Songwriter’s Workshop: October 23, Day 7

One of the many great things that occur on the cruises are the Forums or Workshops. They vary from Photographer Workshops where every level of picture taker can learn and be inspired by the three great ‘shooters’ on the boat: Joe Rosen, Marilyn Stringer, and Jan Schneider. Blues411.com ‘shooter’ Leslie K. Joseph takes advantage of these when she is on the boat and has benefited greatly from the expertise and knowledge imparted to her from these great people,

I sometimes tag along to the Photographer Workshop just to listen and learn, but this year there was a “Songwriter’s Workshop’ that I was debating. Early that morning while walking thru the Lido Dining Room, I was summoned by Scrap Iron, and joining him at breakfast, I got to talking to Theodis Ealy. Theodis was one of the hosts at the workshop so after speaking with him I decided that I should go check it out.

Man what a fine time it was. Now I ain’t no songwriter, never been no songwriters son, but there were universal truths being told here and I was so glad that I went to listen.

Featuring an array of songwriters each of them would offer up a story about a song or about the process of songwriting and then play or sing that song, All were very helpful even to me a non-song writer. Howard Scott of War, recounted how ‘Cisco Kid’ came about – they were playing in a bar (Cisco’s) , and some drunk dude came up and put a dollar in the jar and requested a song, the bouncers were about to throw him out when Howard said something to the effect that ‘The Cisco Kid, he was a friend of mine’ – come on folks, is that too cool or what? One other thing, well besides that fact that you should always keep a pad and pen next to your bed, was that ‘Why Can’t We Be Friends’ was written after an argument within the band.

Jimmy Thackery (an under-rated songwriter) spoke about how a friend who suddenly lost his wife asked Jimmy to write a song about the experience as a tribute to his fallen partner. “Blinking of an Eye’ was what Jimmy wrote and the crowd was dead silent as he first told the story then played it low and sorry on the guitar. A wonderful moment amongst wonderful moments. And Jimmy did NOT write ‘Sell The Bitch’s Car’…

Tommy Castro, Kelley Hunt, Rick Estrin and legendary writer Bruce Bromberg (Hi-Tone Records & Smokin ‘Gun fame) regaled us with their insights, successes and some failures. Interesting was Bruce’s recalling that at the peak of his success he was to busy to collaborate with Yip Harburg (of Wizard of Oz fame), shortly thereafter Yip passes away and Bruce’s’ chance had expired along with it. Make appointments with others to write, don’t pass up an opportunity no matter what. There are songs floating around out there in the wind – if you do not grab it someone else will. Keep your antenna up and searching, listen to everything and take it in, damn good advice even for me, which pays off later at the airport while waiting to catch my plane back home. Interesting theme re-occurrence here, Kelley Hunt’s most popular song is Emerald City – about Oz and places like it, just like the tie in folks sorry, but it is cool.

My magic moment – Theodis Ealy, known for the song “Stand Up In It’,  talked about how he was in a relationship and everything was good, except they weren’t friends, and that was the one thing he wanted the most. He started the song raspy and soft spoken barely playing the guitar, then built slowly to a crescendo of passion and sadness and he sang about the unattainable destination that would thwart the relationship and doom it. Just incredible, no double entendre, no Standing In It, just a heart felt plea of someone realizing that it will never be the thing he wanted most. The song title is ‘I Want To Be Your Friend’, and will be on Theodis’ next release due out after the new year.

There is so much more to the cruise than hanging and banging to the music. There are opportunities to learn, to interact with professionals, to get drunk also if you like, but one dimensional it is not. My only thought is that one of these workshops should be held earlier in the week, I believe that this would make the listening experience more enjoyable and give better insight into the artists and their muses. As this one was held on Saturday (Day 7) and in opposition with another one on Social Networking, ’tis a  shame I coulda gone to both.

Until Next Time
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
chefjimi

photos courtesy: Dee Wallace, Chefjimi

©Blues411.com 2010

Hamilton Loomis: Live & All Fired Up!

 


Hamilton Loomis was mentored by none other than the great Bo Diddley, Hamilton took Bo’s advice of  ‘innovate don’t imitate’ and ran with it. Blending funk, blues and rock into an ever shifting amalgam of powerful music. This 21st century Blues fusion is just what the doctor ordered – fresh, hip, young and contagious.
Goodness, we spent hours talking about just where we are in the Blues, where we are going - or not going – and I came away more of a fan (and friend) than when I started the conversation. So please read, and enjoy my conversation with Hamilton Loomis.
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B411:
The last time I saw you was at Biscuits and Blues in San Francisco, you guys knocked me out. I loved the way you work the crowd, especially when you table-walk. That was different.

