Tag Archives: Rick Estrin

Interview: The Power of the Pocket

Bassist being repulsed by obnoxious fan.

Bassist being repulsed by obnoxious fan.

I met these two cats several years ago when Samantha Fish played in Rochester, NY. Her earlier band had Peyton Manning on bass, and GoGo Ray on drums, when they returned they had changed bassists, adding Chris Alexander.
To me it was a giant leap for the band. Nothing wrong with the cat who went before but there was a certain chemistry that  was palpable.
We all were aboard the October 2013, Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise so I grabbed them and asked if they wanted to talk about ‘the pocket’ and how it works and what it really does for the band, the sound and the overall enjoyment of the music for the fans.
We pick it up right after deep discussions about ‘fung-shui’ and other exotic life applications.
It really is three cats hanging out and discussing some stuff that doesn’t get shared too often – we all hear about the pocket, and what it should or should not be. This was a great chance to explore that subject in a comfortable situation. I thank them both for their time and knowledge that they shared with me, and us.
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Chris Alexander: Hey, you guys have a movable table in your cabin! (spoken as we both leaned on it to laugh at some earlier edited out comment).
B411: Well we got the converto-room, the table moves in case we need to spread out and turn this into a recording studio. Speaking of Fung shoe -ey – Someone said, if you leave the toilet seat up, it’s bad fung shui? These folks didn’t have toilet seats back in China back in 0 B.C.!
GoGo Ray: How would they know?
Chris: Like if you leave the hole uncovered it’s bad Fung Shui?

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

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

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

Samantha Fish, GoGo Ray, Chris Alexander

Samantha Fish, GoGo Ray, Chris Alexander

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

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

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

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

Danielle Schnebelen

Danielle Schnebelen

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

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

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

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

GoGo Ray always smiling and engaging.

GoGo Ray always smiling and engaging.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chris & Mike Zito

Chris & Mike Zito

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

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

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

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

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

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

Always prepared.

Always prepared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

B411:
I didn’t start out to do this. I’ve always loved music. Hendrix, but before Hendrix were The Beatles. These guys had guitars. The guitar was an instrument. A guitar used to be, there was talk about Bill Haley, but that didn’t register with me. Because that was corporate white people. It didn’t have the soul. My brother loved it. To me, it was like, there’s something missing. Then, The Beatles came out and they played pretty guitars. And that was the sound of the band. It was 3 guitars – one was a bass – but it was 3 guitars and a drummer. That was pretty cool. It took me into Cream, Hendrix.

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

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

Day of the Bassist of the Dead!

Day of the Bassist of the Dead!

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

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

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

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

Wrestlin' With the Groove!

Wrestlin’ With the Groove!

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Interview: ‘Uncle’ Guy Davis Part2

 

Guy & Chef going boldly where no one has gone before...

Guy & Chef going boldly where no one has gone before…


continuing on with my conversation with Guy Davis aboard the 2013 October Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. We start talking about his one man play ‘Fishy Waters’ and then take a few twists and turns that will, undoubtedly, leave some people uncomfortable….
Part One can be found here.

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GD
……And that’s what I’m looking for when I get on the radio and start singing the blues and carrying on. It’s fun. I want people to believe that magic is found in the human heart. In the human psyche. And blues is a part of that for me. The blues is my way of digging up magic.

B411: You were saying that you like to tell stories, and you enjoy it. Tell me a little about “Fishy Waters” (his one-man play).
GD: “Fishy Waters” – that is hobo. And he’s a man of the old cloth. The story I tell takes place in 1959, so he’s talking about things that have gone on in his life from years before that. “Fishy Waters” is a reflection, to some extent, of people in my life. I had an uncle named Tommy, who was my mother’s brother. And he told me one time that he could live out in the woods, and that he could catch a wild turkey and kill it and wrap it in tin foil, and dig a hole in the ground and fill it with charcoal and throw that turkey in there in the tin foil and cook it in the fire pit and have it come out of there tasting just as good as the turkey my momma pulled out of the oven on Thanksgiving. And I was there for every word that he spoke. And he had all kinds of other stories too. About traveling thru Central America and South American in this old Rambler and running the odometer around completely back until it zeroed out and then kept going. And these stories are in me. So much of what I sing about, what I talk about are not things that I’ve necessarily lived, I think my gift, if you want to call it that, is for dialogue. For hearing words and speaking words that affect myself, affect the people that hear them. Words that appeal to the senses, the site, sound, taste ,touch, smell, that kind of thing. So “Fishy Waters” I say is a teller of tales and singer of songs. And there’s no tale so tall that he can’t tell it, nor song so sweet that he can’t sing it.

