Interview: In Approbation of Ben Prestage

You come from a musical family – both sides of the coin. Can you share some info about that background? What would young Ben listen to as a child, and then when you started to develop your ‘own’ sensibilities where did they take you?

BP: My great grand mother she was a touring Vaudeville musician, they toured as the Sophie Cherokee Girls they would dress in Native American Costumes and do dancing gigs, I actually have an old business card from her. Their biggest tours (name wise) was performing with Al Jolson.

BP: My grand-ma played ‘boogie-woogie’ piano, my mom played some piano but she worked so it was limited though I did hear her play occasionally.
Now my dad’s side of the family is how I got the Blues side. My Grand-dad was a share cropper in Mississippi, mostly growing sweet potatoes. Played a little guitar as did my dad. When I was thirteen or fourteen I started picking up some guitar chords.

Was that your first instrument, the guitar?

BP: No actually when I was in school, maybe ten years old in music class they made me play the trumpet. Then started teaching myself guitar based on what my dad had shown me, and being from Mississippi we listened to the blues in the house so it progressed from there. 

I am experiencing my own ‘Jug Band’ renaissance of late, on your latest release “One Crow Murder” you feature songs by Jesse Fuller, and Dewey Corley two artists who seem linked to your musical journey.

BP: Dewey played with the Memphis Jug Band with Will Shade, then started his own jug band, The Beale Street Jug Band. They played together almost thirty years, strange fact is that Dewey was the last surviving member of both of these bands, unfortunately there is not a lot of recorded material from either of them.

 What would you consider your major musical influences?

BP: While the jug bands had some influence as did one man bands, like Jesse Fuller, it was more the Mississippi Blues that was my main influence. Such Fred McDowell, R.L. Burnside and Bukka White. On one of my earlier releases I did some jug music and we even did gigs as such, but I have a lot of influences, mostly any kind of American Roots Music.

I must say I enjoyed your linear notes on the release. Where you gave the history of some of the artists that went before us that you chose to cover. It seems that we are getting back into that type of thing – like when we used to have albums – information that is both informative and intriguing.

BP: I think that is a really important part of this music, the history. Without that history we lose where we came from. Blues is the history of Rock & Roll, Hip-Hop, Jug Band music. I want to inform people on the history but at the same time I don’t want the music to sound historical – I want I to be relative to today’s listeners, and relate it to their modern day lives.
I want to have my own voice, but want to draw younger people into it. I’ve done shows with punk-rock and heavy metal bands playing the same music and the basic difference is that I turn my amps up. My between song dialogue changes from type of show. But it’s great to bringing newer audiences into the fold, and have them digging it.

So you don’t do covers of Zep’s ‘Black Dog’ for them ?
(we laugh)
BP: Well I play a diddly bow – and I will do Primus covers on that and then roll into one man band straight blues songs. It all depends on the venue and show crowd. But as we said it’s great for bringing the young kids into the Blues, they love it. The deal is that if they like heavy metal and they hear some of what I am doing they will dig it and then we can have a dialogue about the music. They might say their bands are so hard core and I show them that R.L. Burnside and Howlin’ Wolf was way more hard core than any of these bands.

That’ so cool, and so very important – to have that available for the new generation, otherwise we grow old and die as a viable art form. I see the non-acceptance of hip-hop or rap as a missed opportunity to educate and involve a whole generation in American Roots Music.

BP: I feel the same way. I think hip-hop is a great art form, now I’m from the country so I never got into it so much – but I do appreciate the talent that goes into it. I think sometimes the ‘establishment’ feels someone is too country or too rock, but it’s the audience that matters. I, personally, am happy with where I am musically, and the same ‘establishment’ has been very helpful through the years. I may be thought of as not being enough of a traditional blues artist, but that’s OK, I do some but not all traditional blues. I have been to some blues shows where hardcore fans are yawning after four hours of straight traditional blues, even the people who love it.
One thing I like to bring up to the ‘traditionalists’ is to look at Muddy Waters who is basically the epitome of the blues, and listen to how he changed in his own lifetime from acoustic to electric. Howlin’ Wolf is the same thing. We aren’t even taking into account the difference between Wolf and Muddy’s predecessors Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, the music is so different. One might say it’s not even the same music but it is. We need to apply that same linear thinking to my music in relation to Howlin’ Wolf etc.

