Tag Archives: blues

Joe Bonamassa: “Oh it sounded shit, never mind”

joe bonamassa 2016

BLUESFEST Byron Bay is almost upon us and American blues-rock maestro Joe Bonamassa is seeking redemption.

His two exclusive Australian shows at the Easter long weekend event, while hardly requiring a crossroads-like pact with the devil, will provide the hugely talented singer-guitarist with a chance for atonement.

“I played Byron Bay one time; I believe it was 2010,” he says. “I had the shittiest backline and came off the stage thinking I had ruined my entire career in the country of Australia. I thought my guitar sound was just dreadful, but sod’s law meant that I had more people, artists included, coming up to me asking me ‘Man, what were you using up there because it sounded great?’. So I go ‘What fucking show were you watching?’. This year I’m actually shipping my own gear over there, so it gives me a fighting chance; at least me personally. But probably nobody will say anything. ‘Oh it sounded shit, never mind’ [laughs].”

The garrulous and amiable New Yorker’s 12th studio album, Blues of Desperation, will be released just in time for his Australian shows, and represents somewhat of a return to his roots.

“After exploring so many avenues – I was in a hard rock band, I did two years of doing traditional blues, we did The Three Kings tour, the album with Mahalia [Barnes], the stuff I do with Beth Hart – I woke up one day and thought that what I am really good at is blues-rock,” he says. “That’s actually probably what I’m best at, and I should get back to doing what I do best. The album represents that; the urgency to get back to swinging the heavier bat and playing heavier stuff.”

Blues of Desperation sees Bonamassa once again teaming up with producer Kevin Shirley; an arrangement that is unlikely to change any time soon.

“Kevin and I came up with the title based on the song,” Bonamassa says. “It has this weathered kind of feel. It was brought to my attention it was maybe too dark of a title, and for a minute it was changed to Drive, before I finally decided that my life should not become a focus group thinking about who will be turned off by a title. Frankly, it’s not going to sell one more or less copy either way, and I’ve always done things in my career that just felt good, natural and organic. If I saw the record in a store, I would stop and look at it. But if I saw an album called Drive; it’s too vanilla for me. [Kevin and I] have been together for 11 years now. I told him that I think the reason we get on so well together is that everyone sticks to their job; I’m the travelling salesman, Kevin does the records, and Roy [Weisman, manager] runs the business. Kevin is great about putting me into situations that challenge me, and with musicians I would never think of. He has such a great vision of what I’m capable of, even when there is some resistance. I come in with the songs and we hash out the arrangements and we’re pretty much always on the same page. I’ve also learned to appreciate the inspiration of a single take, rather than grind the inspiration out of it, if you know what I mean?”

At only 38, Bonamassa has already been a working musician for 26 years, having opened for B.B. King when he was 12. The idea that a true bluesman never really retires might not apply here, however.

“I reckon I have another 24 years left before I can officially retire after 50 years in,” he laughs. “I’m not a run-of-the-mill blues guy. I tell you, I’m not going to be a lifer. The problem is to do this at a high level and to keep the quality up, it takes a lot of preparation. I’m not one of those cats who just walks on stage and it all just comes out of me. I think there’s more to life; I don’t want to look down the line when I’m too old to pursue something else and think I squandered the opportunity [to do something else]. Not that having a career in music is a bad thing; it’s an honour to do this for a living, but there’s more to life than plugging a Gibson guitar into a Fender amp, you know? There’s a big world out there. I get to travel it, but I never see it. I go to all these great places, and I see the hotel and the gig. I could get up super-early and see some museum but I don’t feel like doing that after singing the night before. I’d like to be a tourist once in a while, you know?”

On top of his abundant playing and writing skills, Bonamassa has been a student of the blues since childhood, starting with the ’60s British blues guitarists who brought the form to the masses.

“It was my original gateway into blues,” he says. “As a kid, to hear blues music that was basically early heavy rock was very appealing to me. As a six or seven year-old, it’s very hard to get the subtleties of Robert Johnson, as you can barely hear it on a record player. Only 20 years after the fact did I realise the true genius of those original masters, and even now I’m discovering them and realising how many of their ideas were, let’s say, borrowed by the British blues-rock scene of the ’60s. My first introduction was the Jeff Beck Group, and that was the gateway. After that it was Fresh Cream, Disraeli Gears, all the Free stuff – I was enamoured with Paul Kossoff, Rory Gallagher, Gary Moore. [Gary Moore album] Still Got The Blues was one of the most pivotal albums in my early teenage years because it taught me I could overplay and people would still like it [laughs].”

