A Conversation With Ronnie Baker Brooks

This originally appeared in ‘BackYard Blues’ the newsletter of the Long Island Blues Society, written by Suzanne Foschino.  You can find them here www.liblues.org., and Blues411 feels it is worth sharing with it’s readers.

SF:  What’s next for you, Ronnie?  are we going to see a new recording from you anytime soon?
RBB: Well, I’m writing, I’m always writing.

SF:  When you’re writing, what kinds of things do you keep in mind to keep your music current and keep your recordings timely?  
RBB:  What I always like to do with all of my records is view each new recording as a platform to grow from, to push myself to the next level with.  I’m trying to always be a better thinker, songwriter, guitar player, a better rhythm player, a better band mate…keeping that platform of growth has always been an important part of my philosophy in making a record AND I always try to push the envelope a little bit, but still keeping it true to the blues.

SF:  You say band bate, not band leader…but you’re the band leader.
RBB: When I’m recording, I’m a band mate…we all work together.

SF: And you write all of your music?
RBB:  Yes, I wrote every song on every CD I’ve ever recorded.

SF:  Why?  Why not cover some of the blues greats?  
RBB:  Mainly because my dad always preached to me and my brother Wayne that we should always try to write our own material because you can always play someone else’s stuff, that music is always going to be here, it’s already part of history.  He said, ‘you could always play Albert King, you could always play Albert Collins, you could always play my stuff, but when you write your own material, it’s YOURS…you can deliver it better, and it gives the generation behind you something to grab onto and hopefully they’ll be playing your music like you’ll always be playing ours’.  

SF:  So, that’s the key…I was going to ask you next what you think the key is to keeping it going to the next generation, keeping it new yet real, and prevent it from getting tired and stale, and that makes a lot of sense…you move it to the next generation by creating your own new music instead of constantly covering the old stuff…
RBB: when I do record, I try to keep the authentic feel of people like my dad, Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, and update it to feel more like me, and more like the generation that I’m in, musically and how it sounds.

SF:  You mean like bringing a rapper like Al Cappone in to the studio with you to make a cameo appearance on your last CD “The Torch“?  I know he makes an appearance in the song “If It Don’t Make Dollars It Don’t Make Sense”.
RBB:  Yes, exactly

SF:  How did you end up hooking up with a guy like Al Cappone?

  I was down at my engineer, Nico’s studio, he recorded a lot of hip hop in memphis, and he was always cool with those cats down there, and I used a rapper down there on my CD “Take Me Witcha”.

SF: Which song from that CD has a rapper on it?
RBB: “The Flavor of the Week”

SF:  Oh yea, now I remember…so, Nico, your engineer works with Al Cappone?
RBB:  Yes, he worked with him on the soundtrack for the movie “Hustle and Flo”, they wrote a song together on that soundtrack called “Keep Hustlin”.  So, when we were looking for a rapper he said, I can call Al Cappone and he can get it done real quick if he’s available.  

SF: Did you write the lyrics that he raps? 
RBB: No, he wrote that.  I gave him the idea of the song, and what it’s talking about, and  where we wanted the music to go…and I told him I wanted to keep it clean, I didn’t want to be any cussin on it or anything like that.  He listened to the track about 2 or three times, and he wrote the rap.  Then he went into the studio and came out about 10 minutes later with the final rap.

SF:  Wow.  10 minutes?
RBB:  Yup, 10 minutes.  That’s what I mean, I do things like that, like bringing in a rapper, to bridge the gap from the generation behind me to the generation that’s ahead of me, while trying to keep it authentic

SF:  Right.  It’s like when I hear bands like Bon Jovi and Aerosmith talking about how they have two generations in their audience now…the ones who went to their shows back when they were in high school, and now they’re bringing their kids.  Realistically, in blues, people like you and Bernard Allison, you’re the kids…and you’re in your 40s (both laugh) so, how do you try to reach the 20 year olds out there who might be looking for some blues?
RBB:  Well, I try to keep an ear open to what they’re doing, ya know keep an ear to the ground on what they’re listening to.  my step daughter, she’s 19 years old and I pay attention to what she’s listening to and my daughter’s 7 years old and I’m even listening to the kinds of music that she likes.

