Thursday, December 29, 2011

The Last Gypsy: Bassist Billy Cox Part II

Here is Part II of our interview with bassist Billy Cox:

BBP: Now Band of Gypsys lasted only a month and a half. Why didn’t it take off? You guys had such great tracks. In college I used to listen to that album all of the time. Especially “Machine Gun;” it’s such an incredible song. How did that song come together?
Cox: Okay you asked two questions... (Both laugh)
BBP: I’m sorry, I got you on the phone and…
Cox: Okay. Management did not want that. They wanted him to go back to the same format that he had before. So we caught a lot of flak from the management. It was not wanted. A lot of times a lot of people think that groups have the power to say yes and no and this and that. That’s not true. Sometimes if you’re under contract, you have to go with the people who have you under contract. And so that band was not wanted. So we had to disband. Okay, and the other question was…
BBP: The song “Machine Gun.” That song really was something…

Cox: It probably was a jam. It all started with a jam. Jimi had this unique talent of starting things off and laying in the cut til everybody joined in, and then he’d go off from there. So it just started and I gave it my flavor, and Buddy gave it his flavor and he said, “Hey that’s pretty good.” So he went off and wrote some words to it and bang! Because we rehearsed quite a bit. Rehearsal is the key element for playing songs and playing them right. You’ve got to practice.
BBP: What was your favorite song from Band of Gypsys?
Cox: I don’t know. You’ve asked the wrong man that, because I enjoyed playing all of those songs. Every song. I had a direct input into all of those songs so I enjoyed playing all of those songs. I didn’t have any so-called favorites; you know “Machine Gun” was good, “In from the Storm” was good, “Dolly Dagger,” “Isabella,” all of those songs were good. I loved playing them. I couldn’t get stuck on one song; the most important thing I wanted to do was play the music, so I was stuck on the music, not a particular song.
BBP: That’s incredible. Let me ask you this. Hendrix in terms of—how do I phrase this question—in terms of his relationship with the black community. I was younger during that time, but I always had the impression that his music wasn’t really accepted by African-Americans during that period. I remember later reading he got booed at a street fair in Harlem. What was happening with all that?
Cox: Well you had racial divides in the media also because his music was predominately on the FM stations. So blacks did not have FM stations where they really felt comfortable and FM stations at that time did not play R&B and blues. They do now, but back then they did not. And so rock was predominately played on the FM stations. And in the black stations, somebody said “Who’s this guy?” Well a few guys knew who he was, but the vast majority of them did not know. It’s not like it is today.
BBP: Right. And who do you like now? Who’s out there now—rock, blues—who do you like to listen to?
Cox: I listen to all of them. I came up from a—my mother was a classical pianist and I came up under Mozart, Handel, Liszt, the whole bit. And then I gravitated to the bebop...and then the blues and R&B. Today, I feel like—I still love Albert King, and Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. B.B. King and various artists. I still like to listen to artists. I don’t have any one favorite. I listen to all of them. Then I have a lot of jazz records too. I’m still into Miles, Herbie Hancock, and Jaco Pastorius and things of that nature.