OK so I gotta ask ya, 100 years of Robert Johnson he is everywhere, I think if Frank Sinatra was alive he’d be releasing his tribute album of RJ covers. Not even a mention on yours….talk to me about that.

BP: I’ve done Robert Johnson covers before, and I do some in my shows. I don’t cover a guy because they are popular, but nor do I cover them because they are unpopular. I have to like the song to cover it. I have had people mention that I should cover this song or that song, but when I listen to it if it doesn’t connect with me I won’t cover it. I may include it in my repertoire but I only record songs that I have a strong feeling for.

So what led you to ‘One Crow Murder’ the title. That caught my eye immediately. There is a book called ‘An Exaltation of Larks’ by James Lipton wherein he provides us with a reference to all of these ‘nouns of multitudes’. How did you come up with the title?

BP: I had always heard that a group of crows is called a murder. That is such a strong word and for it to have another meaning just intrigued me. Now the title of the album came from the song I wrote. A group of crows is a murder and I do everything by myself so I am that group – originally I was thinking of a one wolf pack – it all evolved from there.

To pursue ‘One Crow Murder’ the release, it is a wonderful audio painting of all facets of American life. But it is also, to me, a chapter in the life of Ben Prestage as he stands before us today. Where you have been, how you got there and in all – I must tell ya – the title song is a wonderful self-descriptive song that ends with you thanking all of us (fan’s and I believe everyone whom you have contacted) because without us there would not be Ben as he is today. Please continue with the story if you will.

BP: When people see my show they say how I do everything by myself, but there are so many other people behind me involved at many levels. Nobody goes through life without somebody that influences them.

Absolutely, it’s the old adage of American culture ‘being a self-made man’ but metaphysically it is impossible to be such.

BP: That’s what the last line of the song is about, both me personally thanking everybody, and in the abstract way, about people in general how no mater where you think you are in life – whether good or bad – you got there because of other people decisions or actions we are all connected and all influence each other.

Man this is getting deep, sort of like your songwriting, if I might just touch upon One Crow Murder, the song, again. More specifically the line where you rhyme autonomous with synonymous…dude come on!

BP: It’s almost like a hip-hop phrasing. There are guys who use that kind of intelligent writing, you wont hear them on the radio but it’s out there. That works ! You can say a lot more with that type of writing than if you write just another damn love song. That’s one thing you won’t find on my releases is a love song – unless it’s got a murder or something involved.

Yes like the Ballad of Ray and Ruby, which we won’t get into here, The existing coterie knows about it and we need other people to find out these things so this will serve as their carrot.

Now your song ‘Amsterdam Rag’ is a song of lost love, but not to another man but because of the antiquated laws of this country.

BP: It’s kind of a political song, but I try not to write heavy political songs, but I don’t want to write sappy love songs. But it is ‘my baby left me’, yet has a more hidden meaning that I never thought of until we had this conversation. If you research Harry Anslinger you can find out how marijuana became illegal, he was in the know concerning the end of prohibition so he had to secure his job, and set about setting up this law. Well the curious people will look it up may just enjoy the music.

Well I don’t look at these songs as political, but I would be more apt to call them ‘socially conscious’ songs.

BP: Exactly, I like it. It’s not political it’s social commentary.

How did you ‘evolve’ or is it ‘de-evolve’ into a ‘one-man band’?

BP: I have had my own bands and never could find the right guys to get the sound I really wanted. I think what changed it was when I lived in Memphis and was a street performer. I played with Richard Johnson play and he let me sit in on the drums and decided it was cool. So one night I was hitting the drum kit and was lovin’ it. So he swapped out but what I was playing was so different from the ‘tat-toom, tat-toom’ that one man bands kinda fall into I realized that I could take this art form to another level. I realized that you are not as limited as one would think in a one man band situation and just wanted to go there to take it farther. It’s like being an artist, you might be a painter and discover metal work or sculptures and decide that’s where I want to go. This is where I ant to be into, the possibilities are endless. I can switch from fiddle, to violin and then go acoustic and finger style for some songs. I can do this with the drum kit that I play with my feet. On the song “Wish I Was In New Orleans’ there is a strong second line feel to it with the drum pattern and that’s just me using my feet and my drum kit.

