Friday’s Festival Preview: The Pennsylvania Blues Fest

It’s festival time thru much of the nation, and as always, we like to spotlight those outstanding festivals and folks who IMG_1718_1810_edited-1Awork so hard to bring you the mot outstanding Blues music events around town. 
The Pennsylvania Blues Festival is in it’s 24th year, and this year has moved to a new fan friendly location. Read more as we chat with Michael Cloeren about what’s in store for the folks this year . . .

Blues411: Michael, it’s great to talk with you again, it’s been a while. We’re looking ahead to the Pennsylvania Blues Festival on July 24, 25 and 26th. Congratulations on celebrating 24 years of Blues in the Poconos! After 4 years at Blue Mountain, you’ve moved the festival to Split Rock Resort in Lake Harmony, PA. Tell me about this new location.
Michael Cloeren: Thank You, we all keep pretty busy in the Blues.. Twenty-four consecutive years of real deal blues in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania is something that myself and our staff are very proud of!

The Location is 2 miles from the original site (Big Boulder Ski Area) at Split Rock Resort-They host The Pennsylvania Wine Festival (1991 to the present) there for 25 consecutive years, so the festival layout is ideal for outdoor events with a concert size stage facing up the ski slope (sounds familiar?) and a 9000 square foot performance tent stage positioned at another location with plenty of food and non-food vendors in a shady grove between the stages.

Blues411: Hmm, lemme think, ahh, Bluestock. Let me say, I know when we went to Blue Mountain, lodging was IMG_3571always a little bit of a challenge. What are the hotels like at Split Rock Resort and are there other hotels that are close by? Will you still have a camping area?
MC: Split Rock Resort has a few hundred units on site either at The Galleria or The Split Rock Lodge all within walking distance of the festival grounds. Plus within a five mile radius of the site there are 12 hotels-all this info is on our new website There is no on site camping at this venue BUT there are 5 campgrounds within a 20 minute drive also at

Blues411: Sounds quite a bit more ‘accommodating’. I know you’re always fine-tuning things at your festival. What are you doing different this year vs last year?
MC: This year the Friday Night, Saturday Night & Sunday Morning Brunch Showcases are going to be located inside a spacious ballroom a few hundred yards from the festival grounds. This venue has major room for growth and the local businesses are ecstatic to have the event back in the area after a four year absence!

IMG_1374_4663_edited-1Blues411: That really does make it easier to deal with weather incursions, for everyone involved, cool. So, do you have any bands that are playing for the first time at your festival?
MC: Yes – we have 8 Bands performing for the first time, which means almost half of the bands have never performed in the Poconos before! The new bands are:

  1. Dwayne Dopsie
  2. Selwyn Birchwood
  3. Sugar Ray & The Bluetones
  4. The Highway QC’s
  5. Vaneese Thomas
  6. Victor Wainwright
  7. The Peterson Brothers
  8. Alvin Youngblood Hart

Blues411: Holy shake the chandeliers Batman, those bands in themselves are top of the line. I see that you still have 2 stages. On Saturday night, Shemekia Copeland is playing opposite Dwayne Dopsie & the Zydeco Hellraisers. Then on Sunday, LiL’ Ed & The Blues Imperials are playing opposite Victor Wainwright & The Wild Roots. Wow! How’s a person supposed to choose which band to go see?
MC: The goal of any good programmer is to make tough choices for the guests – with Shemekia and Lil Ed playing 90 minute sets on the main stage and the tent acts playing 60 minutes, there is time to catch all of the acts but you have to plan ahead!

IMG_8395_3883Blues411: That’s a great way to allow folks to catch some of each set, cool. Who’s going to be the surprise band this year? Do you have anybody who you think will absolutely slay everyone? Anyone you can’t wait to watch from back stage and see the audience just turn into Jell-O?
MC: There are several events that should “slay” people.

MC: There are several events that should “slay” people.

1)The Saturday Night Showcase-9:45pm to 1:30am is truly a once in a lifetime event-The last time all of Johnny Copeland’s band members were all on stage together was June of 1997(Johnny passed 7/3/97). We will have up to 12 band members on stage with Shemekia Copeland singing her dads great songs–an event not to be missed. Tickets are $10 in advance!

2) The Highway QC’s are opening the main stage Sunday at 1 PM. They’re a Traditional Gospel group at its best, and have a Blind Boys of Alabama vibe.