Now this doesn’t mean that I have one of those sweet Ronnie Isley kind of voices, but I’ve got the voice I have. And this is the voice I sing with and the voice that I tell stories with. And so Fishy goes from town to town and he shares the stories that he’s heard and he tells about his adventures on the road. And this reflects a lot of the magic that I’ve had in my life as a kid meeting people who’ve come thru town and maybe sitting in my dad’s living room. I’m talking about writers and actors and various kinds of craftsmen and union organizers and some celebrities, and lots of non-celebrities. And I would hear things and I would see things and I would observe things. And they’ve all become a part of my life. They’ve become part of who I am. And I think maybe I just wrote the Fishy Waters stories so that I could be everyone’s Uncle Guy. And everyone would want to invite me over for Thanksgiving. They’d just sit and listen to me tell stories while I stuff my face with their Turkey and slap yams on my tongue and swallow them down. Cause I’m a yam eatin’ kind of guy.

Live on stage with Fishy Waters.

Live on stage with Fishy Waters.

So Fishy Waters, he is fiction and thru the entire work, with the exception of some legitimate blues songs like “Dust My Broom” and “Candyman” and stuff that I’ve included, it’s fiction. But it’s meant to tell a kind of truth. Fishy Water’s biggest story is of him leaving home and wandering into a hobo camp. And how that changed his life. But on the way to that story, he tells lots of tall tales that feature giant flies, talking silk worms, and all sorts of fantastical little creatures there. The kind of creatures that probably in the Christian religion, they talk about turning water into wine, and all the miracles that Jesus did, well if you can turn water into wine, I can tell you it makes all those other miracles so much more possible. Like raising the dead, curing the lame and the deaf and the blind. Oh yeah. You drink enough of that hooch, man, you’re going to be all over with those miracles.

So there is Fishy Waters. He’s there to bring that magic. And he tells tales that tales that have to do with horror and death and lynching. And the first talk he tells, having to do with lynching is a very poignant and deep and raw kind of story. And I think it’s told on very human terms. So that audiences of all races and ethnicities and communities can relate to it. Because it’s told on very human terms. But then the next stories, that have to do with lynching or threats of beatings – are told from a humorous prospective, like the guy who is going to out run a train to get away from an ass whoopin’. And you know, out run various speeding objects. This is just another way of saying that a human being will do anything to survive. You can say it seriously or you can say it with humor. But the message is the same. There is no speed that I could not obtain to get my ass away from a bullet coming my way. That kind of thing.

Sweet lullaby

Sweet lullaby

B411: Sometimes humor works better. It relaxes you. It releases the endorphins and all that stuff they say happens when we laugh and smile.
GD: Brother – endorphins are good! To those reading this, endorphins are wonderful. And humor – I highly recommend it because there is so much going on in the world, it make you want to cry and bury your head somewhere. And you can’t tell stories about the evils of racism and lynching and continue to tell those stories and try to point your finger at one whole group of people and expect them to be able to sit there without squirming and trembling and wanting to be elsewhere. It’s got to be laid out in human terms and sometimes humorous terms. Because life is like that. I had a teacher once who said that suppose you were feeling great sadness, and that sadness was represented by a puppy, in a little tiny room with a closet with a glass panel. So you’re looking there and you could see a little brown puppy and the little black one and the white one and the red one and the spotted one and the gray one. And there are puppies all in that room. And the sad one is the one in the corner. But if you open the door, they all come out. All the sadness, all the humor, everything comes out. That’s what makes it human. That’s what I’m after as a story teller. It doesn’t make me a great one or an expert, but it makes me who I am. It’s the path that I’m on. And I recommend that people tell their stories to each other. Find ways to tell them. I recommend that students in schools when it comes to write a paper, write about something that you know. Write about your life, or if your life is too sensitive, make up a fictional one. But write it as if you wanted people to visualize it as you were writing it. Write in terms of sight, sound, taste, touch, smell. And then ask your teacher for help when it comes to grammar and sentence structure and paragraph structure. All that kind of stuff. But you’ll be motivated. You’ll find you’ll really be communicating.

