"As long as people feel the range of emotions from joy to sadness, grief to elation, blues will remain timeless."
Jeff Dale: Blues Spirit & Blues Power
Jeff Dale is an award winning songwriter and performer, born and raised on the south side of Chicago. Having played all over the United States, he now reaches international audiences with shows from Belgium to Croatia. With over 40 years of performing and writing original roots music, Jeff Dale and the South Woodlawners are currently unleashing their newest album Blues Power (2019). This recording radiates his hard-scrabble beginnings on the south side of Chicago, his resiliency through tough times, and his well-earned sense of humor. The album contains guest appearances by a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, jazz and classical musicians, and an inter-generational mash up of blues and rock musicians. But let’s back it up. Before he could shave, Jeff was exposed to the music and live performances of Hound Dog Taylor, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Koko Taylor and many more practitioners of Chicago blues. “In the neighborhood where I grew up,” says Dale, “if you had your antennas up, you could feel the blues right there.”
Jeff’s blues lineage includes accompanying legendary performers such as Lowell Fulson, Pee Wee Crayton and Etta James among others. He has collected tales and advice in his travels through the world of the blues, being in the company of Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Willie Dixon, Albert King and Clifton Chenier and more. Jeff also befriended the late David “Honeyboy” Edwards, the last of the original Delta bluesmen, and had the great fortune to accompany him at many venues including the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. After releasing two albums of original material in the ‘80s, (winning a Best New Blues Band award), Jeff reinvented himself in 2009 with The South Woodlawners. The resulting album, Blues From The Southside Of My Soul, was reviewed as “rowdy, loud, naughty-naughty-down-and-bawdy South Side Chicago style blues.” With every album since, Jeff Dale has consistently been delighting his ever-expanding fan base. Blues Room (2011) garnered international rave reviews and radio airplay. One notable track, “Stumblin’” was featured on the hit FX show “Justified.” The album Good Music (2014) followed, and was also released to critical acclaim. In 2016 Jeff produced a DVD/CD combo of the last recorded show by David “Honeyboy” Edwards, titled I’m Gonna Tell You Somethin’ That I Know. The film premiered at the Clarksdale Mississippi Film Festival as well as at the Chicago International Music and Movie Festival. The project won the 2017 Living Blues Best Blues DVD Of The Year Award, All Music Guide’s “Best of 2017,” and was hailed all over the world as a priceless, historical treasure. The Southside Lives (2017) is a back porch blues album of new Jeff Dale originals featuring Handy Award-winning harmonica player Jeff Stone. The album garnered significant praise in the press and an Independent Blues Award nomination.
Photo Credits: Jeff Dale Archive, Jeff Stone, James F Dean, Lynn Orman / All rights reserved
How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Music grabbed me at a young age and set me on a life long journey of exploring sounds that move me. My views of the world were formed by my folks I think. Social justice, fairness and kindness are themes that pop up in some of my songs and those were things my parents taught me by example. The sex and drugs and rock n roll songs aren’t part of my world view really, just a part of life.
What were the reasons that made Chicago to be the center of electric Blues researches and experiments?
The fact is that all the originators of Chicago Blues came from the south, most from the Mississippi Delta region. There were no bars and clubs where these folks came from, they partied and played in houses and outdoors. In a noisy bar or club in Chicago they discovered they needed to be amplified to be heard. It’s that sound – the amplified guitar – the amplified harmonica - with a piano, bass and drums behind it that changed music forever and it’s that sound that grabbed me as a kid and will never let go.
When was your first desire to become involved in the blues & what were the first songs you learned?
I started playing guitar when I was 12 after seeing Janis Joplin with Big Brother And The Holding Company live in concert. My parents bought me a Stella acoustic guitar from Sears but I wanted an electric guitar. A year later my folks were at an auction and bought an electric guitar for me for around $20. Except it wasn’t a guitar. It was a bass! They didn’t know the difference. I decided to sell it and use the money for a guitar. So I put an ad in this local paper on the south side of Chicago, the Southeast Economist. One afternoon these two west side blues musicians showed up at my door asking if I still had the bass. Jeff Dale / Photo by Jeff Stone, 1977
They had a gig that night and the bass player’s regular ax wasn’t working. They needed something cheap until he could afford the repair. The other guy was a guitar player and asked to see my acoustic guitar. The two men sat down and played a twenty minute set for me! I was somewhat aware of the blues by this time but never experienced it up close. The guitarist handed me the Stella and said “Now let me hear you play some blues,” which of course I couldn’t. He then showed me various I IV V progressions and how to play 9th chords, all of which I still use today. I was 13 when this happened. When I was 14, I went to my first all blues show held at an American Legion Hall in Chicago Heights. The bill was Sam Lay (from Paul Butterfield’s Band) with Lucille Spann (Otis’s wife), Otis Rush and Hound Dog Taylor. I was knocked out by all of them but especially Hound Dog. In a short amount of time after, I saw Buddy Guy, The Siegel/Schwall Band and Muddy Waters. I bought the Chess album “Fathers and Sons” when it came out around this time and I was just hooked. I wrote my first song called “New York City Blues” at 14. This started me on a path to have my own relationship with blues music as opposed to just imitating existing material.
