Category Archives: Interviews

Interview: Frank Roszak Keeping the Blues Alive Award Recipient

Always working for his clients, and future clients.

Always working for his clients, and future clients.

One of the first folks from the Blues community to become a Tier1 Supporter was Frank Roszak. I met Frank at the Blues Music Awards, and shortly thereafter he agreed to support the vision that was Blues411.
To me it was instant credibility, being accepted and backed by someone of Frank’s stature made me feel confident in my mission, and allowed me to actually pay some bills! Funny how that works.
So it was very exciting to me to find out that Frank had been selected for a Keeping The Blues Alive Award at this year’s International Blues Challenge festivities.
I asked Frank if he would share some thoughts on receiving the coveted award, and what exactly it is he does. It’s pretty interesting, and helps us to understand some of the intricacies that go into ‘promoting’ releases and artists.
Enjoy, thank you and congrats Frank.

Blues411: First off congrats on the KBA this year…I must say your ‘speech’ at the KBA luncheon was outstanding. I know you are not a man of many words, but the ones you chose were well placed and you nailed it that day. What were you feeling as you were up there, with colleagues and friends sitting around full of brunch and coffee, heh heh?

Frank and his very own KBA

Frank and his very own KBA

Frank Roszak: YIKES! It was like Holy Moly, I had so many scripts in my head I was going crazy sitting there at my seat, the anticipation was insane, not knowing when I was going to be called upon and was I going to remember what to say, who to thank. Interesting to see for myself what was important at the moment and then the moment comes and its nothing like what you anticipated. When I got on stage, I thanked Art Tipaldi for having me sit there for 3 hrs and be next to last in receiving the KBA. I was so in my head. I don’t think Art got it, I was joking with him. Oh well.

B411: I know I was watching you , you looked like a kid at school waiting for the bell to ring. But it was great to see you and to be there for you. You were very humble,, and genuine in your comments to the room.
So what does it mean to you to be owner of a KBA?
FR: OUTSTANDING! Its my Grammy! It’s the recognition for my 35 plus years in the music business and most importantly it’s the Blues community that recognized me. Thank you!

B411: So you do Radio Promotion, what exactly is that?
FR: Well radio promotion is a component, one component of any promotion, not just what I do. In fact the majority of what I do today regarding any promotion, is so much more, it is not a straight line. Let’s use a CD release as an example is a combination of Radio and Press. In my opinion to achieve the maximum amount of exposure radio on its own and or press on its own is not going to reach the masses. So it definitely takes the combination of both for a successful promotion. This has been proven out over the years and they really go hand in hand like pasta and sauce.

B411: See that was missing from Louis Jordan’s ‘Beans & Cornbread’ but knowing you (and Marini & Patricola) very fitting!
Speaking of multiple fronts,  I see that you have added Vinny Marini to the Frank Roszak family of business enterprises, in what capacity will he be functioning?
FR: Yes, Vinny Marini, from Music On The Couch, an outstanding Radio/Interview program. Vinny is going to be a tremendous asset to Frank Roszak Promotions. He is doing tour support.  It makes sense. If I had a clone, and I do need a clone at this point, Vinny is the guy. He has the art of bonding with people down, I mean he really knows instinctively how to make someone feel right at home, like you are sitting on a couch with him. (Shameless plug)
Handling a successful tour promotion is a demanding responsibility, its micro-publicity and I needed someone like Vinny to just take over and run with it. This way my full attention is focusing on artists releases. Basically tour promotion is an extension of a release but with the focus on supporting an artist while they are on tour. The promotion team goes from city to city a month in advance of any appearance by the artist and secures radio interviews, in studio performances, reviews/interviews, show previews and television all in support of a particular show ie: festivals/clubs. I call it micro-publicity.

B411: Ok very cool, specific to the area the artist is playing in, localized action-driven publicity and support, got it.
So are your artists just from the US or do you work with international artists?
FR: I work with quite a few International artists and it seems to be ever expanding. I represent artists from Italy, Norway, Austria, Sweden, Canada and currently working with an artist from Switzerland. I also just received a couple more requests from artists overseas.
B411: Then do you also do worldwide promotion etc., ?
FR: Yes, A very big part of my promotions for artists is to include Europe, Scandinavia, UK, Australia, Canada and parts of Eastern Europe and of course the U.S of A for my International clients. There are a tremendous amount of opportunities to be explored in those territories

Mick Kolasssa


B411: Let  me ask, who are some of your clients?
FR: I am currently working with Mick Kolassa on his project “Michissippi Mick, where 100% of the proceeds go directly to the HART Fund and Generation Blues. Nice to be a part of something that goes beyond what contributions I can make on a daily basis for artists.
I am also currently working promotions for Bassist/Singer Polly O ‘Keary (Awesome) John Lyons (Switzerland) Corey Lueck (Canada) Patti Parks and an outstanding Folk/Blues artist Mary Ann Casale.

B411: Let me ask ya this, with the internet and other social media and virtual world wide accessibility, why would an artist or label need you to do what you do – couldn’t they do it themselves?
FR: Regardless of what the internet and or social media has to offer it still comes down to relationships. Relationships are developed over time, a quick intro on FB is not what I call a relationship or for that matter “Friends” on Facebook! What?
I have spent the last 10 years getting to know the folks I work with at radio and press. Facebook I see as a shortcut in communicating, e mails for that matter also. Its OK but does not altogether cut the mustard, it does not develop the bond that is so essential to getting things done on a grander scale.

