Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Murali Coryell: In the Room with Jimi

When guitarist Murali Coryell was three months old, he was picked up by Jimi Hendrix. The contact may have given a push to a musical destiny that already had strong roots: Coryell’s father is guitarist and jazz/rock fusion pioneer Larry Coryell. Diverting somewhat from his father and brother, guitarist Julian Coryell, Murali has gravitated more towards the blues. For the last six months, he has been performing with bluesman Joe Louis Walker. The two on Sunday played the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis, where Murali talked about his association with Walker, his family, his solo projects and a curious song he wrote about that fateful encounter with Hendrix:
BBP: How long have you been playing with Joe?
Murali: How long have I been playing? Well I’ve known Joe for over twenty years, and I’ve been playing with him officially in his band for six months.
BBP: How did that come about?
Murali: Well, Joe is originally from San Francisco, California and he moved to Poughkeepsie, New York, which is near where I live. I live in Woodstock, N.Y., and so we started hanging out and being closer together geographically and then when it came time for me to do my album I hired Joe to be on my album and before that Joe had recorded one of my songs on his album, so we’re fans of each other’s music. And since he was, you know, close by to me, and he just wanted to hook up, he wanted me to play with him and who am I to say “no?”
BBP: How have you mixed your styles?
Murali: The thing is is that Joe and I, we both love all kinds of music. We love the straight-ahead, traditional blues but we love the other sides of the blues. The soul side, the rock side, the funk side, the African side, so you know to both of us, to me and to Joe also, we see the blues as a very wide umbrella under which many, many styles co-exist. So that’s how we do it. We both love the diversity and we love the blues. We love it all.
BBP: What is it like growing up in a family where your father is one of the top guitar-players in the country?
Murali: Well, I’ll tell you what. There was…I felt there were a lot of expectations and pressure, personal pressure to try to live up to be as great as my dad, or be as good as him, which is kind of an impossibility. And fortunately what happened for me was I discovered that the blues was something that came, you know, very naturally to me and that became my foundation for my style of music. And so when I found that, that was really the key, finding my own style. Because I still can’t do a lot of the things that my father and my brother, Julian Coryell is an incredible guitarist, they’re both incredibly talented and gifted. And so it’s a matter of, I kind of had to find my own thing that I was good at so I could hang on the level with those guys.
BBP: So your style is more towards the blues end and theirs is more towards the jazz end, is that what you are saying?
Murali: I would definitely say in a general description, yes. That’s what I would say. I’m definitely really influenced by the blues and the vocal thing is very important as well. And being into soul music, soul music, funk, blues, rock, all of it. It’s all great music. So I let myself be influenced by all of those things and try to create something and make my own contribution to this great American music.
BBP: Is any of your father’s influence in what you do?
Murali: Oh yeah, there’s no doubt about that. Yeah I mean there’s cert—you know there’s just certain things. Because although he’s known as a jazz player, he taught me Hendrix riffs and blues riffs, Freddy King things and so, you know, he’s influenced me in a lot of ways. Not just musically, but life also. And Joe Louis Walker’s the same way. He’s influenced me, he taught me music. Also taught me about life experience, and you know in the business that we’re in they’re both valuable.
BBP: Wanted to ask you about that song you did about Hendrix. It sounded like you were telling your own life story.
Murali: Yeah, you know it’s a true story. The song is called “I was in the Room with Jimi” and it’s a true story about how when I was an infant, about three months old, Jimi Hendrix came to see my dad playing at a gig and apparently Jimi Hendrix picked me up when I was in a basinet back stage, or on the side of the stage. And so I heard that story and I just thought it was really cool and it was inspiring to write a song about that. So yeah, true story, cool thing.
BBP: Do you think it influenced you in any way? (laughs)
Murali: You know what? I’d like to think it has. I mean my father even says who knows, you know. Maybe in some way Jimi and Murali exchanged something at that point. Who knows? But it certainly doesn’t hurt. It certainly can’t hurt you.
BBP: You’re obviously very involved with this band, but you also have things going on, on your own. Tell me about some of them.
Murali: Well, before I joined up with Joe, I was doing my own albums, touring for the last fifteen years. And um, the important thing is to continue writing. You know it’s about writing songs, making more records and playing gigs. And so, when I’m with Joe, the music’s great, the crowd’s great and so I hope that on my own gigs they’re going to be on the same level. I have a gig coming up where we’re going to be opening up for B.B. King in Buffalo, NY in November. And we’re all looking forward to that.
BBP: Your band?
Murali: Yeah, that was a gig that I had before I was with Joe. And Joe heard about that gig and he said I want to be on that gig of yours. So, this is how we help each other. As musicians and artists we all want to be playing our music in front of the right audience and surrounded by people who inspire us, you know, bring out the best in us. So that’s what we try to do.
BBP: Do you have an album coming out?
Murali: My current CD is called Sugar Lips and it features Larry Coryell, my father, as well as Joe Louis Walker on it. And that’s the current album. It was produced by Tom Hambridge who is Buddy Guy’s producer who maybe will be doing Joe’s next record, from what I hear. It was recorded in Nashville, twelve original songs, and so that’s my latest one and I’m touring, supporting that as well as my 2008 release The Same Damn Thing, which has the song “In the Room with Jimi” on it. And I’ve got five other albums out, but those are the two most recent ones. Hopefully I’ll write some more new songs and make some more albums, be adding those to the set list and to the repertoire.
BBP: As a guitar player, what advice would you give to a young guitar player?
Murali: Find a good teacher. Find a teacher that you like the way they play and maybe go learn from them. Go out and play with people. Play as much as you can. Just keep going for it.
BBP: Can I ask you what your favorite guitar is?
Murali: My favorite guitar? I’m kind of a Strat guy, you know. I have a Les Paul, I have a couple of Strats so I use those and I’m still looking for an acoustic guitar that I love, you know. So, you know what, they’re all different. So it’s kind of like when you play a good guitar, you know it, you can feel it. And the person who sets it up, that makes a big deal, a big difference. A good set-up guy could take a cheap guitar and make it sound like an expensive guitar, make it sound good. So um—well I’m kind of a Strat guy but Joe has also gotten me into using the Les Paul and I’m getting into that. I love that sound as well. So it’s like having a different tool for a different job or a different flavor depending up what colors you’re trying to produce.

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