Interview: Jarekus Singleton

IMG_9736_edited-1Two years ago at the International Blues Challenge I had the good fortune to meet a young bluesman out of Mississippi. We chatted and hung out and as the week went along I became a fan of not only his music but him as a person. We spoke about life’s road and music and perception vs. reality – and with his consent, I officially declared him my ”nephew’.

We have been ‘framily’ ever since. I want to thank Peggy Brown & Marsha Wooten for introducing me to this incredible young man. Also Bill Wax for playing his music on his show and giving me the musical introduction to him.
Jarekus Singleton has no cap on his talent or ability, he is quickly becoming a ‘must see’ artist on the blues circuit. With his autobiographical music and lyrics that are some of the purest street poetry since the Beat Generation became, this young man is living proof that the Blues is Alive & Thriving.

B411: Jarekus – Hi. man how are things going, you keeping busy?
Jarekus Singleton: We had a cancel in our flight, so we had to stay in Houston for two days and I had to pay for hotel rooms. Eventually I had to get a rental car and my luggage still not with me. Then I had a Washington Post interview this morning that I had missed because I had had no sleep. It’s just been crazy

B411: Well that took care of the question I was going to ask you. I was going to ask you what was the most exciting thing that happened with all your touring!
JS: These are good problems. I like these problems.

B411: You’ve been busy dude – since January you were at the IBCs and then you signed with Alligator. You’re doing national touring now, right? You’ve been to California and all through the MidWest.
JS: We did Florida, Missouri, Illinois and then Delaware. We’ve got a 2 ½ month stretch in total. We’re gigging almost every day.

B411: That’s good! That’s getting the music out there to the people! That’s got to be cool for you. How does that feel?
Does it make you think why me or how did I get here?
JS: First, why me? I see a lot of talented cats. There are a lot of talented bands out there so I never take this lightly. I’m really blessed to be in the position that I am. And I really appreciate Bruce (Iglauer) and Alligator for being so supportive of me and my movement. I’m Jarkeus man, and that’s all the person I can be. I just was blessed enough that Bruce thought I was a pretty cool dude. It feels good Chef Jimi. My band – there are a lot of great bands out here. There are a lot of great bass players, guitarists, drummers. The thing that’s going to separate me from anybody else is the work ethic. And the fine tuning on details.

IMG_3387_edited-1B411: Your band is pretty tight. I’ve seen you many times now, and I’m still when I see you guys play, you bring it. And every day it’s new and it’s fresh. Even the songs I know, cause I’ve heard them and I like them, and I know you’re playing it and I hear it coming, and I’m like yeah, yeah, this is the good part! But still, it’s always strong and always fresh. That’s great. You’ve got a different keyboard player now on tour?
JS: My cousin that normally plays keyboard with me, he had some things to deal with with his family, so when I go on tour he’s not able to go. So I’ve just been hiring rhythm guitar players here and I’ve got another keyboard player named Sam Brady that’s going to be with me for the remainder of this tour.
In Missouri, I had to have a rhythm guitarist and this past trip I had another rhythm guitarist playing with us so I’ve just been doing what I have to do to keep it going.

B411: How did that work with the rhythm guitarists?
JS: It worked well. The first time, I used a guy named David Jackson who was originally from Chicago. He’s one of my mentors here in Mississippi. He’s been living here since ‘98 and I met him on the circuit out here and he has been giving me a lot of sound advice. Then on the Missouri trip, I used my Uncle Tony. He’s the one who taught me how to play bass. He was already living in Irvine, California. He came out with me on this last trip on the west coast and he played rhythm guitar with me.

B411: That’s cool.  So you’ve got fingers everywhere! You’ve got family all over the place. That’s good. You know they’re not going to mess with you.
JS: No, that ain’t going to happen.

IMG_3445_edited-2B411: It was nice to see you at your CD release – you and the band. It was a different setting. It wasn’t at the IBCs, it wasn’t 20 minute set and all of that where you have to make sure you introduced yourself and the band. It was just you guys playing and it was really fun to watch you and the band play. And the people in the crowd – they were digging it, they were dancing, people were just having a great time. There was one extended song that you did – it was what I was calling the “dance mix” – the “Jarkeus Dance Mix”. It reminded me, this might be a little weird, forgive me, it sort of reminded me of Michael Burks. Because Michael would just play. Michael would play 24/7 if people were listening. And you just played and you would break into something, you’d do a little Freddy King and then you’d circle back into the little dance groove. That was just really, really cool. It was amazing to see it happen.
JS: I appreciate that Chef Jimi!

B411: OK, so I said Michael Burks and I said Freddy King. You’re a guitarist, so I’ll start with that.
Who did you look to? Who were your influences as far a guitar players?
JS: Derek Trucks just overwhelmed me! A good friend of mine named Stacy introduced me to Derek Trucks in 2009. And ever since she introduced me to Derek, I’ve been like WOW!

B411: He does that to a lot of people!
JS: It’s off the charts. Of course the three Kings, – Albert, Freddy, B.B. – all those guys inspired me a lot. Even when I saw John Mayer do his thing with the 3 piece band, the trio blew my mind as well.
B411: I saw John Mayer with BB King, like 15 years ago in Chicago and my jaw was on the floor!
JS: I didn’t know John Mayer was that good, because all I heard was his commercial stuff. Hot stuff.
B411: Yep, he does what he wants to do. I wish he would do some more non-commercial stuff.
JS: When I heard him doing that trio thing, doing the Hendrix and BB King covers. I bought the trio album TWICE cause I scratched the first one up! I played it so much.