While Bonamassa is a big fan of Australia and its music, he admits he lives in a bubble when it comes to what music is most popular here, or anywhere. Luckily his Queenslander girlfriend keeps him informed.

“I have a lot of ties to Australia,” he says. “Mahalia [Barnes] and I were literally just a week ago at Carnegie Hall; she was singing with me. I kind of know what is going on. I’m wilfully ignorant about the pop music scene. I mean, sometimes I’ll run into somebody and my girlfriend knows I have that what-the-fuck look on my face. She’ll be like ‘That’s actually a really popular artist’, and I’ll be like ‘Great! Congratulations’. One guy I love is [blues slide guitarist] Dave Hole, who lives in Perth. He’s one of the best.”

JOE BONAMASSA PLAYS BLUESFEST BYRON BAY SATURDAY MARCH 26 AND MONDAY MARCH 28. BLUES OF DESPERATION IS OUT MARCH 25.

For The Brag

Steve Earle: “Byron: it might be the best beach town in the world”

steve earle

THERE’S a little corner of northern New South Wales that really floats Steve Earle’s boat, and given his country-rock pedigree, it’s perhaps surprising it’s not Tamworth.

Luckily for music lovers it’s also the location of one of the world’s premier blues and roots festivals: Bluesfest.

“Byron: it might be the best beach town in the world,” Earle says. “It’s my favourite, anyway. I’ve had some really good shows there over the years; the last few years particularly. I had a really good show there with the band on the last tour, and I had a really, really good solo show there on the trip before that. I got to ride back to town with John Paul Jones and Donovan in the same car, you know? I got to interrogate them about all those great records, because Jones played on all those great Donovan records, so that was pretty cool. [Bluesfest is] one of my favourite festivals, period. The other big blues festival I play is in Ottawa, but it doesn’t have that beach.”

The 61 year-old Texan released his sixteenth studio album, the bluesy Terraplane, last year, and is set to appear at the Easter weekend festival with his band The Dukes alongside similarly-billed legends Brian Wilson, Tom Jones and Taj Mahal.

“I don’t know [if I’m a legend]; I’m more of a rumour,” he laughs. “It’s weird. It’s the thirtieth anniversary of Guitar Town this year. We’re going to try to do a few things to commemorate it. The Australian tour is actually the last leg of the cycle we have been on all of 2015; the very last leg of the Terraplane tour. I’ve already recorded the record with Shawn Colvin, and that’s what I’ll be doing next summer. Then I’m going to make another record with The Dukes, which will come out in 2017. I decided I was going to make a blues record [with Terraplane], but it’s a big deal when you’re from Texas; it’s a high bar. So I decided my next record was going to be a country record, whatever that means. Sometimes I think it means what I might have done after Guitar Town if [producer] Jimmy Bowen hadn’t pissed me off, but mainly it’s going to be based on honky-tonk. I’ve been putting aside the country-er things for that.”

Terraplane came into existence just as Earle was going through his seventh divorce, resulting in an album that was not only steeped deeply in the blues, but intensely personal at the same time.

“I don’t know how cathartic [writing] it was,” he says. “At the time, they were the only songs I could write. You know, I’m not writing jingles. I mean, I can write projects; I can write for somebody else, for a television show, or for a movie, and put myself in a certain place. This was a very personal record, because there wasn’t much else I could do. It might be I made a blues record because it was the only type of record I could have made last year.”

Having survived major drug and alcohol problems in the 80s and early 90s, Earle is now able to help others in a similar position, but does admit to being suspicious of why his past addictions are still interesting to people.

“I’m doing this residency at clubs in the States right now,” he says. “I’m doing a song from every record I ever made. There’s only four of those records that I was taking drugs when I made them. So it seems silly to be talking about it now. It’s still a big part of who I am; right now I’m writing a memoir, so I’m right back into that shit again. I have no problem with talking about it if it’s going to help somebody, but I get tired of talking about it with people who I suspect don’t have any other reason for talking about it except the lowest common denominator reasons. That part of it gets on my nerves from time to time.”

When not writing top-notch blues and country songs or warding off questions about his past, Earle is heavily involved in political activism. He is vigorously opposed to the death penalty, has argued in favour of access to abortions for all women, and his most recent work has been both close to home and on a national level.