Notice that I went to school, and they just had us writing about the periodic table of elements. What is aluminum? Anybody see aluminum? AL, are you here?

B411: Al U. Minum probably lives over 127th and Lenox Avenue.
GD: Yeah, bring him down. Send for him. It was quite dull. I guess they were trying to teach us ultimately how to organize our thoughts into words, into coherent, cohesive messages that we would write or create. And that takes time. And that’s not everybody’s strong suit. But if you write about something you’re interested in, you can have more fun with it. And then on top of writing, you have got to read it to each other. People need to communicate more without the internet. Maybe use the computer to write it up. People, especially young folk, have got to learn how to communicate without the mechanical aids. Not that you should never use them, but someday, man, if the NSA gets its way, they will pull the plug on the internet and everything else, what you gonna’ do when they come for you bad boys.

B411: You need the personal experience because we all share that. That’s in us, that the “one note”. The John Lee Hooker, that’s the E – boom, boom, boom. You take that away, it gets removed thru daily life and now thru internet – which I use a lot of – but this (I didn’t touch you!) this conversation.
GD: There’s not a camera in this recorder is there?
B411: Ahh, no what camera, that’s the power indicator…ahem. The further we’re removed from each other, the more isolated we become, the more mistrust. We become all foreigners. We’re not part of the world community; we’re part of our own community. I don’t know why we’re going so deep here.

Potent & veristile as an artist.

Potent & veristile as an artist.

GD: It’s all right. You say the word community – on this ship there’s community, there’s blues community. Some are performers, some are listeners. And the performers must continue to humbly realize that we need listeners. I mean yes, it’s great to jam. It’s great for us great professionals to sit amongst each other and play. Play like geniuses. If I was Watermelon Slim, [Guy says talking like Slim] “you could have Sonny Sharrock, you could have Jimi Hendrix, have Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton all sitting there playing, and they would play like geniuses. But you let one woman walk up in that room, why they’d tear those guitars to pieces. I tell you they rip them. They’d bite the strings off. Where’s that bourbon?” If I was Watermelon Slim, that’s how I would have said that.
B411: Absolutely. He probably would have thrown a few more $5 words in there.

GD: It’s about community. You just brought up that word. We gotta start thinking in terms of the whole world as a community. We’re getting semi-deep as we speak here.
B411: That’s what attracted me to the blues. I grew up listening to Sinatra to Little Richard. I had a fairly broad rock and roll base of knowledge. Then The Beatles, Stones, Yard Birds, Animals,
GD: It’s a wide pallet.
B411: Indeed, and a wide pallet can hold a heavy load! Yea, so all this stuff starts to come in. And then Rock and Roll and music sort of died. There wasn’t anything to listen to. To me, past that, I found XM radio. And there’s Bluesville. The first thing I turned on, it happened to be a show called “Front Porch” with acoustic music.

Guy talkin' the straight talk.

Guy talkin’ the straight talk.

GD: Speaking of XM and Sirius, they better get Bill Wax back on that show. I’m gonna kick down the door and knock…I’m sorry. I’m back.
B411: But that, I started writing to Bill. Instead of saying “Bill, play Guy Davis”, it would be “Bill, I heard you interview Guy Davis. He’s an incredible story teller, I loved it. He did a song that was about something, and I related to it. And could you play that song because I really didn’t catch the whole thing.” Then Bill starts to respond. He starts writing me back. He says, “Wow, that’s…” A relationship developed from that. And I don’t know this man from Adam. He embraced me. I go to the BMAs. I go on the Blues Cruise. I’m overwhelmed by the talent, the humbleness. And that community. And I said that’s what I’m doing. That’s my calling baby.
GD: Let me tell you about the first time I met Bill Wax. A human being who I think deserves a lot of credit when it comes to keeping the blues alive. Who’s no longer employed by Sirius/XM, and I think it’s a big mistake. When I walked into the Sirius/XM building in Washington, DC, it’s like being inside the Starship Enterprise. It’s like very long corridors with few pictures on them. And these huge open windows, Plexiglas windows on each side, inside of each was sort of a studio a kind of table area and maybe a little bit of recording equipment here and there. Mostly there were laptops in there. There was one sort of grand preforming area, but it looked like you were just walking along in a space ship and wondering where the Klingon lived. You’re there and you’re looking around. Bill made it human. He showed me this laptop. He didn’t even have to come in to work. He could just email himself tapping one button, it had this pre-programmed list of songs to play. And Bill could just sit home and sniff his flower pots. But no, he liked to be there. He liked to interview people. He liked to ask questions much like yourself. He liked to get some human feeling cooking. Finding out where he’s at with the community and stories. He invited me to do that. He recorded me doing “Going Down Slow”, a version that I didn’t think I did very well with. And years later, I heard that interview played on XM and the “Going Down Slow” sounded good! I said damn man, I didn’t realize it was that good. Because I was connected and I didn’t realize it at the time. Maybe it’s a performers job to be in the moment.

