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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 !

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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
chefjimi
©Blues411.com 2011
If you wish to see more photos from Matt & Band please go to:
http://blues411.com/gallery/index.php?album=matt-schofield

photos: Leslie K. Joseph

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Filed under Blues, Entertainment, Festivals, Interviews, Music, Rock & Roll

CD Reviews: The Homemade Jamz Blues Band ‘The Game’, & Sugaray ‘Blind Alley’

The Homemade Jamz Blues Band  – The Game

With this, their third release, The Homemade Jamz Blues Band displays a musical maturity that will impress even the casual listener, while at the same time, their long time fans will appreciate the progress that each of them has made over the last few years.

Fronted by Ryan Perry on guitar and vocals, along with brother Kyle on bass, sister Taya on the drums, they have molded a sound that starts in the rural backwoods of Mississippi and brings to mind the images of the past infused with the hope and vitality of their youth.

From the opening strains of Ryan’s’ throaty field holler, on ‘Washing Clothes’ one can hear the progress made by the band. To me, quite often the first cut is the one that could either make me buy into a release or not, as the case may be. This first cut sells it big time !

‘The Game’is an interesting cut, in so much as it hints of Earl Kings’  ‘Come On’ and of the guitar sound and feel of Jimi Hendrix in his later more chord driven work. Now I am not comparing Ryan to Jimi or Earl, but just as to what I am hearing, think of Message of Love and songs of that ilk of Hendrix music and you will see what I mean. Even some of the solos I can hear a constrained adaption of what Hendrix might do to this lead. Not overblown, tasteful and with just the right amount of funkiness that pervaded Jimi’s later work. Hey, plus they are using football, baseball, and basketball as a metaphors for the love game he’s singing about. How bad can that be ?

Slowing it down to the more traditional blues tack, they offer up ‘Gotta Bad Bad Feeling’ to showcase Ryan’s’ thoughtful leads and his progress into the Blues guitar realm. I might have liked the bottom turned up somewhat on Kyles’ bass playing here, but that’s a minor point.

These kids have been around the Blues community for quite some time and what seems to be forgotten is that they are all still just pups. Ryan, just finished High School, is 18, Kyle is 16 and Taya is 12, that’s young, and to me it is thrilling that these youngsters are continuing to play the blues with the guidance and assistance of their family and father Renaud (who plays some killer harp on this release and when touring with them). What. might you ask, do these youngsters know about the blues, well give a listen to The Game and you will see, hear and feel the connection.

You can visit them at http://www.hmjamzbluesband.com/ for more info on the band, releases and tour dates.

Sugaray – Blind Alley

Big sounding, full throttle blues from West Coast featuring Sugaray on vocals and a fine cast of accomplished players make this a fine release – one that you can turn up and shake your moneymaker to.

From the first call out of the beat that then transforms into Jimmy Z’s thrilling attention getting harmonica riff, they break into Al Kooper’s ‘Nuthin’ I Wouldn’t Do (For A Woman Like You)‘.  Blind Alley slows down just enough to let you catch your breath. This is accomplished first off with Sugarays’ version of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s ‘Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground’ and then Son Houses’ classic ‘Death Letter’ picks it back up.

Sugaray’s vocals are deep and full of soul, in a time of guitar driven Blues songs it is refreshing (and much needed) to hear some vocal driven Blues, after all the Blues started as spoken word storytelling and the voice is an integral part of it’s history and should not be ignored. Not limited to slow blues or traditional treatments of songs, he moves freely through modern styling of traditional songs such as ‘You Upsets Me Baby’ and the aforementioned ‘Death Letter’ infusing each with a dash of funk, a twist of spice and backed by a solid rhythm section (and horns enuf for anyone) ! His version of ‘You Go To Move’ is a gospel minute that puts things in perspective as to the relation of the Blues and the church.

I must say I did enjoy hearing his versions of Al Koopers’ two compositions on this release, I have always been a great big Al Kooper fan. His version of ‘I Let Love Slip Thru My Fingers’ recalls the glory of great soul songs and the slide work and horn interweaving is just thrilling to hear.

Give it a listen, if you are somewhat ‘old school’, a nouveau blues fan, or if you are a traditionalist I think you will find something here to reinforce your views and maybe enlighten you to some other approaches.

 To read more about Sugaray be sure to stop on over and visit at http://www.sugarayblues.com/ and tell him I sent ya.

Until Next Time
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
chefjimi

photos courtesy: artists
©Blues411.com 2010

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Filed under Blues, CD Reviews, Entertainment, Music