“I’ve been raising awareness for schools with autism, because I have a son with autism,” he says. “Politics gets personal sometimes. My son gets the best care we can get him, but I have to lawyer up to get it. Luckily, the law says the city has to help me and my neighbours’ tax dollars have to help me. I’m the poorest guy in New York City, I think. Manhattan, anyway. I live here by the skin of my teeth, so I can’t imagine what happens to people who have regular jobs and four or five kids. I’m also very actively supporting Bernie Sanders’ campaign; ‘The Revolution Starts Now’ plays at almost all of Bernie Sanders’ rallies, and I’m very proud of that. I’m a socialist and he is a socialist. Normally if there’s one thing I can do for a political candidate I want to see elected, it is to stay as far the fuck away from them as possible. In the case of Obama I was able to say in the second term that I was a socialist and Obama definitely wasn’t. Hillary [Clinton] is, left to her own devices, almost a Republican. She’s very much a creature of Wall Street. I’m having the luxury of having a viable candidate running right now, and that’s Bernie Sanders.”

Away from the concerns of national politics, time spent in the southern hemisphere will not only allow Earle to rekindle his love for Australian beaches, but also his fondness for our musicians.

“It’s where I met Kasey Chambers,” he says. “I was there with Buddy Miller and my band, and Buddy was also opening our shows. Julie Miller didn’t make the trip, and Kasey, when she was 18 years old, sang with Buddy on that tour. On a bill before that, I saw a great show by The Saints there, although the first time I saw The Saints was at the Cat Club in New York years before, but I saw a great Saints show ten or twelve years ago in Byron. I’ve known Paul Kelly since before I even went to Australia for the first time; I met him in ’86 when he was [in the States]. That’s one of my favourite things about Bluesfest; you get to see a lot of good music, as you get to play twice.”

STEVE EARLE PLAYS BYRON BAY BLUESFEST MARCH 25TH AND 26TH

For Scenestr

Andrew Strong: “Touring with the Rolling Stones was one of the highlights”

andrew strong

HE may be best known for being the singer in Ireland’s hardest-working semi-fictional soul band, but Andrew Strong has a voice that can belt out the blues with the best of them.

Thrust into the spotlight at the tender age of 16 when The Commitments movie made him an international star, Dubliner Strong has enjoyed a long and varied career in music. His upcoming headlining slot at Blues on Broadbeach on May 24 will see the 41 year-old return to his roots and the songs that made him famous, but with a healthy dollop of blues ladled on top.

“It’s predominantly a Commitments show,” he says. “Probably 70 percent Commitments. I do some Jimi Hendrix, some Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, some Spencer Davis songs. I went out to Australia about two years ago with this kind of show and it was very popular, so we’ll go out, put on the suits and sing all the Commitments stuff.”

After distancing himself from the Commitments’ music in the years following the 1991 release of the movie, Strong was reunited with the band for their 20-year reunion.

“To be honest with you, I haven’t done this kind of show in 20 years,” he says. “Prior to this I’d been doing my own stuff. Basically what happened was when [the Commitments] got together to do the reunion a couple of years back, there was a strong void there for me to go out and do this kind of show. I enjoyed it, but I thought it’s not the sort of thing I’m going to keep doing, but there are people out there who really wanted to see this kind of show and me sing these songs. So, this will be effectively my last of this kind of show in Australia. This will be my third tour in Australia; I’ve played probably 40 shows doing this ‘Andrew Strong – The Commitments’ show, so when I come back it’ll be more kind of Andrew Strong-themed.”

Strong’s powerful voice and electric live performances have earned him tour slots with Elton John and Lenny Kravitz, as well as an invitation to perform at the Princess of Norway’s wedding.

“There are a lot of things [in my career] I’m very proud of,” he says. “Touring with the Rolling Stones was one of the highlights. It was great to go out on the road for eight shows with them, then come back home and get a call a week later to go out and do a couple more shows; that was a great buzz and a great experience. After I did the movie, for some reason I got a lot of respect from singers across the board. I look at the movie; I did it when I was 16. To be a part of something that, 20 years later, is still kind of relevant is an achievement.”

Strong’s soul and blues credentials were cemented even further when he was asked to perform with the Blues Brothers Band in the nineties; something which came about in a less-than-direct fashion.

“I know Ringo Starr’s kids,” Strong says. “I met them through the guy who wrote the screenplay for The Commitments. Their mother was married to the guy who owned all the Hard Rock Cafes; he sold those and bought all these Houses of Blues. Basically, the Blues Brothers Band were opening all these venues and they asked me would I come over and sing at it, and I thought it would be great. I got the opportunity to sing with Duck Dunn and Steve Cropper and all those guys; we played in L.A. and Boston. It was great, man. It was great to play with those guys. I remember Steve Cropper came up to me in Boston and said ‘Hey man, I was so happy you recorded my songs, because I needed the money.’”