B411: You could have just him a note saying, John, send me a release! The other thing about what you do is that I just think you’re an amazing song writer. And I’m not the only one. What I hear in your song writing, to me it comes from the rap and hip hop world because of the way you rhyme things and the way you phrase things. Am I correct?
JS: You’re hitting the nail on the head! Me growing up, there was “our culture”. Me and my friends we always listened to rap. And when you’re in the hood, you pass by every door step and everybody’s got a boom box outside playing some music. Someone’s riding up and down the street with some big speakers in their trunk playing the latest Little Wayne CD or something. So that’s all I had, that and church. Especially when I went to Church, I had the gospel part. Then, when I went home, it was hip hop and rap banging you across the head.

B411: So who did you listen to? You mentioned Little Wayne.
JS: Cash Money was real hot at that time. They had that group called Hot Boys that Little Wayne was in. Of course JZ was one of my big influences in Rap. DM Mix. There were just so many cats. There were a lot of local artists in Mississippi that I was looking at too. There were just rap artists everywhere!
B411: It broke out like poison ivy!
JS: There was a whole culture. We’d go to school and free style at lunch and beat on the table.

B411: I thought that was great.  It’s such a creative thing to do. It just opens up all the channels for creativity. I see people and they say “that stuff [rap] is awful”.  Just stop and listen!
JS: All of the ones about the ho’s and the guns. Hip hop is anti-blues. At least that’s what I perceive it as, at least from a fan based style. The blues don’t have a lot of hip hop fans cause I don’t think they actually sit down and realize where it comes from and why it is the way it is. Just like hip hop people don’t sit down and realize where the blues comes from. And that’s why a lot of people are running away from it because they don’t know the history. A lot of people are also running away from Rap because they don’t know the history. They just know what they hear on the main stream on the radio.
B411: I’ve always said, that hip hop and rap are just modern day blues! Where does it come from? It comes from the hood! It comes from the Black community and that’s where the blues came from. So you’ve got to listen in to what the young guys are doing and what the people are signing about and putting down. Because those are the people you want to carry it on. You don’t want the blues to be just middle aged white folks. There’s nothing wrong with it, but I might argue that that is not the ‘real’ blues.

I think you’re on point when you say a lot of people don’t understand because they don’t take the time. I think that you’re doing that with your music. You’re putting down that bridge for us all to access and use to ‘cross-over’.  I know Grady Champion does a little mix of that.  It actually looks like it’s coming out of Mississippi.  I’m thinking Dexter Allen, Mr. Sipp people that I know, who combine a little bit of the young feel with a little bit of the blues to keep it contemporary and have young folks try to get behind it. That’s pretty cool.
JS: I’m just doing what’s in my heart. My momma pushed me. She said, all those lyrics that you’ve got, all those mix tapes that you were doing, and you were writing all these good lyrics. You need to use it. That was even before I started my band. When I had surgery [broken ankle that ended his basketball career], I was doing shows and cover tunes. When I came across a song, I’d play it for my momma and sing it for her. Because she was like, you need take that same approach that you were using for that rap stuff, you need to use that same approach for when you’re doing your blues thing. She’s the one that really opened my eyes to it. I’ve always been a person that’s been comfortable in my own skin. So I’m just doing me. That’s basically it!

B411: I met your mom! I thought that she was your sister!
JS: She does look pretty young. My momma is active. She’s always doing stuff. When she comes home, she’ll never sit down. She’ll try to find some work to do. My momma creates stuff. She made a chair out of neck ties! You can go sit on it right now and you’re not going to fall or nothing!

B411: Seriously?! That’s great. It’s nice that she supported you. As opposed to “just stop that stuff. You need to get a job.” That’s great because a lot of people don’t see that.
JS: She supported me. When she was growing up, my grand-daddy was a pastor of a church with her father. He preached against all this, against secular music. He preached against basketball. He preached against everything. My momma always told me, look, you do what you gotta do. I’m here to support you. Because she didn’t want my life being taken away because she didn’t get to follow her dreams. She couldn’t go to proms, the movies, all that kind of stuff. I thank god that she had the insight to just let me do what I needed to do.

B411: That’s sweet. Amen to that! So I have a burning question for you… people keep asking me this and I keep sending them to you, but no one seems to get the answer. So, for all the folks out there, what is #Reakdogginit? [both laughing] I’ve got to ask you that man!
JS: [laughing] Basically, the way it came about, one night I was by myself, it might have been about 2 o’clock in the morning. I was just driving, and you know people call you and say “man, what are you doing?” And they’re just trying to be nosy and see what you’re doing. And it really, it’s about me not trying to tell them what I’m doing but it’s just whatever I’m doing at the time. So if I’m #Reakdogginit, I might be driving. But I’m #Reakdogginit, I’m being me. I might be playing a video game, but I’m #Reakdogginit. I’m just chillin. I might be practicing on my guitar, so I’m #Reakdogginit. These are things that I do to keep my mind at ease, so I’m doing me, I’m #Reakdogginit.
B411: Well that will make a lot of people happy!
JS: I kind of like the fact that they don’t know.  I’m just doing me. And that’s another thing, for me, it was always a foundation for me to have them. I’m not a reactive person, I’m a pro active person. So that’s me encouraging my self to keep doing what I’m doing. Don’t worry about what no one else is doing.
B411: That will make you crazy!
JS: I don’t get caught up in what another person is doing. I congratulate people. I’m moving forward. I’m going to focus on what I’m doing and keep my eyes on what I feel like my vision is and keep working at that. That’s the main reason for the #Reakdogginit thing.

