to come and see me and sit around and watch me, okay?” he says. “You’re going to get involved in what I do.”
“Bathwater Blues” is not a Dr. S.O. Feelgood original, he says. “Some people come back to me, you know, and say ‘Oh, I bought a copy of that, but it didn’t sound anything like what you did.’ I say ‘well, that’s because, you know, I’ve rearranged it and done some things with it that made it my own.”
The group is working on a C.D. that will feature original material, says Johnson. “We’re going to try and self-produce because it’s hard dealing with record companies. They want to change it. They want to put you commercial.”
Hines doesn’t use a set list when he performs.
“Literally ninety per cent of the time, I don’t know what I’m going to do until the moment that I’m doing it,” he says.
Johnson and Elam figure out what song is coming next by listening to Hines. “And we pick the wrong one,” laughs Johnson. “Most of the time, I can hear the dialogue, and I say ‘okay, this is what we’re going to do.’ And usually I can pick it up through the dialogue.”
When they do get it wrong, “he’ll cut it, and we’ll start all over again,” Elam adds.
After leaving Mississippi at the age of ten, Hines finally came to Washington in 1959 after stints in Greenville, North Carolina and Richmond, Virginia.
At 14 he bought his first drum set, a Kelly Green four-piece, from “Quick Cash Kelly’s,” a pawn shop near the Navy Yard in Southeast Washington.
He began playing professionally at 18. “Up and down 14th Street, H Street, Kennedy Street, I mean young guys could go and ply their trade and learn,” he recalls. “And that was a significant learning ground, unlike the jam situations of today. I went in as somebody who thought they were a young hot shot, knowing what they were doing and the reality was I didn’t know squat. And they were very quick to let you know that you didn’t know squat. But they were just as quick to train you.”
A bass player named Fat Fanny who was well-known around the D.C. area paid him particular attention.
“Fanny was a kind of kick-butt, take-no-prisoners type of person,” Hines recalls. “But when you sit down behind a drum kit with him, in a few minutes he knew whether you had any chops at all and he could run you through crapola that you’d never heard of, and demand that you find a way to keep up, find a way to lock into the groove. As soon as you’d lock into the groove, he would change the groove, send you someplace else, and ask you ‘what’s your problem?’ ”
Hines went on playing the local D.C. club scene: the Blue Angel on 14th Street, the Coco Lounge on H Street. He joined bands with names like Eddie King and his Court and the Royal Tones.
He adopted the “Dr. S.O. Feelgood” persona about 20 years ago. There were other “Dr. Feelgoods” on the scene at the time, and Hines took a couple of extra steps—or, more accurately, added a couple of letters¬—to make his stage name stand out.
“The S-period, O-period is what separates me, as far as identity is concerned, from the rest,” he explains.
“And the ‘S’ does have its significance. But as I often say, when people ask me what does the “S” and the “O” stand for, I only tell women and woman want-to-be’s,” he adds with a laugh. “So, in this particular case, it remains anonymous.”
Once he adopted his stage name, he initially stayed on the drums, but eventually picked up a mike after club owners told him “we would much prefer to have you out front than sitting back there behind a kit.”
In addition to performing and hosting events, Hines coordinates the D.C. chapter of Blues in the Schools, a nationwide program designed to foster appreciation of blues among young people. As coordinator, Hines visits area schools, often accompanied by musicians, some of them nationally known.
But, to Dr. S.O. Feelgood, the stage brings a special passion.
“I want to live out the life of Elmore James,” Hines says. “Elmore James declared that, when he died, he wanted to die on stage. He thought that was the ultimate way to go. Just coincidently, he died on stage. Had a heart attack. But, hey, listen, what better way to go?”
Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Here is part 2 of our interview with Bobby Parker and, as you will see when you read it, he is pretty much a living reflection of the history modern popular music. Parker, who will headline the College Park Blues Festival this Saturday, has rubbed elbows with musicians ranging from Jimmy Page to Carlos Santana to Jimmy Reed to Chuck Brown. His 1961 hit "Watch Your Step" is believed to have been borrowed from, remade or downright copied by John Lennon, Led Zeppelin, Santana and others. We start this section with him talking about what it was like to be a black musician touring the south in the 1950’s:
Parker: We had nowhere to play back in the 50’s, man. It was dangerous traveling at night.