With two Commitments albums, four solo albums and a greatest hits collection under his belt, Strong is looking towards his next release.

“A lot has gone on in my life over the last year or so; I had a son and moved into a new home,” he says. “This year, I really want to focus on new material for a new album. Hopefully by the end of the year or the beginning of next year I’ll have a new record out. When I come back from Australia, I’ll been doing some shows around Europe; some festivals and stuff like that. I also have a side project band, The Bone Yard Boys; we’ve been working together for about eight years, and I’d like to put an album out. I’d be a happy camper if I could come back Down Under and do an Andrew Strong tour next year.”

ANDREW STRONG PLAYS BLUES ON BROADBEACH, MAY 24.

For Scenestr

Live review: John Mayall – Brisbane Powerhouse – 5/4/15

IMG_0498

THE list of highlights and accomplishments in John Mayall’s career reads like a who’s-who guide to contemporary blues and rock music.

The 81 year-old has not only released over 60 albums, but his band the Bluesbreakers became the vehicle which introduced one or two talented folk to the public sphere for the first time: Eric Clapton, Mick Taylor, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, Mick Fleetwood and the recently-deceased Andy Fraser, to name a few. To say the Englishman has had a bit of a part to play in the many twisting paths of contemporary music is a laughable understatement: the guy is simply a living legend.

Each of Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne has benefitted from his being in the country to play the annual Byron Bay Bluesfest, and this gig would allow Mayall to put on yet another masterclass of blues and rock not often seen in such a great venue in Brisbane. With his outstanding backing band of Chicagoans Jay Davenport and Greg Rzab (drums and bass, respectively), and Texan Rocky Athas on guitar, the veteran played a range of tracks from all periods in his career, from sixties classics like Blues From Laurel Canyon to most recent effort, A Special Life, and he and his band pulled out all the stops to have an Easter holiday audience stomping and baying for more.

Looking calm and casual like the seasoned musicians they are, Mayall and band start with ‘Not at Home’, which gives the frontman the chance to take his first of many harmonica solos; each of which stun and enthral in equal measure.

Moving through ‘The Bear’ and Sonny Boy Williamson’s classic ‘Checkin’ Up On My Baby’, the gang hit their stride and calls from the audience to “turn it up” ring around the auditorium. ‘Nature’s Disappearing’ keeps up the trend of each song lasting about ten minutes and featuring extended jams and solos, before Mayall announces “We’d like to change the pace a bit for you now,” as the slower ‘Have You Heard’ allows Athas to unleash some of the finest blues licks this reviewer has had the pleasure to witness in many a moon.

‘Big Town Playboy’ and ‘A Special Life’ show that the most recently-released material stands well next to the classics, and upon completion of ‘Walking On Sunset’, Mayall asks the audience “You’re all very well behaved aren’t you?” to rapturous applause.

‘Moving On’ is followed by ‘Long Gone Midnight’; the latter gives drummer Davenport a chance to strut his stuff with some seriously sassy solos, while JB Lenoir’s ‘Mamma Talk To Your Daughter’ goes down a storm. Otis Rush’s ‘All Your Love’ would have been the closer, but after several minutes of rabid noise, the band reappear onstage to run through an excellent ‘Hide Away’ to send this audience home ecstatically happy.

For The AU Review

Record review: Joe Bonamassa – Different Shades of Blue (2014, LP)

joe bonamassa different shades of blue

This being his 11th solo album of blues-rock in just 14 years, Joe Bonamassa could be forgiven for running out of new ways to express his prodigious guitar talents on record. Thankfully, Different Shades of Blue finds the 37 year-old American axe-slinger on top form and showing once again why he’s one of the hottest six-string shredders in the world today. This is the Grammy nominee’s first album to feature all original material; a significant step for a blues-rock purist. Not that the influences aren’t as glaringly obvious as usual; the hands of Clapton, Page and Rory Gallagher are all over this record, and that can only ever be a good thing. At the top of the pile for rock riffage is second track ‘Oh Beautiful!’, which rivals anything found on Led Zeppelin II, while ‘Heartache Follows Wherever I Go’ brings the melancholic blues and there’s even a Queen-esque ballad to keep things varied with ‘Never Give All Your Heart’. Bonamassa is often labelled as Eric Clapton’s natural successor, although Clapton himself probably wouldn’t take kindly to that, given he’s still putting out records himself. In saying that, it’s a fitting sentiment, and this record will only serve to reinforce it.