B411: You talk about being you,  I was looking up your basketball history.  I was reading one of the scouting reports about you and they said something really interesting. Somebody saw something there, and said you make everybody better when you were playing ball. They talked about your skill set. But they said you make everybody on the court better. Which is high praise. and I think that’s really true.
You’re an honest, sharing, and caring person.  I’m sure when you played ball, you fed the ball to other people. But you also set picks to get somebody an open shot. You found the open guy, you laid it out and everybody saw that, and everybody tries a little bit harder.  I see that in your music, in what you do with the band. It’s very lifting.
JS: A lot of times, when you’re a leader – I’ve been a leader since I can remember. When I started playing ball, 8, 9, 10 years old, I was always the leader of the team. Being a leader doesn’t mean the person who takes all the shots. Leader doesn’t mean the person who takes all the money. Leader doesn’t mean the person who tells everybody what to do. A leader is a thing that keeps everybody together. The leader always makes the best decision for the situation. That’s why Michael Jordan got the ball all the time, because he had an honest heart when trying to win the game. How many times have you seen him pass the ball to Steve Kerr and he won the game? Or Paxton? I even saw him pass one to Bill Wennington, for God’s sake! [laughing]
B411: Damn, now that’s a leader!
JS: You can talk about LeBron James. How many times does he make a play to win a game and it isn’t necessarily about him shooting the ball.
B411: LeBron seems to have struggled with that a little bit, but he seems to have found it. It’s hard. You know how hard it is when you’ve got 24/7 eyes on you. He was trying. He was working on that a lot this year and he was getting a lot of flak for it. Because he would pass to D.Wade or Bosch. And people would say, he should take the shot. But you understand.
A lot of people who never played a competitive level of sports that they don’t understand the whole meshing of teamwork.

JS: He could score 50 every night, but if he loses, it’s nothing. That’s the same mentality I took with my band. When I first started, I told them, this is bigger than me. Because I can’t do it by myself. I wouldn’t have started a band otherwise. I need those cats to be who they are so I can be who I need to be. And the foundation part, I talk with them about it all the time. People give me a lot of credit, and they give the band a lot of credit to. But without the band having that foundation up under me, when I’m doing what I need to do, I wouldn’t be as effective as I am now if they weren’t. Michael Jordan never won a championship until Scotty Pippin and Horace Grant came. LeBron didn’t win a championship when he was in Cleveland. A lot of people can’t even name his teammates when he was in Cleveland.
B411: That’s true, I can’t!

JS: If the team isn’t moving forward, if you don’t have the teammates – then it’s going to hurt the team. To be a good leader, you’ve got to know how to be a good teammate first. I’ve learned how to do that. It’s a humbling experience man! It’s just a great experience to have. And some people never get that. Some people go a lifetime and never grasp that concept. I thank god for insight. For being able to see certain things, for him giving me insight to be able to see what I need to correct, some of what I need to change. It’s a daily process. Everybody talks about the guy that’s in front, good or bad, that’s why the guy that’s in front has got to have Teflon skin. You’ve got to be strong minded. You’ve got to be able to take the good with the bad.
B411: Even if it’s not called for.
IMG_0219_edited-1JS: Sometimes people say Jarekus’ band was crazy, the did some crazy stuff the other day. You’ve got to be able to take full responsibility for it, that’s why I’ve got to be a good leader and teach my band how they should act. How they should conduct themselves. How they should do this and do that. Because that’s the only way were going to move forward.

B411: Right, because it’s not just you. It’s not just Jarekus. It’s the band. I know. Every time I see them, I tell them, especially now that you guys are getting some play. Getting some light. I tell them Jarekus is great, but you guys are also great. I know that Jarekus thinks of everybody as one. It’s my way of telling them that they’re good. And also that they’re important. I hope that when it comes from someone else, they really understand that they do count.
JS: Sometimes I don’t say certain things because I don’t want to sound like a broken record. When someone says something to the band, and they echo what you’ve been saying, it comes across as a lot better. They’re used to be barking at them.

IMG_0171_edited-1B411: Where are else is going on?
JS: I just want to thank everybody who did something to help me. Anybody who ever came to a show because my name was on it. Anybody who ever bought a CD because my name was on it. That means a lot to me. That’s success to me to know that I’m inspiring other people. That people that email me or Facebook me or tweet my lyrics to me and get a joy out of it, and my lyrics help somebody get thru a certain thing. I’ve been getting so much love from a lyrical standpoint, from a song writing standpoint. I want to thank Blues411, because you always talk about my lyrics. I saw Leslie saying some things about my lyrics. If Bruce and Alligator never would have given me the chance to have this opportunity to convey the things that I’m trying to say thru music, then a lot of this recognition I wouldn’t be getting. The Alligator family is really supportive. They send me text messages encouraging me. The whole staff is just extremely nice, they’re self-motivated people. That’s a testament to Bruce, because Bruce finds a person that’s young and driven and that’s smart and works hard, he reels them and genuinely takes care of them like they’re his own children. He’s genuinely given me advice like his own children. He’s supportive and he’s there for me. They’ve all done me the same way, so it’s like a big labor of love at Alligator Records. I’m so excited to be there. I’m blessed.