Where can people find you to take advantage of your service?
Phone: 818-679-7636

B411: Frank thanks so much for taking the time to give us the low down on what makes a KBA winning promoter, I hope folks will read and learn from this little chat.

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2014
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph
Where Blues Thrives

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Interview: The Power of the Pocket

Bassist being repulsed by obnoxious fan.

Bassist being repulsed by obnoxious fan.

I met these two cats several years ago when Samantha Fish played in Rochester, NY. Her earlier band had Peyton Manning on bass, and GoGo Ray on drums, when they returned they had changed bassists, adding Chris Alexander.
To me it was a giant leap for the band. Nothing wrong with the cat who went before but there was a certain chemistry that  was palpable.
We all were aboard the October 2013, Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise so I grabbed them and asked if they wanted to talk about ‘the pocket’ and how it works and what it really does for the band, the sound and the overall enjoyment of the music for the fans.
We pick it up right after deep discussions about ‘fung-shui’ and other exotic life applications.
It really is three cats hanging out and discussing some stuff that doesn’t get shared too often – we all hear about the pocket, and what it should or should not be. This was a great chance to explore that subject in a comfortable situation. I thank them both for their time and knowledge that they shared with me, and us.

Chris Alexander: Hey, you guys have a movable table in your cabin! (spoken as we both leaned on it to laugh at some earlier edited out comment).
B411: Well we got the converto-room, the table moves in case we need to spread out and turn this into a recording studio. Speaking of Fung shoe -ey – Someone said, if you leave the toilet seat up, it’s bad fung shui? These folks didn’t have toilet seats back in China back in 0 B.C.!
GoGo Ray: How would they know?
Chris: Like if you leave the hole uncovered it’s bad Fung Shui?

B411: Yeah, we don’t be wantin’ no open holes!
GGR: Talk about it chef!
Chris & GGR: There it is man!

B411: So you’re really GoGo-Ray?
GGR: Yeah, that’s what I go by.
Chris: My last name is Alexander. I’ve got 3 first names – Christopher Morgan Alexander. Never trust someone with 2 first names, but 3 is ok. 3 makes you cool.

B411: What’s it like being the rhythm section, being the pocket? How hard it is? Does it change from who you’re playing with? You’re currently playing with Samantha Fish, so what’s it like?
GGR: So we’re playing with Samantha Fish it’s just my job to reinforce the tempo that is introduced. And it seems like with Chris, he’ll know whether to play his base ahead of the beat or if he wants to lay back. And we just look at each other and check each other, make sure that this is a groove that’s working. With Miss Fish, if she’s not looking back at us, she’s having a good time. She forgot about us and she’s feeling good.
B411: It’s like playing to a record.
GGR: Yeah, you just stay with it. Sometimes, she’ll have a tempo in mind. So once a song gets going, she’ll look back and pick it up or slow it down. Not MUCH, just pick it up a little or slow it down a little. That’s all.

Samantha Fish, GoGo Ray, Chris Alexander

Samantha Fish, GoGo Ray, Chris Alexander

B411: So she can control that?
GGR: Absolutely. She can do that.
B411: Ok, because I didn’t know that. So you said Chris would play bass ahead or behind? What does that mean?
GGR: He can play ahead of the beat – so whatever beat I’m playing , he can play slightly ahead of it. He’s not rushing the beat, he’s just playing VERY slightly ahead of the beat. But it creates a nice pull and tug kind of thing.

B411: Dynamic Tension!
GGR: [All laughing] Yeah, dynamic tension! I like that.
Chris: It’s tension and release. What it comes down to is that push and pull. That push and pull changes from night to night. There might be some song where he’ll particularly on top of the beat and I’ll be behind the beat. And the night previously, it was the opposite of that. It changes night to night. As far as the dynamic of being a rhythm section goes, it changes.
Even with the front man. We’ll play differently with Samantha Fish than say like if Mike Zito got up to play with us. It would change. The dynamic would change. I think the great thing about Samantha is that she plays like a rhythm section player. She solos as part of the rhythm section. She doesn’t’ just go off and doodle. Which can be really great, but I really love the stuff that people who solo in time, as part of the rhythm section. People like Alan Haynes, out of Houston, well Austin now. He’s like a master of that. I think it makes for a bigger sound. Especially for 3 people. Like whenever you don’t have an organ or whatever.

B411: Yes, because you guys are a power trio!
GGR: I think you define that very well.
B411: It’s easy to forget, because you guys have a sound. It’s not. It’s not thin, but it’s not aggressive.
Chris: I think that comes down to Samantha being part of the rhythm section. She’s got a great voice that carries itself. And on top of that, she can play killer rhythm guitar, which I think makes her a great band leader. And of course when it comes for her to step out, why she’s…
GGR: She’s not afraid!
B411: That’s the thing. She doesn’t over play. I don’t know if that’s the right term
GGR: No, you’re right.
B411: I tend to be careful.
GGR: No, she doesn’t overplay because she’s not a fan of that. She’s NOT a fan of that.

