Tag Archives: bluesfest

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

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

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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

David Gray: “You have to leave everybody behind in spectacular fashion”

David Gray

His upcoming Australian visit has been a long time coming, so David Gray plans to grab the opportunity with both hands.

The 46 year-old Englishman is set to appear at Bluesfest at Byron Bay, as well as complete a run of theatre shows, but even after 25 years in the business the indie-rock veteran doesn’t take anything for granted.

“I love all the shows,” he says. “They’re all special. I’m more at home in an intimate setting, because so many of my songs tend that way, but I also have expansive songs, so I can deal with the outdoor situations. I’ve been doing it a long time, and I can sense that it’s finite these days. The commitment to make a record and tour around the world is one thing; it doesn’t come from an endlessly-replenishing well. You sort of have to leave everybody behind in spectacular fashion, friends and family and whatever. It’s a big commitment and I just treasure every opportunity. The last time I was at Bluesfest it was just a spectacular gig; everything just came together that night. There was a euphoria in the air that swept us away. If it’s anywhere even close to that this time we’re going to have a great gig.”

Gray last passed our way in 2009, so he’s keen to introduce Australian audiences to his new band.

“It’s great that we’re coming back to do a really meaningful tour this time, with what is a really wonderful incarnation of the band,” he says. “It features seven people singing, and in order to give voice to this new music, that is what I deemed necessary. As much as it is a financial and organisational nightmare, it’s quite something when it all cranks up and everybody starts singing away. It feels important that we come down and do something; it’s been too long.”

His 1998 breakthrough White Ladder has sold seven million copies and counting, and while much of that album still features in his show, Gray has a new approach to wowing crowds.

“When my voice is in the centre and the mass harmonies are happening in four parts, I sing my solo but everyone else’s is doubled in some way,” he says. “It gives it this big sound; like a bank of vocals. It’s special to be singing together and is a holy thing, I think; it’s as close to the bone as it gets in terms of the spirituality of music. To sing together is a really wonderful thing. That’s very much at the core of the show, and through the filter of this new band I’ve passed the older songs, particularly the ones where the big backing vocals can play a part; songs like ‘My Oh My’ and ‘Silver Lining’. Every time I have a band and go out, I try to re-jig the songs. I don’t just leave them as they are and drag them out of the cupboard, but I try to do something new with them.”

With a tenth studio album, Mutineers, released in 2014, Gray has a strong body of work to choose from and a wealth of experience in festivals and intimate shows.

“Big outdoor shows are different,” he says. “For an audience who might not be as familiar with my new record as they are with a lot of the older stuff, I’ll have to play a slightly different hand. I’ll just have to choose my moments and get my point home with the new music and a slightly different strategy. Also, you’re time-restricted. The current set is just over two hours, so it’ll feel really short to us. I’ll just have to make sure it’s peppered with the goodies from the new music, yet hits the right buttons in the right places. It’s a science when you play to lots of people outside; you can be dealing with the weather and all sorts of crazy stuff. A festival crowd aggregates out with different levels of interest; people are there to see you who perhaps aren’t such avid fans as those who came to see you in a theatre somewhere.”

A man who has been as successful as Gray could be forgiven for taking an extended holiday, but that’s not on the cards for the singer-songwriter.

“We have [single] ‘Snow in Vegas’ coming out in America, so if that hits it would mean more offers from promoters,” he says. “It could change the year if it does well. I’m intending to do some solo shows around Europe, and then there will be some festivals. I’ll be writing some new songs and maybe record a bit of an album; there are still several dozen songs from the Mutineers period waiting to be captured officially, so that’s about as far as I’ve got.”

David Gray tour dates:

State Theatre, Sydney – April 1&2
Bluesfest Byron Bay – April 4
Palais Theatre, Melbourne – April 5

Mutineers (Good Soldier Songs) is out now.

For mX

Paolo Nutini: “Sometimes I let good things get me very high”

paolo nutini

It’s just gone lunchtime and Paolo Nutini isn’t having a great day.