B411: Well you deserve to be there.
JS: Well I’ve also got to thank Peggy Brown
B411: Downtown Peggy Brown, she is an amazing lady.
We’ll see you at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival on Sunday July 27. You’re doing two shows – one on the main stage and one on the adventure center stage.
JS: Yes we are. Thanks so much Chef Jimi! We’ll see you soon.

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2014
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411

An early review of his first release ‘Heartfelt‘ from us in February 2013.
Of course his site, his preview in USA Today and his page at Alligator Records .

Shun Kikuta – Shogun of the Blues

Shun Kikuta, accomplished musical artist, classically trained but drawn to the Blues. His story is an interesting one, many roads but they all lead back to the Blues. He was kind enough to speak with me at length from Taiwan about his body of work, his trials and joys and how he came to work with Koko Taylor. Enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.

B411: Shun how are you ? How is living, and most especially working in Asia going?

SK: I’m doing fine, real fine. Actually besides playing the Blues I am working in a lay ‘Anything Goes’ it’s a musical. It’s very different from what I am used to with charts covering each note, no improvising allowed it is very challenging for me even though I went to school for music theory and all. But I think I have forgotten more than I remember !

B411: Well how different is it to go from Berklee School of Music and all that it encompasses to the world of the Blues – which is more free form – is it harder ?

SK: When I went to Berklee it is a great school for music, but to me, there are limits to analyzing music – scales, notes, chords but music is so much more than that stuff or theory. When I first heard BB King it was like ‘man that’s what I’m saying’, it’s something that you can’t analyze but you feel good hearing it. It was his ‘Live at the Regal’ record and I was maybe nineteen or twenty I realized that this was it. I was happy, sad, all of the emotional things involved with the music. It moved me the way he sang his ass off and played great guitar – it was the whole package to me.

Before that I was playing heavy rock music, so I had some chops, heavy rock always uses Blues licks and the like. It was easy for me to get deeper into the Blues because I had some chops but just didn’t know they were the blues. Then I started listening to guys like Otis Rush, Albert King, Buddy Guy Stevie Ray Vaughn all those good Blues players.
In Boston I saw Johnny Winter and John Lee Hooker, and also saw Ronnie Earl, Duke Robilliard and that big band sound from Roomful of Blues all local Boston area bands. The more I heard of the Blues the more I liked it and wanted to play it.
I started to go to jam sessions at the clubs in Boston, and started writing song sand learning how to play. I was still at the Berklee and playing Jazz but wanted to move in a new direction.

B411: It’s amazing how many artists cite B.B.’s ‘Live at the Regal’ as the pivotal recording that turned them on to the Blues.

SK: Yeah man, those cats were amazing and it really made me want to learn more. So within a week of graduating Berklee I moved to Chicago. I packed all my little bags into a mini-van and drove to Chicago. I found me a job at a Japanese restaurant washing dishes, but I got laid off because they were not doing well, so I was the first to go.

So I went to City Hall and got a Performer’s License for like $25 and started playing on the street. Set up in subway stations and stuff like that, it was around Christmas time and I was making like $70 in three hours and I was so excited about that – it was good money ! That was cool, playing on the streets and making good money but then after New Year’s the money dried up. I made like $1.25 in three hours so that wasn’t going to cut it.

At the same time, at night I would carry my guitar with me and go to the clubs where they had jams, places like Rosa’s Lounge, Buddy Guy’s Legends and Wise Fools Pub and do jam sessions and started meeting people and would pass around my cards. But after awhile I stopped that because not everyone was a professional at these jams and it was sometimes hard to really play out. I then started going to the clubs where bands were playing and then during the break I would introduce myself and tell them I am from Japan and play the Blues and could I sit in with them. So many times they would say yeah, and I would wait till they called me up, usually the last song late at night, and we’d play together. So I got to know so many people. It’s an amazing thing about Chicago they are so open about letting you play with them – they all give you a chance. That’s how I met Otis Rush. It was like a month after I got to Chicago he had a gig at the Wise Fools Pub, on a Tuesday and I was sitting right in front with my guitar. So at break he walked by me and asked if I play guitar, I said yes and he asked if I would want to sit in with him ! Imagine that, Otis Rush asked me to jam with him. Chicago is like that very open for musicians it’s a part of the great tradition to keep the Blues alive, and help others learn these great songs and how to play the real Blues.
A few months after that I got my first gig at Rosa’s with Louis Meyers. Tony, the owner of Rosa’s took a liking to me and kept me in the loop and helped me network with these great artists. That was the first gig that I got that was paying me money!

B411: So chronologically what year is this going on. I am trying to see how you went from the subways to playing with Koko Taylor.

SK: That was in 1990, I started playing with Koko in 2000. I didn’t know about Chicago Blues all that well back then. The sound was different then from what it was in the sixties, when I get there they were funkier and more hard-edged overdrive guitar sound. James Brown, Tyrone Davis, Funk, R&B, Al Green even Prince influences so I had to learn to adjust my style. It took me a little while but I can play a lot of different styles of music from classical, to Jazz and Rock that it helped me to adjust and learn from my past experiences. I observed the style and learned it well and I think that helped me get jobs.