3) Shemekia’s set Saturday night will be very emotional. Lake Harmony is her second home and The Festival is presenting Johnny Copeland a Lifetime Achievement Award to the Copeland Family prior to Shemekia’s Set. Tears will be rolling down my face for sure!

Blues411: The Gospel opening on Sunday has always been amazing, I want to thank you allowing a self-appointed sinner like me to bring these great artists to the stage in such an awesome event. Thanks Michael! Blues411 will be at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival taking and posting pictures, so be sure to follow us on Facebook. Everyone should “Like” The PA Blues Festival on Facebook. And for up to date information, visit their web site at

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2015
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411

Too Slim Sits a Spell . . .

One of the fun things about doing live sit down interviews with artists is where it goes. Like this one with Too Slim, where we sat and talked about his illness and recovery, and what it meant as an artist to be out of work so long and all of that. But in the middle of all this we hit the nugget.  I had wanted to talk about ‘Anthology how an artist compiles the music for such a release. While not quite a best of, it was a double CD with new stuff as well as vaulted material.
That led to marketing and sales and turned out to be a very interesting and illuminating discussion on the current state of the genre and music in general.
So sit back and enjoy as we magically transport to the middle of a long conversation . . .

Too Slim AnthologyB411: Speaking of releases, your last one, Anthology, I thought that was a great idea. So many of these reflective or collections are mediocre things that people put out. Like the B tracks. But this seemed to be the perfect retrospective for your fans. It took me a bit to find you and get into you. But also for people who don’t know you, it was a great thing to do. How did you choose some of your earlier work as opposed to newer material?
Tim: I thought about it, we relocated to a different part of the country (Seattle to Nashville). I have a lot of CDs out. You go to a gig and you have 6 or 7 of them for sale. You’re at a new place and no one’s ever heard of you. And of course you want to sell them the latest one. I’m very proud of Blue Heart. It got nominated for Blues Rock album of them year, and other awards. Number 3 on billboard blues chart.

You know how it is, you can download CDs now. I figured that some of the old CDs, you don’t keep a big stock of them and we’re an independent label. Some of the older ones, I’m not going to order them until I have to. Plus I had some new songs, but our daughter had been in an accident last March and that was a serious thing. And she was in the hospital for a long time and she was living with us and we had to take care of her. That kind of put a hold on things for us. Then I had cancer. It wasn’t a good year for us.

The thinking about putting out Anthology was people were asking us if we had a greatest hits CD. Not that we had any hits.

IMG_6001B411: Well, you did. (Laughing)
Tim: At least the best of!
B411: You can do it with a smile on your face “Greatest hits”!
Tim: The greatest hits that I think should have been! Anyway, I started thinking about it at the end of 2013. I put these little play lists together that I thought would be good. I was on Birdside Records in the 90’s and they sold the catalog to a larger conglomerate – Allegro Media. When they bought the catalog, I had the option of buying it myself, but they made all these promises about they were going to re-generate the label and re-release new albums and put money in the catalog. Then, after they promised all that, they didn’t do a damn thing.

I regret letting those releases go without buying them. I should have just bought the masters myself. I’ve always had Underworld Records. My first couple of albums are all on Underworld Records. Then starting in 2003 with “Tales of Sin & Redemption”, I have the rights to all those albums. I didn’t want to go back further than that since I didn’t want to have to deal with those people.

So we’re talking about the last 10 or 12 years. As I said, I wanted to record some new songs. So I recorded some new songs to add to the Anthology and also included some music off my solo/acoustic albums. It’s hard to pick which ones you want to put on it. I kept changing the list. Then I thought, well let’s just a double CD. I did one Rock and Blues CD and one kind of a mellower one.

B411: Yeah, that was great!
Tim: So then I had to decide what to cut out. I think I came up with a good representation of my music.

B411: I enjoyed the songs that I was familiar with. But some of your acoustic work was pretty outstanding also! And, I must say, ‘Little Gun Motel’ is a seriously great kick-ass song.
Tim: With the new songs, I collaborated with Tom Hambridge. ‘Little Gun Motel’ was a song that Tom presented to me that he had written with Jim Suhler. I thought that was a great song. I can use this one! It’s right up my alley.
B411: That thing rocked!
Tim: It’s a fun up tempo rocker.