SF:  Ok, I want to talk some about your family.  Your dad Lonnie Brooks, a member of the Blues Music Hall of Fame…you could probably talk for hours about how he’s influenced you musically…but, how has he influenced you as a human being?  as a man?  How has he taught you to remain grounded while you’re doing what you’re doing?  
RBB:  it’s easy to remain grounded when Lonnie Brooks is your dad.  As a kid, I never thought that I could do what he was doing and he would always say “yes you can, yes you can”.   and, ya know, when I was a kid, playing basketball, no matter how tired he would be, maybe he had a gig the night before, he would always find a way to make it to my games to be there to support me. He’s a great family man.

SF:  And I heard that he fired you when he heard your solo material for the first time?
RBB:  Well, no, he kind of fired me…I was in his band, and as I would say he kicked me out of the nest and he told me if it didn’t work, I could always come back.  And that’s what gave me the confidence to go out and try to go solo.  I’ve got ultimate, ultimate love and respect for my dad and my whole family.  I mean, I could call him today and he would still give me the right advice.  He taught me how to be a musician, a professional musician, ya know like, how to be on time and take care of your band, the fans, and how to take care of the hand that takes care of you, most of all, he taught me how to be a man.  He would always say ‘you’re a man first…you treat everyone the same way.  like if you’re a band mate, a drummer, guitarist, anything, you treat them as a man first, or as a lady first, musician second.  He was always preaching that to me.  

SF:  So, you’ve told me in the past that when you were young, you wanted to be a basketball player.  
RBB:  That’s right

SF:  What changed your mind?
RBB:  Bernard Allison!  

SF: Bernard changed your mind?
RBB: Ya know, when I was playing as a kid, I was playing with adults.  Most of the musicians who played around my house growing up, with dad and with me, they were all grown ups and I didn’t have anyone my age playing music and I used to get teased by my friends about listening to blues and playing blues music.  But, I just loved it, there was something about it I loved.  Most of my friends were into sports.  Kids my age were into basketball, baseball, football…

SF:  When you say “my age” how old do you mean?
RBB:  I’d say from the time I was about 9 till about 16 years old.  I took a break over those years, after I was about 14, I picked up the guitar again, but I took a long break.  and then, I saw Bernard Allison playing with Luther Allison at the Chicago blues festival here in Chicago.  I guess I was about 16 or 17 years old.  My dad saw Bernard and came over to me and said, “see, if you had kept playing, you could have been up there with me now just the way he’s up there with his dad.”  and it finally hit me when I saw Bernard…he was only 2 years older than me, and he was playing blues with his dad, and he was into it like I was.  I finally had met someone else I could really relate to.  So, when he came off stage I went over and talked to him and introduced myself to him.  And he told me he heard about me too and said to me “you should get up there and you should be doing it, too.”  

SF:  And that’s the first time you two had ever met? 
RBB:  That’s the first time.  And Bernard says he has pictures somewhere from that day.He said to me “I heard from your dad that you want to play basketball.”  then he said to me “we got enough Michael Jordans, we need more BB Kings.”

SF:  And you’ve been friends ever since?
RBB:  Yeah, we’ve been buddies ever since.

SF:  You owe him for that!  Hell, I feel like I owe him for that!  (both laugh)  I want to send him a basket of flowers to personally thank him for changing your career path. (both laugh). So, what are the plans for the next CD?
RBB:  I’m writing now…I’m always writing.  I never know when I’ll hit the studio…I don’t go into the studio until I know I’ve got all the songs together and then I move forward.  I’m definitely going to do all original material again.