HL:
It’s a great club, very intimate. It’s nice to come and play to an intimate crowd cos you can really interact more with people. Literally look them in the eye, if one person keeps responding to a lick or something I am doing I can repeat it and let them know that ‘yeh I can feel you’ I love that it’s just a connection that is really hard to get in bigger venues, I love doing that. I mean we love to do the bigger festivals too, we get maximum exposure to fans that way but it’s a different animal.

B411:
So the table-walk – what’s up with that ?

HL:
Well that’s something I developed over the years. At first when I got the wireless hook-up it gave me the freedom to walk around and into the crowd. It became something that is part of that connection with people. The fans are taking time out of their lives to come see me so I like to go out and be with them.

B411:
It was so much fun, we all looked up and boom there you were, walking on table tops and not spilling a drink (which is very important) and you didn’t fall or stagger, way cool.

HL:
I’ve only fallen one time in fifteen years and that is it ! When I first started touring, man I did some of the stupidest stuff. Like at festivals with the chain link fences say five feet off the front of the stage and I’d leap out into the crowd and over the fence. At the Deadwood jams in South Dakota, it’s one black-top and they had a partition so I jumped onto that and then on the black-top. It only had to get hurt really bad once, I don’t take to pain too well. I’ve learned to automatically take notice and add caution to the moves, I try to stay in control of the situation…I’m getting to old for that !

B411:
I hear that. Now you recently released ‘Live In England’ and I love it. It captures the excitement and personality of your stage shows. I really love that about this release.

HL:
That’s like the culmination of so many years of refining and discovering my own style, this last record it came together like no other. The line-up was stellar, the musicians and I are similar age, and musical interests and ideas and it sorta all jelled. It was the best of five performances and took the best two and edited it to make it one set. I really didn’t have to do a lot to make it better, it was great – I was so pleased with it. My style is such a stew, it’s outside the box, not soul, not blues, not rock – it is what it is. In my earlier releases it was a struggle to be homogenous, but this one sounds like Hamilton Loomis.

B411:
Yes it does, when I heard it I was ‘that’s him, people need to hear this then they will ‘get it’.

HL:
Well thank you.

B411:
You have played with, and learned at the side of, some great guitar players; Albert Collins, Gatemouth Brown, Johnny Copeland – where do your your roots from ?

HL:
Joe ‘Guitar’ Hughes. Joe grew up with Johnny Copeland and Albert Collins in Houston, Texas. Joe was a family man and never strayed far from Texas, therefore he never got the national attention the others did. He was a total guitarist, with his own style apart from the other two. Joe played chords and knew them, inversions, inside out, wherever. Those tasty ones, that we are always looking for. He played rhythm and solo at the same time, providing his own rhythm in a three piece setting. His recordings don’t do him much justice but out on the stage he was just incredible.

B411:
Now you played with Joe Hughes in Texas at jams, or how did all that transpire?

HL:
I had the pleasure of playing with him at the weekly blues jams, I was like fifteen, and just learning. I learned so much from him, Johnny Copeland and Gatemouth Brown. That’s one thing these guys knew, was that us young white boys (Kenny Wayne Shepard, Johnny Lang) were going to, in some form, carry on their music and their legacy. They, especially Joe, would take the time to teach us lessons, but not just the normal stuff, many were real hard to understand, and one example is, I used to chew gum on stage (chomp-chomp) and one time I was playing with him and Joe came to me and held out his hand and said ‘spit it out!’ whaaaat? SPIT IT OUT ! So I ‘pffft’ it into his hand and he threw it away this is while we are on stage in front of everybody. So he says ‘now they will listen to you play, they won’t be distracted anymore’. I was totally embarrassed, as you might guess. Then at one time I showed up with a overdrive pedal for the blues jam, and he asked to see it. He then took it away and hid it telling me ‘your tone comes from your hands’ not in a pedal, plug into your amp and turn it up and find your tone. I was a teenager, what did I know, I was like, what do I do, but his point was you are not going to be able to rely on pedals or effects all the time so learn to play first and foremost.
See that was the beauty of playing every Tuesday with Joe. Maybe every third week Johnny Copeland would come up and play, and he would say to me ‘hey son, you want to play second guitar for me?’ and I’d be like “ahh, yes Mr. Copeland!” When Albert Collins did a show in Houston in ’93, his musical director invited me to play with Albert – it was like four months before he died. But it was because I was a good student and Joe, and Johnny had trained me I got that opportunity to play with Albert Collins.

B411:
Wait, Albert’s music director asked you to play with Albert, come on how’d that happen?