B411: We wound up playing that a lot on our radio chart and show. It was something new and we try to feature new music on our show. It’s the anthology album, but we wanted our listeners to hear some of your new material too. We wanted the general public to see that you’re still vital. Wow. That’s a frightening term! You’re not just sitting back on your ass playing your old stuff.
Tim: I know what you mean. In today’s world, being vital is putting out something every three months.

B411: I know, and that’s crazy!
Tim: You have to rethink the whole CD/Album thing because realistically the younger kids don’t even buy CDs. Our CDs get in stores, but we don’t have the budget for advertising like record labels or bigger labels.

B411: It’s almost like its back to the 50’s and 60’s where it was a singles market.
Tim: Right!
B411: In a strange sort of way. But they’re digital singles.
Tim: And it’s hard to come up with the money. Then you have to have songs to keep in front of the public. In the old days – 10 or 15 years ago – you put out a CD and it has shelf-life. Because people would friend you here. Or you go on a tour and meet a bunch of new fans. Now, people just go and see what’s on their phone every day.

B411: You and I both probably went to the record store to see what’s out there.
Tim: You’d flip thru all the records or you’d read something in the blues news or newspapers.
B411: Or hear from a friend, but that is pretty much gone. But it is still there, it can happen on social media, but it has to be organic. By that I mean, via ‘the people’, but yes it still can happen via record labels, or promoters, but one has to have a very good bullschitt detector.
Actually just the other day I had a conversation with someone who asked who am I really excited about these days…so it does happen in ‘real-life’…but of course we were out at an event and had social interaction – that might be the key.
B411: It does seem like it’s getting harder for the small independent artists to reach the audience. I’ve seen lately that music promoters and PR guys are taking it a step further. They’re getting involved in Facebook and twitter and all of that with their artists. You don’t have the time to do that. It’s almost getting to the point where you do need a separate arm to do that stuff. It does cost money, but they seem to be doing a pretty good job of getting that out there.
Tim: Then you do it yourself. I don’t mind going on Facebook. And I love the interaction with the fans. You can be personal. To truly market and promote in today’s environment, you need someone who really knows that stuff. A lot of the younger people really know how to work that stuff.
B411: It’s not just sticking a post on Facebook and hoping it works. You need to have content to connect with your audience.
Tim: It’s always changing. That’s the attention span part of that. Remember My Space?
B411: Yes, I do!
Tim: What’s the next MySpace? Or I had a guy telling me how Google+ was going to eclipse Facebook just a year ago. He was telling me that I needed to have a Google+ account. Then I started doing that. But then there’s not much happening there. Then you can post on Instagram and have it post at the same time on Facebook. Then you have the hash tag. That’s the big new thing. Then you have twitter. I’m trying to figure out twitter at the moment.
B411: At least we don’t have to worry about LinkedIn too much.

IMG_6034B411: You band has been together for quite a long time. Is that good or bad?
Tim: There is an evolutionary process with having a band that long. Most bands change band members from time to time. I was lucky for 16 or so years where I had the same guys in my band.

B411: That’s epic!
Tim: Then you burn out. Things change and you get a new guy in the band and he adds a new dynamic.
B411: Yeah, I saw Jimmy Thackery, when Mark Bumgarner was out ill. Thackery grabbed Rick Knapp, who used to play with Walter Trout before Walter got ill. This guy was knowledgeable, he adds all this stuff to the mix, and that’s got to be great for you as the lead man.
Tim: You get a new prospective and you get new input from your new band members. They play a different way or they have a certain talent that is different from the other person. So it influences your music and what your write. Plus as a song writer, you have to continually evolve and think of new angles for the music. So you don’t just put out the same sounding stuff. You don’t want people to say that it just sounds like their old records. Some people like that, but…

IMG_6051B411: I’ve found that people are comfortable with what they know.
Tim: There have been bands that I really, really like, then for some reason the next one you don’t really like.
B411: Of course.

Tim: And then other people like ‘that one’ the best! (Laughing)
B411: It’s what you’re going thru as the artist at that time. And maybe they’re going thru the same thing. But maybe that doesn’t relate to me right now. I don’t want to hear love songs. I don’t want to hear that. I want something to kick ass with.