SF:  How long does it generally take you to record a CD?  I remember talking to Bernard about this and he said he likes to do it in as short a time as possible, spend most of the time with preproduction and recording as close to “live” as possible.  In fact, he told me that his father used to say, “If there’s a mistake in the recording, chances are, that mistake was supposed to be there” which always means to me, don’t over produce the blues. Do you think overproduction is a problem in blues?  
RBB:  Everyone has their own feelings on this.  I try to capture the real feeling that comes from the blues, people should be able to feel your spirit through the music, that “real” feeling that only comes from the blues. You don’t want to over produce that, it’s gotta have some kind of rawness to it to capture it.  But, everybody has their different philosophies on recording.  I like to try to write a bunch of songs, try to cut as many as I can and then I try to choose the songs that fit the big picture for the CD. 

SF:  So, do you sit down and try to write?  or do you just write something that hits you out of the blue and then try to piece it all together later?
RBB:  it comes to me in different ways…like the other day I wrote a song and the music and the lyrics came to me at one time.  But sometimes just a riff will come to me, a guitar riff or a keyboard riff and I’ll record that and I’ll come back to it and try to put a melody to it later, or the lyric will come and I’ll put the music to it later.  You never know where it’s gonna come from.  On my last record, “The Torch”, I wrote and recorded 25 songs for that and released it with 17.

SF:  Where’s the rest?
RBB:  I still got ’em in the can.

SF:  Well, get ’em out of the can!!!  (both laugh)  What was the deciding factor that put those 17 songs on the CD and left the others off?
RBB:  I tried to put them together so the it flowed well, not just showed the individual songs.  The music has to all fit together in some way, the music has to flow.  Maybe I’ll release the rest of the songs on the next CD.

SF:  Why not just release the two CDs? 
RBB:  I know.  We’ll see…right now I’m working with my dad, he’s got a new CD coming out and I worked on that, I’m proud of it and I think the people are really gonna dig it.  And, my brother Wayne’s got a new CD coming out, too.

SF:  Speaking of your brother Wayne, I think he exemplifies the idea of bringing new styles of music into the blues.  I mean, he’s a blues based performer, but he’s got so many other genres and styles mixed into what he does, he’s a perfect example of someone else who’s really pushing the envelope yet still trying to keep it pure.
RBB: Well my dad preached to both of us to be ourselves and try to be different from everybody else.

SF:  What do you say to someone who has a strict idea of “what the blues is” and/or someone who might say something to you like “that’s not blues”?
RBB:  It’s just an opinion.  I used to try to so hard to try to please everybody.  I like to see people having a good time, and if I didn’t please everyone, it bothered me.  And Little Milton saw that and he told me once “you can’t please everybody, Ronnie.  But what you CAN do is start with yourself, do what you feel good about and what you feel comfortable with and the people will get a vibe from that.”  He said, “everybody is not going to like you.  If you see somebody get up and walk out in the middle of your show, just block it out, let ’em go…and concentrate on the ones that stayed.”  

SF:  That’s a good philosophy…work for the ones that stayed.  So, what makes a good crowd to you?  do you work better with people who are up and dancing or someone who might be standing there watching, maybe studying what you’re doing?…because the people sitting there watching could be enjoying you just as much, if not more than the people up and dancing…what do you feed off of more?  how can you read the crowd?
RBB:  I feel the vibes, but if they’re dancing, it’s a whole lot easier to pick up on that vibe. (laughs)   But then again they could be drunk and not caring about the music and just dancing.  You can feel it when the people are sincere.

SF:  I think you know that I’m one of those people that sits and stares, I don’t dance. (laughs)  I’m hoping you get my vibe, haha!
RBB:  BUT, you know, if you do something that really gets to the audience, they’re gonna do something to let you know they like it, whether it be a smile or a dance or tap their feet, clap their hands, whatever, you can feel it sometimes even if you can’t see it. I want to be able to take the blues to another level. I think we need another Stevie Ray Vaughan or another Robert Cray to cross into mainstream.