BBP: Are there new performers, guys who are out these days who perhaps were not out when you were around? I’m talking about younger guys now. Does anyone have your ear at this point?
Cox: You mean bass players, groups or what?
BBP: Groups, anybody. Any musicians…
Cox: I like what Marcus Miller’s doing, and Victor Wooten, and still like Stanley (Clarke) and guys of that nature as far as the bass players go. I’m really concentrating on my group, Billy Cox’s New Band of Gypsys. I mean we’re really doing a lot of rehearsing, a lot of work and we put together this CD and—but guys live so far apart that, but we get them together, at least once a month, and we do what we have to do musically.
BBP: Are you guys going on tour anytime soon?
Cox: Hopefully I’m trying to get them on this Experience Hendrix tour.
BBP: Oh. Okay. I know you were playing on that..I remember I saw a video of you playing on that tour. A few musicians were playing on that. I just wanted to ask you a couple of more things about Hendrix. That period. Just a couple of rumors that..
Cox: I’ve just been told I have to wind it up, but go ahead.
BBP: …Yeah, I appreciate the time you’ve given me. One was this talk that Michael Jeffery had him killed…
Cox: …And I saw Elvis…You know, you can’t run around with rumors and innuendoes on people. We got the news about what happened and sometimes people are not happy with what happened. They want to make it the way they want it to happen. And there will always be rumors and innuendoes on the stars. The Michael Jacksons, the Elvis Presleys, the Janis Joplins, the Jimi Hendrixes. But I don’t believe everything I read in the funny papers.
BBP: (laughs) But his relationship with Jeffery was kind of strained at times…was that true?
Cox: Are you looking for gossip or are you looking for the truth?
BBP: I’m looking for the truth because of things I’ve read over the years.
Cox: Jeffery was a manager. And he did what managers do. You have some good managers, you have some bad managers and mediocre managers, but he was a manager. So I didn’t hear them argue. I didn’t hear them fuss. So I can’t definitely say that they…but I knew that he was thinking about changing managers. Sometimes relationships between artists and managers after five, six, seven years, they change. I’ve seen that over hundreds of artists who have signed with one manager and after their three years with a three-year option is up they go to another place hoping that they can make more money and be more creative or what have you. So nothing stays the same. Change is inevitable.
BBP: I wanted to ask this about you. About ten years ago the Cort guitar company released a signature bass guitar under your name. How’d that come about? And what’s going on with that right now?
Cox: Well that was the contract. I was under contract—there goes that contract again—I was under contract to them for about three years, three-and-a-half years, something of that nature. But I put out this Freedom Bass and it was a pretty good bass. And we had a few sales. In fact, I’ve still got a couple of them. It was a Cort, and they were the only ones that were really nice. And so I took out the time to design this bass and I guess you could probably pick up some. They’re not out like they were; I think Cort has 300 different styles of guitars they put out. They’re a humongous company. But they were very good to me. I had a lot of fun. Made a little money. And you move on.
BBP: And you were involved in the design of this bass?
Cox: Yes, I designed it.
BBP: Did you ever get any feedback on it from other bass players?
Cox: I was at (a) convention and…I was standing around. A lot of people didn’t know who I was, I had one of these funny hats I wear from time to time (laughs)…and, quite a bit of compliments. I was there and a lot of people liked it. A lot of people bought it.
BBP: Wow. That’s incredible. I just want to slip this last one in. Right now, you’re the last person from either the Jimi Hendrix Experience or the Band of Gypsys who’s still alive. When you think of that, what goes through your mind?
Cox: My last CD was called “The Last Gypsy Standing.” And in fact the main track to that is also on the Old School Blue Blues which you probably have.
BBP: I heard that, yeah.
Cox: I thank the creator for sparing me this length of time. I try to take care of my health. I didn’t go to the gym this morning because I have about four or five things to take care of on the phone…but tomorrow morning bright and early I’ll be at the gym. I try and exercise, try to eat the right things, take care of my health. I think that’s more important, especially when you get a little older. So I’m just trying to take care of what I’ve got, and what I’ve been given.
BBP: But in terms of what you did with Hendrix and that whole period, what the two of you were doing together, do you feel a responsibility to, maybe, carry on the legacy?
Cox: Well I have to do what I have to do. In fact I’ve been called to speak. I’ve spoken at the University of Indiana, University of Illinois, Fisk University, and I try to be a mentor to a lot of the young musicians coming up. I’ve been there and done that. And I try to give the best advice that I know how to them, and if they ask for it I’ll speak truthfully to the best of my ability and knowledge.
BBP: Right. And I know you were just out in California with the Wild Blue Angel?

Cox: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. The Wild Blue Angel was edited a little better and a little differently and it was very unique to be able to do that. Myself and John McDermott with the Hendrix Corporation and the fellow who produced the movie, he was there. We were on the panel.
BBP: What kind of questions do you get when you’re on panels like that?

Cox: Any kind. People ask anything off the cuff from the type of bass I use to the type of contract that I signed. The general public, you could be faced with any number of questions.
BBP: And do the questions vary as to the age of the person asking them? Do the older people ask different kinds of questions than the younger people do?
Cox: I never even tried to find out who did what, but I do know that the Jimi Hendrix legacy is continually living on. I look at the tours and anywhere from six, seven, eight and anywhere from 18, 19, and 20-year-old kids are still picking up the guitar. And guess what? The first artist they try to play like is Jimi Hendrix. They embrace his musical genius and they know most of the songs, basic songs that Jimi played. So I’m still signing autographs for them; so this is two, three generations later.
BBP: Wow. That’s incredible. That’s really incredible. Is there any guitarist out there now, who you think comes close to him in terms of ability or approach?
Cox: Umm..I mean you asked me that I think a little earlier here in the interview, but…not really. I’m not going to…I can’t give everyone…Jimi Hendrix defined the guitar. Everyone had their chance to define it, so he came about and he defined it. So anybody who is copying him is not defining the guitar. They’re copying Jimi Hendrix. There are a lot of people who imitate and try to duplicate, but there’s only one Jimi Hendrix. And every now and then the spirit slips through the portal of time into this reality and blows our mind. And Jimi Hendrix slipped through that portal of time. I’m not smart enough to tell you where that portal is located. But he did that. And he realized that fate is a card that’s dealt at birth, but destiny is what you do with those cards.
Here again is Billy's website:
http://www.bassistbillycox.html Also, if you want to communicate with Beldon's Blues Point, write us at Also, join our site! We'd love to have you!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Last Gypsy: Bassist Billy Cox Part I

In 1961, while an army private stationed with the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, bassist Billy Cox and a friend were walking past a base service club when they heard someone playing unusual licks on a guitar.
It sounds like crap, Cox’s friend said. But Cox heard something different. Something he liked.
He went inside to meet the guitarist, who five years later would become famous under the name Jimi Hendrix.
Their friendship began with the two playing the so-called “Chitlin’ Circuit” in the South and Midwest during the early 1960’s. They went their separate ways for a while after Hendrix was discovered by Chas Chandler of the Animals.
But eventually Hendrix called his old buddy and the rest is music history. Cox was with the band that played with Hendrix in August, 1969 at the famous Woodstock concert. Then the two joined with drummer Buddy Miles to form the short-lived but pivotal power trio Band of Gypsys. The concerts performed by the group over New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day from 1969 to 1970 were once dubbed by Rolling Stone Magazine as one of the ten greatest of all time.
Now 70 years old (he’s a year older than Hendrix), Cox lives in Nashville, where he keeps busy with both his more current projects and with representing the legacy of the music he created with Hendrix, who is still considered by many the most important and influential rock guitarist who ever lived.
Leading the New Band of Gypsys, a group featuring Byron “Showman” Bordeaux and Vincent “In the Pocket” Fults on guitars and Gary “Freight Train” Skipper on drums, Cox has released Old School Blue Blues, a collection of traditional blues songs, some with a rock edge that heralds back to his time with Hendrix.
The album includes “The Last Gypsy Standing,” a song also recorded for Cox’s 2009 album, “Last Gypsy Standing.”
“I wanted to reiterate what it was all about,” Cox reportedly said to the online magazine Hollywood Today in explanation of the duplication.