Do you make your own instruments?

BP: No I don’t make them I just play them. I did rig up my own drum kit because I couldn’t find what I needed anywhere else, but that is mostly store bought. I would like to maybe one day, but right now my art is in the music.

You have toured throughout the world playing your music, how is it different over there from over here?

BP: I’ve played in Western Europe, the UK, Belgium, Switzerland and have been received very well. The people there seem to be very knowledgeable – they seem to know their music and the history of the songs. Yet they sit in their chairs and listen over there, while here they wanna dance and hoot and holler. They pay more over there, but it does cost more to travel. Each is a little different not better or worse.

To learn more about Ben please visit his web site .

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,

photos: courtesy of  Ben Prestage

*appprobaton – an expression of approval, praise, validation.

Blues411 Office Music: May 24, 2011

Hey y’all, it’s been busy as a hornets’ nest in mid summer around here. All the great music releases by artists just confirms how much talent there is out there in the Blues world.

So what I am endeavoring to do is to implement a bi-weekly update (or as needed, after all this is Blues411 here) of releases that are getting major play time here in our office. I will update these every two weeks or so, and hopefully you will consider checking them out from the artists’ site or wherever you snag your music.

Please look for this update both here on and on our sister site on Facebook as Blues411 every other Tuesday.

Let’s get thing thing going with:

Johnny Rawls: Memphis Still Got Soul (Catfood Records)

2010 Blues Music Award winner Johnny Rawls delivers some of the best Memphis Soul Stew around with this release. It’s title track salutes ‘The Bluff City’ musical heritage and having just returned from there I gotta say ‘Amen’ to his proclamation. Mr. Rawls does a fantastic cover of O.V. Wright’s ‘Blind, Crippled and Crazy‘. As always Mr. Rawls delivers the soul goods with such aplomb that he makes it look easy.

Deb Callahan: Tell It Like It Is (Blue Pearl Records)

Ms. Callahan’s fourth release features nine original songs, plus a funky version of ‘Funkier Than a Mosquito’s Tweeter‘ made popular by Tina Turner and written by Tina’s sister. All the cuts are definitely in the Blues camp, but with tasty dashes of gospel, soul, rock and cover a wide range of themes wach addressed superbly in Ms. Callahan’s writings. If you like your women with a strong voice and hard delivery Ms. Callahan is right up your alley.

Chris Bergson Band: Imitate the Sun (2 Shirts Records)East coast based artist Chris Bergson was appointed a Jazz Ambassador of the USA andtoured Africa with his trio. Not being content to sit in one genre Mr. Bergson has moved into the Blues tribe with this exceptional release. The title track laid down to a soul groove, then adds an uplifting chorus and tenor sax solo that just emphasizes Chris’s growling vocals. ‘Hello Bertha’ is pays homage to a dear lady who’se virtue is undenialbly approachable, but his treatment of her lot in life is both sympathetic and grateful.

Doug MacLeod: Brand New Eyes (Fresh! From RR Records)

Mr. MacLeod is one of America’s finest storytellers around. Whether it be a five word story or a tale of multiple verses, his honest roots and portrayal of his life experiences are nothing but true blues.
The belief that music is a great healer runs through Mr. MacLeods eleven song release. But in the title track he sets it up for all to see and hear. If one cannot see any good in the world then maybe it’s them and not the world, so it is high time to put on some ‘Brand New Eyes’. This new release is so comfortable that you feel like you are sitting in the living room with a dear friend (and that he is).

Dana Fuchs: Love To Beg (Ruf Records)In this, her second studio album, Ms. Fuchs has seemed to have found her voice in the studio. A visceral melange of rock, blues and a dash of gospel it is a dark world that we see painted before us. Title track ‘Love to Beg‘ has a Black Crowes’ vibe to it and overall the release has a somewhat foreboding aura. Yet, as dark as it may seem the release is about LOVE but in all it’s permutations. ‘Love To Beg’ is a rockin’ good time, consisting of twelve original songs and one cover, a well-chosen ‘I’ve Been Loving You Too Long’ the Otis Redding classic.

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,

photos: courtesy of  artists.