A lot of cats came to Chicago expecting to play old style music like Muddy Waters, Little Walter and that but it wasn’t being played at that time unfortunately.
So around 1995 I was hired by Junior Wells for the US and Canadian tour which lasted about six months. That was my very first experience to travel outside the Chicago area to other parts of the country and the world while playing the Blues for people. We were played clubs like House of Blues and all the big festivals and by doing so I met Dan Aykroyd, Lee Oskar and guys like that through touring with Junior.

I learned a lot from Junior Wells, before I played with him I didn’t sing at all I only played guitar. So one day he comes to me while we are in the dressing room, and says to me “you don’t sing, you have to sing to be a Bluesman” – I was shocked and I said that I am a young Japanese guitar player and I don’t even speak English, never-the-less sing the Blues. He shakes his head and smiles and says I don’t speak English well either so you have no excuse. So he’s singing ‘Little By Little’ and tells me to follow him and sing along. So after that I started singing more and I appreciate what he did for me. I still work on my singing, and do more and more.

B411: Great story, especially singing Little By Little, he was right of course on all accounts. I saw a video of you on YouTube singing Little By Little in a club in Asia, very cool.

SK: Yeh, yeh I love it, I sing so much more now. So I first met Koko Taylor in 1996 when I cut my second album ‘Chicago Midnight’ for King Records in Japan. I had been working with them since 1994 so I have had Chicago artists play on my records. So they asked me who I wanted to be a guest on this record (big named people), so I said I’d like to have Koko. Koko was with Alligator and they had a relationship with King Records, so Bruce Iglauer introduced me to Koko and she said OK. We did two songs together in the studio for the release tracks 5 and 6 actually.

I didn’t see her again till 1999, I was playing together with JW Williams at the Kingston Mines every Friday and Saturday. JW and I have been together for a long time, until last year we were together sixteen years. JW is another great musician and guy. One night Koko came into Kingston Mines and she was just hanging out – she’s sitting right in the front row watching us play. So after the set I just went to say hello to her but she didn’t remember me from the recording sessions, so she said she was pleased to meet me etc., and I give her my card and say that I don’t have a day job this is what I do and I can go on the road if she ever needs me to. I never expected her to call me…..

So she calls me a few months later and says ‘do you remember me, it’s Koko Taylor’ ! Well she asked me for two shows and she really liked my playing and said she would call me again. After a few months she called me again and asked me join the ‘Blues Machine’.

B411: See if you don’t ask how will you ever know.

SK: Exactly, very true, you never know I’m glad I asked. So that was in October 2000 and had been with her up until she passed.

B411: So you are currently living in Asia, how are the Blues doing there?

SK: Yeh, I have been in Taiwan since February 2011. I tour frequently in Japan, but mainly stay in Taipei, Taiwan. The Blues is getting very hot in Asia right now. There is a big festival there that I am supposed to play in called the INA Blues along with John Mayall – we also have a Japan Blues Festival as does Beijing and India – Asia is starting to grow up more here. For me, being an Asian I feel it is important for me to be here to play the Blues that I learned in Chicago. I can also work on bringing more artists here to open the doors so everybody does well.

Indonesia is very hot now and I am looking forward to playing there at INA Blues. This is like their fifth or sixth festival, they have a lot of money to put into it. Last year they had Ana Popovic and they seem to have a large enough budget to bring big acts over here to play.
Chicago is still my home and I miss it, but being here right now is very important and I can do so much good for the Blues. Yet I think I am ready for the change, it is challenging and I am ready for it. Taiwan is not a big city like Chicago where there is a gig almost every night, but that’s OK. It is a very centrally located city it is near many cities and countries so it is a good place to be.

B411: Any plans on new recordings?

SK: I have about ten songs right now that are roughed out, not finished. Since I am in Taiwan I am talking to management company and seeing what interest there is and as soon as we get that done we will get it out there. I hope to get stuff out in 2012 in one form or another. I can even do it myself but it is always good to have someone backing you up and promoting you.

B411: Shun thank you sir, for your time today and your music.
2/23/12 PS: Shun just got married today also, how great is that  – let’s all give joyous wishes to him and his bride !

For more info on Shun visit his web site:

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2012
photos: Blues411

Parts of this interview were originally published in Blues Blast Magazine, we thank them for allowing our shared format with them. You can visit them at 

Matt Schofield Interview: Happily Bringin’ the Blues To You

I met with Matt Schofield after his incendiary show at the Big Rib BBQ & Blues Festival in Rochester, NY. An extremely talented performer and friendly, open person. We sat and chatted about all sorts of stuff from electronic pipes for smoking cessation to acceptance at home and abroad as a blues band.
A very interesting young Blues man, who is charting hot and is someone who you should see if you get the chance. Thank you Matt, Jonny & Kevin !


B411: I see you’re using an electronic pipe, how’s that working?

MS: Well yeh, I have given up smoking. It’s been three months, it’s great. In fact I have a bit of a cold right now, but otherwise it’s great for the voice. The pipe is just a fancy electronic cigarette, it’s got a bit of nicotine in it so you can work your way down.. A pack a day for fifteen years, and as I hit my thirties I started to feel the effects of it more. But it works great there never was a last cigarette.

B411: Now you are a self taught guitarist – that’s pretty amazing because you certainly can play that thing !

MS: I’ve just played, I never felt that I have practised ever. I love music and I love playing. When you find something that you love that is your entire world I guess you get kinda good at it. I have been playing seriously for twenty one years. It’s what I’ve always done, never had another job.

B411: Sweet !