“Sorry mate, the phone is making such a stupid noise right now. It’s this touchscreen phone thing they’ve got in the hotel – I just want to take my f**king hands to it, you know? It just won’t stop.”

Assurances that he can be heard perfectly and attempts to steer him towards the subject of music don’t deter the 27 year-old Scotsman from getting some choice complaints off his chest.

“I’m just in this hotel and it’s all so streamlined,” he says. “What I can’t stand are the taps and soap-dispensers. They should just have a handle that you turn to make the water come out, or a button you press to get soap. Now it’s all motion sensors; I’m standing in front of it like some sort of Jedi trying to wash my dirty hands, as if I have all day to stand here dancing with this f**king contraption.”

One subject that calms the multi-platinum-selling singer and songwriter down is Bluesfest, at which he will be performing in 2015, although it’s the memory of a previous festival experience that gets the conversation flowing most freely.

“The last time we played Bluesfest, I remember looking at the bill and seeing the name Rodriguez,” he says. “My friend had introduced me to his music when I was about 16 or 17, and I’ve always been fascinated by those two records of his. For years nobody knew anything about him; there was something otherworldly about him. People were wondering whether he was alive or not, and nobody could find out that information. I managed to meet the man himself that day. He was exactly what you would imagine, you know? Elegant, charming and everything I had hoped for. It was weird after that, because we got to know each other in a way; he came to our show in the States, I got to know his family and since then we’ve played on stage a couple of times together. One day I even got sent a little bit of footage of him singing my song ‘Last Request’, which is one of my prize possessions. Now, I play that song more the way he played it than I ever used to. I’m almost covering a cover of my own song. I’ve heard rumours of him making a new record; I just hope whoever is making it with him takes the right approach and makes it as good as it should be. I’m excited to hear what new music from him would be like.”

Nutini and his band will appear at the festival in April as part of a typically impressive line-up, which includes legendary funk godfather George Clinton.

“I love some of the mad sounds on the [Parliament/Funkadelic] records,” he says. “He’s a wild character and really individual. You don’t get a lot of George Clintons around in today’s music scene. The Black Keys are a great band; they seem to be smashing it wherever they go. And I believe there’ll be a bit of the Gypsy Kings as well. Alabama Shakes, Jurassic 5, Gary Clark Jr., Pokey LaFarge; it’s a pretty tasty bill. I’m just looking forward to getting on there playing, sampling the atmosphere and enjoying the fruits of the soil. I remember Byron Bay being a great smelling place [laughs].”

His latest album, Caustic Love, has earned rave reviews, but it only came about after over four years away from music; something Nutini offers several explanations for.

“Mainly because I’m f**king hopeless, that’s why,” he laughs. “Well, there’s an element of that, but sometimes I let good things get me very high and they can take me away somewhere. All of a sudden I can find that a few weeks have gone and that has had a knock-on effect when you’re working with other people as well – you can’t just pick up people and put them down. The other side of that is that I let negative things drag me down, you know? I can find myself wallowing; it’s something I’ve noticed about myself. Then I’ve just been liking the idea of working with my hands; I was getting a great sense of pleasure and achievement from days where maybe all I did was cook or plant a few things in the garden. I was picking up some wood and trying to do some carving. I was also travelling around places with no agenda; around Valencia and Barcelona then maybe to the Netherlands. I was re-tracing the footsteps of places I’d been on tour and not really seen much stuff, and I was writing all the time. I liked the fact that there was no schedule and no pressure. It’s nice to feel you’re not being challenged all the time. I think my body might’ve need a bit of life nutrition; I had to expand my mind a little bit.”

PAOLO NUTINI PLAYS BYRON BAY BLUESFEST SAT 4TH APRIL 2015. CAUSTIC LOVE IS OUT NOW.

For mX

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.

Joss Stone: “I’d like to investigate music that was born in Australia”

Joss Stone

SHE MAY HAVE worked with Mick Jagger, Ringo Starr and Jeff Beck, but Joss Stone will be on the hunt for new Australian talent when she tours here next month.