*As Watermelon Slim would say again [Guy says talking like Slim] “In case your deciding that you want to perform, you’ve got to be in the moment. It means if you’ve got bourbon bottle in one hand and you’ve got to have a glass in the other and that’s being in the moment. Dag gummit’. Can you wrap brain pan around that?”
And Watermelon Slim is gone from the room now – he stepped out the door. I tease him because I love him.

B411: I love Slim also. He’s another storyteller. His music, his stories. There are some great stories. These are the guys that keep it alive. Cause the blues in essence is the spoken word. Well it was the chants. I don’t mean to get all educational with my history here, I’m just a baby. It was field chants, which then translated into stories and sounds that passed along to the children and into music. And you can correct this, but it’s sketchy, but it’s what I’ve learned

GD: You’re saying it fine. Field hollers, the blues came up out of that stuff. [Said in a field holler/sing song voice]

Ah, Rosie, o’lord care,

Ah Rosie, o’lord care when she walk she really rocks behind

When she walks she really rocks behind

Ain’t that enough to worry convicts mind.”

Yes, it is enough. These men on the chain gang were singing what they knew and what they wanted to know. To sing about them women.
Ah man, there are some aspects of the blues and the early blues and the pre-blues. And the use of the N word. I don’t think should be forbidden or outlawed as much as it need to be introduced by someone like Bill Wax who can give a context to the word and it’s use and the way things were sung about. There’s an aspect of the blues that I’ve heard reflected. Especially in work songs something “I don’t want no jet black woman, she’s too mean lord, lord, she’s too mean.” Such a line, is not considered politically correct because it’s hurtful. It’s like looking at a group of beautiful women and telling them, that you’re not on this list, you can’t get on this line kind of thing. But it was something that was going on, and being sung about in the prisons. I would love to know is there was some kind of research to indicate where that, who started that line? I imagine that it came post reconstruction. Back when they had the, I think they’re called the Black Laws, when slavery ended, they no longer had slaves as a source of labor to build this country. So they turned to prisons. And what I’m calling the Black Laws, I’m not sure if that’s the right term, ensured that if a Black man and a White man stood before a judge, charged with the same crime, the Black man would do more time. And his labor would be continued to be used to build the country, to hoe the fields and harvest the plants and to build the buildings and dig the ditches. So, these are the people that the blues is written about. Even if the blues didn’t come into its recognizable form to us until 19 what ever – WC Handy said 1907, but you know it’s somewhere back there. These are the people that the blues are being sung about. The dispossessed people, those people hijacked from the street, and thrown into prison.

B411: It’s the same horse, but a different color. You can call it what you want, it’s slavery. It’s indentured servitude.

Singing and teaching, the Blues is oral history.

Singing and teaching, the Blues is oral history.

GD: I guess I just wanted it to never be forgotten that I don’t want the word, the N word to necessarily vanish from the face of the earth and imprison anybody who uses it. It just has to be used with a certain clear understanding that it is a word that riots have been started over, blood has been spilled over. And rappers seem to use indiscriminately sometimes. I’ve even hear white rappers use it to each other. So the whole thing gets kooky.

B411: It’s morphed.
GD: It has morphed. But I don’t want it to morph so much that people forget where the blues came from.

B411: Well, do you want to end here?
GD: I think we about got to the end.

*Click here to listen to Guy impersonate Watermelon Slim & sing his “Oh Rosie” song….