In what age did you play your first gig and how was it like (where, with whom etc.)?
I started playing in bands in high school, probably at age 14 also. We played some blues then but mostly rock. When I came to Los Angeles when I was 18 I played solo gigs at several clubs around town .I was playing all original material and I found it somewhat terrifying at the time being alone onstage. Within a few years I decided what I really wanted was an electric Chicago blues band. One of my best friends from the south side of Chicago, “Lightnin’” Dan Sonenfeld moved to Los Angeles and we formed the Blue Wave Band.
Has it always been all about the blues? Or is there any other types of music, you could say you have been strongly affected by?
I was amongst those in America who first heard the blues and R&B music from English rock bands like the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and The Who, even though the original artists were almost literally in my back yard. I still love those 60’s rock and pop records. I think I started becoming less impressed with rock music sometime in the early ‘70s. By the time the late ‘70s rolled around I stopped following rock trends and dived more deeply into the blues. It just felt like home to me.
How do you describe your music philosophy about the blues?
The power of the blues is that it is a conduit that connects us all. It truly is a link to the human spirit common in each of us.
"Writing new songs isn’t difficult for me. Every song arrives differently however. Sometimes it’s piecemeal where a chorus or a verse materializes in my head. Sometimes it’s noodling on the guitar that sparks a new song idea. They even arrive occasionally fully formed in my dreams!"
How do you describe "Blues Power" songbook and sound? Where does your creative drive come from?
Blues Power has songs about my personal roots, social justice, love, sex, and of course a dose of my humor. It’s presented in a wide variety of blues music styles- shuffles, slow blues, blues-rock, back porch and boogie to name a few.
My creative drive has been a big part of who I am since childhood. Musical ideas are always floating around my head and it’s just a matter of letting them show themselves to me.
What would you say characterizes new work "Blues Power" in comparison to other previous albums?
I’d have to say the range of talent that contributes to this album is what makes it so different. I brought in Marvin Etzioni to coproduce the album with me. Marvin is an accomplished musician, songwriter and producer having been in roots rock band Lone Justice, playing with the Counting Crows, writing for Trombone Shorty and producing Stephen Stills and Judy Collins among many others. Marvin added some arraignment ideas to several of the tracks, some cool recording techniques to others, and overall created a consistent sound to the final mixes. The other thing that is unique to this album is that it’s the first time I brought in younger musicians to play key roles on several tracks. Nora Germain is a millennial violin superstar who has already in her young career played with many jazz greats, released several albums of original material and has even written a couple of books! Her playing on the track “Stone Cold” is not only incredibly moving but also done in one take! The young, hard charging rockers in the band Hunter & The Dirty Jacks are the backbone of three tracks on the album. I thought it would be cool to blend their tough energy with some of the elder statesman of the South Woodlawners to create a generational meeting of musical minds. Returning on this album to shock and awe are the great blues singer Sherry Pruitt, the principal cellist of the L.A. Opera, Dane Little and Rock n Roll Hall of Famer (and founding member of the band Chicago) Lee Loughnane. Chicago blues veterans Charlie Love, Mark Mack (James Cotton Band), Andre Howard (Lonnie Brooks), Orlando Wright and Tim Austin (Buddy Guy) all return to play on the tracks recorded in Chicago. Sadly, Tim passed away this April and I’ve dedicated this album to his memory. Add to this mix an array of L.A.’s finest players – Glen Doll, Pat Zicari, Derek Phillips, Darryl Lieberstein and Clark Pardee and this album is elevated to even greater musical heights. Oh, and it didn’t hurt to have four time Grammy winning mastering engineer Joe Palmaccio, add his magic to the tracks either.