The only surviving member of either the Jimi Hendrix Experience or Band of Gypsys, Cox has played with the Experience Hendrix tribute tour and will do so again in 2012. Earlier this month, he was part of a panel that discussed Hendrix at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles after a screening of the movie Blue Wild Angel: Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight. Cox played with Hendrix at that concert, held in England about three weeks before the guitarist’s death.
Cox also keeps busy with his video production company, which produces blues and gospel shows.
Cox was born in Wheeling, WV. His father was a Baptist preacher and a mathematics teacher and his mother was a classically-trained pianist. His interest in music received a boost during his teen years after his family moved to Pittsburgh and he came into contact with a number of jazz musicians. He reportedly discovered he liked the sound of the electric bass after trying other instruments.
His early partnership with Hendrix led to them forming the King Kasuals band, which played regularly at the Del Morocco, a popular Nashville club, as well as on the road. The two musicians continued to support each other’s careers over the years, with Cox once recommending Hendrix for a recording session with famous Nashville disc jockey Bill “Hoss” Allen (Cox talks about that in the upcoming interview) and Hendrix suggesting that Little Richard hire Cox as a bassist. (Cox could not do it. He also talks about thatin the interview).
Cox also gave creative support to Hendrix, whose up-front style frequently put him at odds with the bands he played with during that early part of his career.
When Hendrix went to Europe in 1966, he asked Cox to come along. When the bassist said he had other obligations, Hendrix told him he would achieve success and contact him again. After the dissolution of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Hendrix kept his promise, and this time Cox accepted.
Cox was with Hendrix when the guitarist played his famous rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" at Woodstock.(There's a story about that in the interview too.)
Cox has played with other noted musicians, among them Sam Cooke, Slim Harpo, Joe Simon, Charlie Daniels, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Etta James, Gatemouth Brown, Maxine Brown, Nappy Brown, Patti Labelle, Freddie King, Earl Gaines, Wilson Pickett, Little Milton, Johnny Taylor, Earl Gaines and Betty Davis. More recently, he has played with the band Gov't Mule.
He has also worked with gospel performers such as Sister Edna Galva Cook, Brother Joe May, Shirley Ceasar, the Brooklyn All-Stars and the Consolers.
We’re presenting our interview with him in two parts. In the first, we ask him about his new album Old School Blue Blues and about a curious little trick he and Jimi Hendrix played to get more practice time while in the Army. And that’s not all:
BBP: I heard the new CD. Tell me how it came together.
Cox: It came together because my wife and I, we’re around the same age and we realize that the stuff that we grew up with, which was blues—the real authentic down-home blues—we don’t hear it anymore. We’d take our trips, we’d have a lot of CDs of early traditional blues and we listened and we liked it. So we decided to kind of come out of the area that we were known in. But you know, if you stop and really look at it, all Hendrix was playing really was loud blues. “Voodoo Child,” nothing but blues, blues changes. “Red House.” But we went back to the roots of it all and we had fun doing this and we had a lot of people on board who felt the same way we did. The title song is “Old School Blues.” Blue Blues.
BBP: One thing I’ve noticed is that, over the years, you’ve been involved with several projects, this being the latest in which you’ve utilized guitar players. Are you looking for a certain thing because you did play with Hendrix? I mean he must have very hard shoes to fill.
Cox: I know that no one can really fill Jimi Hendrix’s shoes. But I’m looking for guitar players that have the deep soul feeling and are able to project it out. That’s basically what I’m looking for when I’m looking for guitar players. I have two with the group now that are pretty good. But then sometimes I will venture out and play with other groups from time to time. But I love those kind of guitar players who feel it from inside and the only way I can define it is, I can hear it. It’s like when I first heard Jimi Hendrix at the service club at Fort Campbell. I was a young kid, he was making mistakes, he wasn’t quite there, he was in his infancy musically and I turned to the guy next to me and I said “Man, that’s pretty unique isn’t it?” He said “It sounds like a bunch of crap to me.” So I went inside and introduced myself because I knew that there was something there. And that something is what I look for in guitar players.