BBP: Did you ever feel like your life was in danger at some point?
Parker: Absolutely. We were down in Mobile, Alabama and there were signs all over the place, “Welcome to the Home of the Ku Klux Klan” and all that. So the bus broke down and the cops came, and they heard something was going on, there was a busload of black folks there. But we had an Italian white guy driving our bus. I mean, he kind of did our bidding in getting our food and all of that stuff, I mean this is stuff that needs to be put in the movies. You’re talking about Cadillac Records? The movie I would tell would have everybody in it. It would have Fats Domino, it would have Jackie Wilson and Sam Cooke and T-Bone Walker and blues cats, real cats, you know what I mean? I would tell it straight, just like it is, and it’s not all good. People getting locked up for nothing, and all that stuff, you know. It would be great stories about everything.
BBP: Right. So what happened after the bus broke down?
Parker: The sheriff and his guys were tapping on that door.(Imitating the sheriff's strong southern accent) “Hey, what’s this bus out here, steamin’ and smokin’ like it is here?” And he stepped up in there with dogs. And most everybody in there was asleep: Fats Domino band, Paul Hucklebuck Band, and many other, you know, black soul/blues people. Fats was in there and Chuck Berry was in there and so the bus driver, he was a good friend of all of us, so he said, “Well sir we’re on our way to do a show, we’re trying to get to Mobile to do a show and we broke down here.” He (the sheriff) said “Whatchu got in here?” He said, “Well, we got a busload of Negroes here." (laughs)
BBP: That’s what the bus driver said?
Parker: Yeah. It was dark in the bus, he told the bus driver “boy, turn that light on!” I heard him say it, you know. So he jumped up in the bus, and the dogs come runnin’ up through there and he said “Who are these people in here?” He (the driver) said “Well sir, you have Fats Domino, you got Chuck Berry, you got…” He (the sheriff) said “Ah quit lying,” (Someone else said) “He’s not lying. Chuck Berry’s in the bus back there.” He (the sheriff) said, ”well you come back here and wake him up I want to see if he’s telling a lie.” So Chuck Berry was waking up and that sheriff came back and said “I’ll be doggone, this is Chuck Berry!” (The sheriff) said “Get us a guitar and let me hear him play a song or two!” (laughs). So they gave Chuck an acoustic guitar and he started playing and singing a little bit. He (the sheriff) said “Whoa, this bus here is full of great people in here! I love this kind of music.” He said “What we’re going to do is fix this here bus and get you boys on your way.” I said, “Wow. We escaped that bullet!” (laughs) Yeah. So daybreak, seven or eight or nine o’clock in the morning and the bus was fixed and we were down the road, man.
BBP: So if you hadn’t been who you were it may have had a different outcome, is what you’re saying, right?
Parker: And then some. All that stuff is real, man. It’s scary, not just talk, you know.
BBP: I was curious, you were a young guy, did any of those musicians ever take you aside and show you things on the guitar, or talk to you about show business? Was there one you got really friendly with?
Parker: I learned how to read music by sitting there next to the piano player. In those days, everybody didn’t have a little band. They had music charts, sheets, ‘cause in the band we sit back there behind them and played all of the music. Like Jackie Wilson, he was a great singer. You know about him, right?
BBP: Yeah. (Sings) Your Love Is Lifting Me Higher….
Parker: Yeah. All those great guys could really sing good. And we had the music charts and we played a lot of, what was her name, that gal who (sings) "Jim Dandy to the Rescue?" But she sings great. So there were about eight or ten cats we’d play the music behind. The white artists, Frankie Avalon, Annette Funicello and the Fabian, you remember him?
BBP: Yeah, he was in a lot of movies, I remember.
Parker: (laughs) yeah. And then there was the Buddy Holly story. That was terrible. All of those shows were put on by Mr. Irving Feld, whose whole family, even now, fifty years later runs Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey Circus. They’re the people that own it. Irving Feld put these first rock and roll shows on, man. Nobody else would try it, because they were scared to put all people together.
BBP: You mean different races together.
Parker: Yeah, as you can see, it worked out great.
BBP: What was Buddy Holly like?
Parker: I didn’t really know him that well. We were sort of…our accommodations were different.
BBP: Right. Yeah, I forgot. (both laugh)
Parker: When we got up there to play and sing, we sort of were together, you know, but offstage, not so much.