B411: Everything is tight and she’s getting better. I’ve known her for a long time. I met her on a cruise. She was…
Chris: [Singing the Rick Estrin song] “I Met Her on The Blues Cruise” I Met Her on The Blues Cruise – YouTube)
B411: And it was Watermelon Slim about twelve inches high!

Danielle Schnebelen

Danielle Schnebelen

B411: When I met Samantha for the first time, she was dressed like a little Angel. She came in with TUF (Trampled Under Foot) and that’s when Danielle from TUF had some medical issues on the cruise and so they had to take her off in a helicopter.
I’m like “Hello, my darning, who are you?”Then later that week I see she’s out there playing and I’m like OMG…!

GGR: And that’s still the reaction. She’ll come in. You know how she loves to dress up. She has to have her dresses and her heals. She comes in, and people are like “so, you’re part of the band? So you’re singing? Oh, you’re just strumming guitar? ” And we’re like, “no, that’s our boss. She is singing and playing guitar. She is the guitar player. She’s not afraid. We’ll do the sound check, and she just cranks up. And you just see people “OH!!”
Chris: Even people who have seen her before.
B411: Absolutely. Again, because I’ve known her for a while. And I’ve known you guys for a bit. And its just that she’s more confident now. She’s more confident with her singing. But we didn’t sit here to talk about her!

GGR: [Laughing] I like to think that the rhythm section, we give her a chance to, hey, if you want to solo more do it. If you want to sing more, we’ve got you. Do it! We’re listening. We got you.
B411: She’s got to be confident – she’s got to have confidence in you guys so she can do that. Because if you were shoddy, well, you wouldn’t be on the cruise.
GGR: Exactly! As you can already see, there was a change [in the band] at one point. It just got to the point where enough was enough. Chris is here now. There’s new energy in the band.

B411: So who have you guys played with?
GGR: I go way back.
B411: Wait, aren’t you like 20 years old?
GGR: I wish! I’m like a mixed bag of nuts. I’ve played in successful R&B Funk Soul band, played in successful band pop band, done the punk/rock/jazz thing. Man, I’m all around.
Chris: It makes it very fun to play with him by the way!
B411: I would bet! So you can bring it all to the table?

GoGo Ray always smiling and engaging.

GoGo Ray always smiling and engaging.

GGR: Certain elements. You can take the power of rock, we can take the feel of funk.
Chris: The attitude of punk.
GGR: The attitude of punk – she likes attitude on stage!
And I’m allowed to bring that. That’s me bringing the ‘tude to the blues-of all things. Blues cat back in the days were rebels, man. You didn’t mess with those cats.

B411: I’ll cut you if you stand, I’ll shoot you if you run?!
GGR: There you go. Very direct.

B411: I say to the blues purists, I like to say hip hop and rap are urban blues. “Oh no, you don’t understand”. I say – Where did you grow up man? Where do you live now?
There it is. The old blues guys were hardworking people, who worked during the day doing shit that you couldn’t get a Mexican to do. And on the night or on the weekends when the check came in, they went to the plantations and little juke joints and played for money. And they dressed up. And they brought it because it was about life. Now, …
GGR: It’s got this whole other thing going on.

B411: But back to Chris, who have you played with?
Chris: When I was about 17 to 21, I was playing in a classic rock band in Fredericksburg, VA with a bunch of folks that were about 3 times my age. Because I’m from the DC area. I was 18, and they were in their 50′s. So I kind of got my classic rock education from them. Eventually, when I turned 21, I decided I wanted to move down to Austin, TX and try to pursue music for a career. Because growing up in that area, there’s not a whole lot … there is a thriving scene, but it’s like a pipe dream to be able to do that. To play music for a living. So, I was like, you know what, I’m 21 and I have nothing to lose, so I’m going to give it a try. I cashed out some bonds that my great-grandmother gave me throughout my life, so I had $3,000 and I made that stretch over 3 months. Which was pretty easy, actually, after renting everything. I started applying to straight jobs. It didn’t work. I had an Associate’s Degree, and still I couldn’t get a callback to work at the freaking sunglass pagoda. But luckily enough, the phone started ringing. I started picking up gigs when things started getting really rough. I ended up playing with a lot of great Austin musicians and a lot of great national musicians like I got the opportunity to play several times with the legendary Pinetop Perkins. I played with Pinetop Perkins a whole lot around Austin, TX. He was fantastic. So as a result, I’ve got the songs “Chicken Shack”, “How Long”, “Got my mojo working“, “Mississippi” ingrained in my head.

Chris Alexander keenly aware of what is going on while on stage.

Chris Alexander keenly aware of what is going on while on stage.