CD Reviews: New Friends = New Music

A few weeks back we looked at Old Friends, so with this  installment we look at some new friends and the great music they have added to my life. Give it a read, and do check them out on the web, in concert, or wherever you can, and see what ya think.

Alexis P. Suter Band: Two Sides (Hipbone Records)

I had heard this band on Bluesville a few years back and was impressed by what I had heard. Well, I had NO idea of how good they really are. Live they are shockingly good, visual, aurally and fun, but I am here to talk about their new release ‘Two Sides‘.
What strikes me most about this release is the tightness of the band, and quality of the music they put down here for us. Freedom and redemption are the themes they play upon with this, their fifth release, the freedom to hold your ground and make your own choices and the redemption from ‘others’ who would tell you how to live. The initial cut states it quite plainly aptly titles ‘Free’. A funky beat and punctuating keyboard work by Benny Harrison, sets us up for what is a cross between a plea, a demand and a rallying cry to be ‘Free‘.

The sound from this band – and I mean band – is such a force that it makes you sit up and take notice. This is not white noise or social interaction background music this is meant to be played loud and proud.

The APSB style fits comfortably in any glove they choose to wear, whether it be funky rock influenced songs like ‘All Over Again‘, or the swampy twist on ‘Didn’t It Rain‘, and ‘John The Revelator’ shows that they get it, as will you when you listen.

Featuring Alexis P. Suter up front on vocals, and the soul chorus of Linda Pino & Vicki Bell on vocals, to that add Jimmy Bennett (on versatile styled guitar) and Ray Grappone & Peter Bennet as the rhythm section these members are all contributors to the overall aural picture that they paint for us.

Truly there isn’t a throw away cut on this album. I have to mention that any band who can do two versions of almost the same song (Only I & Savior) and slay me with both demands attention. Only I is a slow-tempo, bluesy version, while Savior has all the funk and Rhythm of a classic Stax recording.

As dynamic as these artists are live there didn’t seem to be a big drop of energy with this release. Dynamic, full sounding and, what impresses me most is the transference of energy one gets from listening to this remarkable collection of talent and music.

Hadden Sayers: Hard Dollar (Blue Corn Music)

OK, every artist has a story, sort of like the old black and white television series, The Naked City – a million tales and at some point they all seem to start being cliche’. Hadden Sayers has his story too, but he lays it out here for us to hear – open, unashamed, and triumphant in this release of a lucky thirteen package of original songs.
Opening this release is ‘Take Me Back To Texas’ wherein Mr. Sayers makes a clear statement that he needs to get back to his home state framed inside a damn right serious boogie beat.

One of the many standout cuts is his ‘Back To The Blues’. An understated vocal duet with Ms. Ruthie Foster that is a steady rolling minor key powerhouse of a song. Give an ear to his guitar solo here – and you will understand that he has no other place to go except Back To The Blues.

I gotta give it up for the artwork, the skeletal caricature of Mr. Sayers is so spot on when I saw him recently in Memphis, I thought he had gained weight cos he had  flesh on his bones !

An interesting, but never-the-less biographical take on having a wealthy woman keeping him in the ‘Lap of Luxury’ is a fun syncopated stop time blues number that sits close to my heart, Hadden, I couldn’t have said it better myself! I must give props to ‘Hippie Getaway‘ which is a catchy up tempo song who’se depth belies it’s simplicity.

Mr. Sayers story is presented in a palpable format here, various songs in different styles showcasing his varied influences and depicting his path along the often rocky but ultimately rewarding life that he leads.

Jean Shy & Friends: Blow Top Blues (King Edward Music)

If you like your Blues with a serious twist of Jazz, and a dash of Soul, and a steady back fill of funk and gospel then Ms. Jean Shy should be on your list of artists. A sensation in Europe, where the press has bathed her in superlatives – we can see their reasoning in this generous fifteen cut release.

Setting the stage with title track ‘Blow Top Blues’ Ms. Shy lets us know the bad news that this morning she discovered that her wig was about to blow. Yes-siree, and she goes on to describe this more than common situation in a jazzy strut that we shake our heads in syncopation to the tune and ride the waves of horns and snappy guitar work.