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease

chefjimi

©Blues411.com 2014
photos by: Leslie K. Joseph
Where Blues Thrives

 

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Filed under Blues, Blues411, Bluescruise, Entertainment, Interviews, Music, Opinion, Performance Review, Picks to Click, Rock & Roll, Uncategorized

Interview: ‘Uncle’ Guy Davis, Part One

Guy & Chef at Pocono Blues festival

Guy & Chef at Pocono Blues festival

I have always admired Guy Davis for his simple yet complicated approach to music. To me he is a link to the past while being a guiding light to the future of the Blues. We finally got a chance to ‘get it down on a digital recorder’ on the October 2013 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, and it turned into something equivalent to two old friends sitting around chatting about all that is precious to them and shared experiences.
Guy and I grew up in NYC and are about a year apart in age (I’m older, he’s wiser) so the common bond was there from the start.
We talked late into the evening, and went way too long for a one and done here, so it will broken into two parts. This first part puts us on the map as we speak about his BMA nominated release ‘Juba Dance’ and some of his inspirations. Oh yeh he is also nominated for Best Acoustic Artist this year …..
So please sit down with us as we chat and laugh and learn about the music, each other and reflect on life…..
______________

Blues411: So, your latest release, Juba Dance. It’s good to know that it made it to #1 on the Blues411 Chef Suggestions.
Guy Davis: Anything that gets close to food works for me.

B411: I hear you on that stand brother. It’s kind of interesting since you do covers of the old masters and you some of your own stuff that’s original but that has that old feel that I think is kind of great. Tell me about it; tell me your thought process because you’re an interesting guy!

Juba Dance

Juba Dance

GD: Well, I can’t help that. Juba Dance – the title was the last thing to come to me in the completion of this project. I got some money from a fellow in Italy to come on over and just record. So I just started grabbing some songs off the shelf from everywhere that I could find them. There are songs from Bertha “Chippie” Hill, like “Some Cold Rainy Day”, a song that always fascinated me but for some reason I never clung to it. Maybe I was a little intimidated by some of these songs. Another one by Blind Lemon Jefferson called “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”. That song has a particular history with me in that my Dad used to quote the lyrics – he would be speaking. “ It will be a long, long lane that ain’t got no end. It’s a bad wind don’t never change. “ And I was supposed to sing a different song I’d written at his funeral, but that song was not ready. So I sang “See That My Grave is Kept Clean”.

B411: Oh my gosh…
GD: And here I am on the CD, I got the Blind Boys of Alabama singing it. I could tell you stuff people would never think about. For instance, the way I do it alone – “See That My Grave is Kept Clean” – it’s in G modal, but it is a major key and it alternates. It has a dissonance. When the Blind Boys see it, an mp3 was provided for them. I was in Italy and they were in the states. And when it came back, they sang it in minor. So I’m playing major and they sang minor. So what I did, I had to tweak the guitar part. All the major notes and then I replayed the instrumentation with a banjo. All notes that would fit the minor. I had to grow and rise to the occasion. And it became beautiful in a way I didn’t anticipate when I did it. When I sang it.
B411: So you were kind of intimidated by it to start with. And then you get it and it’s a whole new challenge.
GD: It makes me think in my old age that I’m worth something. Maybe I actually do know a few things. I’m glad. It helps me to do what I’m here to do on this planet. And that is to spread the news, spread the energy. The blues certainly wasn’t invented by me. I just try to play it as if it was. The name of this work – Juba Dance – came not just from the song on the CD called “Dance Juba Dance” which is a banjo tune. And even I’ve written on the banjo, I have the phrase “Juba is my master”. But Juba was a black man born in the United States somewhere in the 1800’s. And he was born free – he was never a slave. And he could dance. And that’s all I know about Juba other than there is a style of movement called Pattin’ Juba. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Juba_dance ] Where you do some stampin’, and you slap you thigh, and your arms and the backs of your hands together. I’m sure there are moves I’ve never seen. But that doesn’t bother me. For a title it works. It gives me something ancient. And there’s a challenge in it.