BBP: Yeah, everybody ran in different circles, based on race.
Parker: Yeah, kind of.
BBP: Jimmy Reed, a lot of people consider him the guitar player’s guitar player. What was it like to work with him?
Parker: He was amazing. He was a real hip little cat. Women liked him, he looked good as a young dude. He just drank himself to death, man. You know when you heard him (simulates someone singing in a drunken manner), you know the way he used to sound on the records. That kind of singing man is a guy who's addicted to whiskey. You know (again simulates someone singing in a drunken manner)he was addicted, man. He was an alcoholic. Everybody loved him, man. He would strap his harmonica around his neck and get out there and tear the show apart. People never heard nothing like that before. And his records were hot! So, he was a great artist, man. He just could not stop that drinking that alcohol.
BBP: Was there a lot of drug abuse during that period? I mean in the fifties, with musicians? Or was that something that came later?
Parker: Well you mean, uh…
BBP: Well in the fifties, I mean, everyone knew about what happened in the 1960’s.
Parker: I had to a lot to do with all of that, man. I started what you call the British Revolution, where everybody began to imitate little Bobby Parker’s song “Watch Your Step (released in 1961).”
BBP: I heard about that, yeah.
Parker: (Sings a little from it) I mean we was the house band at the Regal in Chicago, the Apollo in New York and Paul Hucklebuck in Baltimore. Then when we got here to D.C. at the Howard Theatre, there was a big show here, man. We came here and it was so tremendous. People loved it so well I decided to stay in D.C.
BBP: But you’d had a big hit before that, right? There was a song you did called “Blues Get Off My Shoulder(released in 1958)?”
Parker: Yeah, and “You Got What It Takes”
Parker: I recorded that in Chicago when I was about 18, 19 years old.
BBP: I’ve heard a lot about “Watch Your Step.” John Lennon apparently used the riff for “Day Tripper.”
Parker: “I Feel Fine.” “Day Tripper” too.
BBP: Yeah. And Led Zepplin took it later and did the song “Moby Dick,” I think it was?
Parker: Jimmy Page, and..
BBP: Did anyone ever pay you for taking that song?
Parker: No, man. I always had a funny saying—it’s not funny, but it’s called “The Goldfish In the Ocean.” Can you imagine one little goldfish in the ocean, how big the ocean is and one little fish: me.
Parker: You have to have a lot of money to start litigation. And, I don’t know. I just got the bad end of the deal.
Parker: A lot of us did. Black artists, we didn’t never get paid no money, man. You see all of those stories with Little Walter. I mean, you saw Cadillac Records right?
Parker: I mean, those people didn’t have no money.
BBP: Was that guy really giving away Cadillacs like that? I mean was that true?
Parker: He just did that to appease the artists. To make them look good, and make them feel like they got something valuable, you know, a car. And they owed everybody money. But they didn’t really get a lot of money paid, you know.
BBP: Well I got the impression from the movie that he was giving them cars and I remember there was one scene where Muddy Waters asked for some money and Leonard Chess said Cadillacs cost money.
BBP: That part of the movie was accurate, right (laughs)?
Parker: Yeah, Well, Muddy Waters at Chess Records was the..before he got really big he knew a lot about electricity in the building. Setting up things and getting a good sound and music, you know? I know when I recorded with Bo Diddley there was a elevator shaft with a—you know how you see an elevator with pads up on the inside?
Parker: They used to set the drum set in there, and at night, turn the elevator off. And set the drum set up in there man, in the padded elevator. And that’s how they got a real good drum sound.
BBP: They used to pad the inside of the elevator car?
Parker: Yeah. Turn it off so nobody would use it and mike it up, and the drums would sound good, man.
BBP: That was Muddy’s idea?
Parker: There was someone there when I got there who was doing it. Put the amplifiers around the front of the elevator.
BBP: Oh, I see, and the rest of the band would form around the elevator and play.
Parker: Uh-huh. So it was really something man, how they did stuff in those days because they only had small Ampex recorders, you know.
Parker: Two track. But they were great, great recorders in those days. I mean with those two-track Ampex you could imagine recording Frank Sinatra and all of those people, you know? All of those songs they did were brilliant!
BBP: Wow. Did you ever meet Willie Dixon?