A smokey, sultry version of ‘Willow Weep For Me’ recalls the halcyon days of my old neighborhood, Harlem, and it’s clubs, patrons and fantastic female vocalists. She follows that song with an upbeat treatment of ‘The Night Time Is The Right Time’ where the guitar playing is allowed to overtake the horns for a fine solo before retreating to it’s proper position as part of the band.

To me, the standout cut is ‘Wouldn’t Wanna Be You’, a stunning sounding song who’s message is dark and foreboding for the fly about to enter into the spider’s web. I had the hardest time getting this song out of my head, with it’s sparse but effective percussion and flanged guitar work in tandem with a serious infectious almost reggae beat. Killah !

A very satisfying release by Ms. Shy, I think this style of Blues would serve well as a way to get more people into our tent. Not overly guitar’d, thoughtful music that plays easy on the ears but is packed with the force and snap of a good left jab just before the other fighter falls to the canvas – it is a winner and should be back to move up in class and the next level.

Big Shot Reub and The Reloaders: Roundhouse Blues (Hat and Case Music)

So I didn’t know what to expect here, the cover is an illustration of a ‘hitman’ complete with a smoking gun in hand, along with all the trappings of such a mob hit. Loud ? Death-Metal Blues ? Yet another SRV clone ? I had no idea…..well here goes.

Starting with ‘So Much Inside Me’, I was floored with by an up beat, swing tempo guitar run takes us to an ‘Elvis Costello’ sounding vocals from the leader of this power packin’ trio, Mr. Rueben Vigil. Smart lyrics just added to the overall feel of joy as he tells us about what is inside him and how, as John Lee said, ‘it gots to come out’.

Out of the San Diego area, Mr. Vigil gives us a tour of his world and influences ranging from the band’s theme song ‘Big Shot Roll’ which hits starts shuffling along and then hits full stride as Rube makes references to ‘eyesight to the blind’ and a ‘quake at 6.19’. If that wasn’t enough he advises us to ‘turn up and the heat and turn down the lights’ HAH yeh brother I hear ya !

Viva Bracero’, a tribute to the unskilled laborers who helped build America after the great Depression, brings to the forefront the Latino side of his music a nicely constructed piece incorporating solid acoustic and electric guitar playing. There is a rawness here that is appealing on many levels, as one can hear tinges of Santana and The Allman Brothers weave a tapestry of sound within the song.  The next cut ‘Celestial’ gives us a spacey, drifting aural painting of all that is above and how we view it from down below. To say it is in the style of Hendrix is not a bad thing, with a soulfull feel reminiscent of the Band Of Gypsys and phased guitar work recalling the Isley Brothers and Prince it is a great spot to be in.

Reuben’s dad is a guitar player and his mom played a lap steel, he told me when he first started playing guitar he wanted to be B.B. King. Not a bad goal, but there is only one B.B., and Mr. Vigil seems to have grasped that fact, and is now on the way to becoming his own self on the guitar. This ten song release shows how the multicultural influences of various types of music can be a splendid thing indeed. I am looking forward to hearing what Reub and the Reloaders have in their case for next time.

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,

photos: courtesy of  artists.

Amuse Bouche – 32nd Blues Music Awards

Those of you who are familair with my writings migjht remember a little over a year ago when I first put fingers to keyboard to capture my experiences at the Blues Music Awards. Well I’m at it again. With these little snippets or ‘amuse bouches’ (happy mouths in French Culinary terms) I will give you the opportunity to read and hopefully ‘see’ some of the action that went on at the 32nd Blues Music Awards in Memphis. This is by no means a fully fledged account of what went on but more of being at a moment in time and holding on to it and giving it to you to read.

So here we go . . . .

The array of talented musicians all located in one place, it is almost, I say almost, an overload situation. Actually I might have hit the overload button Thursday night while standing outside the main room when Scott Burnett walked over and said hi to me and I totally blanked on who he was. I’ve known Scotty for about four years, see what I’m saying.

Speaking of Scotty, during one of the frequent stints in the hotel bar, I look over and see Scotty’s boss-man, Captain Roger Naber, busy working on his computer while seated on a bar stool in the corner. He was busy working on calming the turbulent waters surrounding the LRBC’s decision to move the October cruise to Puerto Rico – as opposed to it being a West Coast Cruise. A few words of encouragement and I hi-tailed it outta there. Roger works hard on getting the best for these cruises and this proved it once again.