HL:
It’s funny, I know, but seriously, he (Albert) had no idea of who I was. That night Mr. Elroy King was standing in as musical director for Albert, and Elroy was a good friend of Joe Hughes. He proceeded to inform Albert that ‘little Hamilton’ (as he called me) was going to play a number with him. To which Albert replied, “who the *@^! is Little Hamilton? Check the picture out from the website or use it here, it’s classic. I was doing a solo, just look at his face…

B411:
Can I ask you if there is a difference between ‘influences’ and ‘roots’ ?

HL:
Influences can vary, it can be someone who I have been listening to recently, roots are the base of who I am and how and why I play the way I do. People always ask who my influences are, but I think that most people don’t care about influences. But if you tell them where your roots are they understand you more. Everybody is going to draw who they think your influences are. A lot of it depends on who they listen to and that they ‘hear’ that person in your playing. It doesn’t matter who your influences are because they are gonna draw that line themselves, and if I have reached someone in the audience then I have done my job. I just want everyone in the room to enjoy this music and feel the joy that we put out there.

B411:
Yes, because of the diversity in any musical gathering you never know how any song is going to effect any listener. Plus they bring their own ‘standards’ or points of relation into the equation and it is different for each person. But the crowd is a music crowd, that’s the commonality of the show.

HL:
Let me tell you a quick one on that subject. You can tell how I hate to relate stories and talk !
So the Europeans and, heck, the rest of the world basically, are Football, Soccer fanatics. So there were two rival cities in Wales, where we played a festival. These two rival cities harbored the usual soccer feelings for each other and I didn’t know this. We played in both those cities (only forty miles apart) and a big group of the other city came to the show. I’m on stage and send my shout out to whomever is there, so a big shout out to Swansee and my pals from Cardiff are here too. So the fans from Swansee start booing, and it struck me that before you folks knew that we were all friends and fans and we were all here for the same reason. Isn’t it a great and beautiful thing that these two groups of diverse people can be here in the same building being here for the same reason and be connected by the music. If I hadn’t said anything no one would have been the wiser, but that’s the beautiful thing about the music, it really brings people together.

B411:
On all of your releases I have heard only electric stuff, do you play acoustic?

HL:
I don’t even own an acoustic guitar. I have played my trusty Black Les Paul that I got when I was fourteen for years. But now my favorite is my Ernie Ball Music Man solid body guitar, the best guitar on the planet, hands down. It makes such a difference to have a guitar that you believe in 100 % it’s amazing.

B411:
Do you still bring out your Red Gretsch Bo Diddley guitar?

HL:
I don’t take it out on the road too often – it’s getting scratched and bruised. Bo had it sent to me directly from Gretsch, he told them to send it to me – I couldn’t believe he did that. One day I get a call from the President of Gretsch and he tells me that Bo told them to send me the Bo Diddley guitar, I fell on the floor. So when we last played together I had him sign it, and it’s been over two years since he passed, so it needs a rest. That guitar means so much to me. Our first gig together I had him sign it, but it’s getting beat up so I put a piece of mylar to cover it. I used it on the Live in England release. I have tremendous reverence and appreciation for him because of the spotlight and encouragement, he gave me, and for appearing on my album ‘Ain’t Just Temporary’.

B411:
That release introduced me to you. Musically it was so refreshing and new sounding. It was the Blues but fresh and updated. I thought this is just what the community needs to keep bringing new fans into the genre.

HL:
Thanks, I believe in getting younger people interested in American Roots music. It is very important for young people to realize that all of our music comes from Blues. Festivals always have a group of younger listeners present, and it’s a great way to reach a lot of people in a short time. I have made a conscious effort to hire guys who are younger than me in the band, so we have a youthful facade and element to the music. Traditionally Blues audiences are middle aged now, but the good news is that they have kids who are in their twenties and can go to listen to music legally now. We always try to accommodate the younger crowds by giving them signed drumsticks or picks to get them actively involved in our music, and we love doing that. Right now is a great time for younger players to get involved in the Blues, a couple years ago it started with a resurgence in interest in the Blues.

B411:
That’s one of my sticking points, how can we, as a community, keep from growing old and having the Blues fade away. I got into the Blues through Rock & Roll, the British Invasion and then did the back track to Muddy, Bessie, Blind Lemon and so on.

HL:
Back then you didn’t care where it came from. Rock & Roll was sped up Blues, it was directly spawned from twelve bar Blues. I think it’s great now that younger people are getting into it. When you see us we are gonna kick it and jump, that’s all part of our philosophy about the music and what we play. But part of that is to be engaging, because it gets people involved in the music.