Parker: Yeah. Upright bass player Willie.
BBP: What was he like? I wanted to ask you about Little Walter too because the movie kind of portrayed him as a hothead.
Parker: All of them were sort of like watching their own back. Angry all of the time and in and out of problems. Not much money and accommodations. I mean when you live like that, man, you’re walking on thin ice all of the time. And all of those cats only got big when Clapton and Page and all of those kind of people made them superstars. Because they were not big superstars. Eric Clapton and all of those people start imitating those songs and that’s when they got a break.
BBP: Wow. I understand that you went to England in, I think it was ‘69. Fleetwood Mac brought you over there?
BBP: Tell me how that happened.
Parker: Well Mick Fleetwood started a nightclub right over here in Alexandria, Virginia. And it was a great big nice place, man.
BBP: What was it called?
Parker: Uh, Mick Fleetwood’s.
BBP: (laughs) What else!
Parker: Yeah. Over in Alexandria. So, uh—I mean I influenced a lot of people, man. Mick Fleetwood, and I influenced Clapton and Jimmy Page and Santana and, just a lot of people. You know the thing about it that’s so bad is, I’m still not up there with those kind of cats. I mean I’m famous, but—they won’t let me on some of those shows that they do. You know? I mean when you got John Mayer, who comes out in the last ten years and makes millions, you know. I’m not saying that he can’t play, but it’s not fair to the cats that have been around, like myself. Joe Bonamassa, he took one of my songs and made a big hit on his last album.
BBP: Which one?
Parker: Last year, it was “Steal My Heart Away.” It was cut on the flip side of “Watch Your Step” in the sixties. Good blues song, even Robert Plant recorded it. Sang it way back in the day, you know.
BBP: You ever speak to Joe Bonamassa about that?
Parker: Yeah, I played a gig with him a few months back down at Lisner Auditorium in D.C. It was a good show. He invited me to come down there and play with him and I went down there.
BBP: I mean, if you wanted to call Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page or any of these guys could you pick up the phone and call them?
Parker: No I cannot. I know how to get in touch with Carlos. But I don’t call him just for the..it’s got to be something important you know.
BBP: Yeah. Because I had heard that when you were over there you were actually jamming with these guys. You were on stage with Clapton and Page.
Parker: Yeah. I did a lot of that. I played Albert Hall in London. Played all over the United Kingdom, Amsterdam, back in the late sixties. The thing I wouldn’t do, I only had a couple of nice little guitars, and they wanted me to break ‘em up and throw them all over the place and all that. I said “I ain’t doing that.” (laughs) You know. Break up my guitars, I don’t know, Hendrix and all them was doing that. So I wouldn’t do that. So they got mad with me and I came back here.
BBP: That was the main thing they got mad at you about, that you didn’t want to break up your guitars?
Parker: Yeah, right. I mean, I would have done it if—I mean they had guitars stacked there, Fenders, just to bust down on the stage. New ones. But I’d rather play my own guitar, because you like your own guitar. They were setting the stage on fire and kicking the speakers in and busting up guitars all over the floor and stuff. I said “come on, man. This ain’t real blues, man. I’m going back there to the states.”
BBP: I was curious, did you ever meet Hendrix?
Parker: Well, he was with singing groups too, you know. Playing behind people before he got his thing going.
BBP: So you kind of met him here in the states when he was with the Isley brothers and those groups?…
Parker: He was a guitar player for a lot of groups, you know. Getting it together, though.
BBP: Did you ever talk to him or play with him?
Parker: No, I never did talk close to him. You know he was cool.
BBP: Actually Jimmy Page heard you play here in D.C. once, right.
Parker: Sure did.