SF:  Well, why not you?  You’re equally talented to those folks, why can’t it you be that is the next person to cross that barrier???
RBB:  it really takes a machine.  You gotta have a machine behind you.  It’s gonna be done, someone’s gonna break through again, because the blues can’t be kept down forever. The blues is an education process…it takes time but the blues is always gonna be here.

SF: But us blues fans are getting tired of having to work so hard to find it.  It seems every time I turn on a blues radio program, I’m hearing people who have passed on, and I don’t hear enough of people like you who are out there now, working, trying to make a living out of it NOW.  I can understand having nothing but love and respect for the music of the past, but you can’t be married to it if you want to evolve and live on.  I think that blues purists might be stopping a little of that evolution process because they are so incredibly respectful of the past, that they almost don’t want to let it go.  so, where they think they’re doing some good, maybe it’s doing some harm.
RBB:  We just need some soldiers like me and you who keep on going, and keep on pushing until we finally break through in some way, but it will.

SF:  I guess if you require soldiers to keep it going, at the very least it means you end up with quality in the music because that means you’re only doing it because you love it and it means so much to you.  so you work hard to make that music, and us fans work hard to seek it out so we can hear that music.  I guess as long as we have that mutual love of this music, someone will always be making it and someone will always be listening to it…we just need to keep trying our best to spread the word and to increase the numbers of us blues soldiers out there.
RBB:  That’s right.  The blues will always be around.  It’s not going anywhere.

Look for Ronnie on tour this year, and can check his schedule at www.ronniebakerbrooks.com. His recorded music is available for purchase on his website.

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease 

photos courtesy of Suzanne Foschino & Leslie K. Joseph.


Reclamation – The Smell Of Success Conversation

B411: Whats going on brother Vincent?

VH: We’re getting hit pretty hard with the Lake Effect snow, and the car is having issues. Gotta love the weather up here.

B411: Yeh this winter has been one of discontent for sure. Well all but for one small issue, you ‘The Vincent Hayes Project’ Reclamation release has been nominated for a Blues Music Award! Congrats.

VH: Yeh, so ya heard about it – and heard it ! We are so pleased to be recognized for our work.

B411: Yeh it’s doing really well. I am so impressed with it. To me it sounds like a timeless blues release. ‘Thank You Baby’ is the one that pulled me in hard.

VH: Well that song was maybe half written maybe ten years ago, and I finished it up within the last year before we started recording. There were a couple of verses I wasn’t happy with, and the riff itself mutated over time. When I listened to it on my little tape recorder, like ten years ago, it was a very different groove, and it mutated into that groove as we went along.
A lot of the songs on the disc were more spontaneous creations, they just poured out. Others have more of a lineage, little bits and pieces transformed over time, and that was one of them. So I was really happy when it started to get played a lot. I hear a lot of people say they like that song and they like the groove and I think I’ guess it’s good I waited ten years to do anything with it.

B411: When I hear the Reclamation release – to me – it’s really a personal statement from you. Most songs we hear get related back to ourselves in some form, but with your music it really comes thru as you and your scene. Am I getting weird on this ?

VH: There is an element of familiarity that most people look for in music, there is a small percentage of listeners who are honed in, looking for inspired music. They are looking for something that they can relate to, that has more of an identity factor. They have been listening to this band or that band and they go to a show and they want to hear some music that reminds me of a familiar situation – something I can relate to.

B411: Is it a background thing ? The way we were introduced to music?

VH: I was born in ’71 and my father had a big influence on me. He got me into Dylan, Peter, Paul & Mary, The Beatles, Crosby Stills and Nash, and Chuck Berry. So I had a well rounded musical influence back then. So for me, as a listener, it is a challenge when I go looking for new music I’m not gonna be impressed by flashy licks or a hot instrumentalist – or a great voice alone – I want a presence or a reason for that song to be there. Sometimes I wonder if that makes me a music snob because of that, but to me music is such a personal experience for me, that’s why I chose to be a musician, when I’m a listener I apply that same level of criteria or standards as I would to my music.