I’m just recording songs not knowing whether they’re going to wind up on this CD. When I go into the studio, I record a song because I like it. I like what it does with an audience. I like the way it feels when I’m singing it. And so I did more covers, but my original tunes like “Love Looks Good on You”, I can’t say by any stretch of the imagination that it’s a blues song, but I managed to put in some Mississippi John Hurt/ Elizabeth Cotton style finger pickin’ with it. And I can get away with it. If Eric Bibb can get away with it, dag gone it, I can.
But the thing is, it’s a nice song. It reaches out, it has verses that people can relate to – they can see the little old couple holding hands. The grand kids are grown, but they’re still making plans.

Masterful finger picking.

Masterful finger picking.

B411: It’s universal. It really is. To me, that’s what blues is – it’s universal.
GD: Well brother, on a good day I can tap into, hopefully the universal consciousness rather than the BS consciousness which is around us all too often. The day to day consciousness and that’s a pleasure to deliver that because people, like you were saying, relate to it.

And I’ve got my Sonny Terry piece “Did You See My Baby”. People don’t know, but if you watch and listen to Sonny Terry do what he does, it looks and sounds so simple because it’s so rhythmic and direct and beautiful. But man it took me 20 years to make a sound that even resembled the sounds he made. And there I found myself on Broadway, taking over a part that he did on Broadway back in the late 1940’s. And the one blessing is that the director and the producer and the musical director said that I didn’t have to play a single note that Sonny Terry played. And I thought phewwww. Because I heard the notes that he played and I thought to myself … this is hard. But I managed to get enough of it in there so that it sounded an awful lot like what Sonny did. And so older people coming to see the Broadway revival of Finian’s Rainbow in 2009/2010 would remember hearing something very close to that in the late 1940’s. I needed to be able to do that.

B411: It also challenges you as an artist. Guy, you’re my connection, as well as a lot of other people’s connection to Sonny and them. You really are. It’s thru you that we learned about the old masters and you’re keeping their music alive, and you’re keeping it alive very much the way they would do it. Not necessarily note for note, but the feel and you’re love and passion for it comes thru. So it just makes it that much more comprehensible.

Passion is no ordinary word!

Passion is no ordinary word!

GD: I’m so full of love and passion that I need a laxative! You hear me!
Anything I don’t know, I make it up. It’s the gospel truth. I’m all about the feel and the texture. Man, when I listen to Rick Estrin playing the harmonica, it’s never been about for me how many notes he can fit into one measure. It’s about how those notes sound. The touch of it, the texture. That’s what reaches inside my chest and touches me. I mean I’ve met cats with robot lips who can play all kinds of notes, going every which way. But when they’re done with their performance I’m usually exhausted cause it’s like an athletic event. But when a cat who really has a beautiful touch on the harp plays, I’m energized. I’m all about that.

B411: Absolutely. But, a lot of guys need to take a step back and do what Rick and Kim (Wilson) do and feel the note. It’s like that with harp players and guitar players right now – everyone just wants to cram. There’s no space, there’s no breath.
GD: I heard a story once, about these two legendary masters, and for purposes of this story we say that they played the saxophone. Like à la John Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders. Something like that. And one master he would stand up in front of the orchestra and he would blow lots of notes. And he’d just up to the stratosphere immediately and the notes were all over the place and the audience comes out covered in sweat and they don’t remember a single note he played. And then the other master starts out very simple. Like he finds one note and he plays it, then two notes and he plays them. And he plays his way up very slowly and you watch him build up and up and up. And then he hits the stratosphere and he passes that on up into the ionosphere and up into where there is no more sphere. Where it’s all black where there are stars and planets where there’s solar systems. And at the end of his concert, everybody is thoroughly energized. That’s because the second master leaves room and in hall for the people that he’s playing to. Whereas the first master is so full of notes, he blows them all out the door. So nobody is actually there for the concert. They’re laying on the back, with notes. Holes from the notes that got blown thru their body.

So there are all kinds of ways to look at this. But I like to look at the human way. I like to look at the fact that yes, I like to play and I love, maybe too much, to hear the sound of my own voice and the sound of my own music. But it’s the people that we play to that make it work for me. Even in recording studios, I like to have somebody there to look at rather than those walls and baffles.

B411: Yeah, it’s a little sterile.
GD: It’s about people, the listeners.

Up close and personal . . .

Up close and personal . . .