For The Brag

Russell Morris: “I was sick of trying to write songs that I thought people might like”

Russell Morris

AFTER almost 50 years in the music business, Russell Morris is enjoying somewhat of a renaissance, with his last two albums reaching numbers six and four on the ARIA charts respectively. It’s all thanks to throwing a bit of caution to the wind and getting back to his roots, says the 65 year-old Victorian.

“I remember an ex-manager asking me what I was doing next,” he says. “I said I was doing a blues album. He said ‘why would you do something stupid like that?’ and I said because I really like the blues, to which he replied ‘but nobody will ever buy it’. I’m not doing it for that reason, I’m doing it because I really love it, but I think what happened is that people really do love blues music, but they hear American blues mostly. They can hear it and love it, but it’s not in Australians’ hearts. I think people can relate to the music lyrically and like the sound. A lot of traditional Australian music is real corny country stuff that a lot of people can’t relate to, with lines like [adopts country accent] ‘he came down from Nanadoon with a swagger on his back’. I wanted something with a bit more meat to it.”

2013’s Sharkmouth and the recently-released Van Diemen’s Land tell stories about a range of colourful Australian characters from as far back as convict times.

“History is something that really intrigues me,” Morris says. “I’d done probably six albums that had sunk without a trace, and I was sick of trying to write songs that I thought people might like. So, I decided to go back and make an album of stuff that I would really like. I thought about what got me into music, and the first album that really got me into rhythm and blues was the very first Rolling Stones album. I thought ‘wow, this unbelievable, I’ve never heard anything like it’. Then I realised they weren’t writing all the songs; they were written by a whole lot of other blues artists, and we started collecting their albums. I started off performing with a blues band, and I think that was the happiest I think I was. So, [with Sharkmouth] I decided to write a blues album. At the time I think I had written about four songs and I thought it didn’t seem right. One of the songs was called ‘Chilli Pepper Woman’ or something, and I thought it seemed a bit fake. I sort of put it on the back-burner, but then I was in Sydney and I saw a photo from 1916 of a guy called Thomas Archer being arrested. The photo really transfixed me and I took it home. One afternoon I was sitting looking at the photo and it almost spoke to me, telling me I’m not American and asking me why I’m trying to write songs about America, and almost telling me to write a song about it. I wrote a song called ‘Sharkmouth’ and as soon as I wrote it, I sort of saw the light and thought ‘that’s what I’ve got to do’. I’m Australian, with an English/Irish background, so that’s what I’ve got to write about and talk about my history and my blues. I can’t write about the Mississippi or New Orleans; I need to write about something I feel in my guts. That’s when I started writing about where my ancestors came from, the gangsters and stories I heard about when I was a kid.”

Morris will bring his new lease of life on a national tour beginning the first week of August.

“What I’m trying to do with this tour is to combine the [last] two albums,” he says. “Hopefully it’ll be an entertaining show. I’ve picked all the songs from the albums that I think are the best to do, and hopefully we can entertain the crowd. I think we should do, because we’ve been doing a lot of blues festivals, and it’s been really, really good; a lot of fun.”

Fans of Morris’s material from the sixties and seventies needn’t worry; he still plays classics ‘The Real Thing’, ‘Rachel’ and ‘Sweet, Sweet Love’ live.

“I almost become a sort of Doctor Who as we take a trip through time and end up in 1969,” he says. “That’s a way I can introduce it. I still enjoy doing the old songs, but the newer songs are much more fun, because as an artist you always hope you can engage audiences with new material. But people spend their hard-earned money to come and see me, and I don’t want them going away disappointed. If they’ve spent money to come and see me, I really have to give them the best I’ve got.”

When & Where:

The Capital Theatre, Bendigo Aug 3
The Palms at Crown, Melbourne Aug 8
The Wool Exchange, Geelong Aug 9

For Forte

Interview: Robert Cray

robert cray

WHERE do you start with a musician as accomplished as Robert Cray? He’s been playing the blues since the seventies, has over twenty albums in his catalogue, has bagged five Grammy Awards and played with the biggest names in the business, from John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins and B.B. King. Oh, and he also appeared in Animal House with John Belushi AND is still releasing top-notch blues records. On top of all this, he’s only one of the nicest guys around. Have I missed anything? Probably.