BBP: During that period a lot of people were hearing Hendrix and they just thought, just like your friend did, that it was basically noise. I mean, Hoss Allen….
Cox: I got a story about that. We went over to (a studio used by Hoss Allen). When they weren’t cutting their artists on the roster, then the general public could utilize the studio. So we go over and cut the stuff. We got ready to do it, and Hoss says “Billy do you know any guitar players?” I said “Yeah I know a guy who could probably do that for us.” So I called Jimi Hendrix in, along with Johnny Jones. And he started playing, and on the one track after Hoss had played it back, he came in and said “Man I don’t know if I can use this guy. He’s just too doggone loud.” Thirty-some years later Hoss said, “Billy I’ve got those 16 tracks of those sessions that we did and had Jimi Hendrix on.” He said “Dammit I believed I erased ten million dollars!”
BBP: Oh my God!
Cox: He had taken Jimi off because he had said he was a little too loud.
BBP: Wow! Wow! Hindsight is definitely 20-20…
Cox: …I tell you…
BBP: Yeah, that’s something else. But what were you hearing? Because it’s amazing that all of these other guys were kind of dismissing him as weird or freakish or whatever, and you actually heard something in him. How do you explain that?
Cox: I heard the future. I heard the genius. I heard the…it’s just going to take him a while to develop. And I saw him put 25 years in a guitar in five years, because it became a night and day affair.
BBP: Now I understand during that time, you and he kind of had this thing that you did to get more practice time in while you were in the army. Eventually they caught onto you but you kind of pulled it off for a while. Do you remember how you did that?
Cox: They never got onto me; I did it until I got discharged. What I did was (laughs) I don’t know if you have time to hear this story, but…
BBP: Sure!
Cox: We used to practice and play down at the service club and this Special Services, I don’t know if they have that division now but they were guys who kind of took care of the service clubs, made sure paperwork was done, made sure the cleaning crew got in, and then they had the people who were paid by the USO who came in later in the day to open it up. So I knew the one guy, Ron, who was fixing to get discharged, so I go to his commander and I said “Look Colonel, Ron’s fixing to get discharged, and I’d like to have his job down here that he’s got.” “Well, you’re an airborne man,” he says. “You can’t be on jump status to get this job. But if there’s some way you can terminate your jump status, I’d be glad to have you.” So I went to a sergeant in my outfit who got things done. I says, “Look, what would it cost me to get terminated out of jump status and moved over to the Special Services?” So he came back about a week later and said “It will cost you fifty dollars and two fifths of Canadian Club.” So I terminated my jump status and I wound up over in repo detachment where everybody is dispersed. So I heard the first day: “Thompson, Germany!” “Harrison, Vietnam!” etc. Next day, the same thing. The third day he said “Cox, Special Services!” I knew I had pulled it off! So my job was to get up about eight or nine o’clock—it was a different type of regiment in the detachment I was with in the USO and Special Services, so we knew we had a cleaning crew that came down at nine o’clock. So I had up to that time to get there. And I’d get there, and they’d clean up. Meanwhile I explained it to Jimi, so after he had formation—(laughs) he was just a mere peon, I think maybe he had one stripe, no one even really looked for him—well he wound up walking down to the service club and after my clean-up crews, we would rehearse all day long. We did that up until the time I got discharged.
BBP: And they never caught on to you?
Cox: No they didn’t.
BBP: Wow. That’s amazing. Now I remember reading at one point that Hendrix, when he was playing with Little Richard for a while, that he actually invited you to join the band.
Cox: Yes. Here in town, when I finally got to Nashville, I had a place on Jefferson Street. So we’re all sitting out and talking and we look up and there’s this Silver Eagle coming down the street. See, most of the time Jimi—he’d go out, call me from Chicago, “Man, I got with this group and I’m stranded.” Twenty bucks would get you from—heck, maybe 35 or 40 dollars would take you from New York to LA in that day and time in the sixties. But I’d get the money up and he’d come back and play with the King Kasual Band, then he’d go off, get stranded someplace else, and he’d come back. But this time, he had left for about three months. It was the longest he had left, and I looked up and here’s this silver Eagle coming down the street, and out jumped—pulled right up in front of my house—out jumps Little Richard. And the neighborhood just went crazy. Little Richard came up to me and said, “Uh, you must be Billy Cox. Jimi has said a lot about you. Get your stuff and let’s go. I need a bass player.” I said, “Well sir, I’m with this group, and I have to give them at least a week or two week notice. I can give them a week’s notice.” He says: “Oh I need a bass player now. You gotta come now. You know who I am?” I say: “Yes sir, I know who you are, and I respect you and your music, but, you know business is business.” So he says: “Okay, Jimi, I can’t convince him.” Jimi shook my hand, and they got back on the bus and that was the last I saw of him until he called me to go to Europe. He said: “there’s this guy who saw me in the (Greenwich) Village and he wants to take me to Europe and make me a star.” But at that time I had a publishing company and I was producing groups. And he said: “this guy’s going to take me to Europe and make me a star and I told him about you.” And I said: “Jimi, I’d like to come. I said, but uh, right now…” I just gave him some off-the-wall excuse because I knew intuitively that there’s the possibility that I could have been a hindrance. So I gave him a little off-the-wall excuse. So I didn’t go. And then later on he called me, he says “Okay, I’ll make it, and I’ll send for you.” And that’s just what he did, about two-and-a-half years later.
BBP: Do you regret not going then?
Cox: No. Not really.
BBP: What were you doing during that period he was in Europe?
Cox: I had a publishing company, and then a recording studio was in the back, so I produced a lot of R&B. And I was having fun doing it and made a little bit of money.
BBP: And I guess you were working with some pretty well-known artists at the time.
Cox: Well at that time locally, we had a lot of good local southern artists that were doing some things. And then after all I was working also on the “Night Train” show. And then one weekend out of the month we would go to Dallas, Texas to record “The Beat,” (a Dallas-based television program). I had a partner who took care of the business when I was not able to be there.
BBP: I see. Tell me a little about how you connected with him again. It happened around 1969 after Noel Redding left the band, right? And you guys were up in upstate New York with Juma Sultan and there were other musicians with you. The band I believe was called Gypsys…
Cox: “Gypsys, Sun and Rainbows” or something of that nature. Well, he finally got the telephone call to me. He said: “Man, I really need you, I need you to come up.” See, when we rehearsed, we came up with a lot of riffs. Some people call them patterns. We had fun with these patterns, hooking them together, making songs and a lot of times we’d say: “Man, if we put this on record, they’d lock us up.” Because it was ahead of its time, the stuff that we were doing at that particular time. So he knew that we had a kindred spirit musically. And then after all we played at the Del Morocco here, forty-five minutes on, fifteen off. We did that year-in and year-out. And then we did the other gig; when we went down to Printer’s Alley and the various places here in Nashville, it’s always 45 on, 15 off. So we got a chance to not only play, but a lot of times we practiced on stage.
BBP: Wow. And I understand also when Hendrix played “The Star Spangled Banner,” you were kind of playing the first five or six notes, and then you stopped.