B411: And you do a great job. To me, on this cruise, I’ve seen you once or twice before, but on this cruise you really seem engaged with the audience. I don’t know that I’ve remembered, but you walked out into the audience and you played to the women sitting down and you worked the crowd. And I don’t remember that. And it was great. It was the first night on the boat, and I’m like goddamn, it ain’t going to get better than this. You went in at such a high level, and it was great to see you do that. You’re a master story teller, and you know how to relate to the people and you leave that space for the interaction. You hit a note, you sing, we absorb it. And then we take that energy and send it back to you. And then you give us more. So it’s the circle.
GD: Damn, we’re getting all metaphysical.
B411: Oh, wait, I just touched his knee.
GD: And it’s the second time too! And maybe I liked it.
B411: We’re brothers from different mothers.

GD: Going out in the audience, to some extent, that’s just show business and having fun with people. But it’s more than that, it’s taking an instrument and maybe bringing it out where it’s not expected. I remember going out on the dining deck and doing a little serenading and giving an impromptu lesson. And, oh my gosh, just yesterday when the cabin got full of the paint thinner smell, or whatever the heck that was, I was temporarily homeless. So I sat out in the hallway and I played, and people gathered up there and it was just the most fun. Those are the kinds of experiences that I treasure. Where music provides relief, a little opportunity for communication, a little comradeship. Something to do while you’re drinking that keeps you from drinking too much. Whatever it is.

B411: We, as audience and fans, look to you to take us out of our day-to-day life. To give us a relief from whatever it is. Working, bad marriage, alcohol, whatever. We look to you, the artist, to take us away for 75 minutes. Just take us to another land.
GD: Well, I’ll tell you what. I want you to let your listeners, readers and observers know that I’m going to start offering on my web site www.whoopmyass.com especially for white executives who want to learn to play the blues. I have a special experience – we’re going to put you on the chain gang. Give you some leg irons, administer daily whoopins’ (not whippings) but whoopins’ and we’re going to cuss you out and make you pick cotton. And I’m not talking about your underwear up off the floor. We’re going to find a cotton field somewhere, and we’re going to hook you up. And by the end of that experience, you’re going to be singing the blues or you’re going to be dead. Maybe I shouldn’t say this, because people might start clicking on this website. (NOTE: Not a real web site.)

B411: Man, you’re going to get bombarded on that website! I got it – god all mighty, I got it. [Lots of laughing]
B411: That’s one thing that I’ve always enjoyed about you. I first heard you interviewed with Bill Wax on XM. This is several years ago. And I was like – you are funny as shit. You’re being you, you’re telling stories. You’re giving us knowledge, but you also come up with this stuff out of nowhere, which is great. Wow. Who is this guy? Oh, he’s Guy Davis.

SInging and bringing the Blues to people worldwide.

SInging and bringing the Blues to people worldwide.

GD: Maybe I’m meant to have a radio presence because the stories, I find that people like stories. The like to be told things in a way that their mind can imagine it right way as they’re hearing it. You can just see the pictures. It’s just right there. That’s why Garrison Keillor is such a hero. Because he made up this whole fictional town, full of fictional people. But all this fiction provides us with true human insight. And I guess that’s what I want to do with the blues. I make the songs up, or recreate the older songs. But I want to rub against the human part of you. There’s some poor lady with 2 arm-loads of laundry and she’s sitting there, and the kids are screaming all around the room, and each one has magic markers and crayons attached to their hands and feet, so every wall and surface is covered with this stuff, and she’s got a husband sitting on the couch with clicker and he got on the woman’s boobie channel, I mean the something movie channel, so she’s sitting there doing that work. And then she’ll hear my voice on the radio, and then she’ll just take all that laundry and throw it up in the air and it will be so much laundry it will just cover them kids, she won’t even be able to see ‘em. Go to the husband, kick the channel changer out of his hand, catch it, and she’ll just take the car keys and walk out the front door and go drive around and just listen to my show. And her husband will be sitting there in shock.

And that’s what I’m looking for when I get on the radio and start singing the blues and carrying on. It’s fun. I want people to believe that magic is found in the human heart. In the human psyche. And blues is a part of that for me. The blues is my way of digging up magic.

Part two will be published next week, on Wednesday, January 8, 2014 where we will examine Guy’s one man play “Fishy Waters”, enjoy more stories, and broach some taboo subject matter.

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
chefjimi

©Blues411.com 2014
photos by: Leslie K. Joseph
Where Blues Thrives

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