"I feel that blues music is a link to the human spirit common in each of us. When I write a song about my own feelings, ultimately I hope that it connects to anyone listening that has experienced the same and can relate to it." (Photo: Jeff Dale Archive / All rights reserved)
How do you describe previous album "The Southside Lives" sound/songbook? What characterize the sound/philosophy of Southside (Chicago) area?
“The Southside Lives” was an album over 50 years in the making because that’s how long I’ve been friends with Jeff Stone. We became best of friends when we were 7 years old. Chicago blues music surrounded us – not that we were in a bubble, I mean we both had our ears open to all kinds of music, but in our little neighborhood if your antennae was up, you could feel it. Jeff and I were both music lovers and musicians who wanted to express ourselves and we both connected to the blues. We’d play for fun together when we were teenagers. Jeff joined the U.S. Navy when we were 18 and he and I used to write each other and create cassettes of music we were listening to. The emphasis on blues music was strong even then. When we became young adults, we stayed true to our friendship but our musical journeys took different routes and it was rare when we got to play music together. I backed away for a while from performing until a confluence of events made me decide to put myself back out there. Cheering me on was Jeff, who by that time had become an award-winning blues harp player. I knew I had to call my band “The South Woodlawners” because Jeff and I referenced that name to each other all the time. It was satisfying to come back in 2009 with a new album (“Blues From The South Side of My Soul”) with Jeff playing on it, as he was the original South Woodlawner. Only problem with moving forward together at that point was that Jeff was living in Texas and I in California. So, we’d meet in places like Chicago and Nashville and Clarksdale, Mississippi and play together when we could. But since we were kids we talked about making a record together, just he and I and maybe some occasional rhythm back up and over a period of time we recorded in Chicago and Los Angeles “The Southside Lives.”
Some of the songs on “The Southside Lives” were influenced by Honeyboy Edwards. There’s also a number of songs on this record that are extremely personal and the title track is one of them. There was a lot of racial unrest on the south side of Chicago in the late 1960’s and our neighborhood got upended. We were teenagers and had no control over the situation and for Jeff and I and many of our childhood friends, we felt like part of a diaspora, longing for our place of birth. These circumstances inform so much of who Jeff and I are as musicians and for me as a writer. The key line in “The Southside Lives” is “you can take the boy out of the southside, but inside the southside lives.”
“The Southside Lives” album has a handful of tracks where Jeff and I are supported on bass and drums by old friends Pat Ciliberto and Wendysue Rosloff, but the rest are simply he and I. There’s a thing about musical brothers: The Everly’s, The Beach Boys, The Jacksons etc etc, where harmony is instinctive and musical communication is effortless. That’s how Jeff and I interact musically – we not only hear, but we feel where we’re going in a song. Lots of the songs on this album were only one take. The entire record was recorded without amplifiers. It’s as close as we could get to he and I sitting on my parents front porch on the southside, facing each other and playing.
"My views of the world were formed by my folks I think. Social justice, fairness and kindness are themes that pop up in some of my songs and those were things my parents taught me by example. The sex and drugs and rock n roll songs aren’t part of my world view really, just a part of life."
Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
I have been blessed to have had so many great moments. One of the best was returning to Chicago in 2009 after a 20 year abscence from the live music scene and playing in front of my home town crowd. The place was packed with my family and so many of my childhood friends, some that had flown across the country for this gig. I was overcome with the amount of love in the room that night. As far as worst I think even some of my worst gigs either had their moments or at least have provided me with some funny stories!
What is the hardest part of writing a new blues song? How do you want it to affect people?
Writing new songs isn’t difficult for me. Every song arrives differently however. Sometimes it’s piecemeal where a chorus or a verse materializes in my head. Sometimes it’s noodling on the guitar that sparks a new song idea. They even arrive occasionally fully formed in my dreams!
The thing is, when I write I don’t think at all about how the song may affect other people. I write what I’m thinking about: what I’m feeling, what troubles me, what amuses me etc. Using the language of the blues to me is the best way for other people to connect to what I’m saying and feeling.
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences?
I’ve had so many important mentors. I learned from playing behind Lowell Fulson and Pee Wee Crayton about showmanship and dressing in a way that respects the stage and the spotlight. My experiences backing Long Gone Miles, who was a protégé of Lightnin’ Hopkins, taught me how to listen. Long Gone had his own sense of time and I realized I had to follow him, not lead him where my own ear dictated.
What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
First Muddy Waters, then Lowell and Pee Wee, B.B. King, Willie Dixon and later Honeyboy Edwards – they all told me to keep on doing my own thing, and it gave me the courage to create and never stop.