About 1,600 blues fans just being themselves all week long !

The ‘peacocks’ in all their fine attire, and the lovely ladies.

The opportunity to re-connect with Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges, who was nominated in two categories this year, Soul Blues Album (Solomon Burke) and Soul Blues Artist (Solomon Burke). Eugene enthralled us with his story on flying to the USA from Australia and driving from Texas to Memphis, complete with police stops and camera assisted speed documentation to prove he was NOT driving over the limit, right on bro ! Later that night Mr. Bridges showed the audience why he was nominated in two categories !

The often strange but always funny ‘secret calls’ between musician’s who have used them to identify each other in crowded venues and rooms. Quite similar to those ‘cool high fives’ that athletes use – each different yet each one specifically tailored to match their personalities.

The overwhelming and palpable excitement from the ‘new kids on the block’ such as Karen Lovely, The Vincent Hayes Project, The Chris O’Leary Band and others who made it here for the first time and were floored by the whole experience.

OK, so just to prove that last statement Vincent Hayes texted me “I just met Robert Cray !” Karen Lovely and Lori Haynes commenting on how they (we all) are fans first, and how they felt they were walking on a cloud or in a dream of sorts. Karen later at the Awards performance just blowing the roof off the convention center at 1:30 in the morning to a thinned out crowd.

The pre-party which featured Eden Brent, Chris O’Leary Band, and The Vincent Hayes Project – the tone was set for the night !

Steve Miller opening the ‘official’ portion of the awards, and being so perfect it could have been a recording.

Mr. Eddie Turner being, Eddie Turner.

Tony Colter being the ultimate professional – working the live feed broadcast back to listeners and being spot on. I have heard nothing but praise for your efforts!

Rick Estrin displaying ‘hand’s free’ harmonica, while being accompanied by the smooth Kirk Fletcher on guitar. Y’all gonna have to buy the DVD to see this baby !

The tribute for Robert Johnson’s 100th Birthday and his son and family being there to share with us.

Reba Russell and band just ripping us out of our seats with what was one of the hottest sets of the night. You go girl !

Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith being just the most humble and sweet man.

Buddy Guy being — Buddy Guy !

Buddy being genuinely touched by each of his five awards.

A rumour being circulated that the new name for the BMA’s will be the Buddy Music Awards.

The Janiva Magness Band along with Tony Rogers playing ‘The Plan’.

A roomful of tears (both sorrow and joy) for Robin Roger’s winning Best Female Vocalist and Tony’s speech. Also for the other sweet and graciousfemale artists who promoted voting for Robin during their shows. Thank you ladies, the spirit lives within you all.

Buddy Guy telling us he was gonna play us something so funky that we could taste it ! And then doing just that !

The professionalism of Janiva Magness shining through when her mic was not working – her singing over the band so we could hear her and then burning a spot in our souls when the mic came back to life.

Bob Corritore winning the award for Historical Album (Harmoinica Blues), and all the work he has done over the years. SWEET !

Derek Trucks doing stand-up comedy – who knew !

The Nighthawks FINALLY winning a BMA for Acoustic Album with their ‘Last Train To Bluesville’ release.

Mitch Woods unscheduled ‘sex-change’ and the reinstatement of his ‘hood as he cranked out some fine boogie woogie piano.

Candye Kane in a stunning blue and yellow Kewpie doll outfit, insuring that no one else would be wearing the same outfit, as had happened once before.

Mr. John Hammond, following up Buddy Guy’s set, armed with an acoustic guitar and his voice, just calming and quieting the crowd with one helluva outstanding performance. I am not sure anyone else could have done it, cos Buddy’s set was killah. Did I mention John winning the Award for Best Acoustic Artist.

Matt Hill – Best New Artist – creating havoc with the final performance of the long night. Not only wining over the crowd but he had the ladies in the palm of his hand !

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,

photos: courtesy of  Leslie K. Joseph, Aigars Lapsa.

I would like to thank Aigars for sharing his photos with us on Blues411, to see more photos from Aigars please visit:
To read earlier interview with Karen Lovely visit:
To read interview with Vincent Hayes click:
both of these interviews were conducted before the BMA’s were even announced, read about how we called it back then for these two amazing artists who were nominated for BMA’s.

© 2011