(Parker then excused himself for a seconds)
Parker: I used to play on the military circuit, all around D.C., Fort Myer (Virginia), Fort Meade (Maryland), Fort Belvoir (Virginia), Walter Reed (D.C.), Bolling (D.C.), Andrews (Maryland) and all down through the south. And when we came to Fort Meade over hear, Jimmy Page called me on the phone. He said “Bobby, it’s Jimmy.” I said “Jimmy who?” He said “It’s Page, man.” I didn’t believe him because he wasn’t really pushing the word hard, you know. I said “Hey Jimmy.” He said “When you came over here I wanted to talk to you but you left and I didn’t get a chance to. They said you did some great things over here, man.” I said “Well, man, that’s great. I’m glad you heard it.” He said “What I want you to do is go out to Washington Music Center—I just bought you a recorder. Is that cool with you?” I said “Sure.” He said “Well go out and pick it up and it’s a Teac four-track machine,” and uh, I still got it. The heads are all worn down but of course I have a studio full of stuff anyway. I went out to Chuck Levin’s (Washington area music store) and picked it up and there it was. He said “you ready to write a song?” I said “Yeah, I’m always ready.” He said “Put some stuff on tape, Bobby and send ‘em to me, will ya?” I said “Yeah, I’ll do that.” And that kind of started our relationship, you know, him and I calling each other from the United Kingdom back to the states.
BBP: Right. So what happened? Did you put it on tape?
Parker: Yeah. I put a lot of stuff on tape.
BBP: Did you send it to him?
Parker: I put a lot of stuff there and sent it over there to him. And they heard it, and I went back to England and we did some recording with, um, what’s the name of that label?
BBP: Yeah, uh, I think I remember the label, it was a labeI that Led Zeppelin had.
Parker: What was the name of that label? I was on it.
BBP: Swan Song Records?
Parker: Yeah, Swan Song. That’s what it was.
BBP: You did a couple of songs for them?
Parker: Yeah. “Hard but it’s fair” and about four or five other blues tunes.
BBP: Did they try to release that record? What happened to that record?
Parker: Something happened to our communication. And I ended up coming back. And some other cats heard some of those songs and started recording them. But anyway, I just came back because there was so much going on and they weren’t really talking prices. Giving me numbers, you know. So, uh—
BBP: You didn’t see the money you were hoping to see.
Parker: Yeah. Had to get paid for doing stuff, you know.
BBP: Tell me a little about the D.C. scene. What was it like then?
Parker: Well, I’m going to tell you something, man. I don’t know how people make it sound, but I brought blues to the D.C. area. And it’s still like that. I’m the one that really laid it down. You know there are a bunch of cats here now. I mean, come on, this is 2010. But it took forty or fifty years to get quite a little handful of people around here. And they all learn from copying me. Even Jimmy Thackery told me the other day. You know him.
Parker: (He said)”Bobby I learned everything I know from watching you.” He put it on Facebook the other day. It’s on there. Just what I just said. And uh, Chuck Brown. Just scores of others, man, copied my lick.
BBP: Wow. But at the time in the early seventies or during that period were there a lot of clubs to play in?
Parker: There were a lot of places to play but there weren’t no real guitar blues cats. It was more Motown music.
Parker: And I’m going to be honest with you, I integrated D.C. When I came here in the sixties, folks wouldn’t come uptown to the black section to hear jazz and blues, and there were just hundreds of clubs. And that song “Watch Your Step.” We went downtown on F St. and a place called Rands and the Hayloft, and man I just got hundreds of thousands of fans. Young people from downtown and Rands and the Hayloft began to come uptown looking for me, and I’d get booked all over the area and a phenomenon happened that had never happened in the D.C. area. Because white people just wouldn’t come up town. It was dangerous, you know. And vice versa.
BBP: You seem to have this relationship with a lot of musicians who are still out, like Carlos Santana. I was just listening to a tape you guys did together at Mystic Theatre in 1995? Where did you first meet Carlos?
Parker: I knew Carlos, I was with the Paul Hucklebuck band. I went through Mexico, okay? Traveling and doing shows and those same shows I was talking about went through Mexico. That’s how he got his spark to play guitar.
BBP: So he actually saw you perform in Mexico?
Parker: Yeah, that’s what he says. He was inspired by that, you know.
BBP: When did you first actually talk to him, or interact with him?
Parker: I didn’t really talk to him in those days. He just saw us play.
BBP: When was the first time you ever played with him?
Parker: In ’95. We did a little tour and ended up out there in California at that theatre. And we did about eight, nine days of just running all over California and places like that. He had left his band behind and he just jumped in and played blues with Bobby Parker because he did it with John Lee Hooker, he’s done it with a lot of people. Blues artists. You know? So stuff can rub off on him.
BBP: And then you played together again in 2004? At Montreux?
Parker: Yeah. Montreux, Switzerland.
BBP: How did that come together? Because I heard Gatemouth Brown was on that. Buddy Guy was there too.