B411: But, from him.
Chris: From him. The thing that a lot of people don’t say about Pinetop is that Pinetop had a great sense of time. He wasn’t just a piano player. Even into his later years, he’s sit there and his foot would keep the beat right where it was supposed to go. You’d follow his foot and you don’t move. And it wouldn’t move. He was just, he just plays over all these solos up until the day he died. But I got the opportunity to play with him a lot which was very special to me. I got the chance to play with some great Texas artists like JT Coldfire, Eric Tessmer, Alan Haynes. I even got to play with Gary Clark Junior on several occasions. He’s fantastic, I love him.
I’m really proud to see the stuff he’s doing right now. But I was playing at the historic Maggie May’s with Eric Tessmer, when Rob Lee, who plays with Johnny Sansone, Mia Borders, Mike Zito, all that, comes in. And we’re talking a little bit. I’ve known him for a little bit. He was talking about, he called me a couple of days later and said hey man, Mike Zito is looking for a bass player, are you interested? And I said YES! Absolutely. I had heard of Mike Zito, and I’d like to do some road work. Yeah, sure, why not? So Mike gets in touch with me. Sends me “Pearl River” and “Today”. So I learn all that stuff, and Mike says, “Alright, I’ll see you in Wichita.” 

B411: And there it is!
Chris: And there it is! The rest is history. And actually, on the second gig, we played Knuckle Heads in Kansas City which is where I met Samantha Fish. We became friends, and the rest is history!

Chris & Mike Zito

Chris & Mike Zito

B411: Did you record with Zito?
Chris: I did not. I actually came in a little soon to be part of the “Greyhound” record.
B411: I’m just curious, because I saw Zito in Delaware when Rob was his drummer. Were you playing with him them?
Chris: Maybe. It’s very possible.

B411: I’ll have to look back at our pictures. We took a bunch a pictures, and I’m sure we took pictures of everybody.
Chris: It could have been anyone from Lonnie Trevino Jr to John – I don’t know his last name, he’s playing with Guitar Shorty right now – and myself.

B411: It’s just funny. Oh yeah, wait a minute, that was you?
Chris: Believe me, that’s happened to me before! That’s a compliment to a bass player. That means, though I want to stand out to a certain degree, I don’t want to be a distraction from the rest of the show.

B411: For both of you guys, that’s not your job. Your job is not to stand out. It’s your job to fade, just be there, be the background, be the wall.
GGR: Provide a strong foundation.
Chris: We’re supposed to be the engine. The Engine for the train.

B411: I’ve learned to listen since I’ve been doing this.
GGR: We chose our instruments for a reason. Once you get into the instrument and you get into how your instrument works with others. Now you get to the whole psychology thing of it. It’s just fascinating. What makes this work?

Chris: Why don’t you tell Chefjimi how you came across playing drums?
B411: I was just going to ask that!
Chris: See I’m right there for you! You can say that you asked that in the interview.
B411: No, no. You’re more than just a bass player, your bright, cognizant and witty! Want some more Absinthe?

Always prepared.

Always prepared.

Chris: Give me some more Absinthe and I’ll be really witty.

GGR: Growing up in Dallas, TX where I was born and raised. It was a treat to stay up on Friday nights and Saturday nights with your big brother and sister to watch “Midnight Special”. To watch Don Kirschner’s Rock Concert. To watch ABCs “In Concert”. And you see the band, but there’s the guy in the back who’s all this. (Hands flying around) And I’m like, what’s going on back there? I’m like, ok, I don’t have a drum set but your mom has dishes.

Chris: And wooden spoons.
GGR: The best pots and pans made the best sounds. To me. My mom didn’t want to hear that. I’m putting a woopin’ on her dishes! She’s putting a woopin’ on me. My Dad is like, “what’s wrong with you boy? What’s wrong with you?” Then, hitting a bean bag, that’s like a bass drum. So I’m just ruining stuff. And they said, buy this boy a drum so he can play. That’s how I started man.

B411: Damn straight, ain’t that what almost all of us did? You talk about it, and why don’t we have those shows on any more? But you know what those show would be now? Those shows would be what popular music is now.
Chris: Like Tayor Swift, Justin Bieber and garbage.

B411: It’s not the same.
GGR: It’s all polished. They didn’t know what they were doing back then. They were just trying to get music to the masses. They were innovating.
Chris: They were having fun back then.
GGR: Here’s a music show. We’ve got all these bands. Ok, you’re all going to get along. You’re all going to play.
Chris: Show up mostly sober to the gig!

B411: Yeh that helps. I remember seeing Hendrix on Dick Cavett.
Chris: I loved that interview! I saw that on the internet. I didn’t see it live.
GGR: That was a beautiful interview. That was Jimi being Jimi
B411: Ray, that’s a perfect word to describe what Jimi was – he was beautiful man, (said  in a Jimi voice). I loved Jimi.
Chris: My favorite quote was Dick Cavett: “What makes you get up everyday?” and Jimi said “Man, I just try to get up everyday!” [Laughing] I loved that man!
B411: And you can just hear him say that in his voice. “I just try to get up everyday”. He was totally floatin’ round and round…

Chris: What did he say? Dick: “How do you feel about being one of the greatest guitar player in the word? “ And Jimi was like, “no, not at all”. Dick: “Well, you’re at least the greatest guitar player in the building.” And Jimi said “Well, how about I’m the greatest guitar player sitting in this seat right now?”
B411: And that attitude has transferred to you guys. I was talking to Mike Zito and Eric Lindell today. I know them both. I’m standing there talking to them, and I’m like damn, I can’t talk to you guys. You guys have so much talent between you. Why am I talking to you? And Zito goes, “no, I’m standing next to talent” (meaning Eric). But you guys are humble.

