The 411 in 15 Minutes/Photo Gallery: Inspiration from Buddy Guy

Buddy Guy has been called too loud, too soft, too urban, too country, too simple, too complicated and just too damn good.

I say “hell yeah” to that. One thing is Buddy knows about the Blues. So you are having a hard time coming up with the lyrics to the contest, well look at these snaps and think….what would Buddy do – or say?


Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2012
photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411

For more info on the contest please visit this post:



Bluestock – Blues Nirvana With A Dickensian Twist

Well it’s over, Bluestock that is. The much publicized 3 Days of Peace, Love and the Blues to be held August 26, 27, 28, 2011 is in the books. What a story it turned out to be.

No one quite knew what to expect, but what we got was a true mix of Blues Fest, Woodstock revisited, Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, and disaster area all in one. That’s not a bad thing, mind you it’s just the hand we got dealt.  Scheduled to be held over three days on Hunter Mountain, a Central New York State ski area, it was to be a gathering of the tribes at one spectacular event, combining all the good from each faction and making it’s mark on the history of festivals and become one of the largest of it’s kind. It succeded in ways unimaginable by anyone who was there or that I had talked to.

What I will offfer here for your approval is a story of what went on, pre, during and post. Combined with personal experiences, and group experiences since sometimes they were inseparable.

With people arriving from all over the US and the world, we set out Thursday mid morning hoping to arrive at our shared condo around 4 or 5 o’clock. Well first part of trip was cool, nice weather till we turned South and headed down thru the Cobleskill area  – the rain picked up, roads were closed and detours were in place because of bridge construction/repairs. We wound up coming in the back way on a one and a half lane road in the rain (not storm rain – just normal Central NY mid afternoon summer rain – which can be heavy at times). Well, I was freaking since I had no bloody idea of where we were – even tho’ we had a GPS system – I didn’t believe it since we were hearing banjos and bad teenage summer  horror movie music. My partner, Leslie, was driving and reassured this city boy we were fine. As we headed by the Gilboa dam, there was a moment that she might have sided with me, since that main road was closed and we were being diverted down a steep hill. Yet we made it, arriving at Hunter Mountain and meeting up with friends who all had arrived before us (we were the closest, and should have heeded this subtle, but firm warning on what was to come).

That night had a feel of pre-LRBC cruise night. People showing up, gathering in a common area, joining each other at tables, rooms and common areas of the lodging. All excited about what was to come, each planning on what they would be scoping out, acts they were looking forward to, and acts that they thought would be surprise bands. We strolled around the grounds to get the feel for the lay out, vantage points and other tactical preparation that often accompanies festival gatherings. Interesting set up, with two stages side by side allowing attendees to shuffle to the left – shuffle to the right to see the bands in action. It worked really well, and did not create overcrowding or insurmountable congestion either. A nice thought for some other larger festivals to consider. Later that night the cruiser faction kicked in with dinner at the Hotel dining room, and cruiser ‘framily‘ making their arrivals seen and heard in the usual fellowship of the Blues method – a great time to see and hang with lots of folks whom we have come to know and love over the years.

Friday broke upon us gently with a soft mist floating over the area, it burned off by 10:00AM, and left us with a comfortable shroud of clouds to get our chores and ‘whatevers’ accomplished before the 5:00PM kick off. Establishing a beach head with good vantage points was pretty easy and folks were set up and ready to rock the mountains as never before. People were still arriving when Steve Simon introduced the Lionel Young Band and they kicked it off in such grand style that they made many new fans based on their performance. Part R&B revue, part amalgam of new and old style Blues and one hundred percent kick ass they ushered in a joy and spirit that stayed with us all for the entire event.

As Bob Margolin & Matt Hill hit the stage and kept the spirits burning bright (to be joined by the aforementioned Lionel Young) there was serious conferencing and logistical planning in the staff trailers due to the oncoming approach of Hurricane Irene. It’s path seemed to be headed straight for us – not a good thing at all. By middle of the nights’ performance the brain trust of Bluestock had wisely put together a plan that would bring us the most acts possible in the shortest amount of time allowable with the least amount of danger to us all.