B411: OK I understand that, it makes sense. Since we are visiting the past, conceptually speaking, is there a difference between influences and roots ?

VH: Yeh, there is, your roots are where you begin. Its your initial impression of whatever area of art you gravitate to whether it be music or visual arts. You have those roots and they also are reflective of your early personal life and your perceptions of the world. The stimulus of what you take in and encounter along that journey you take it in and process it. Then you get to a point of understanding the overall direction of ‘yes I am an artist or a musician’ and establish that fact – you can continue and hopefully will be, influenced for the rest of your life. I think a big mistake some artists make is that they get to stuck into saying that I got to say what I have to say in this style or way and I’m not gonna allow for any other variables along the way to steer me in any other direction. There is a difference between keeping yourself open artistically and not. If you are open to those experiences along the way that you have to deal with it has an effect on your art. It is related to how you live your life.

B411: What about you and the Blues? When did it ‘hit’ ya’?

VH: When I decided that I was going to play the Blues, Blues is what gets me — I think there was a certain niavity that I had — I wanted my stuff to sound like this box of influences over here. Muddy Waters, Otis Spann, Elmore James, those cats that moved me to the core. So if my stuff doesn’t sound like that I am breaking the code of the music or the purity. So when I reached a certain point I realized that it was OK not to sound like them, I’m not BB King or Elmore James. So I just let things come. I realized not to filter out the other things for a purity sake, the purity of I gotta sound a certain way – I gotta sound like Vincent Hayes 100%. So I am an open person so I am influenced by many other things. Your roots are where all that perception begins.

B411: The roots are always there, while influences can come and go. You can hear something and decide to add that bit of it to your work while maintaining your ‘roots’.

VH: Yeah, I don’t just listen to Blues. The first thing that comes to mind is Ray LaMontagne. I first heard of him a few years ago when I was going thru my divorce, somebody had one of his tracks on their MySpace page, and I thought he was some cat from the 60’s that I missed. So I check him out and in the next couple of days I buy one of his discs. I was just blown away by his passion the rawness, honesty of his voice – he was singing it just exactly how he f*ing meant it. In fact one of my first dates with my current girlfriend we went to see him in Ann Arbor, it was just one of the most intimate shows ever. It was just four single color spotlights on each member of the band and black elsewhere. It was the only show that while he was playing you could hear a pin drop and when he was done the audience erupts into a roar then they settle down again.
He’s got a lot of that Memphis soul in him, and Stephen Stills was a big influence on him, and Stills has that Blues edge in him. So I can see why I gravitate to him, he can be in that pentatonic zone and other times he’s just straight ahead singing his song to four simple chords. To me that’s the real art of songwriting – can you get your point across in a few chords and transmit that emotion to me so that I am riding that story with ya. If you can do that in four chords and simple poignant melodies then that’s really what grabs me. We have these great songwriters all over the globe, as good as the 60’s and 70’s, but the problem is that our musical taste is reflective of where we are in society. People don’t really want to go too deep into where they are, there is a faction who do want to get in touch with the inner core of who they are, but the majority factor is people who don’t want to go to deep.

B411: Ray certainly has had cross over success as a song writer for sure, Lucky Peterson just covered Trouble on his latest release. So tell me a little about the Vincent Hayes Project, the band.

VH: I had been playing coffee shops thru most of the 90’s, basically a solo act. That being said, Dave, Donnie and I would jam off and on for years. So every once and awhile I’d get a gig that needed a band and I would say yeh I got a band and I’d call them and I knew they could just drop and and get on the groove.