MS: Well, we say that driving the van, getting stuck at borders and staying in hotels – that’s our day job. We play for free, and get paid for all this other stuff. We did 5,000 miles last month will do 5,000 more this month – throw in a quick trip to Europe. There’s a lot of traveling involved but that’s what you have to do to play music. We love to play our music.

B411: How’s the tour going, US & Canada this time around ?

MS: Mostly in the US, just did a few shows in Canada. Hit some new places in the US. Last year was our first tour, ya gotta get out and spread the word. People are familiar with us from being played on radio in all it’s forms, and our records still getting out in person is the best way to do it. Even from last year it has grown massively and if it continues, then next year I will be completely happy.
We are playing here more than in the UK and Europe. It’s great, we go where the music is. For us people appreciate what we do here, they sort of instantly get it. I’m not belittling anyone, we have some great fans there, it’s just a slower road over there.

B411: I think it’s the just the opposite for some American artists, there are a few I know and have talked to about this situation.

MS: Yes I’m sure it is. Like Joe Bonamassa is massive in the UK and he is doing well here too. He’s a great player. We’ve been plugging away for years there. It’s funny I was watching this interview with Ricky Gervais, and he was saying about how in America you are told that you can be the President, and there’s this kind of championing of success and abilities. A breeding of success of sorts. While in the UK you are told it won’t happen to you, and if it does people will be suspicious and they don’t like it and will don’t reward it.
We find that true in playing music, the people here have a good time in the audience, give you feedback, and by doing so help you rise to the next level. The give back to you and it’s great and it grows It’s a whole different vibe. With the kind of music we play we enjoy getting that feedback, as you noticed* we throw in all sorts of different things – we improvise a lot and throw in stuff off the top of our heads. If the audience is with you it makes it all the much better and it allows you to do that. Personally, I can’t play the same way twice, the record is the way it was at that precise moment. I don’t think the band can play that way either.

(*Author note: In the middle of “Shipwrecked’ Matt starts to play the ‘Daytripper’ riff, and then just as quickly jumps out of it and then one more once brings it into play. I asked him if I had actually heard that or was I just tripping).

B411: OK, but you need the right mix of band mates to achieve that. Jonny (Henderson) and Kevin (Hayes) seem perfectly suited to your free-from style of playing.

MS: Jonny and I have been playing for fifteen years – we went to the same school, we grew up in the same little country side town – Fairford in Gloucester. A tiny little village, the classic British country side. It’s beautiful and I really appreciate it when I go back, but at the time there was no music there.

B411: So wait, how did the Blues find Matt Schofield in Fairford ?

MS: My Dad, is a massive blues fan. I grew up listening to all this vinyl and reel-to-reel tapes. I was very lucky, he would tell me to listen – I’ve always thought that your ears are your first piece of equipment (instrument) – as much as anything else. If you like Stevie Ray Vaughn you have to listen to Albert King, if you like Clapton listen to Freddie King. He lives in California, so as a kid I’d go out there and spend summers with him and he’d take me to gigs. I was thirteen at the time and the first gig I ever saw was B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Dr. John and The Fabulous Thunderbirds. So that was it, I was completely blown away. Went back home and started a band – and to back track – Jonny was there and so we have been together all this time off and on, mostly on. Then last year when we were coming out to the US, We contacted Kevin to play a couple of gigs,we knew him from the Robert Cray Band, and they had parted ways after nineteen years, and a year later we are still doing it, he is on the new record we made together. It went from a few gigs to full time. You need the right mix of mates, especially with the organ trio that we do. I had done a four piece for awhile last year with ‘Heads, Tails & Aces’, but this seems to be really cool. Playing with a trio gives you more space to improvise and with the organ it can become more dynamic and sounds so much more bigger than with just bass, guitar and drums.

B411: Yes I think of you guys as an unconventional power trio. Plus the keys add so much to a bands sound.

MS: Well yes, that’s the way we like to think of it, our own weird version of a power trio. Plus I get tired of listening to myself all the time so I like to have somebody else to solo. He can have his little moment.

B411: I watched you tonight, and Matt, you play every string in every position. You play low E to high E and all points in between. Not a lot of people hit all the stops.

MS: Well I’m trying to find my own vocabulary for it all. All my heroes had their own voice/thing, when you listen to B.B., Albert King or Collins they all were so strong as individuals. Now I am a product of a different environment so I’m not gonna be able to do it the way they did. I didn’t pick cotton or any of that – so I’m trying to find my own thing. I love jazz, soul, funk, rock and we try to bring all of that into the music. To me if it feels right then it’s the blues.

B411: Yes it is an authentic sound that you give us. I think a problem at times is too may people get stuck on the blues. It’s said to be the easiest form of music but it is the most difficult to do well.

MS: True it’s not going to be the same thing as others do. I love to listen to great traditional blues, but not many can do them. We just try to be ourselves, and hopefully the feel is there that it is still blues. One likes to tip the hat to those greats but you must filter it through yourself. That’s part of the Blues – the heritage, and the history I love all that. When Muddy Waters came out in the fifties nobody sounded like that, nobody sounded like Albert Collins or Stevie when he came out, it’s important to try to remember that.

B411: Much like your cover of Albert Kings ‘Wrapped Up In Love’, I heard bits of Albert and Stevie but the overall music was Matt Schofield. So with this release you have attained the ‘Three King Trifecta’ in the Blues. Cool !

MS: We did B.B. Two albums ago, and Freddy the last one, and Albert on ‘Anything But Time’, our latest release. Though someone pointed out that there is Earl King, and I am sure there are a couple other King’s in the blues world.