Are there any memories from 'G Spot' with Honeyboy Edwards which you’d like to share with us? (Photo: Jeff & Honeyboy)
All of my memories of Honeyboy, from accompanying him at the Grammy Museum or the G Spot, to hanging out with him at his apartment or in a motel room, are among my most treasured. He embodied the blues from the Delta and beyond. He was walking history. He lead an incredible life – been all over the world. I think when people watch the DVD of Honeyboy live at the G Spot they’ll come away with at least some of the following:
1. He was incredibly vital and agile for a 95-year-old gentleman.
2. His story telling ability, thanks to his photographic memory, was undiminished and the stories he tells at the end of the show about Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Big Joe Williams and many others are incredible eye witness accounts of the dawn of 20th Century Blues.
3. The satisfaction he felt in playing with my bandmates and me. My earlier career experiences with Long Gone Miles paid off here as we followed and never pushed Honeyboy.
Are there any memories from the famous Maxwell Street which you’d like to share with us?
Growing up on the south side of Chicago gave me opportunities to be exposed to the blues at an early age. Maxwell Street was a big outdoor market with hundreds and hundreds of vendors and live blues performers, usually with cobbled together electric gear. My mom loved Maxwell Street because she loved to shop and she loved bargains! While, my mom was always in the market for clothes, I remember the tables full of toys or tools or weird gadgets and the great street food. This was back in the ‘60s and the sound of the blues was right there in my ears even though I had no idea that was what I was listening to. Exposure to blues music at a young age happened to me in other ways, but surely Maxwell Street was one of the places where it was always in the air. I did go back several times as a young man in the ‘80s specifically to listen. By then I’d already had years of experience playing the blues in clubs with veteran performers, but even though I can’t recall listening to anyone “famous” there, the music couldn’t get any more authentic and exciting. You don’t need a million-dollar sound system to connect with the blues.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?
When I was a young man performing blues music I always had a nagging thought that I wasn’t being honest. After all, I was a young white male appropriating the music of older black men. However none of the blues masters who I revered and met and played with ever said stop. On the contrary, every one of them offered encouragement to me to follow my own musical path. I’m at a point in my life where writing songs is easier than when I was younger. That made me realize that what was missing from my repertoire as a young man was life experience. I chose to chronicle my experiences and my thoughts through blues music a long time ago.
When I saw Hound Dog Taylor play when I was 14, everything he said and the way he played cut right through me. I felt a connection to him and his music. Not long after I went to a big rock concert. I literally fell asleep in my chair. It was loud and bombastic which has its appeal to a teenage boy, but it was kind of like eating dessert instead of a hearty meal. It doesn’t stick with you for very long. When I am sitting at home, playing my guitar, I keep trying to find the sound that’s in my head, in my soul. Every now and then I find that note and suddenly I’m connected to my heroes. The blues to me is a musical expression of my life and the masters used this same medium to tell the stories of their lives. It’s a very powerful vehicle of expression and I could not live without it.
Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from the Blue Wave Band?
I have many great memories of the Blue Wave Band and those guys are still my good friends to this day. We were together sloggin’ it out in the clubs for nearly 10 years and we rehearsed most of that time in a single car garage with a leaky roof and mold growing everywhere. We played with Etta James and so many other blues legends in those years and most of them rehearsed with us in that awful garage! We recorded two albums together and 8 years into our career won a “Best New Blues Band” award from a radio listener poll in Cincinnati Ohio.
Your previous band 'The South Woodlawners' had a cool band name. How did you come up with it?
When we were kids in elementary school we had a teacher who would yell at us when we misbehaved. He said that we were acting like a bunch of South Woodlawners. Woodlawn is a section of Chicago’s south side about 40 blocks north of the neighborhood where I grew up. Even though we were very self sufficient kids who rode the city buses or our bicycles everywhere, Woodlawn was just too far north for me to even know it existed. We just thought at the time that «South Woodlawners» must be the kings of trouble-making and as rebelious youth we were proud to be associated with this group, whoever or wherever they might be. As an adult I came to understand he was referencing us to a poor, crime ridden area, but as a kid, South Woodlawn represented a magical place filled with bad kids. Some of my childhood friends and I continued to refer to each other as South Woodlawners long after we grew up and I felt it appropriate to pass the name on to my band mates.
Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
As long as people feel the range of emotions from joy to sadness, grief to elation, blues will remain timeless. I wish more folks would put aside their pre conceived notions about what blues music is and just listen.