GGR: That’s the only way to be. It’s how you keep growing.
Chris: Absolutely.
B411: It’s just amazing. I just love it. That humility and, of course the talent level, was what drew me in and made me want to do what I am doing now.

GGR: I’m sure you’ve seen your share of musicians, they know when they walk thru the door, they’re the best thing ever.
Chris: Yeah, really bad ass.
GGR: You don’t have time for that.
Chris: Albert Castiglia brought up a good point while we were over at his house a couple of days ago watching Sunday Night Football.
B411: Name dropper! Hah, talk about a modest and heavily talented cat.
Chris: So we were over at Albert’s house watching football. He made a really good point, that this business for some folks, not all, some folks it really twists them. It twists up your ego and it’s really easy for that to happen. But, doing just normal stuff, hanging out, talking to people, having a drink of Absinthe. (Drink mixing sounds in the back ground)

I didn’t start out to do this. I’ve always loved music. Hendrix, but before Hendrix were The Beatles. These guys had guitars. The guitar was an instrument. A guitar used to be, there was talk about Bill Haley, but that didn’t register with me. Because that was corporate white people. It didn’t have the soul. My brother loved it. To me, it was like, there’s something missing. Then, The Beatles came out and they played pretty guitars. And that was the sound of the band. It was 3 guitars – one was a bass – but it was 3 guitars and a drummer. That was pretty cool. It took me into Cream, Hendrix.

GGR: Possibly the Stones? When the Stones came up.
B411: Oh absolutely. The Stones weren’t my favorite. I was a Beatles boy. The Beatles, Dave Clark Five, The Animals. That’s where I learned about John Lee Hooker. Burden (Eric) is still out there doing stuff with Tony Braunagel.

Chris: We saw them when we were in Annapolis, Maryland. That blues festival up there.
B411: If I could just jump to Tony Braunagel. To me, Tony is an incredible drummer. You hear other drummers all the time. What, to you, makes a good drummer? You guys play all the time. This is what you do for a living. Outside of the male modeling that Chris does, but we won’t go there.

Day of the Bassist of the Dead!

Day of the Bassist of the Dead!

Chris: Hey man, being an underwear model ain’t easy. [Lots of laughing]
B411: How do you put all those socks in your shorts and still look comfortable?
Chris: It’s an ancient Chinese secret!
B411: It’s like Fung Shui!

GGR: First of all, you just hear a drummer with a great groove. Probably playing the simplest beat ever. Just playing a simple beat and you just go, man, he means that. It’s cool. He’s laying it down, you’re moving to it. Then he may give you just a smidgen of razzle dazzle. Then you go, there’s something going on with this cat. He knows his job. He’s playing for the music. He gets a little feature here and there. But he still plays with the music. That’s how you tell. A great groove and everything is just right. The dynamics of the band.
Chris: I totally agree.
GGR: He’s not getting in the way. He’s not a distraction.

B411: If we’re doing the root thing, I go back to Ginger Baker, this guy had an afro-rhythm going.
GGR: Game changer. He was in a rock band, but he had this other element. That made you pay attention. This crazy guy, why is he doing this?

Chris: “Sunshine of Your Love” are you kidding me?
B411: (Doing the drum double beat) But compare that to Mitch Mitchell,
Chris: Who was doing all that Jazz.
GGR: A Jazz drummer who got a cool rock gig. And they said, Mitch you just play. You do what you do. Jimi will take care of the rest.
B411: That’s why I asked. You guys are professionals. You hear people differently than I do. What do I really know about drumming?

Wrestlin' With the Groove!

Wrestlin’ With the Groove!

GGR: But you’re going off of a feeling. If the music is feeling good, they have your attention.
Chris: And that’s the beautiful thing about that. I always love hearing an audience’s reaction to a musician. A lot of the times, the person in the audience isn’t trained in music. So, it’s just going off of what they feel. To me, I agree with what Go Go Ray said about drummers. If the guy can just lay it down, just lay down a simple 4 on the floor, and just make it feel good. That, to me is a good drummer. It’s the same thing with Bass players. A Bass player can be technically proficient all they want, and be able to play a million and one notes. I’m a huge Jaco Pastorius fan. Huge Jaco fan. Every bass player is. Would I play that many notes in Samantha’s gig or Mike Zito’s gig? No. I wouldn’t do that. It wouldn’t fit. I want to keep my gig.

GGR: Yeah, discipline.
Chris: Whenever you hear a musician, whenever you hear a bass player or a drummer or even a guitar player, you can just tell. You can intrinsically tell that they know their shit. That they’ve studied. That they learned this. They lived this. Eat, breathe, sleep and shit this music. And they can do these cool multiple note runs, but they don’t. It’s discipline. It’s knowing when and when not to use that information. I’ve learned on Jaco’s record “Portrait of Tracy” forwards and back, I learned “Teen Town”, I learned a lot of his stuff. I really loved his stuff. I got obsessed with it. It took me a solid, I was listening to his stuff nonstop for almost 5 years.