B411: I can hear ya doing ‘Come On’ by Earl. There’s always ‘Stand By Me’ by Ben E. King (we laugh). In 2010 you were voted the Best British Blues Guitarist, congrats on that achievement, considering the players out there, and the questions as to who you were here at this festival. Is that just British voting or International based.

MS: Yes, it is international voting, but only for British artists. That was fantastic, it was great, in fact we got Blues Guitarist and Blues Album. The guitarist thing is really nice but I am known as a guitarist, the album thing is really great because it means people are listening to the music and kind of getting what you are doing.

B411: I think those awards coupled with the success and exposure from this tour will set you up very nicely for the next tour. Now, as you said, you are known for being a guitarist what about your songwriting. On ‘Anything But Time’ you give us seven of ten originals, how do you approach your song writing – is it hard for you?

MS: First, we just love to play, we have our favorite places but you need to go to new spots to get your music out to the people. Ever since we’ve had our own band it’s been important for me to find a context for my guitar playing. But at this point these days it’s more important for the singing and songs, the guitar playing takes care of itself, it’s what I’ve always done. Again we go back to my heroes, and B.B. and those guys, they were the whole package. They had a persona and charisma, and more and more it is becoming important to me to achieve that. I want a context for my guitar playing a good song that goes somewhere, the whole thing. That’s what I think about now when I start off to do a record. So instead of plowing the same furrow as others have done before –the last few releases have been eight of ten or seven of ten originals – it’s not as easy for me as guitar playing but I feel the need to go there.

B411: It’s all part of that creative growth, which I would think every artist aspires to. I noticed tonight that you smile a lot while playing. Has anyone ever asked or commented that you might be too happy to sing the Blues ?

MS: Yeah right. I’m not thinking about what I look like when I play – I’m just into the music. For me the Blues never made me sad, it’s always made me feel better – an uplifting thing. Possibly part of the shared experience problem shared thing – and it’s always been about expression and creating something together, you just want to get something going on with the audience. It also goes back to the thing of trying to be comfy with what you do, I was just someones guitar player for quite a spell and I was happy to be able to play my guitar. But now with my band it’s the whole package and trying to embrace it all.

B411: I see that you produce Ian Siegal, one of my favorite artists. What do you bring into the studio to assist him.

MS: For me with Ian it’s like I’m trying to make him comfy. He is very dynamic live performer, sort of off the cuff, but different from us. So I try to capture a bit of that intimacy and dynamic in the studio. He’s an amazing singer, sometimes you go into the studio and put it under the microscope and we less confident about it. Even Ian, who is an amazing singer– sometimes he second guesses himself. With Ian I was able to tell him he nailed it – we, as Blues performers, don’t have the luxury to be perfectionists in the studio – we have three days at best to make a recording.

B411: Your new release ‘Anything But Time’, it is a bit different from you last few. It seems more geared to the American ear, this is the first one you have not produced, correct?

MS: Well, this one was produced by John Porter, it was recorded in New Orleans so yeh maybe. I grew up listening to songs John made with all these great artists. This was the first time I worked with an outside producer, I was completely hands-off. For me it was the most enjoyable recording I ever made, I just went in to play guitar and sing and turned it all over to him. They are all moment in time releases, like different children and the next one might be totally different. I must say working with John I learned more in three days regarding vocals than ever before. For me it was a good experience to just hand it over and be completely open to someone else, just play and have him say ‘you got it’ or whatever.

B411: Matt thanks so much for the time and freindship – I hope this current tour brings many new fans into the fold. I know that your new release is climbing the charts and is in the top slots for B.B. King’s Bluesville on Sirius/XM radio.

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2011
If you wish to see more photos from Matt & Band please go to:

photos: Leslie K. Joseph

Four Days of BBQ & Blues: It’s Almost Enough !

With Rochester, NY in the midst of a heat wave many were hoping for it to cool down, not I. Ya see, I love the heat and what it brings to this town. Besides short skirts and cut off jeans, it brings to town the Big Rib BBQ & Blues Festival – four days and nights of sumptuous BBQ from around the nation, well world actually – I still believe Canada is a separate nation.

Brought to us by Rochester Events wherein each year we are treated to some serious Q and damn fine Blues music. Now one would think that the city where the most northern part of the Underground Railroad terminated, the home of Frederick Douglass, even Susan B. Anthony spent time not far from here. But also the adopted home of the famous Son House, you know the guy who along with Howlin’ Wolf laughed Robert Johnson and berated him off their stage during a break cos he was annoying and scaring people with his lackluster playing. Well Son was here and this is where he was re-discovered by six white guys who knew his music better than he did at that point.  Well this town ain’t known for Blues, and it’s kinda sad. Yeh the Dinosaur brings in a few national acts and The Abilene Bar is trying hard to fill a void, and a few other places but overall if you want the Blues ya gotta travel to find them.

So this is why it is so very cool, and appreciated, that The Big Rib hits town like clockwork. In the spacious natural outdoor amphitheater of Highland Park we are treated to some fine Local as well as sterling National acts that otherwise wouldn’t know Rochester exists. Plus some of the best BBQ pit masters around.