Eventually I decided to put together a three piece – and did the Blues challenge – went to Memphis to the IBC’s and did all that. I must say in those couple of years playing as a three piece we were really able to tighten the rapport between us. We were going to go in the studio right after the ’07 IBC’s, that’s when I called Glenn Brown. I then ran into Steve ‘Doc’ Yankee, we didn’t know each other nor had even heard the other play, but we were from Michigan, and I knew he was a brother, a cat. So we decided that we would play with each other at some point.
So I’m trucking with my three-piece band, going thru my divorce, and it’s three years past the mark, and we still gotta make a CD, come on guys we gotta do it ! Most of these tunes we had been playing live for like five years, so when we finally got around to doing the disc, I started hearing horns and thought about putting in a horn section, but at the time I was giving lessons at a store here in town and that’s where I met Christian – I’d throw some of my tunes at him while hanging out and he’d jump in and play along and killing it so I finally asked him if he wanted to record with us. Doc came in because we got in contact with each other and told him I was going to record and he asked why he wasn’t invited – busted – so by time the disc was done we had become a band.

B411: I love the sound, 2 keys, funky bass, killer guitar and solid vocals, it’s a great sound. How long did it take you to cut Reclamation?

VH: Studio sessions started September of 2009, all together we had about five or six where we did tracking, and then a final mix down session. Glenn mastered it in about a week. If I recall correctly, it was one session every six or seven weeks. What we would do is lay down five tracks originally, as a three piece, then the last couple of sessions we were recording live. Docs’ tracks were live, all three, no overdub.

B411: That’s interesting because it doesn’t sound like a heavily produced release. Yes, there are some layers of sound but it has a raw quality to it that is so nice and primal.

VH: I appreciate that, for me Blues is best when it’s not overproduced. Ya gotta allow for a little bump in the mix, a bad note that sometimes turns into the good note. Every session I was going in thinking it was a permanent performance, I was going to make it count. We took that fire into the studio from playing live, just plug in and lay it down. The depth and aura that you hear there, I gotta give Kudos to Glenn, I sought him out as a result of Root Doctor and Greg Nagy s’ last disc. Everybody I knew in Lansing was saying get Glenn Brown. He not only has an amazing ability to work the gear but he has an amazing ear. This guy was telling me how to tune my guitar ! I’ve been tuning guitars for thirty years – I know how to tune a guitar. But I’d be playing a chord and he would stop us and say ‘hey man, your B string is a little out’. I’d go no – he’d say check it out – so we’d plug it into the tuner and sure enough the B string would be out. His level of what he perceives sonically makes me feel like a kindergartener again.
He has the ability to put things in the right places, plus I think there is some magic in the board we used. We used the Muscle Shoals board that has this insane history of these Gold and Platinum records that have been recorded on it. So if you believe in the transference of energy then there must be some of that mojo hanging out there. I am really happy with this recording which is a surprise cause I am my own worst critic.

B411: That’s a good testament to the music and what went on in the studio.

VH: There is really a wide array of influences between the five of us. There’s the gospel factor, blues work, see, Dave and Donnie came as a unit to me. They have a history of playing together over like five or six years before I got them to join up. Dave (bass) played Reggae in Detroit and Reggae is the Blues of Jamaica. It’s so great to have these guys. Doc is so traditional – more traditional Blues bands, East/West coast New Orleans, Chicago – the more traditional sound that he brings to us. While Christian is more seventies rock, Pink Floyd, YES sound and some others we won’t mention. It’s so very cool for me to have such talent around me it just helps with the creativity of us all.

B411: Do you have a favorite track on Reclamation?