Hi Robert, let’s talk about your new album, In My Soul, first of all. How do you feel when you have a new record being released?

Happiness. It’s great because it’s a new record that gives us an opportunity to add to our repertoire and more to play to the fans. It’s a lot of fun.

You made some changes to the line-up just before recording. Why did you feel that was necessary?

Change is good; it’s necessary sometimes. We had two changes for this record. The first of which was having Les Falconer join as drummer. I’ve watched Les from afar, but not too far away; he’s been in the Keb’ Mo’ band for years. It just so happened that three or four years ago Les asked me if I ever wanted to make a change to consider him, and I did so about 16 or 18 months ago, so that was the reason for that change. We changed keyboard players, and we have Dover Weinberg on board, who also used to be in the band in the late ’70s. We made the change because I remember Dover having a great sound and a great feel, and I thought it would be great to have him work on the new record before we went into the studio.

Will this version of the band be set in stone for the foreseeable future?

For the foreseeable future, yes. We have a good time and we have a new album to present with this band. But we also play a lot of the older songs and we have a really good time with those, thank you.

Was the soulful feel to the album a deliberate step or more of a natural progression?

It was just by osmosis, actually. We had Steve Jordan come in to do the production. Steve’s a great musician as well. He made a couple of suggestions before we came into the studio; one was the Otis Redding cover, ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’, and the other was a Mable John song, ‘Your Good Thing (Is About To End)’. He suggested those two songs, but I thought it was going to be that maybe we’d record them in case the band and myself didn’t have enough original material. Well, the band had original material which were rhythm and blues, and I had songs which were rhythm and blues as well, so we just wound up with soulful songs.

How did you react when he suggested covering ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’?

I dug it, because it’s a song by Otis that I’ve admired for years. I’ve never had the opportunity to play it, but lots of friends of mine have covered the tune and I always thought it was cool.

What else does Steve Jordan bring to the table?

Steve’s a great communicator and organiser. He gets everybody into the studio, makes them participate and feel like they’re part of the project. That’s really important and how he conducts all operations in the studio. For example, we have this one song that’s a bonus track called ‘Pillow’; it’s got this really ’70s funky feel to it. Before we tackled the song we went into the control room where Steve had a copy of Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly record. We played a couple of tracks and started reminiscing about all the ’70s music, then we took a lunch break and let the music digest itself, you know? We came back into the studio, the electric sitar came out, different drums came out, and he had set the mood for the song. He’s in there conducting us, he’s in there dancing or he’s playing along, you know?

One of my favourites is ‘What Would You Say’, which contains a bit of social commentary. Would you call it a political song?

It’s not political in the way other songs we’ve done before covered deeper subjects like the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is commentary and trying to be a bit more positive about what’s going on today with homelessness, the cancer that’s everywhere today and the war in Syria. But not in a big way, if you know what I mean. I wouldn’t call myself a political singer, but we do touch on it.

How was your experience of Bluesfest last year?

It was fantastic. We should come every year as far as I’m concerned [laughs]. It’s always a blast to be a part of it, but also to witness it. It’s a great event.

So you’re putting your name firmly in the hat for any future Bluesfests?

My name is in there every year. It’s just a matter of getting the opportunity to do it. There are so many acts who want to do it, and we have to wait our turn.

You’ve played with most of the blues greats in your time; which one made you the most starstruck?

That’s hard to say. I think all of them did, you know? I’m starstruck by all of them. But the thing is, all the people I’ve had the opportunity to meet have always been really nice and comforting, in the sense that they see how nervous you are and see that you’re awestruck and all that. But they reassure you and make you feel cool.

Could you pick one blues player who has had the biggest influence on you?

Probably Eric Clapton. I play that style of electric guitar, you know? John Lee Hooker is huge, Muddy Waters the same, but my style is more akin to Eric Clapton and the electric players he admires.

When you were in Animal House in 1977, was there any indication that it would be a cult classic movie?

As far as I knew, nobody knew what would happen with the film. We had just bit parts in it; we weren’t even credited as the musicians in the band. We just lip-synched to the music. We never saw a script, so we didn’t even know what the working title was. It was just a bunch of local guys doing a movie, then all of a sudden it’s what it is today. Now it’s history.

How much contact did you have with John Belushi?