Tim: I think music is memories for people. If they bought one of their records at a particular time in life, then they haves really good memories. I get people telling me that one of my older albums is their favorite album because of this… Or I got married at your gig. But as a musician and a song writer you have to evolve because it’s part of the process. I like the difference influences. You can mix blues. I’m a huge fan of traditional blues. I listen to Lightening Hopkins, Muddy Walters, Howlin’ Wolf. It’s all in there. I also listen to bands like Drive-By Truckers and I listen to Led Zeppelin, John Hiatt, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, B.B. King and Freddie King.

B411: They all have an influence on what you do.
Tim: It works its way into your fabric.
B411: The tapestry of what we are as individuals and that extends itself into ‘us’ as a community.
Thank you Too Slim. You can find all things Too Slim at the web site Including his latest tour stops. Be sure to get out and support this cat, he has made great strides coming back from cancer and the related difficulties.

IMG_6059I just saw him in Atlanta and he was as fresh and entertaining as ever.
You can also see some cool pics of the boys when they played at Darwins, in Atlanta. Was their second or third gig since Tim has come back on the road, he was in top form and a fun night was had by everyone.


Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2015
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411


A Baker’s Dozen of Blues: April 13, 2015


BakersDozen15Roundin’ third and headed for home” is what Chuck Berry sang in “Brown-eyed Handsome Man” and a few decades later John Fogerty used that very same line in his big hit “Centerfield”

Well that just about captures all that is going on with us this week, we are ‘headed home’ after the glorious Tampa Bay Blues Festival, look for our Smugmug photo galleries from day 1 & day 2. now and day 3 is up and loading (a long night Sunday night) Also hope you were checking in on our facebook page to see live on the spot shots of all the action. A shout out to Ronnie Earl for his spirit and musicianship – yep again – he was jamming on Sunday and pleasing everyone in the crowd. Hey for all those new friends we made here is a link for the Blues411 store on Zazzle, enjoy shopping!

downloadIt also directly relates to our Amuse Bouche this week – Baseball. No not everyone is a baseball fan, but that don’t confront me. Bill Wax, Bob Sek, Watermelon Slim, George Thorogood. Jay Sieleman, Vinny Marini, Doug MacLeod, Sterling Koch, yeah I could go on (Ricky Stevens) all are big time fans of the National Pastime. So we are a week late, but our heart is in the right place at the right time as we salute baseball and the blues. It is our second hour of the show.

One woman who can throw the heater with her vocal arsenal is Shaun Murphy, and she holds the top slot on our chart this week. Her latest release ‘Loretta‘ is a classic in the rock-blues line-up of music.

2015GTBB-200-AD-1The Ghost Town Blues Band makes their rookie debut on the BDOB chart and air play list. Their brand spanking new release is garnering acclaim from around the world – so be sure you scout them out and draft them into your rotation for a sure winner. Our featured image shows GTBB’s drummer Preston McEwen tuning his sweep broom on the pitcher’s mound at Jackie Robinson field, in Daytona, FL. The other photos below, are also from Daytona. They feature Jeff Jensen, John Nemeth Matt Isbell hamming the mound a la Mount Rushmore. Billy Gibson Chefjimi discussing the uses of a harp on the mound. Finally the manager called for relief with Go-Go Ray taking on a serious pose to beat down the opposition with a key save.
To read an earlier examination of baseball & the blues featuring some of the folks mentioned here visit:

A Baker’s Dozen of Blues, on MojoWax Radio presented by Blues MusicMagazine at

Broadcast times are as follows:
 – 10pm EST
Wednesday – Noon EST
 –  11pm EST
 –  4pm EST

Baker’s Dozen: Current Chart & Playlist on Radio Show 

CW LW CD TITLE Artist/ Web Site Track#/Title
1 2 Loretta Shaun Murphy 5. Strange Life
2 2 Fat Man’s Shine Palor Smokin’ Joe Kubek & B’Nois King 7. Brown Bomba Mojo*
3 5 Morose Elephant Jeff Jensen 6. What’s the Matter With The Mill*
4 4 LIVE from the Park Theatre Jimmi & The Band of Souls 3. Sweet Jesus Blues
5 5 Stranded Greg Nagy 7. Still Doing Fine*
6 6 Terraplane Steve Earle & The Dukes 4. Ain’t Nobody’s Daddy Now
7 8 Memphis Blue Sweet, Strong & Tight Barbara Blue 9. Sweet, Strong & Tight*
8 9 Live & Extended Brandon Santini 5. Have A Good Time*
9 10 Tough Love Tinsley Ellis 2. Midnight Ride*
10 11 Brother Sun Sister Moon Brother Sun Sister Moon 8. My Memphis Blues
11 12 Too Many Men Eight O’Five Jive 7. Feed The Monkeys
12 13 Double EP Dave Muskett 1. Pet That Thing
13 ~ Hard Road To Hoe Ghost Town Blues Band 7. Tied My Worries To A Stone*