Sunday would be canceled, Saturday would start at Noon with Robert Cray Band opening the day. Buddy Guy would follow and then we would all move inside to the Hunter Mountain Ski Lodge & Hall. It would be tight but if we keep our collective heads in the right place we would be partying till the break of day and enjoying it.

As the crew and pit bosses scrambled to get things in place the show went on featuring just spanking performances by everyone, no exclusions. From Trombone Shorty to Tab Benoit & the Gator Hat Crew (LOL) to Elvin Bishop having Donna Placco join him on stage for guitar lessons, the attendees were exposed to a wide variety of Blues that we don’t often get to see, a great mix indeed.

Friday ended with Mitch Woods and the Rocket 88 Revue featuring Billy Gibson, Dave Fields, Pete ‘Hop’ Hopkinson and a cast of jamming artists bringing us to a joyful end of day one. A great few numbers by Shakura S’Aida, Johnny Sansone and Mitch Woods with enough sexual tension that Ms. S’Aida looked up from her efforts with Mitch to ask, who all these people were in her bedroom ! Great work, perfect timing and sultry enough for any, and every one there.

Damn, Saturday morning rolled around pretty quickly. A noon start is stretching it for a lot of us folks ! But with the star power scheduled we all got there and the weather cooperated till the end of Buddy’s set in which he brought out young guitarist Quinn Sullivan to show us that the Blues is alive and well with the younger generation. Moving inside the hall with two stages in adjoining rooms, sort of like Chicago’s Kingston Mines on steroids, every single act gave it their very best. It was wood shedding without the bad parts. As for the rain, it was so-so, raining hard enough that we were glad NOT to be outside but it wasn’t overpowering or effecting us in any real way. Well that lasted till Sunday when the heavens opened up, but more on that later.

With the non-food vendors set-up inside also (nice touch for them), and the bar offering food to go it ran really well. With Michael Cloeren, Tony Colter, Steve Simon and others manning the stage announcements the shows criss-crossed the stages till later in the night when confronted with a rural curfew they had to double up some acts to get it all in. This really wasn’t a problem, though it did make it sometimes difficult to swing back and forth between acts. It seemed to take a bit away from the full effect of the sets involved, but hell no complaint here, just an observation. Energy that was electric emanating from the stage as Ronnie Baker Brooks brought some of that Chicago Blues to us all, and Curtis Salgado’s Big Band grabbed us by the hearts and made us breath just a little bit heavier for his effort.

The last two acts were the Port City Prophets up from Charleston, SC a hard driving power trio who, though they may have not been well-known, certainly left the audience knowing who they were when they left. The other act was Alexis P. Suter Band from Brooklyn and metro NY. Having to play without two members of the band due to the Irene, they came out swinging and captivated the, at times, overly stimulated crowd, leaving everyone worn out and frayed but with just enough thread to left to enjoy the final session of Club 88. Mitch Woods closed up shop on time and got everyone headed back to where they came from, thus ending the ‘official’ Bluestock Festival.

I cannot say enough about Steve and crew for managing a very fluid situation and accomplishing what they set out to do. Nothing was ignored, safety first, music for everyone, and goodness abounding. Another thing is that this day was so similar to the LRBC cruises with music going on all day, and the excitement and anticipation that emanated from the crowd equalled the fevered pitch that we experience on the boats of the bluescruise. And no ports !

Sunday brought about the ‘unofficial’ festival. With attendees and artists alike situated in various hotels in the area we should have been able to gather and party during the day. Well Hurricane Irene took care of that. Mitch Woods, Billy Gibson and others were stranded in a flooded Tannersville, but still managed to put on a show along with Moreland & Arbuckle and a few other hearty souls to the enjoyment of all in that part of town. Ahh, Main street in Tannersville was flooded, and no power did not stop them.

Meanwhile at the Kaatskill Mountain Lodge, where we were based was desperately trying to keep power supplied – and by mid afternoon we managed to put on a small revue featuring Kirsten Thien, Erik Boyd, Kit Holiday, Pat Pepin and other adventurous musicians to keep the spirit alive and well. Then the lights went out, and while some hung downstairs others went to their rooms. We hit up the restaurant who had limited food, and got some grub, and partied back in the room with friends. All the while the storm raged. When we did have power we would watch the local news and weather channel to see what was up with Irene, and she was stuck between the mountain ranges and we were getting upwards of fifteen inches of rain. Bridges washed out, as did evacuation roads and later we learned that the NY State Thruway was more of a waterway than auto way. UGH ! The hotel did a great job of digging berms and diverting the rising water level to keep it from totally washing out the roads, but they could only do so much. Also they offered up cookies and good stuff from the fridges that were going to be without power for a good long time, thanks y’all.