He befriended a good friend of mine, Curtis Salgado. We lived in Eugene, Oregon at the time. Curtis was fronting a band called the Nighthawks from Eugene; it was where the movie was filmed and also where I lived at the time. On Monday nights we had a splinter group called the Crayhawks; a combination of the two bands. Belushi would come in and people would ask us if we knew Belushi was in the audience, and we’d go ‘who’s John Belushi?’ because we were always working on Saturday nights and never had seen the programme. But eventually we let him on the stage to do his Joe Cocker impersonation, and all the while the movie was being filmed in Eugene, Curtis was taking John Belushi back to his house and schooling him on blues. To cut a long story short, he got educated through Curtis and that whole thing begat The Blues Brothers. The prescription sunglasses Curtis wore became part of The Blues Brothers model and they dedicated the first record to Curtis Salgado.

What are your plans for the rest of the year and beyond?

Well, we just came back from a six-week tour of the UK and Europe. This coming week we’re about to start another six-week leg in the States, followed by another European leg in the fall. If things go right, maybe we’ll see you at Bluesfest next year. Like I said, my name is in the hat [laughs].

IN MY SOUL BY THE ROBERT CRAY BAND IS OUT NOW.

For the AU Review

Michael Franti: “It’s about tenacity, courage and creating harmony in your life”

michael franti

MUSICIAN, poet, humanitarian, Bono fan; these are just some of the strings to Michael Franti’s bow.

The multi-talented Californian and his band will make a return to Bluesfest next month, as well as playing a sideshow at The Tivoli. “It’s our first time to Australia in three years, and we’re super excited to come back,” he says. “This is actually our twentieth year playing music together; we started in ’94. It kind of crept up on us; one day around Christmas I was sitting around with Carl [Young, bass] and I said ‘Carl, when did we start?’ We realised it was August ’94. We feel more excited about playing music than we ever have, and it’s just really great to be in a band with these guys. We never decide what we’re going to play until about 15 minutes before we go on-stage; we always mix it up every night. There are some songs people want to hear, so we try to play those, and we’ll go through the catalogue and revisit songs we haven’t played in a while. Sometimes we’ll play cover songs and sometimes loud party music that will get people up and jumping around at a festival. We love the festival setting and we’re looking forward to coming back.”

The upcoming gigs will give Australian fans the first chance to hear songs from Spearhead’s 2013 album All People live, as well as getting an advance on tunes that will appear on the as yet untitled follow-up.

“The songs were all written while we were touring and we’ve tried them out in front of audiences, so they’ve all be road-tested, so to speak,” Franti says. “It’s great when you can write a song in the morning, play it to fans in the afternoon and get their response to it. This record is a mix of acoustic music, political songs, roots and maybe more love songs than I’ve ever put on a record. We always have new songs ready for a record, and as soon as I finish writing them I like to play them; so there are a few new songs we might pull out. It’ll probably be another year before we release another record, but we’ve already been in the studio writing this stuff. The last two records had about a two year gap in between, but I don’t think it will be that long this time.”

Known for his political and humanitarian stances, Franti has changed his approach somewhat in recent times.

“My original band put out our first record in 1987,” he says. “I think a lot of us who have been involved in doing political work and political song-writing for a long time don’t know if any of the songs we ever wrote really made a difference to the world, and it’s easy to get frustrated. Right now I’m working on a documentary film about people I’ve met who have really inspired me and made me see the world and the work I do in a different way. Instead of trying to put out the whole world that’s on fire with this little water pistol that I have, I’ve learned how to use the water pistol to sprinkle the flowers in my own back yard and have a bigger impact. Lately, I’ve been writing about that more than specific political things; it’s about tenacity, courage and creating harmony in your life.”

Franti got his first major break when a certain rock quartet with a similar approach to political and social issues took his band on tour in 1992.

“It was really amazing,” he says. “We had a minor hit at the time and U2 saw the video for it, and they invited us to come out on the road. We went from being a little band playing in punk rock and hip-hop clubs and driving around in a tiny white van, to playing Yankee Stadium and all these massive venues. I was a fan of U2’s music at the time but I wasn’t that familiar with the guys in the band, and I remember the first week Bono came up to me and says [adopts Irish accent] ‘can I have a quiet word wit’ ya? There’s this one thing I need to talk to ya about’. I was worried and thought we were getting kicked off the tour, but he said ‘you know my guitar player? His name is The Edge, not Ed’. I had been saying things like ‘yo Ed, nice guitar solo! Yo Ed, nice hat! Yo Ed, you coming to the party later?’ I guess The Edge had gone to Bono and asked him to have a word. We’ve toured with tons of bands, and they’re right up there among our top experiences in terms of being treated well by the headliner. They always made sure we had enough time and space to set up our gear and sound check, and they always hung out with us. Whether we wanted to talk about music, religion or business things, Bono was always really amenable to having a conversation about anything; it was a really good experience for us.”