VH: Well let me talk a little bit about how some songs happened. Donnie was the one that said we need to write a song called ‘ Insecurities’ , and I said really, and Dave threw the title ‘doubletalk‘ at me, so it is a group effort. Funny with ‘Doubletalk‘ I came into the studio next time with lyrics for it and we put the groove together. Others I had written earlier and they added their part to it. It takes a lot of pressure off of me to always be the one to come up with the chord change lyrics. I’m always on a conscience look out for the guys in the band to get recognized, they don’t just back me up.
As for a favorite song….I do have a couple – on the level of how personal they are to me. Some I had almost left out, it was tough for me to let go some of the associations these songs had in the sense of the original inspiration of the song, and the ones that almost got left out really didn’t apply to me on that level anymore. But when I looked at those songs in the light of the songs being stories, and my job is to tell stories that people can relate to and absorb even if it’s in their own way. ‘Some Kind of Fool’ was one I almost left off, the other one was ‘Halfway Out the Door’ only because to me it was a strong emotional connection for me, and Christian had not played that song before, so he was forced to write his part right there in the studio. In the studio we were pretty much done, and started to unplug and I said “..no we have to record ‘Halfway Out The Door‘.” When Christian came in for his session  he had put all his parts down and he had to get home, and I tell him there’s one more track – he was surprised, and commented that he might not of ever heard it before. No kidding ! He was ready to call it a wrap but decided to go for it, so twice we almost bumped it off the record through the recording process and it turns out to be one of my favorites. I love the opening groove, it is so powerful and sets the motion and the ending too. The power of the rhythm section and the whole unit really comes together.

B411: The opening smokes on that track. Overall it is a really fine release, one I have not tired of, plus it’s getting good overall recognition. It made Sirius/XM Bluesville 74 Picks to Click for several weeks, and had great legs on the Roots and Blues charts. Hope more people pick it up or go to your website and give it a listen. Once they do that they can join the Blues Foundation and vote for your release and all the other categories available.

Thank you Vincent for your time and your music, see ya in Memphis at the Blues Music Awards May 5th.
Oh yeh, I forgot to mention that Vincent has given us a free MP3 track for all of us out there to listen to, the aforementioned ‘Halfway Out The Door’  this track won an on-line poll by the Vincent Hayes Project  as the favorite fan cut on Reclamation, so know you know the story behind it – get it and listen to it. You will dig it !

Ok in case you want to hear The Vincent Hayes Project live in the studio here is a link to them visiting WYCE radio, and playing two cuts, check it out, nice groove boys ! ! !

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease

photos courtesy of Vincent Hayes Project, Craig Watson.
©Blues411.com 2011

PHOTO CONTEST – Love The One You’re With !


SIDNEY EARL LONG his photo ‘Ball & Chain’ won a tough battle but bested several fine entries.

OK peeps, the new photo contest is ready to be rolled out.

In honor of Valentines Day, and just because we can, our new category is ‘Love The One You’re With’ ! So a photo of you and that someone, something special, or, as you can tell from previous contest it can be just about anything, with me the less structure the better. Maybe you and your guitar, pet, piece of art, honor, animate, inanimate, of course keep it clean (hah hah), Reach outside the box, ya never know what you might see or find.

This one is being sponsored by Suzanne Foschino, winner of our first “Scot Sutherland Blues Shoes Contest’. She has a great prize awaiting the person chosen by our board of decision makers so come on in and get involved. This contest will be closed on March 4, 2011, or 100 entries whichever comes first.


So go to Facebook http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Blues411/106980716027973
where you can upload your best shot(s) and keep track of what’s going on.

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease

photos courtesy of Leslie K. Joseph
©Blues411.com 2011

Block & Cashdollar, A Solid Investment

So it actually got up to the mid-twenties temperature wise here in the frozen tundra of Rochester, NY. Which was a nice break, we could almost see the sun (if we knew what it looked like) and in spite of the dire warnings from local meteorologists I could not pass on the opportunity to see one of our musical national treasures, Rory Block, and Austin Texas based Dobro wizard, Cindy Cashdollar (her real name folks) play before a jam packed house at Abilene Bar & Lounge.