Monday was clear, a bit chilly but showed hopeful for getting out of Dodge. But the bridge across the stream turned river just below was closed and with power lines down it was going to be dicey at best getting off the mountain. Fortunately the front desk was very helpful keeping us up to date on options and we set off to try a semi-closed road where power lines were down, but with no power and none expected it seemed to be the thing to do. A two-lane road now a one and a quarter path with a straight drop off the end was where we headed. Time consuming but eventually successful we made it down and to the NY State Thruway in Saugerties and headed North toward Albany hoping to scoot west and be home.

Well who knew that the Mohawk River was going to crest at 2PM on Monday, and was already flowing over the thruway ? So as we and a few other hearty Bluestockers hit the rest area, we waited it out hoping that they would open the westward passage – ahh not gonna happen. All the ancillary roads were also closed to traffic, so we headed back to Albany to a hotel to eat, sleep and shower and try again. Several funny asides here, as we hit the hotel the front desk guy had a Bluestock band on his wrist so we asked if he was there and yes he was with his mom ! He saw Wendy and I on stage Saturday night when we spoke of the newly created Framily between Bluestockers and Bluescrusiers and his mom even snagged a few Blues411 buttons – who knew.

The other was Leslie’s niece Kali hailing from New Hampshire was camping in Niagara Falls and stopped by our house to visit, but since we were not there she called/texted us and said they were headed to Albany to stay in our hotel since they needed to get back to NH the next day. Well here’s to the intrepidity of this younger generation, they made it thru the ‘closed’ roads and we hung out had a quick visit and breakfast and then they headed toward Vermont and eventually made it back to New Hampshire – cool !

So after the ‘kids’ departed we struck out to re-create their path westward, and made it through to the Thruway just near Syracuse where we finally made it back to Rochester. We went thru some of the devasted areas, and could see the high-water marks on trees and houses (the ones that were still standing) and then we saw this scene of cows just lazing as if nothing had happened.  Oh, did I mention that Wendy Schumer was with us, she was scheduled to fly out of Boston back to Portland but the path of the storm (when last seen) was headed directly there, so she changed to fly out of Rochester – all we had to do was to get West which was supposed to be easy – WRONG ! So Wendy got to visit and spend the night as we ate along the bubbling and historic Erie Canal, and we got her to her flights and she eventually made it home.

So if I can reference Dickens – it was the best of times, it was the worst  of times. The festival ran smoothly and to a person was successful and enjoyable. Hurricane Irene did a job on the area though, and residents suffered from her treacherous rains and floods. They are still fighting against it, with more rains this week their lives seems to be double cursed. But I know that these hearty folks will prevail as best as they can.

There are several sites that are offering opportunities to help out area residents get their lives back in some order, on facebook:



on the web:







and concert:


Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2011
photos: Courtesy of Leslie K. Joseph, Kathleen Blandini


Bluestock: Marrying the Amazing Vibe of Woodstock with the Incredible Energy of the Bluescruise.

Blues411 had just a spot in time to chat with Mr. Steve Simon who is partnering up with Radio Woodstock to bring us the summer’s main event Bluestock. Featuring Buddy Guy, The Robert Cray Band, Elvin Bishop, Tommy Castro & The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue, Shemeika Copeland and many, many more.
Steve, along with his brother Jeff who bring the hottest blues to the coolest places, are veteran concert/festival promoters who have brought the Blues to our troops in the war-torn Middle East (Bluzapalooza) to the sun baked shores of St. John’s USVI.
How did the road to Bluestock start? Where will it lead ? Steve graciously shared some valuable minutes in the week leading up to the event to answer some questions and to promise on delivering the festival of the year.

B411: Steve thanks so much for giving us some time. Bluestock and the lead up has been as hot as the summer across the nation, and now it is self-immolating. How did this start, what was the seed that started Bluestock?