B411: Ok guys we have spent way to  much time in this here room, the fung-shui is in perfect order, the Reflections In Absinthe has been recorded, now lets get back to this cruise.
The lag time on this is a bit long even for me, but I firmly believe things happen for a reason. case in point, this was posted Wednesday 2/26 on Chris Alexander’s Facebook page.

“Tomorrow, I embark on my last trip with Samantha Fish and Go-Go Ray. It’s been such a pleasure to be a part of this group for the past year and a half, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. I’m so grateful I’ve gotten to make so many incredible friends and make unforgettable memories.
I will always cherish the time I spent in the band, and will always love the people I spent it with. There is absolutely no ill will or bad blood between us, and I will always consider them some of my closest friends and I wish them the absolute best.
My final show with Samantha will be at the Blues Blast festival in Phoenix on the 8th and it’s damn sure to be a good time! 
Thank you guys for everything.”

I will miss Chris, and the dynamic that he brought to the band. He will go on and do fine, Samantha and GoGo Ray will do so also.
It is music, it is art, it is fleeting and always changing. See the music while you can, take nothing for granted. Thank you Chris, thank you GoGo Ray and thank you Samantha for bringing these cats into my life.. There is so much good that comes from all of this – good luck and my continuing support for what you all do.

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2014
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph
Where Blues Thrives


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Filed under Blues, Blues411, Bluescruise, Entertainment, Festivals, Interviews, Music, Opinion, Performance Review, Rock & Roll

Interview: Tampa Bay Blues Festival-Sun, Beach & The Blues

Tampa Bay Blues Festival April 11, 12, 13, 2014

Tampa Bay Blues Festival
April 11, 12, 13, 2014

When you order your VIP package for the Tampa Bay Blues Festival, please email me at telling me you purchased the package along with your name and address and we will coordinate a special thank you from us and The Tampa Bay Music Festival.

B411: Why would I want to go to the Tampa Bay Blues festival? What separates it from some other festivals?

Chuck Ross: Like many of the festivals, we do strive to bring in the top blues talent from around the country to our festival. We pride ourselves on not only having great headliners but having very excellent performers early in the day. People like Tad Robinson and Nikki Hill and people like that are great performers, but they’re playing early for us this year.
This is our 20 year anniversary in 2014. We have a long history of providing great Blues Music. We receive the KBA (Keeping the Blues Alive) Award for top American Blues Festival in 2011. We take it seriously and enjoy what we do.

B411: That’s interesting. Because there were a couple of things that attracted me to your festival over the years. This will be my first year attending since it was always the wrong time for us when we lived in upstate NY.
Looking at your headliners, Buddy Guy on Friday, Michael McDonald on Saturday and Irma Thomas on Sunday – you can’t top that! Come on!

Mr. Buddy Guy

Mr. Buddy Guy

CR: I agree. I’m really excited about all those shows. But then you throw in shows like Shemekia Copeland, Coco Montoya, Matt Schofield, and Tommy Castro, Lil’ Ed, The Blind Boys of Alabama and James Hunter – who’s very popular down here. It’s great at the top, but it’s pretty darn good throughout.
Our goal is to not just hire a great headliner and then other band that are not perhaps great performers. We want people to come at noon and see a band that will really blow their mind.
I’m a blues musician as well as a festival organizer. To me, it’s all about the music and it’s all about live performance. I think that every band we book, I’ve either seen or know and I can vouch that they will not disappoint.

B411: I haven’t seen Nikki Hill yet, but I know enough about her to know that she’s going to be great. I think that tends to separate really good festivals from other second tier festivals. The second line of artists you have, they’re really amazing. I’ve seen James Hunter. I haven’t seen him with his band of 6, so that should be fun.
Can we talk about Michael McDonald a bit? This guy has won 5 Grammys, nominated 7 times!
CR: 5 Grammys and multiple platinum records. He had a great career with the Doobie Brothers as you know. But he also had a great career with Steely Dan. It was pretty amazing to me when I was considering him, how many great Steely Dan songs he either sang or wrote. It was pretty remarkable if you look at it.
Now that he’s gone with his solo career, he seems to me more like the ‘Blue-eyed Soul’ kind of music that we consider part of the blues heritage. On Saturday night we wanted to have a headliner that could cross over and draw some people in who maybe weren’t total blues purists – but who wanted to hear a great concert. I hope it does give us a little bit of a broader appeal. I know a lot of festival organizers are criticized sometimes in the blues community for hiring a band or two that don’t fit the classic blues definition. But the Blues purists need to understand that if we don’t broaden the tent and bring in some bands that will help draw a crowd, we won’t have the resources to do it again next year.

Shemekia & Arthur

Shemekia & Arthur

B411: Absolutely. I’m there for you on that! That was part of the thinking. We know how hard it is to put on festivals, fiscally, entertainment wise and beyond. Sometimes it’s year to year, there are fests taking a year off here and there. I think it’s a good thing to expand to the non-blues purists, the casual fan. Maybe they’ll come early and see Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials before that. And say “wow, they’re really good” and maybe,… heck I go into the blues thru the Stones and the Allman Brothers. I wasn’t listening to Little Milton.
CR: So was I. That’s the whole point. You go and hear someone who’s influenced by the Blues, then you hear other great Blues performers and you realize how great the music is. Atoned then, you’re hooked! And then you dig deeper. How many rock n roll enthusiasts from back in the 70’s went to hear the Grateful Deal or Santana and wound up hearing Albert King or BB King or Buddy Guy and got turned on to the blues. Millions of people who went to those early rock shows and came away as blues converts.