Ms. Block is set to release (March 29) ‘Shake ‘Em On Down‘, a tribute to Mississippi Fred McDowell on Stony Plain Records. She has begun to tour in support of this release, cris-crossing the colder climates through February before heading to warmer climes in March. Ms. Block first met Mr. McDowell “…at a time in my life when I was most impressionable, and when that effect would deeply inspire and educate.” Recalling those times Ms. Block said “I spent a fair amount of time with Fred McDowell when he stayed at our house in Berkeley, California. He was a real character and seemed quite a bit younger than Son (House), The Reverend Gary (Davis), Mississippi John (Hurt) and Skip (James). We performed together one night at an open mike gathering, and that’s when someone jumped up and shouted, “She plays like a man!” I was dumbfounded.. what did they mean? Why were women not expected to play this way? I didn’t get it.”

To describe Abilene as cramped would not be fair, yes it is a bar and lounge, and not one of the largest around, but there is an intimacy that seems to ‘live’ inside it’s walls. So upstairs we congregated (sadly leaving the bar behind) and settled in to what would turn out to be a most intimate night in the living room of a friends home, or on their front porch on a summer evening. The rapport between these two fine artists was refreshing and REAL. No faked intimacy here, they went with the flow of the moment, almost like a late night jam that they/we just happened to walk into. Ms. Block would call the tune, and then urge Ms. Cashdollar to start it off. Stating a reluctance to use electronic tuning devices, Ms. Block was adept at tuning her various guitars and, along with Ms. Cashdollar tune together (and sometimes not) and proceed to offer to us some of the most beautiful acoustic music I have ever heard. One splendid moment occurred when they were about to start a song from the new release, and Ms. Block needed the words on a music stand, and she was trying to explain how it is hard to remember new songs after so many years of playing, and laughingly stated that one would think they would know it since they just left the studio, and Ms. Cashdollar aptly stated the fact that “recording songs in a studio does not equal learning them.”

There is only one person sounds like Rory Block, Rory. Her guitar, voice and spoken-sang narratives that she weaves into her songs, there is no denying who the artist is. Ms. Block would appear to be quite literally connected to the spirit and pulse of The Blues. This connection runs deep through her guitar playing (obviously, just look at her history) and the quality of her voice. But most interesting to me was her knack and penchant for storytelling, which after all, is what The Blues was in it’s original form – story telling through song. Enchanting us with stories from her past about Mr. McDowell, Mr. Pete Seeger, Ms. Maria Muldaur and countless others, as well as her thought process when writing songs and other more personal references made this an extraordinary night.

While Ms. Block was undoubtedly the featured artist, Ms. Cashdollar was more than capable of holding court when given the stage. These ladies had known each other for some years, in fact Cindy had ordered one of Rory’s guitar instruction kits and later took lessons from her. They were more recently reunited at a Michigan guitar workshop where they decided that come hell or high water they would work together. This promotional tour is testament to the synergy these two ladies have between them. Ms. Cashdollar’s lineage runs deep, through various forms of music, honing her skills in Woodstock, New York with the likes of Paul Butterfield, bluegrass legend John Herald, Rick Danko and Levon Helm of The Band. She later spent eight years with the premier western swing group Asleep At The Wheel.

Cindy’s work on the Dobro was just simply amazing. She would punctuate Rory’s playing with angel sighs, tormented moans of the damned, and triplets that resounded of the sound of a man running from the Devil himself as he flees the Crossroads at midnight. Poignantly crafting runs, fills and notes that would express the hope, pain and soul of each song. Cindy offered us a song of hers, ‘Waltz for Abilene’, an instrumental that had the room hanging on each note and leaving everyone hushed at it’s conclusion.

The soon to be released, Shake ‘Em On Down consists of covers of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s music and some original tunes from Ms. Block. In one song they played, ‘Steady Freddy’, she painted a portrait with words of Mr. McDowell that rivals any photo. Down to his iconic bow tie and white shirt and incorporating his most famous quote ‘I don’t play no rock & roll’. This song has me anxiously awaiting the release on March 29, 2011.

For more information on Ms. Block:

Ms. Cashdollar:

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease

photos courtesy of artists, Leslie K. Joseph
©Blues411.com 2011