SS: The seed that started it was visiting my friends in Woodstock a year and a half ago. Having not been up there since the days of the Woodstock Festival, and just being totally enamored with the vibe of the area plus the natural beauty of the area – it just screams creativity. It’s an area where new friends feel like old friends instantaneously.
My friends there are all into music and most of them into the Blues, I was so smitten by the experience up there that I thought this would be a great place to have a blues festival. Then this word ‘Bluestock’ exploded in my mind. One thing led to another and we started talking about it and dreaming about it and this led to my friends asking if I knew the people at Radio Woodstock? They put on a big music festival at Hunter Mountain every June, so next day I am meeting with Gary Chetkof and his senior staff in the Radio Woodstock offices, when lo and behold it was love at first sight. We are all cut from the same cloth, we’re all about music, we’re all about fun, and we are all over age hippies that will never grow up.
In the course of it all Gary shared with me that for the last six/seven years he has produced Mountain Jam one time a year, which is a mega-festival at Hunter Mountain. They were thinking of piggy-backing off the infrastructure and knowledge by creating another festival and they were thinking of the Blues. I am the one-stop shopping for Blues Central – it was a marriage made in heaven – so by the end of the day will be happening next week is exactly what I envisioned. To marry the amazing vibe of Woodstock with the incredible energy of the Bluescruise. Bluestock is real !

B411: It certainly is, the level of expectation is over the top, but I must say if anyone can do this you can. With your experience in Bluzapalooza and other ventures, I’d say you are uniquely qualified to weave this technicolor dreamcoat out of the Bluescruise and Woodstock.

SS: My contribution to the wonderful, wacky world of blues is to take the blues where it hasn’t been before. I have been blessed with the opportunity to do things like Bluzapalooza and go to countries where American Blues artists have not been seen before, and to entertain out troops, embassy staff – it’s so cool and we are having a lot of fun.

B411: So how many are we expecting ?

SS: We really don’t know. I can tell you that advance tickets sales are through the roof, way beyond what we expected. But having been in this business as long as I have I can tell you that there is a good two to three year gestation period to get to that critical mass of sustainability. We are prepared to subsidize Bluestock till it reaches sustainability. We are presenting a world class event to our friends and we know that it will sustain itself in thirty six months. We are already putting together the list for next year,we have the venue reserved for next year.

B411: Looking slightly more in to the future, would you consider doing regional Bluestocks ?

SS: Yes we would. We can see a West Coast Bluestock, but we are not going to look at it till after next week. But we have been having a dialogue about and have location lists and venues, so sometime in the fall a group of us will take a trip out West and visit a few locations and see if it makes real sense for us. Yeah, we are very much interested in keeping the blues alive and expanding the Bluestock brand.

B411: That’s gonna make a lot of people very happy ! Anything else you wish to share with us?

SS: Can I just offer this up for everyone:
The outpouring of love from all over the world has been beyond anything I have ever envisioned. I cannot begin to tell you how much emotional, spiritual support I’ve received in my endeavors to keep the Blues alive, it’s my Vitamin C so I have a lot of thanks to give.

For more info on Bluestock:
on Steve Simon Presents:


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

Lionel Young Band: Blues & Boogie Woogie

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 now 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?

LY: 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, Ray Charles, 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.

I 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?

LY: 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.

B411: Where are you and the band going now? Is there anything you guys are up to in the studio, summer festival time is upon us, where can we look forward to seeing you?

LY: We’re setting our sights high. Why not go big? We have some stuff in the can that we can release when the time is right. Meanwhile, we’re looking at situations where we can get our music out and more available. There are some serious looks at some good companies and situations in the immediate future. Meanwhile, we’re going to be all over the US, Canada. We’re playing lots of festivals this summer. Most or all of where we’ll be will be posted on our website at We’re presented with lots of opportunities and we what to make the best of them. Going to Europe in November, doing the Blues Cruise again. I’m excited.

B411: See you at Bluestock, August 26-28, 2011 (  !

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

photos: Leslie K. Joseph


This conversation orginally appeared in Blues Blast Magazine, and it has been edited and re-published here with their kind permission.
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