“I’m trying to find people to collaborate with when I’m there,” she says. “I’d like to investigate music that was born in Australia. It’s nice to be exposed to other things; things that aren’t influenced by America or the UK. Maybe I’ll have a little sneak around Byron Bay and see what’s about. I really enjoyed Byron last time; it was more earthy, which I liked. We were only in Australia for a week, but that was my favourite spot. I’m definitely excited to be going back there; hopefully we’ll get more time.”

The 26 year-old English soul singer and her ten-piece band will be part of a mammoth Bluesfest line-up, as well as doing a run of shows with multiple Grammy Award-winner India.Arie.

“Expect a very good band playing what is hopefully very good music,” she says. “I love my musicians; I hold them in very high esteem. I’ve been working with them for a very long time and I just love playing with them. We have a really nice time on-stage; we just ‘soul out’ a bit and try to play a bit of music from each album. So far I have six [albums], and we like to play the songs people know as well as a few new ones. The double bill [with Arie] was just one of those things. Obviously, the second they asked me I was like ‘yes please’; I love her. When I was about 14 or 15 the song ‘Video’ came out and I got her album, and I would play the songs with the tape or CD in reverse, so I could try to learn the way she sang and her little ad-libs. I could never do it; I’m terrible with ad-libs as I’m not really that type of singer, but I would listen to her over and over. I think some days she’ll start the set and I’ll finish it and vice versa, and hopefully if we feel the vibe we’ll sing together, if I’m lucky. I know her songs, but I don’t know if she knows mine!”

Stone’s last release, 2012’s The Soul Sessions Vol. 2, was a collection of 11 soul covers, but her upcoming – as yet untitled – record promises to be more eclectic.

“It’s a little bit different this time,” she says. “A little bit more hip-hop and reggae. There are a couple of tracks on there which are just classic soul, but it’s so hard to talk about right now as we haven’t even finished the percussion yet, so I don’t know what it’s going to turn out like. In all honesty, I could turn round and go ‘oh I fucking hate this, let’s just cut it again’. I’m trying to keep that safety, you know what I mean? New influences come in naturally when I’m beginning writing, then I latch on to whatever that newness is and make that choice to continue in this path; it’s a conscious decision from that point. I’ve got thirty songs, but I’m going to see. I’ve just done two weeks in the studio, and I’ll have to listen back and see which ones I like. Normally an album doesn’t go longer than fourteen to seventeen tracks. I never really like to play a full show where I just play new songs to a group of people who haven’t got the album. Putting in new songs can be cool, but until everybody gets the album, it can be a bit of a bummer to go to a show when you don’t know any of the songs. When the record is out I’ll play them all, but when the Australian tour comes around I’ll just play a couple. I’ll rehearse my band; by now they know all the songs, but we’ll rehearse and learn a couple of the new ones, so when we get to the stage I can kind of call it, you know? I know what’s going to happen in general, but I don’t know what the audience is going to be like until I meet them. In fact, they are the eleventh member of my band. That’s the fun of it.”

Stone was a part of short-lived supergroup SuperHeavy in 2011 with Jagger, Dave Stewart, A.R. Rahman and Damian Marley, and has performed with big-hitters like James Brown, Rod Stewart and Melissa Etheridge, but one musician inspired her more than the rest.

“Jeff Beck; I’m in awe of him and the way he plays,” she says. “When he’s talking to you he’s just a normal guy, but when he plays it’s entirely different; it’s like ‘wow’. If we’re playing on the same day [at Bluesfest] we might even do a little song together. He’s amazing.”

JOSS STONE PLAYS BLUESFEST APRIL 18 AND THE TIVOLI WITH INDIA.ARIE APRIL 20.

Beth Hart: “Who wants to deal with being a recovering drug addict?”

beth hart

BETH HART is a singer-songwriter, storyteller and survivor all rolled into one.