Cox: Yeah. Intuitively I knew that something was wrong with this picture because he just all of a sudden just went there and then I had to stop and say “Wait a minute.” Something told me “Just stop playing and let him have it.” No one else was playing but me and him. And I stopped and what an incredible solo!
BBP: Yeah, yeah, you see it in the movie Woodstock. I mean it’s just amazing. Well, tell me how Band of Gypsys came together. You were trying to help him out of a lawsuit.
Cox: …A contractual obligation that he had signed—I don’t know if you read that part of the history—he signed this—this guy says: “Well look man, all I need you is just sign this little piece of paper saying we can do this.” Because really Jimi did not do a lot of homework on contracts etc., and the guy caught him off guard, and he signed this contract for a dollar. And it meant a lot of things were written in this contract. So here he is famous, and the next thing you know, he’s going to be sued for $15 million dollars.
BBP: Wow…
Cox: .... So he told me about it and I says: “Well look, let’s give them something. I don’t know what we can give them. We’re musicians, and you got a name.” He says: “Well, I don’t have the money.” And I said: “Well, you might not have the money, but like I say, we’ll give him something.” And so finally he came up with (the idea to) give them this album, and that was me and him on board, and then finally Buddy Miles—Mitch (Mitchell) was in England—so Buddy told him: “Look, we’re friends, and our friendship’s not about money, so let’s do it. Let’s give them this thing we discussed.” So we rehearsed for a couple of weeks, and lo and behold, we did two gigs New Year’s Eve and two gigs New Year’s Day. That was the Band of Gypsys.

BBP: Was it hard, that format? What was it like playing bass for him?
Cox: I played bass with him most of my musical life at that time. I mean we were in the service, we went to Clarksville and lived there. We were playing in the clubs. We went to Indianapolis and lived there, played in the clubs, came back to Clarksville, played in the clubs, came to Nashville—so my association with Jimi Hendrix had been a very musical brotherhood for a long time. I didn’t look at him like everybody else looked at him. He was my partner, and a cool guy. So we were musically hooked at the hip, if you might say that.
BBP: Yeah, I got that impression. And did he play bass himself?
Cox: Yeah he played bass. In fact, one reason why he called me, he’s the bass player on (thinks for a minute) “All Along the Watchtower.” Jimi played bass on “All Along the Watchtower.”
BBP: Did you show him things?
Cox: Yeah. He showed me things and I showed him things. I mean he was very good at the bass.

Anyone seeking more information on Cox should check out his website at:
http://www.bassistbillycox.html Anything for Beldon's Blues Point, contact us at Also, join our site! Represent!

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Warm Winds over Woodbridge: Saxophonist Tony Craddock, Jr. Part II

When we left off with Tony Craddock yesterday, we were talking about whether he would prefer a career in music to one in science. We start off part two of our interview by asking him about the tools of his trade:

BBP: Now tell me a little about your approach to the saxophone. I mean of all of the saxophone players out there, who are your influences? Who are your favorite saxophone players out there?
Craddock: My biggest influence, definitely Boney James. As I said, my taste in jazz moves more towards the smooth jazz side, so growing up I listened to a lot of Boney James. I listened to a lot of Kirk Whalum as well. Because Kirk Whalum had a similar style, but he also got into the gospel genre, which I appreciate, which is also where I’m looking to take my career, kind of cater to the inspirational and gospel side of jazz as well. As far as classical jazz, I listen to a lot of Stan Getz, because I like his sound. He’s known as having quote-unquote “The Sound.” Very sweet, silky kind of sound. I also listen to a lot of musicians who are not saxophonists because of the way I view saxophone. I kind of view it more as a voice, more so than an instrument. So when I play the saxophone I try to almost create an effect where it’s singing rather than playing. So I feel like the kind of musicians I listen to, I try of listen to musicians who melodically also have a quality where they make their instruments sing. For instance, I listen to a lot of Pat Metheny, the guitarist, because I think he makes the guitar somehow have this singing quality that I think is rare.
BBP: Okay. In an article I read about you, it mentioned that you like Anita Baker. You try to model your style of playing after her style of singing…
Craddock: I do. What I particularly aim to do is, you know Anita Baker has a very rich, deep voice that nobody can mimic. I’ve never heard anybody say, “Oh my gosh, that person sounds like Anita Baker.” It’s almost like comparing somebody to Michael Jackson: it just doesn’t happen. But that kind of uniqueness she has in her sound is the same kind of approach I take to the saxophone.
BBP: Tell me a little bit about this album that you have out now. What made you decide to make your first album a Christmas album? Those are notoriously hard to market because Christmas only comes once a year. Every article I ever read about somebody doing a Christmas album, they always raised the concern that Christmas only comes once a year and people are not inclined to buy a Christmas album at any other time but Christmas.
Craddock: Okay. Well I did this album with the understanding that there definitely had to be a follow-up sophomore project that wasn’t based on Christmas. So I knew about, like you said, there’s a lot of concerns that you can’t sell Christmas music outside the months of November and December. So I came into this knowing that. But my approach, it was a bit of a no-brainer to me to do a Christmas album, just because I feel as a new musician, you need something to reel your listeners in. And for me, I know I have a creative approach to the saxophone, creative approach to production, and I felt I could take Christmas songs and throw my own creative twist on them in a way that creates a unique listening experience for listeners, you know. Give them a different perspective on the songs that they’re used to hearing in a traditional way. So I felt if I did a Christmas album and took a new approach to it, and captured a certain audience, then when I did my follow-up projects, I would gain sort of a following of supporters and fans, because they’d know what I could do musically. So I approached it from the perspective of Christmas music: everybody likes it. So it almost gives people an excuse to listen to your music. People are usually pretty receptive to Christmas music, so I felt that same receptiveness would translate over to my project and people would be willing to try something new.
BBP: How did you go about producing this album? Tell me how you conceived it, and executed it.
Craddock: The production for the album actually began probably around June. It was a pretty quick process because I knew I had to get it done before the start of the academic year. First I worked very closely with my assistant producer on the album, his name is Ricardo Cordero…a lot of the work on the album was collaborative with him. We took a lot of the arrangements, sat down; I was at the keyboard, on the saxophone. He was at the keyboard and we kind of figured out how we would twist the songs and rearrange them to our musical liking. So between the month of June and August we were in the studio day and night, just grinding out the album, making sure it was ready for this fall.
BBP: Was it difficult…I mean at Christmas time people do cover songs, and I guess you could classify Christmas carols or Christmas tunes as cover songs. Was it hard to find a way to breathe new life into these songs? I guess it was a challenge to kind of make these songs unique, I guess it was kind of a challenge to your skills, I suppose, right? Was that another reason why you did it?
Craddock: I really didn’t see it as much of a challenge because again, I try to take that creative approach to music, just in general. So whenever I hear a song, or whenever I hear a vocalist sing a song or something like that, the first thing that comes to mind is: how would this sound on the saxophone? And then how could I change it to make it my own? So I actually—believe it or not, in the production process, I actually found myself having to hold back from changing the songs even more. Because if I had it my way, I would have been a bit more radical with the arrangement. But I realized I had to, I guess, have what I called “controlled creativity.” Be creative with the songs and make it unique and whatnot, but still leave enough of the originality in it so that people recognize it. So I actually wanted to change the songs more. So the creative aspect of it, making the covers my own was the least of my problems.