How do you describe and what characterize Jeff Dale’s sound and songbook?
I view my world through a skewed, humorous filter and that keeps me happy. However, just below the surface is a lot of pain, grief, and panic. Sometimes my writing comes from a screwy fun perspective and other times I tap into my sorrows. My songbook is made up of both sides. My sound is ever evolving. I am addicted to the combo sound of the great Chess artists as well as the R&B jump combos of the 1950’s and that is always my starting point but I’m not trying to slavishly replicate that. Muddy Waters, Honeyboy Edwards, Lowell Fulson and Pee Wee Crayton all told me to keep doing my own thing and that’s what I do.
Why do you think that the blues doesn’t quite get the recognition and respect that other genres seem to get?
Well, I believe that the problem is two-fold. I really believe a lot of people don’t know they like the blues until they hear it. And it seems that whoever it is that makes up the blues «establishment» are content with keeping blues music as small a niche as possible, preventing potential blues lovers from discovering the music. If the blues was represented as a bigger tent, more people would be aware of all the sub genres that exist within the blues family.
"I am happy anywhere that has good coffee and really dark chocolate." (Photo by James F Dean)
Do you think that only real blues is something gloomy played by old grey-haired men with harps and battered guitars in some smokey, dark and little shabby clubs?
The real question is what is «real» blues. If you read «Escaping The Delta» by Elijah Wald you’ll see that everything blues purists think is «real deal» blues is purely revisionist history. While I personally favor listening to the masters recordings, I recognize the blues in many different settings.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
So many of the first generation of electric blues players are gone and now we’re losing more of the second generation musicians. Some of them felt like father figures to me, or crazy uncles or cool big brothers and I’m so sorry they’re no longer here with us. But they’ve left behind a lifetime of music. My fear is that their music gets treated like museum artifacts as opposed to being part of a living, breathing continuum. My hope is that the blues world gets better at connecting the past with the present and the future to garner continuing support.
Is it easier to write blues as you get older?
Yes, without a doubt. I remember being a young blues player playing cover versions of Muddy Waters songs like «Mannish Boy» and «Hoochie Coochie Man» and feeling like a fraud. I knew I was too young and inexperienced to really have any authority singing those words. Once I became a grown ass man and experienced all the highs and lows that life throws at you, then I was able to write and sing the blues with command of the truth. It’s one of the reasons why I’ve never been impressed with teenage blues guitar phenoms. Many certainly are expert instrumentalists but when they open their mouths to sing about life and love they lose me. You can fall in love with the blues (like I did) at a young age but blues music is the language of life experience and young folks have a limited vocabulary.
"I view my world through a skewed, humorous filter and that keeps me happy. However, just below the surface is a lot of pain, grief, and panic. Sometimes my writing comes from a screwy fun perspective and other times I tap into my sorrows." (Photo: Jeff Dale Archive / All rights reserved)
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music circuits?
Probably the most important thing I’ve learned is that everybody loves the blues even if they’ve never heard it before and don’t know what kind of music it is. The same thing that happened to me at 14 when I first heard Hound Dog Taylor play live, I see happen wherever I play. In the last few years I’ve played in Belgium, Panama and Croatia and I can attest to the fact it’s not just an American thing. You present the blues to people in its beautiful, raw form of three chords and the truth, and they will connect.
Do you have secret passions in music? Let's say Justin Bieber, for example?
My iPod has blues music from the 1920s to the present day, R&B and jump music from the 40’s and 50’s, Soul and funk music from the 60s and 70s, 50s rock music and all kinds of jazz music. I listen to this music every single day. That’s my passion. That being said I have followed popular culture closely all my life and there isn’t much music that I’m unaware of.
Which is the best and which is the worst thing on the tour time?
I am happy anywhere that has good coffee and really dark chocolate.
I've heard two sayings about the blues, which are a little bit confusing. One is "Blues is a healer". Another one "You have to feel blue to play Blues". If it's suppose to be a healer, why should it make one feel sad?
Again, I feel that blues music is a link to the human spirit common in each of us. When I write a song about my own feelings, ultimately I hope that it connects to anyone listening that has experienced the same and can relate to it. Happy or sad, everyone wants to know that they are not alone in the world and that is the healing power of the blues. You don’t have to feel blue to play the blues...you just want to connect to the experiences that bind us all together.