*new track

Chef’s Suggestions: The Stuff Ya Gotta Watch

Lucky Dog Brad Absher & Swamp Royale 5. Miss Your Water
Let It Rain Deb Ryder 9. Let It Rain
Faded But Not Gone Big Dave MacLean 5. Sittin On A Fence
Shaman Lover Mary Hott 2. Shaman Lover
Can of Gas & A Match The Bush League 10 Death of Robert
In The Mix Bernard Allison 7. I Had It All The Time
Down By The Bayou JeConte 1. Down By The Bayou
Cakewalk Voodoo Walters 3. Girl On A Scooter
If You Think It’s Hot Here Mike Henderson Band 1. Wanta Know Why
You Can’t Keep A Good Woman Down Low Society 9. No Money Down
Exactly Like This Doug MacLeod 9. Raylene
Electric Field Holler Anthony Gomes 7. The Blues Ain’t The Blues No More

Amuse Bouche: Baseball and the Blues






Dr. John Take Me Out To The Ball Game
Branford Marsalis Star Spangled Banner
Gary Allegretto Throwin’ Heat
Scat Springs You’ve Got To Hit The Right Lick
Mabel Scott Baseball Boogie
Dave Frishberg Van Lingle Mungo
Jerry Jeff Walker Nolan Ryan
Joe Cocker Catfish
Les Brown Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio
Treniers Say Hey
Buddy Johnson Did Ya See Jackie Robinson Hit That Ball
Watermelon Slim Max The Baseball Clown
Sister Wynonna Carr The Ball Game
Chuck Berry Brown Eyed Handsome Man
John Fogerty Centerfield
Abbott & Costello Who’s on First

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2015
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411


Lionel Young Band: The Road To The IBC (re-post/edit)

Yes, we have done it again. With the IBC just a shot away I recalled that we had interviewed Lionel Young about his 2 – yes 2 – IBC titles. One for the band category and one for solo/duo category (the only one to do this).
So here is an edited version (as much as I could) for y’all to read and get jiggy with.
*****Be sure to see Lionel and Johnny Long at this years IBC at The Rum Boogie Cafe Saturday, January 24th from 5:30-9:30.  Also rumor has it he will be appearing at Jenn Ocken’s ‘Blues On Beale Street: Memoirs of IBC” VIP party at Silly Goose on Thursday, 2:00-4:00.

Oh wait he might even be the man about town, so keep your eyes peeled for this super artist.

Lionel Young is the first double champion in the history of the IBC. Lionel Young won the 2008 IBC in the solo-duo category, and the 2011 International Blues Challenge (IBC) band competition as The Lionel Young.

I first met Lionel on the October 2009 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, the infamous ‘cruise to nowhere’. That was the cruise that ran into hurricanes and we did donuts in the Pacific Ocean. It seemed that Lionel was everywhere on that cruise, whether it be playing as a band or jamming in with Debbie Davies, Fiona Boyes and the historic late night jams. He was impressive not only in his musical prowess but also for his openness and friendliness.
I wanted to speak to him because he has roots in Rochester, NY – adopted home of Son House (and me).


B411: You have won the International Blues Challenge twice now, one in 2008 for Solo/Duo, and in 2011 as a Band, congrats !
What made you ‘go back to the drawing board’ and form/re-form as a group?

LY: When I did the IBC the first time in 2008, I originally wanted to bring a band. The seed was sown then to come back and do it that way. It’s just so much funner to play music with others than by your self. It was always in the back of my mind. That’s why there were 6 of us in Memphis.

B411: How has the dynamic changed within the band, and do you think this is the best vehicle for what you are playing?

LY: The dynamic is in the process of shifting from being focused on doing our very best at the IBC to conquering the world as we know it. I’m having a little fun with this question but that answer is partly accurate. We want to focus on touring well, playing with the same commitment,drive and integrity that we had in Memphis. I want us to set our sights higher in the recording department by aiming for a BMA or eventually a Grammy. I’m not sure if it’s the best vehicle for what I’m getting into or not. I’m sure it fun though. It’s kind of like driving a high powered car. It’s more of a luxury. I still like to play by myself too, but I prefer to play with others.