Parker: Yeah, that was a good show. And we did a lot of-three or four shows that weekend and they compiled it all into one DVD.
BBP: I have that DVD. What was it like to play with Gatemouth Brown?
Parker: I’d known him a lot of years too. He’s always been a great artist.
BBP: Who’s influenced you most as a guitar player?
Parker: Influenced me?
Parker: T-Bone Walker. And Lowell Fulsom. Well that’s more when I was sixteen or seventeen years old, and I was telling you about that.
Parker: In California. He was great. And then I was on a show with T-Bone with the Paul Hucklebuck Blues Band. We used to do a little “Me and My Shadow” blues routine. I did that with him. He was a real classy guy, man. T-Bone. Kind of small like myself and a real classy dresser, man. He was really hip. And his big ol’ Gibson guitar, spread it sideways across his chest. You know. Great guitar player. And you know, he did a lot of tricks. He was a young man. He could get around. He knew stuff.
BBP: Did he actually take you aside and show you stuff?
Parker: Um, not really. I just watched him. And I was sitting in the band behind all of these artists and they’d say “Bobby Parker, come out front! Come on out!” I’d step over the band with my guitar around my neck and jam with them. Play. Another cat was Peewee Crayton. He was dynamite too. I got pictures of all of those cats with me. At the Apollo and Howard Theatre, doing a little show spot on the stage, four or five of us together.
BBP: Tell me about Chuck Brown. You do shows in June with him at that festival in Virginia?
Parker: Yeah, over at the State Theatre.
BBP: How long have you known him?
Parker: Whew! Since…the 70’s.
BBP: Did you guys play together back then?
Parker: Sort of. I mean I was on the scene ten or 15 years before he showed up.
BBP: How did you decide to do this show every year with him?
Parker: We’ve been doing it for quite a few years now. We’ve been playing “Summer in the Parks.” We originated in D.C. what’s known as “Summer in the Parks.” Blues, rock, go-go shows. All through the system around here. And um, I’m going to be straight up with you, as time went along, they just took it from us and gave it to somebody else.
BBP: Actually, I’ve heard you’ve done the Chicago Blues Festival a few years. I used to go to that. How does the Chicago scene seem to you?
Parker: I just played there two months ago, three months ago. And I was next to the headliner on it. And uh, it was a great show, man. And we played Kalamazoo, Michigan the night before that. Then we came up to Chicago to do that, and after the Chicago Blues Festival we went to a place in downtown Chicago called Reggies. And that joint was on fire, man, until daybreak. I mean we set the place on fire, everybody who was on that show. Not everybody, but a lot of people came down and played.
BBP: Do you like playing Chicago?
Parker: Yeah, I do.
BBP: Have you been to some of the other clubs there?
Parker: I play Buddy Guy’s joint all the time. Not recently, but. Buddy Guy has a big picture of me. About three years ago I went to Saudi Arabia and man, you’re talking about something dangerous, because of the war, with all of the Islamic folks. And the show was booked by somebody in London and I had no idea I was getting on a show that was dangerous. Cause there’s wars going on over in Saudi Arabia. Yemen is right there like, D.C. and Virginia. Right there, the borderline. We did a show over there and people were blowing up cars and concert stages and setting fires to anything because they heard that an American show was coming there. Now I had no idea, I was just trying to get on the show and get paid. Trying to survive out here. So we went over there and did the show and they’re blowing up all of these places and cities and stuff, and blew up the concert hall where we were going to play. Just a terrible thing. We were not in such a safe place to be.
BBP: Did you finally do the show?
Parker: Oh yeah we did the show, we did about 10 or 12 days and we got out of there. Because they were scarcely closing in on us. And they rushed us out of Saudi Arabia over there on the American Marine side. If you go to Buddy Guy’s place over there he’s got a great big picture of me being guarded by Marines. So we got out of it just by the skin of our teeth, man, and we left under guard. Getting to the airport, we left out of there on a great big green jet. Wasn’t a passenger plane?
BBP: There were actually threats against the show?
Parker: Americans. Period. They hate Americans, man.
BBP: Who are some of your favorite people to play with over the years?
BBP: I mean to actually be on stage with and be in a band with. Who are some of your favorite people?
Parker: That’s kind of hard to say. Albert King. Albert Collins.