B411:
That is so needed to get people engaged. We need to move forward, not backward, but also remember to entertain the audiences with our music and shows. Which sometimes put it at odds with certain factions of the community.

HL:
I agree, some of them have a beef with people like me. ‘That’s not Blues’, well OK let your music die. It will die because how many old black blues-men are left ? B.B., Buddy, Hubert, Pinetop – he’s ninety seven. Once they pass – they are all dead. If you don’t allow, and be open-minded enough, to let your music evolve and get with the times, it’s gonna die with you. It has to change and evolve and pay homage to traditional Blues. I am not gonna do traditional Blues, I am a young white boy from the suburbs, let’s be realistic here. I sing songs and write from my experience. You have to mean what you sing – right – or it’s not going to come out. Any of the darker songs I sing or perform I lived through that period of time, but all in all I’m a pretty happy dude.

B411:
Brother, we are on the same page. I have always said the Blues is a big tent and there is room for everyone under it. Look it’s Denise LaSalle, Elvin Bishop, Theodis Ealy, Rod Piazza, Watermelon Slim, Tab Benoit, I can go on but there’s a lot of variety in the Blues, and we need to keep it open not closed cause closed stuff suffocates and dies.

HL:
It’s a stew, a gumbo. I grew up in the eighties so I have some of that pop sensibility in me. My mother had a tremendous collection of vinyl, and she was heavy into the Stax-Volt sound. Which was my favorite ‘sound’ and also philosophically speaking, with one of the firsts racially integrated labels and touring shows. If you look at some of the movies of the tours back in 1960-61 – that’s when integration happened. So here’s the Stax Revue band with Carla and Rufus Thomas, Otis Redding and Steve Cropper that was showing us how music can bring us together. Then Sly Stone took it to the next level by integrating with women, then it lead to Prince with females, and white-boys in the band, it’s a great statement, even visually of what the power of music can do.
But where or when does it cease to be the Blues. Open your eyes, let’s stop picking it apart. Its human emotion, it’s story telling, listen to Hank Williams, white mans country blues; rap music, young black mans urban blues. Does twelve bars make it Blues or is that Rock & Roll ?

B411:
I lived thru that – growing up in NYC with Hippies, Black Power, culturally segregated power groups, then along comes Sly and the Family Stone, Tower of Power, Hendrix living the dream of a mixed community and what can come of it when we pool or blend our experiences. But catching that universal ‘shake your money maker’ dance groove.

HL:
I’m definitely looking for that sound. Prince. Sly, and such. That sound, that funky groove, that’s what engages people. Forgive me here, I can’t speak it I gotta sing it for you. — so Hamilton sings a part of a 12 bar blues riff, then funks it up — da, dah, dum, dum, dah, da, dah, dum dum…changes tempo slightly and funks it up. Da, chicka chicka dum, dum, chicka chicka dum dum. That’s bare bones, don’t even have to speak it, but it will get people (younger people) involved.
Anyone can do a slow Blues, these days, but to effectively do a slow Blues nowadays your audience has to already be Blues fans, but a funky half beat will capture anyone. If I may, once again, offer a small story that recently happened. I had this twelve year old kid, that made my year, my year, dude. We played this festival Saturday and people are in line buying CD’s, etc., taking pictures, and this little guy comes up and says to me, “dude, I love music and have never heard this style before, but you, Mr. Loomis, changed my perception of what I thought Blues was.” I was like, ‘thank you so much, you don’t even know what it means to me to have you say that”. We reached him, that is so cool.

B411:
That’s sweet, exactly what we need, you reached him yes, but he was open to it.

HL:
Yes that’s why the presentation of the music, or style of presentation is so important, and the thing I was singing earlier is so important – if it was the standard twelve bar, he would of never gotten it, or have turned it off, because it was the usual stuff.

B411:
So we see there is the need for new approaches to the Blues in order to insure it’s continued success (as it is). Room for John Mayer. Cindy Lauper, people who will expose the genre to many others who normally will not even listen to the Blues.

HL:
Yes, what we need to realize is that Clapton did much of this back in the day. But we need people like Mayer, Cindy Lauper, can utilize their situation to get more people exposed to this music that normally wouldn’t listen to it. That’s the point. We need people to blaze trails and open up doors. I have a bigger motive here, I want to get younger people into the genre I love and respect so it will continue to have the recognition and respect it deserves, and stay vital and alive into the next generation.

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
chefjimi

Contact info for Hamilton Loomis:
http://www.hamiltonloomis.com/index.htm
www.myspace.com/hamiltonloomis

www.facebook.com/hamiltonloomis

photos courtesy of:  Al Stuart, Sid Wall, Paul Temple, Paschal Kari
©Blues411, 2010