MICHAEL FRANTI & SPEARHEAD PLAY BYRON BAY BLUESFEST APRIL 21 AND THE TIVOLI APRIL 23.

Taasha Coates of The Audreys: “It’s a really strong friendship and creative relationship”

audreys

ADELAIDE folk and roots duo The Audreys may be triple ARIA Award-winners, but it’s mostly producer Shane O’Mara’s fault, explains refreshingly down-to-earth singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Taasha Coates.

“I reckon we’d still be a shitty folk band playing in the local pubs if it wasn’t for Shane,” she says. “He heard something in our music that we hadn’t heard ourselves, and pushed it in a direction that’s made it a better beast than when we started out. We just really like each other and push each other in the right way. Early on I had a tendency to be too precise and be really anxious about minute details and mistakes and he was always [saying] ‘no, get over it.’ He taught me that it’s about the performance and not about being perfect. We’ve made four records with him now, and it’s a really strong friendship and creative relationship.”

The band’s new studio album ‘Til My Tears Roll Away follows 2010’s Sometimes The Stars, and is set to propel Coates and guitarist/banjoist Tristan Goodall back into the spotlight.

“I think it’s a rockier album,” Coates says. “The label picked ‘My Darlin’ Girl’ as the new single. It’s great if you have a good relationship with your label and you trust them; that’s the kind of decision they are much better at making than you are. We gave them the record and basically told them to do whatever they wanted. You can be much too close to your own music, and the few times we’ve tried to write something for radio it’s been shit; radio is a fickle beast. When I first started making records I was conscious of making music to play live, but Shane always told us not to think about it. Now we try to make the best record we can and then worry about playing the songs liven once they’re recorded. I think it’s hard to listen back to yourself, but I absolutely loved every moment of making the last record; it’s something I’ve grown to love. We did most of it in five days; all the tracking was done live, then we re-recorded most of the vocals at Shane’s studio back in Melbourne and brought in guest players and singers and did all the mixing as well. We had a doo-wop group sing on one of the tracks, and lots of mates of Shane’s and local musos; there’s a sing-along song at the end that has something like 24 singers on it or something. It was great fun.”

A new album of course means touring, albeit with an extra person on the tour bus this time around.

“I’ve had a baby since the last album,” Coates says. “When I got pregnant I was really nice to myself and gave myself the time to enjoy motherhood, but then started to miss music after a while. It’s actually quite a good career to fit in with a child as you can fit it around everything, unless you’re away touring. When you’re playing, it’s at night when they’re asleep, or they can come along. We’re doing a tour soon; a national tour all around the country. We’ve been playing the new songs as a duo for about six months now and it’s been good fun. We can’t wait to get on the road with the band.”

THE AUDREYS TOUR NATIONALLY IN MAY/JUNE. ‘TIL MY TEARS ROLL AWAY (UNIVERSAL/ABC MUSIC) IS OUT MARCH 14.

Record review: Papa Pilko And The Binrats – Third Time Lucky (2013, EP)

Sydney septet Papa Pilko And The Binrats describe their music as wild blues and slick swingin’ country rock ‘n’ roll with horns. Add to that a uniquely Australian approach to sleazy, boozy song-writing and a charismatic frontman not afraid to make a fool of himself and you have a band that tick all the right boxes for entertainment value alone. This four-track EP is the band’s third in barely eighteen months, and sees the hard-drinkin’, bar-room brawlin’ bunch get loose and lewd over the course of a short fourteen minutes. The baritone sax gives the start of opener ‘Poor Boy’ a beat-down, depression-era feel before the full horn section kicks in and the song takes off in swinging fashion. Singer and head Binrat Cyrus ‘Papa’ Pilko must have been hitting the sarsaparilla pretty hard lately, as he’s sounding much more throatily gruff than on the band’s two previous efforts, but it all adds to the downright dirty tone of the record. “I come home at 10am and I open up the door. We start out in the bedroom and then down on the bathroom floor,” he cheekily sings on ‘Woman In Black’, and you can tell he probably means it. The only bad point about this EP is that it doesn’t quite do the band justice; you have to catch them live to fully appreciate their raucously loose act and the spectacle of Pilko acting like an amiable madman. That being said, these songs swing and roll with infectious vigour. (Independent)