B411: And I think that it’s important that we keep doing that. On one hand, you want to preserve it, but then preserving is sort of like is like the brain of Frankenstein – you put it in a jar and you preserve it. It never grows or expands. It’s just there.
CR: You’re right about that. It’s always an interesting balance you try to strike between traditional blues and more cross-over blues, African American artists, artists from other cultures, female vs male performers. All of that goes into your thinking as you try to put together a balanced line up that has a little something for everybody.

B411: I know even Nikki Hill has had some push back from certain sectors. I remember reading something she wrote about how “they don’t think we’re the blues, but we’re music. We’re good music, You’re going to love it. Come see us.”

The Soul Queen of New Orleans

The Soul Queen of New Orleans

CR: Rick Booth, President of Intrepid Artists, is one of the top blues talent agents in the country has told me repeatedly this year that Nikki Hill is one of his very hottest artist, even though she’s a newer artist. You’ve got to remember, she’s in there with Curtis Salgado, Janiva Magness, so you draw your own conclusions. I think she’s going to hold her own!

B411: I’m sure she will! That’s the nice thing. You’ve got to open it up. I think BB said, there’s two kinds of music – good music and bad music. And if you really believe that blues is the roots and all else is the fruits, then it’s all blues. Just in one form or another.
CR: I like that phrase. I may steal that one!

B411: Please use it at will.
Now, I want to talk about your VIP packages. You are doing some incredible things there this year.
CR: We have really put a lot of time and thought and effort into trying to create a very enjoyable festival experience, particularly for our demographic which maybe in the 40s, 50s or 60s. And we want them to have a good time. We’ve developed a VIP package where we set up these huge tents that are open so that you can see out under them. They are huge canopies.

Then we have about 7 restaurants from the area who cater restaurant food presentations twice a day. We have complementary beer, wine and sodas. We do not limit people to just a couple of glasses. We serve it until they run out! People are usually very happy to come and find out that they can drink as much as they want without being monitored or restricted.

Big Sam's Funky Nation

Big Sam’s Funky Nation

B411: I can dig that, I might even drink!
CR: The new thing we have this year, and this is something I’ve seen firsthand, and I’m just really excited about it. And you being a chef, I know you’re going to get where I’m coming from.
There’s the Art Institute in Tampa which is an international organization where they train and teach young people how to be involved in the hospitality trade. How to become a chef, how to cook and do all the things that are required to run a successful restaurant. They are going to be setting up a mobile kitchen on site, right on the Blues Festival grounds, and they will be preparing and serving to our VIP patrons high-end, custom Hors d’oeuvres and also handmade desserts of various types.
It’s so far beyond what most people experience at a “festival”, that I hope will really surprise a lot of folks and really makes their purchasing of a VIP package something that they will feel they really got their money’s worth.
We’ve never done anything quite on this magnitude. We’re not charging any more for the VIP than we have in the past. We’re just making it better. So people who choose to buy it can sit up front, watch the bands, be pampered with great food throughout the day and have complementary beer, wine and socialize with their friends. It’s nothing novel to have a VIP section at a blues festival. But what’s novel about this is the level of excellence that we’re trying to achieve with both the food and the other components.

B411: I’ve been to a few where the VIP is basically a table off to the side. And you can get a beer. This sounds really great. It seems that you are pushing the envelope. I’m sure it’s going to be successful.
CR: The Blues fans, if they could understand the economics of this. We want to give them a great experience. We want to give them an experience they would not normally receive at a regular rock concert or most other festivals. But the reason we’re trying to make it so good is because the VIP customers have become the foundation, or a major part of the foundation of the festival survival. They pay more money to come in, they receive more benefits. But the money they spend is the rock upon which we construct the festival.
The days of huge corporate sponsorship have diminished. I’m not saying they’re not there, but they’re not at the levels they used to be. We have found that if we want to survive and spend the kind of money we do on talent and production, we had to find another source for revenues. So the serious blues lovers, who will spend a little more and do the VIP, they are the ones who are guaranteeing there will be a future blues festival here in Tampa.

British Bluesman Matt Schofield

British Bluesman Matt Schofield

B411: We’re not necessarily the youngest demographic. I think it’s wonderful that if I buy a VIP ticket, I’m going to be able to sit in the shade – cause while it’s not steaming how, it’s still warm out there in the sun in Tampa at this time of year. That I can get good food and free wine and beer. Come on! How bad is that?
CR: We want it to be really good. If the blues fan understood how important it is to have the financial ability to continue the festival and to keep festival General Admission prices down at an affordable level. It does all those things. I don’t have to tell you about the line up that we have. You can do the math on how much all the bands cost and you realize very quickly that you can’t sell enough $40 tickets to pay for all that.
B411: It sounds like you’re going to be very successful. And with the success of that, I’m sure you’ll be challenging other festivals to up their game. The more that offer really high end stuff, the more people are going to frequent the VIP areas.
CR: We are trying to be generous to our VIPs.