B411: Speaking of winning the IBC’s, did you learn anything about the process, and intimacies of the Challenge, the first time that helped you prepare for the second, and resoundingly successful second attempt?

Lionel YoungLY: Yes I did. I hate to sound cliche, but the more time you put into preparation, the better you’ll do at anything you want to do. We spent a lot of time preparing. I wanted to do my best to put us in a position to win. First, I picked the best players I could find. There I started backwards. I started with the sound I wanted in my head first and picked musicians who best fit that image. Most, but not all were already my friends but friendship wasn’t a priority. Some I’d played with a lot, some not so much. The most important thing was that they were great players that took pride in themselves and the way they played and knew how to play in the texture of the band. Before we played a note to prepare for the local preliminary rounds of the IBC, we worked backwards starting with the judging criteria. We’d talk about everything we did and would choose music according to the judging criteria, trying to maximize the heavier criteria like blues content, showing instrumental and vocal talent. We picked music that showed a good variety of rhythms and feels. We tried to be as original as we could be choosing songs that we wrote. If we did any covers they wouldn’t be something you’d hear at a blues jam. They’d have to serve the purpose of scoring high in other criteria. We dressed up and had a blues dance instructor help us with stage presence & stage show issues. We went in the studio and recorded the “on the way to Memphis” CD which prepared us musically to have a CD’s worth of music really down and tight.

That was one of the hardest things we did. We timed everything, both the songs individually and sets as a whole so we wouldn’t go over. The recording helped us with that. We even took a chance and did an all acapella song that ended up being a our secret weapon. It was a chance to score high in vocal talent if we did it well. We covered Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home”. Not an original tune but an original way of doing it. We tried to do what I knew other bands wouldn’t do to set us apart, like play a real slow blues or play real quiet or with good dynamics.

I knew that making decisions to do stuff that set us apart would be advantageous going into the first IBC in 2008. Almost everyone else in the situation tries to bang you over the head with their music. The IBC a high pressure situation. Because of that we knew that most acts would play louder and faster but not slower and quieter. That’s something I really learned from Josef Gingold, one of my violin teachers. He unlike most people, could play so quiet and beautiful, it would take your breath away. One thing I noticed about guys like BB and Buddy Guy and all the really good bands is that they can play really quiet. People listen harder and get sucked in. All this equipment and watts and amps doesn’t matter as much. Don’t get me wrong, I like to play loud and proud like anyone else. That’s something that just feels good, but loud noises scare the little children and take away many people’s ability to hear. Also, I really tried to connect with the audience by simply looking up. You’d be surprised how many people don’t do that and how important it is to do. Most people want to feel something, a connection to you of some kind. That’s just another thing to think about for any performer. It’s really why you’re there.

B411: Where there differences in the approach you took for these two different categories or was it about the same?

LY: The approach I took was the same, working backwards from the judging criteria. The difference between the two was that I had much longer to prepare for the band which was needed. Getting 6 people on the same page on anything is tough enough. Just getting 6 in demand musicians in the same room for a rehearsal can be challenging. Naturally, 6 people are harder to manage than just one. In 2008 with the solo/duo, I really didn’t get serious until the weekend before the contest. Like many who go to the IBC, there was a send off performance before we left. I felt I played terrible there so I got to work and prepared seriously, practicing for as many hours as I could. In a way it felt like I’d been preparing for it all my life, but if I didn’t really have what I wanted to do down, I would have felt that I wasted an opportunity . I learned an important lesson. Sometimes playing badly can be good for you. It can spur you on to play well later.

B411: You were taking violin lessons when you were six years old at The Eastman.  How did this happen?

LY: It happened this way. My mother saw an article in the local newspaper about a woman who was going to start teaching violin a revolutionary new way. Her name was Anastasia Jempelis. The way that she was teaching is called the Suzuki Method derived from a man from Japan, Shinichi Suzuki. It focused on a thing called the mother tongue method, which is a way of learning music on an instrument by ear or imitation.

B411: Who were your early influences, and who would you say are at your musical Roots?