This year we had a great line-up from day one. Featuring the young swinging Teagan & The Tweeds who have an infectious jive to their stage attitude while doing both covers and originals. They are more, what one might call, American Roots Music, but leave no doubt these kids got the Blues in their family tree. Just as the sun was starting it’s descent Big Sam’s Funky Nation hit the stage and let everyone know that it was time to shake what yer mama gave you. Coming in from New Orleans they brought in the funk,, junk-in-the-trunk, shake .em on down party spirit that had the entire crowd gettin’ down and smilin’ about it too.

Day two showed how skilled and generous of their time musicians can be, a cancellation or something brought us an amalgam of two local bands, Prime Time Funk and Hot Sweets. These pros hit the stage and covered everything from James Taylor to Stevie Wonder – and damn well too. Horns, amazing keys and vocals solid guitar just got us started on the right path for what was to follow.

Mr. Joe Beard, Rochester’s very own real-deal Blues man. Oh yeh, remember that Son House guy, well Mr. Beard and Mr. House go way back. Their friendship was epic here in Rochester and Joe still has to be one of the best shuffle kings out there. Ya know what was really nice to see, his fans and the crowd getting behind him and showing him the love he deserved and the respect he demands by his presence. A smooth talker and quite the funny guy Mr. Beard reminded us that the blues can be laid back and humble yet still pack a punch.

The knock out blow was delivered by Mr. Robert Cray. I mean knocked out loaded, like a Muhammed Ali right cross – POW. Mr. Cray and his well tuned cohorts (Richard Cousins on Bass, Jim Pugh master of the keyboards, and Tony Braunagel on drums) owned the night time crowd. I admit as to never seeing Mr. Cray so animated, personable and full of fun before. He was playing with ease and heart, and his voice was proof that he, may very well, be one of the finest soul/R&B singing blues men around.

Relaxed, casual joking with the audience Mr. Cray and band were in complete control. Even when he had to deal with an obstreperous guitar, he just shrugged it off and agreed with the crowd sentiment of ‘you don’t need that one, you’re doing just fine with the one you got in your hands’. With seriously professional and tasty work by Mr. Pugh on keyboards, incendiary bass work and stage-prowling by Mr. Cousins all the while Mr. Braunagel beat out the rhythm of the ages on the drums, they left he crowd wanting more but alas, the ten o’clock curfew had arrived and it was time to go.

One really fun part is to sample the five different BBQ Pit Masters that are featured at the fest. These folks make their money by competing in events around the country and there is enough hardware on display to impress even the most jaded of us in the crowd. This year they ranged from Memphis, Port St. Lucie, Aledo & Willis Texas, and one from Ontario Canada. All were very good, eacjh featuring varying sauces and even the sides were impressive. Each one took home some more of that hardware to display at the next cook off. Willinghams of Memphis won best rib and they even brought their own home made rub to the fest.

And yet there was another day to be had, Saturday. But this Saturday started ominously for me, a flat tire led to over an hour of lost time and I was so hoping to see Matt Schofield at 5:30. It was nigh-on 6:00PM when we got there, but it wasn’t young Mr. Schofield, it was the Reveleations featuring Tre’ Williams. It seems Matt & Band were held up at the border (traffic, not the band, but real cars). So showing ultimate compassion and cooperation The Revelations agreed to swap spots and play till Matt got thru customs.

Well this boy was glad they did ! Soulful deep Mississippi sounds mixed with funk, hip-hop rock and the blues dripped off this band like sweat off the crowd in the 90+ weather. Mr. Williams is one fine soul singer, and the Revelations are soon to be the torch carriers of the sweet soul music that we have loved all our lives. They will get more exposure and very soon, look out, they will be a force in music. Gentlemen thank you for swapping times and thank you for some down home blues and soul.

That led to Mr. Matt Schofield and his band (Jonny Henderson, keys: Kevin Hayes drums). Matt is a young gun in the blues world. Last year he won the top guitarist and best album in the British Blues Awards. That is quite an accomplishment considering some of the great Brit’s that swing the axe. Well better late than never, they hit it right away and treated us to some of the most wonderful improvisational blues string bending I’ve yet to see outside of a pro-jam. With an experienced and nimble band at his side Matt was able to give us his interpretations of how the Blues are to be played. With influences ranging from the three kings of the Blues Albert, B.B., and Freddy, then throw in some Beatles licks a little Stevie Ray Vaughn and a big spoonful of one of the most original players out there – himself, Matt Schofield – and this guy had everyone on their heels. It is always interesting to watch crowds in situations like this. Maybe a third (generously speaking) had heard of him, so they stood back, chillin’ in their lawn chairs and as the set went on there was a crush around the front of the stage where he held sway and left with everyone in attendance knowing his name.

Personable, polite, accomplished and just happy to be playing his music for us he signed autographs and then dove into the first rate BBQ that was waiting for him. A sample taste of ribs from the winning rib joint Willinghams, he then dove lustily into their B.B. King BBQ chicken and wore it with pride. Smiling and looking very comfy with chicken and beer in his hand, Matt was thrilled to be able to play here and expose more people to what he believes is his calling. Look out for this young man, go see him if he comes to your town and tell him Blues411 sent ya. He will smile and his eyes will glint at the thought. Oh yeh, stay tuned for a sparkling interview with young Matt, a super one if I say so myself.

We did not make the fourth day, just plum wiped out from too many long nights and too little rest finally caught up with us. But I look back and wish to thank Mr. Jeff Springut for once again giving us all a chance to see some fine Blues acts and keeping this music alive. See ya next year.

For more photos from this event please visit:

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2011

photos: Leslie K. Joseph