B411: Absolutely, I see that and understand. Also you are offering a Champagne brunch?
CR: Yes, that’s on Sunday with a Champagne brunch with Mimosas and things like that.
B411: This is not bad!
CR: It’s supposed to be fun!
B411: HELLO ! I’m thinking you’d be hard pressed not to have fun.
CR: We really count on Blues Fans from around the country to make the effort and come down here. I think that’s another critical component to making our festival a success. There are not enough folks living in the Tampa Bay area who love the blues who will come and keep this event alive. We really need others to come to our festival. We value and appreciate the out of town fan and know how important they are. We know that a lot of them are readers of Blues411. So we hope you can get them to come to our festival!
I know that some people plan their vacations around the Tampa Bay Blues Festival. We have a group coming from Australia. It’s 30 something hours in the air to come to Tampa. God Bless them!

2013 IBC Winner  Selwyn Birchwood

2013 IBC Winner
Selwyn Birchwood

B411: You might have to give them a lonesome traveler award!
CR: A special plaque for enduring the most pain for the blues!
B411: Those are all fun things that you can do that add to the overall gestalt of the event. Anything else you want to share with our readers?
CR: We also have a few added value things on the web site that people should know about. On Thursday night (April 10th), we’re having for the first time, a kick-off party at the Palladium Theater in St. Petersburg, FL.

That’s a historic beautiful acoustically wonderful theater that seats around 800 people. Intimate but yet it’s big and beautiful. On Thursday night, we’re showing a moving called “Killer B3”
This is film documentary of the history of the Hammond B3 organ. (For short movie trailer, click here It was produced by a couple of filmmakers from Florida who will be at the kick-off party to meet people and talk about the film.
It has some of the luminaries like Jimmy Smith, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Joey De Francesco, Tony Monaco. Some of the best B3 players in the world are in the film. Then what makes it doubly exciting, after the film is shown, we have Tony Monaco coming into town and he’s going to put on a concert with Shawn Brown and some of our other performers from Tampa Bay. I don’t think Tony has ever played in the Tampa market and he’s a Jimmy Smith disciple. He’s the real deal on the B3.

Then on Friday and Saturday night after the festival, for people who just can’t get enough, you can walk from Vinoy Park to the Palladium. It’s less than ½ mile. Check our web site. Three of the artists from each day come into the Palladium and they’ll play other materials.

  • Friday: Matt Schofield, Coco Montoya and Selwyn Birchwood.
  • Saturday: Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials, Tommy Castro and The Painkillers and Nikki Hill

B411: So it will be new and fresh. Not recycled sets of music that we have already heard.
CR: A broader repertoire. And it’s very informal. They’re usually jamming and collaboration going on. A whole different vibe. It’s a ton of fun and it’s all within walking distance.

For people who travel to Tampa Bay, we have some unique things in our downtown area in St. Petersburg that maybe a lot of people don’t know about. They don’t really know about our little secret gem here on the west coast. Our downtown is very vibrant. We have lots of restaurants and nightclubs and music scene around town. Our whole downtown is right on the waterfront, right on Tampa bay. We also have some world class museums, including a brand new Dali museum, which is the largest collection of Dali works under one works outside of Spain. So people could come to Tampa for the Blues Festival, then sneak over to the Dali museum for a few hours, come back for the night show. We also have some of the nicest beaches in the whole world right here on the west coast of Florida. In fact, I recommend that people stretch it into a 4 or 5 day experience!
Lots of people come to the Blues Festival, then decide to move here. I think the mayor should give us an award for getting the most residents for St. Petersburg!

Tommy Castro

Tommy Castro

B411: Yes, we’ve been to Ybor City in Tampa and had some great Cuban food there.
CR: Speaking of Cuban food, we have 40 or 50 different food vendors: Everything from Cuban to bbq to specialty food and sea food, southern style food. We also have arts and crafts vendors’ right on the festival sight. It’s not just watching the music. It becomes a small city.
Also I should mention that our festival is a not-of-profit event. I never really brag that much about raising for Charity. But we are a 501c3 non-profit event. Our money goes to charity – our major charity partner that’s been with us for 20 years is the Pinellas Association for Retarded Children. (PARC) They are very under budgeted by the State of Florida. They count on us and other sources – they told us that after 20 years, we’re a line item in their budget! Blues Festival support!

We don’t have paid officers or directors of the Blues Festival. No one draws a salary.

B411: The blues is truly a community. We all tend to take care of each other. We all understand the way things work.
CR: It’s a good crowd to be stuck with! What I have found, is that people who love blues music, will drive thru snow storms, hail, sleet, hurricanes, earthquakes. They don’t care. They will do whatever it takes to support the music. We might not be the largest faction of music devotes, but it is the most dedicated!
Jimi, you better be careful with your chef credentials – I might have to go steal you and put you with the other chefs!!

B411: [Laughing] I better brush up. I only cook for one person now and that’s Leslie!

Everyone should check out the web site for all the details.

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2014
Photos by; Leslie K. Joseph
Where Blues Thrives

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Filed under Blues, Blues411, Charity, Entertainment, Festivals, Interviews, Music, Performance Review, Wednesday's One