LY: I would say my earliest strong musical influence was from my family, which was very musical. My mother played piano and organ very well. She played organ in the church we went to. Both of my parents had strong musical tastes. My dad grew up in New Orleans & had lots of records, mostly jazz. My sister was a good pianist in her own right and listened to a lot of soul, R&B and funk. I would often raid my dad and sisters record collections so their music got into my musical veins. My favorites were people to listen to out of their collections were Stevie Wonder, RayCharles, James Brown, Aretha, Miles Davis, and Funkadelic. This was along with the fact that my brother played the cello and I played violin early in our lives. I was 6 and he was 5 when we started. My brother now plays in the Boston Symphony. I consider us lucky to have lived in a city like Rochester and have an Eastman School of Music to go to. Our teachers and fellow students became strong influences. Every week we were exposed to high level musicians playing. Those were my strongest earlier influences. It was later on that I became obsessed with Hendrix and the Beatles, and even later after digging up their influences when I caught the blues & boogie woogie flu that I felt I had to play the blues. Also, I was a good researcher. I’d go find out about and listen to all of these old records for hours on hours. For a little while in high school, I got so obsessed with violin music and the blues, that I’d skip school and go to the library to listen to and later play music all day. How square is that? I think at one point I skipped a couple weeks straight doing nothing but that until it was found out. I got into a little trouble with the school and my folks. It was my passion and I couldn’t stop. I haven’t stopped yet.

B411: I saw you on the October 2009 Bluescruise, and was blown away with your playing and stage presence, it was warm and affable, yet you took no prisoners when you played. It seems to me there is a large difference between classical performances and blues performances, and crowds – do you like the engaging persona of blues audiences, and did you find this in classical performances ?

LY: Here’s what I’ve found about those audiences. I don’t think that there is that much difference. People are people. The music is either good or bad. When the music is good, classical or blues audience will react to it. I’ve seen and experienced classical audiences go nuts crazy over a good performance. It could have a deep effect on you like it did me sometimes. I remember seeing a Vladimir Horowitz recital, and an Ornette Coleman show not long after that had about the same lasting good effect on me. They both gave me so much energy that you almost feel like you could run through a brick wall.

B411: Can you tell us some more about your classical training, and some of the events you played at thru those connections?

LY: Some the more memorable events were traveling to Europe, specifically Austria and Switzerland as a teenager with the Pittsburgh Youth Orchestra, getting a full scholarship to Indiana University and studying with Josef Gingold. Playing in LA for part of the summer at Universal Pictures Studio Orchestra, playing at Carnegie Hall in New York, going to the Olympics in “88 in Seoul Korea with the National Repertory Orchestra.

B411:Would you say these prepared you for the move to the blues scene?

LY: Most definitely these prepared me to move to the blues scene. Any time spent in front of an audience prepares you for any other time. Being in front of an audience isn’t natural but becomes more natural with practice. That’s why a lot of people get stage fright. I got it too. That doesn’t happen much any more. I get a little anxious sometimes, but not like when I was a kid when my legs would shake and my mouth would be dry and it was hard enough to stand there and almost impossible to make music. You have to relax and breathe. No matter what kind of music you’re playing, you can only communicate your state of being.

B411: The Blues, why? Did it just present itself to you one day, or was it always there waiting to be discovered by you?

LY: I think in a previous life, I played the blues guitar or bass. For a while, I tried to play with a slide on the violin. It almost worked but it wasn’t quite right. It was when I first took a slide to guitar that I really felt that I’d done it before. Everything just fit. I seemed to know where things were without any real practice. The real blues is always there waiting to be discovered by everybody. It seems like it was always there in my life. Why not blues? It’s great music and I love it. It’s changed me and I know it’s changed most of you. It shows up at transformation points, and turns negative situations into positive energy. It has everything I need in it. In it there’s a microcosm of everything else. It feels like it’s essence has always been here.

B411: There is a history of violin in the Blues, from the Jug Bands, to the Folksy Good Time Music of the 60’s, to Papa John Creach – did any of this inspire you, or encourage you to pursue the