Hand-picked to play Byron Bay Bluesfest after director Peter Noble saw her earn multiple standing ovations supporting Stephen Stills, the Californian will help the festival mark its 25th year.

“We put on an eclectic show,” she says. “It has blues, jazz, soul, rock ‘n’ roll and some singer-songwriter stuff. I’ll usually play a couple of songs from all my past records and then focus on the last two or three. There’ll be lots of energy and hopefully it’ll be a good time. I do a different show every night anyway, so it’s fun to play with it at a festival. I’ll watch the audience a little bit and kind of get a feel for what the vibe is or what kind of festival it is. Then we’ll work up a set before we go out and hope it works. It really drives some of my band members crazy when I change things around halfway through, but it’s important to be in tune with what’s going on, put on a good show and give people what they want. If I get the feeling they’re wanting something a bit harder or more aggressive I’ll change the set and throw something else out.”

As she speaks candidly about her past battles with the addictions that sent her spiralling out of control and saw her spend a stint in jail, Hart remains pleasingly upbeat.

“It’s a one day at a time thing,” she says. “Thanks to being involved with people that have come before me and have gotten sober I’ve had a lot of help. It’s been a little over thirteen years since I took drugs, thank God. I still have my little slip-ups here and there with alcohol but I’m healthy and married to a wonderful man, and I thank God I still get to make music and I’m still really excited about it. In the last couple of years I’ve gone in some different directions as a writer and that’s been really challenging in a good way. When I was on drugs it had got so bad that I wasn’t able to leave the house. When I was going through early recovery I had agoraphobia, so it was definitely a rough recovery, but I think that’s what’s kept me from ever going back. I would never survive it again. Is there a part of me that wishes it never happened? Sure. Who wants to deal with being a recovering drug addict; it never really goes away, but I think of it as a real gift and I mean that. It’s an opportunity to share something and they are the points in my life when I lean on people I love and my ego gets smashed. It’s like ‘holy crap, what am I going to do?’ It changed me and it still does, but the changes I’ve found are things like the ability to care for other people who are struggling instead of judging. It’s been a blessing.”

Since becoming sober, Hart’s resumé boasts a series of A-list collaborations with Slash, Jeff Beck and Buddy Guy, and two albums with guitarist Joe Bonamassa.

“It just kind of clicks with Joe,” she says. “He and I really get off on similar genres of music. We both feel very passionately about the music, and when it comes to the songs that we chose for the Don’t Explain and Seesaw records we were both so invested in trying to bring something that was honest. I love him for that; he has such integrity and total commitment. I think he’s such a great artist; just fucking fantastic.”

Another positive aspect of having a sober and rehabilitated Beth Hart back in business is the prolific nature of her musical output.

“I’m making a new record in August with Rob Mathes,” she says. “I should be making another record with Joe Bonamassa a little bit after that, while simultaneously writing the following record after that as well, as it’s going to be with Kevin Shirley instead of Rob Mathes. So I’ll be doing lots and lots of writing in the upcoming months, which I love, so I’m having a good time and it’s flowing. There’s nothing worse than trying to write and being in one of those stalemates where I can’t move or come up with a thought; that’s always terrifying. I’m having a good time with that right now. I’m going to be touring, making a record, and then back to touring in the fall. That’s how I make my living; lots of time on the road. Last year I got a bit run down, so I took off with my instruments into the mountains where there was no TV or anything like that. Getting away from everything and everybody was really helpful for me. I’d never really rejuvenated like that before.”

Despite mixing it with big names in North America, it’s in New Zealand where Hart has had her biggest chart success to date, hitting the top spot in 1999 with single ‘LA Song (Out Of This Town)’. Her explanation for her success there?

“Oh God, I would be the last person to ask that,” she says. “I have no idea; I’m just happy when we can connect in some way.”

BETH HART PLAYS BYRON BAY BLUESFEST APRIL 17-21, THE BASEMENT SYDNEY APRIL 12 AND THE CORNER MELBOURNE APRIL 15.