BBP: Let me ask you this. You mentioned that you want to come out with a sophomore album pretty soon after this one is running its course. Are you working on that now? And if you are, where are you with it? At what point are you at?
Craddock: Right now, I have about four songs. Four original songs composed by me that are pretty much ready to go. I have the ideas down, the melodic concepts, I just need to get into the studio and add instrumentation to it. But I’m looking to add a couple of gospel covers, and maybe a few jazz covers as well to the album. But the album would contain at least half of original content from me. So I’m pretty early in the process because I’m still promoting the Christmas album. But come January, I’ll be going full-force into production of the second album.
BBP: Do you have an ETA on this project? Estimated time of arrival?
Craddock: No sir, I don’t.
BBP: And are you now part of a band? Do you have a regular group of people you perform with?
Craddock: Right now I don’t.
BBP: Are you looking to assemble one? And is it possible that the people who play with you on the album will play out with you? Because I know that a lot of musicians, they do an album and to promote the album they go out and play live.
Craddock: Correct. I have secured a couple of gigs for next year. I will be using some of the musicians from my album—in addition to other musicians that I have a good rapport with—to tour around the D.C. area. But again, since I am in school, I kind of have to be balanced in how much energy I spend towards music versus school. So if I wasn’t in school I’d definitely throw a hundred percent towards music. But I can only expend so much of my energy towards music because I still have to sustain the educational side of my responsibilities right now.
(He graduates from graduate school in May 2013)
BBP: Your music career as a whole, where would you like to take it? Where would you like to be ten years from now?
Craddock: Ten years from now, I’d definitely like to be a well-respected, hopefully household name, a saxophonist known for having a very smooth melodic easy-going sound, but still a good amount of jazz content, and I’d also like to be known as somebody who is a Christian, and my music will hopefully reflect the inspirational and Christian side of my life.
BBP: I guess that means you want to get out of the D.C. area. What I mean is, that you want to be known outside of Washington….
Craddock: Correct. I want to be known internationally.
BBP: Would you like to get into the Christian music market?
Craddock: I would.
BBP: And that would be something you would do in addition to the smooth jazz market?
Craddock: The way I look at it, I feel like they go hand-in-hand. I think the unique thing about the saxophone, or any instrument that’s not a voice, there’s no words to it. So I feel like inspirational jazz, gospel jazz, smooth jazz, I feel like they can all go hand-in-hand. It’s all about the message behind the music, so I don’t feel like I have to necessarily separate the two. I feel like they’re actually pretty complementary.
BBP: Great! Alright! And remind me of this: which saxophones do you play? The tenor, the alto, the baritone?
Craddock: I play the soprano and alto.
BBP: Soprano and alto, okay. And which one do you like best?
Craddock: I’m actually pretty new to the soprano. I just began playing the soprano about a year ago. So I’m more comfortable on the alto right now. But I do feel like I…I feel like I am slightly favoring the soprano.
BBP: Okay. But you’re more experienced with the alto.
Craddock: I’m more experienced on the alto.
BBP: I see. Okay. And are there possibilities that you see with the soprano—things you can do with it—that you don’t see with the alto? Or is it just a question of being proficient with both expands your range?
Craddock: I think I have equal opportunities with both of them. ..I think the unique thing about the soprano is, the kind of warm romantic tone that you associate with the soprano, almost makes it seem like it’s another instrument. A lot of people don’t even know soprano saxophone is a saxophone because it doesn’t look like one. You know somebody asks me “What saxophone is that?” and I say “the saxophone that Kenny G plays.” And everybody goes “Oh! Oh!” So I feel like the soprano, there are definitely opportunities, because in jazz it’s one of the least used saxophones. Tenor sax is by far the most used and alto is pretty widely used as well. But given that the soprano is one of the more rare saxophones, it has a pretty unique sound. I definitely would like to expand upon that, make it part of my music.

Christmas in the Air is available through CD Baby, iTunes and It's also available on Craddock's Facebook page at:

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Warm Winds over Woodbridge--Saxophonist Tony Craddock, Jr.

Tony Craddock, Jr. traces his interest in meteorology and science to The Weather Channel.
Watching the 24-hour cable weather news network as a child prompted the Woodbridge, Virginia native to major in atmospheric science at Cornell University.
But The Weather Channel also sparked an interest with a less obvious connection to temperatures, precipitation and cold fronts.
As a child, Craddock’s ears perked up whenever he heard the smooth jazz songs played on “Local on the 8s,” The Weather Channel’s segment depicting local weather conditions.
He enjoyed the music so much that at about age 12 he picked up an alto saxophone and learned how to play. While growing up, he played at church and other venues and at Cornell formed a student organization of musicians dedicated to smooth jazz and rhythm and blues.
Two months ago, the now 23-year-old Craddock reached a plateau with the release of “Christmas in the Air,” a collection of Christmas-related music that marks his maiden voyage as a recording artist.
Ironically, The Weather Channel has added two songs from the album, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” and “The First Noel,” to the rotation of songs that accompany its programming. Pandora Radio has also picked up songs from the CD.
It’s also drawn some attention from the smooth jazz community.
“The depth of his perception and innovative nature can be clearly found in this recording of many of our beloved Christmas tunes, which he recreates in many ways to place a very impressive signature on them,” wrote Ron Jackson of The Smooth Jazz Ride, an online publication.
“….It is always refreshing to listen to music that is well-conceived, even if it consists of covers (which can be the most difficult to reproduce in a stand-out way without an abundance of creativity and imagination). Craddock puts such a nice touch of each of these and really makes you feel as though this is a production of all-original material.”
Craddock’s strides in his music career come as he continues to pursue his interest in science. He is now at George Mason University in Fairfax County, Virginia studying for his master’s in public health—training he hopes to combine with his undergraduate work in meteorology.
Still—never mind the implications of his decision to name his production company “Cold Front Music, LLC—“ he says he is sure that music is his first career choice.
“In the meantime I’m taking care of the academic portion of the equation and making sure that I have my education to fall back on,” he said. “But ideally my goal is to do music full-time and I’m trying to work towards that.”
We had a chance to talk to this possibly conflicted, definitely talented young man about his life, his music and the new album. We are presenting the interview in two parts. We will post the second part tomorrow:

BBP: My understanding is—just from what I read about you—that you actually got started in music watching The Weather Channel?
Craddock: That’s correct.
BBP: How’d that happen? Tell me the story.
Craddock: Well, around the age of eight, I realized I had a fascination with the weather, and the media source I ran to to fulfill that passion was The Weather Channel. And through watching The Weather Channel, I fell in love with “Local on the 8s,” which is the local segment of the show. And The Weather Channel was renowned for playing smooth jazz in the background, and I actually fell in love with that music. And I think that was actually the impetus for me wanting to begin the saxophone. The saxophone was an instrument that I kind of anchored to the most from the music they played on The Weather Channel. So when middle school rolled around, around the age of 12, when it came time for me to pick an instrument, the saxophone was the first one I ran to, just because of the positive experiences and influences I had from The Weather Channel.
BBP: So were you like part of a school band or something?
Craddock: You know I did the middle school band thing, then moved up to some band in high school, but the majority of my playing experience actually came from church.
BBP: Where did you get a saxophone? Did your parents buy you one?
Craddock: My parents invested in one.
BBP: Okay. And did you take lessons?
Craddock: I took lessons sparingly from about eighth to the tenth grade. I also studied briefly under—one of my musical mentors and still one of my musical mentors to this day—his name is Rob Maletick. I’m still in contact with him and he’s been a great mentor to me. After about the tenth grade, I really didn’t take any formal instruction.
BBP: And it seems like at the same time that your interest in music was born, your interest in science was born as well. I mean you developed that watching The Weather Channel too, right?
Craddock: Correct. Correct.
BBP: And did you actually develop an interest in meteorology at that point?
Craddock: I did. I think my interest in meteorology came first. And then I think, through the “Local on the 8s,” I became interested in weather. So the two fields, even though they seem pretty different, I think they actually have a weird connection, or odd connection in my case, just because I link the music with the weather.
BBP: Okay. So in other words meteorology and the weather are two different things.
Craddock: They are. But for me they’re sort of one in the same. Just because of the way I experienced them growing up.
BBP: And when you say meteorology, that’s actually the study of weather…
Craddock: The study of weather, correct….
BBP: …And when you say weather, you mean, discussing it on the media? The action of giving forecasts on the media and that sort of thing?
Craddock: Correct.
BBP: Tell me a little bit about where you took your music career after high school. Were you part of a band at Cornell?

Craddock: I never became part of a formal jazz band just because my rigorous curriculum. But I did on the side play along with the gospel choir my freshman and sophomore years. Come junior year, I started a jazz ensemble called “After Six” with a couple of my friends. I leaned more towards the smooth jazz R&B side, so we wanted to develop an ensemble that catered to that music. We did some standard jazz covers, but mostly smooth jazz, R&B, neo-soul type of music. And I led that ensemble for two years—my junior and senior years—and also led the movement for it to become a registered student organization on campus, because I wanted to make sure that after I left Cornell, the group would still be sustainable.
BBP: And is it? Is it still going on?
Craddock: It’s still alive and well.
BBP: And are you in touch with the people who are members now?
Craddock: I am.
BBP: And are you advising them on different things? How to play, or how to run this organization, or whatever?
Craddock: I guess you could call my role more of a graduate or alumni consultant. You know we have a list-serve and we still communicate back and forth all of the time….
BBP: Okay. Tell me what you’re doing now academically. You’re now at George Mason?
Craddock: Correct. I’m at George Mason working on my Master’s in public health with a concentration in epidemiology, which is more or less the study of disease.
BPP: Okay. And what do you intend to do with this?
Craddock: My goal ideally is to combine the MPH with my undergraduate degree in meteorology and do some sort of environmental health consulting. Bridge the two fields to find ways to inform people about how everyday weather impacts their lives.
BBP: But at the same time you’re pursuing musical ventures as well. Do you think you have time for both?
Craddock: Well at this point I sort of have no choice but to make time for both. But my goal is to do music full-time. In the meantime I’m taking care of the academic portion of the equation and making sure that I have my education to fall back on. But ideally my goal is to do music full-time and I’m trying to work towards that.
BBP: Okay. So if you had your choice between pursuing what you’re studying in school and doing the musical career, you would do the musical career?
Craddock: No doubt. I’d definitely go for music.

Don't forget to catch Part II tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Bluesy Christmas Wishes from The Godfather of Go-Go

With his reputation as the “Godfather of Go-Go,” it’s easy to forget that Chuck Brown is also a bluesman.
But the 75-year-old Brown, who last year received a Grammy nomination for “Love,” his collaboration with singer Jill Scott and bassist Marcus Miller, does get into a blue mood every once in a while.
One such time was last Saturday at the Cultural Arts Center of Maryland’s Montgomery College, when Brown and harmonica player Phil Wiggins provided part of the entertainment at a ceremony marking this year’s presentation of the Maryland Traditions 2011 Alta Awards.
Brown, credited with single-handedly creating go-go, a funk style of music based in D.C. that is known for energetic live performances, had included his version of “Every day I Have the Blues” on his 2007 CD, We’re about the Business. At the ceremony, he and Wiggins, who for several years had performed with the late guitarist John Cephas as part of the Cephas and Wiggins acoustic blues duo, delivered another standard, “Key to the Highway:”

Brown and Wiggins also acknowledged the time of year in a bluesy way by playing “Merry Christmas, Baby:

At the ceremony, three recipients received the awards “for their ongoing efforts to preserve and maintain the state’s living heritage.”
The winners were:
• Singing and Praying Bands of Maryland, a group of performers singing a style of music with origins in West African religion, Christianity and African-American ring shout tradition.
• The Patterson Bowling Center, Baltimore’s sole duckpin alley and the oldest duckpin center in the world.
• Rich Smoker, who carves hunting decoys.
Also performing at the ceremony was singer/guitar Warner Williams, who this year was recognized as a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment of the Arts. Chuck Brown received the same award from the NEA in 2005.