LY: To tell you the truth, no it didn’t really encourage me to pursue playing the blues though I wish I could say it did. I was more into the general sound of the Blues. As we all know, it would appear in all kinds of music and in many ways like for me Aretha or Count Basie or Ray Charles. I was more shock influenced by the sound of Hendrix, Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf & John Lee Hooker. It was later when I heard Charlie Patton or early Muddy or the Mississippi Sheiks and Sugar Cane Harris that I realized that the violin had been there all along. By then in my life I was already deep into the blues music, so it did inspire and encourage me but I’d already tried to play the sounds I heard on the violin. Nothing inspired me more that hearing Hendrix. I can still remember trying to imitate what he did on the only thing I knew how to play at the time, the violin. I think that the violin was kind of fazed out of the blues and popular music. My guess as to why that happened is that it probably had to do with how it was perceived, like it was old fashioned or it was king in some bygone musical era. Also, I think that this happened partly because it wasn’t loud enough compared tohorns and later the electric Guitar. I got a chance to speak with Claude Fiddler Williams a few years ago (1999) in Kansas City. He played violin and guitar with Count Basie. He told me that as a condition to get signed, John Hammond senior told Count that he had to get rid of the strings, so he was out.

IMG_9689_7422_edited-1I believe that the time for the violin to be out of the blues and other popular music is forever moved to the past. I see it coming back. There’s just too many of us violin players and there are so many newer electric violins that volume isn’t an issue any more. I’m so glad you asked this question. In a way for me, when I saw it, it was like opening Pandora’s box. I sincerely believe that part of what my spirit in this body is here to do is tied in with the violin and is connected with winning the IBC in Memphis this year. The violin has enjoyed many years of being the alpha or dominant instrument in the orchestra. I’m in love with it. It can do so many different things musically. It’s said to be the musical instrument most like the human voice. I could see no reason why it wouldn’t have a more prominent place in blues or other popular music. I have to admit that in coming to this years IBC, I had something to prove.

After I won the solo/duo part of the IBC in 2008, I was a little bothered at how I was perceived. I’m not whining, I’m just saying. I’d hear whisperings about how the only reason I won was because I was playing a “novelty instrument”. That’s bullshit! I heard that some people were even upset that a non guitar player won and that my winning was just a fluke. That attitude (when I’d find it) really pissed me off. It discounted how hard I worked and the true love I had for the blues and all the great people that influenced me. It doesn’t matter what you play as much as how you play, who you are and what you have to say. I really believe that. If someone played fork or a paper plate really well and could sing and make you feel something, theoretically they should have be given the same consideration at the IBC as someone playing a guitar, piano or harmonica. I saw that if I really believed that, I had to prove it and win the IBC again against all odds. By that I mean playing a violin primarily and winning twice. Winning once is hard enough. That can be a charm or a curse. It can be an obstacle if you attempt to do it again because the IBC process is based on subjective opinions. It’s not who makes the most baskets or who crosses the finish line first. A judge could consciously or unconsciously score you less high just because you won it before giving someone else a chance. I saw that happen so I knew that whatever I did had to be strong enough to overcome that too.

B411: Looking at your ‘set lists’ on-line, we’ve got everything from W.C. Handy, Sinatra, and Sly Stone to Count Basie and Jimi Hendrix. It sounds like my CD collection.
How do you go about selecting music to cover, what do you look for?

IMG_9492_7225_edited-1LY: First I get a panel of experts together and poll them on what covers they like. Then I use a computerized rating system. Just kidding. I play what’ll fit the situation or what I’d like to hear in the moment.

B411: Not to be overlooked, your songwriting stands well on it’s own. Do you have any influences as to style of writing, someone who you have heard and say ‘yeh that’s it’?

LY: I’ve heard a lot of people and said,”yea that’s it”. One of my best influences is a guy by the name of Johnny Long. He wrote and played lots of great originals. I know he’s recorded for Delta Groove records. I played with him for a while and he introduced be to Homesick James at one point. He’s just great. Everybody should know him. I wouldn’t be who I am in the blues world without his influence and example. I love the way Sonny Boy Williamson wrote a song. Always interesting and makes you think. In a much different way, I love Otis Taylor because he breaks new ground and writes about heavy stuff. I like James Taylor as a song writer and have met and played with him. Most of what I right about comes from my experience in one way or another. Lately I’ve been writing about warnings and concerns around the topics of our environment and what I envision happening in the next year and 1/2. The way I see where we’re at now is that we feel like we’ve been given platform to sing and speak on the challenges we’re facing as people who are facing extinction. That’s the stuff I care about. How are we gonna survive this next couple of years. Not just me, but everyone. I know that we’re better and stronger if we help each other. That’s part of why I take music so seriously. It brings people together. We need good music now today more than ever.

Until next time,

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,
© 2011/2015
photos: Leslie K. Joseph