This is hard to answer because I have been so fortunate to play with so many greats over the years like Lowell Fulson and Pee Wee Crayton (photo) to name a few but a couple of learning experiences come to mind. When I was in my early 20’s I met Long Gone Miles, a traveling companion of Lightnin’ Hopkins. He was from Shreveport Louisiana and had a booming bass voice. The Blue Wave Band backed him on quite a few gigs. He sang however he felt like singing so there was no formal structure to his songs. The band had to learn to LISTEN to him, to really relax and follow. This turned out to be one of the most valuable lessons a musician can learn and it sure paid off in spades for me when more than 20 years later I met David «Honeyboy» Edwards. Honeyboy also played like he felt, with no rigid structure and accompanying him was tricky. But thanks to my experience with Long Gone, I was familiar with this style and fell right in to playing with him from our very first gig together which was at the Grammy Museum in Los Angeles. The other important lesson I learned young was when the Blue Wave Band got booked to open for the zydeco king Clifton Chenier. The place was packed and we went on and were receiving a great response and a half dozen couples were dancing in front of us and by the end of our set I felt like we really knocked out this crowd. Then Clifton took the stage and within the first bar the entire club was on its feet dancing and they never sat down again. This crowd went absolutely CRAZY for Clifton. As I stood in the wings watching this I realized how hard you have to work to be truly great, as opposed to good. I keep working at it thanks to Clifton.
Are there any memories from Lowell Fulson and Pee Wee Crayton which you’d like to share with us?
Both Lowell and Pee Wee were first and foremost gentlemen. They always dressed sharp for the stage – I stopped wearing jeans on stage because of playing with them. When I played with them I was in my early 20’s and my bandmates were all around the same age as me. I couldn’t understand then why distinguished and accomplished men like them would even consider fronting a band of young guys. The tables turned for me when a few years back the young men in the hot blues/rock band Hunter & The Dirty Jacks asked me to front them for some gigs. Now that I’m the older man I see how buoyant the energy generated from younger musicians can be. It can be exhilarating and now every time I play with those guys I think of Lowell and Pee Wee and many other older bluesmen I played with as a young man and it makes me smile.
Which memory from the late “Honeyboy” Edwards makes you smile?
Every moment I shared with Honeyboy makes me smile to think about it. I was honored and thrilled to be in his presence and loved to hear his stories and advice. The thrill of having a legendary blues man tell you that he likes your music is like having your parents tell you they love you. Except my parents never hopped freight trains, they didn’t know Robert Johnson and didn’t sleep with a gun under their pillow like Honeyboy did.
"Every great blues player I’ve had the pleasure to know always said something encouraging to me and that left me with a feeling that I no longer need to seek validation from anyone else for the music I create." (Photo by Lynn Orman -- Jeff Dale & Honeyboy Edwards)
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
I wish that blues music wasn’t so marginalized. I titled one of my albums “Good Music” because Louis Armstrong once said, “there’s only two kinds of music: Good and Bad. I play the good kind.” Realistically, blues music may never reach the loftiest heights of popularity, but I know from my own experience that even if folks aren’t familiar with the music, they like it when they hear it. We need a continued all out effort from friends of the blues to let people know that the music is a living, breathing, art form, not just a page from history. I am all for making the tent bigger and bigger.
Where should we look for 20 years to find the Jeff Dale?
In 20 years I will be officially called «Old» Jeff Dale! Seriously, my inspiration is «Honeyboy» Edwards who played the blues right up to the end at 96 years of age. I plan on playing and writing until I can’t anymore.
What are the things you’re most passionate about in life?
My family, my friends and music. And dogs. Big dogs.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
I wanna hang out at a club on the south side of Chicago listening to the Muddy Waters band with Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, Otis Spann and Elgin Evans, just hearing the truth played out by the founding fathers of Chicago blues. And I would take my Mom and Dad with me.
I presume that big part of your life is somehow connected with blues. Do you have any hobbies, which do not have anything to do with music?
I enjoy all kinds of excersise including, biking, swimming and running. I follow Chicago’s professional sports teams religiously and I like to read a lot. Mainly about current events, historical events and music (oops, music pops into everything doesn’t it?)
"The power of the blues is that it is a conduit that connects us all. It truly is a link to the human spirit common in each of us."
Are there any memories from the road with the legendary bluesmen which you’d like to share with us?
Every great blues player I’ve had the pleasure to know always said something encouraging to me and that left me with a feeling that I no longer need to seek validation from anyone else for the music I create. In the late 70s I met Muddy Waters between his sets backstage at a club in Los Angeles. The Blue Wave Band was recently formed and we had pins made up with the band name on it. When I entered his dressing room, Muddy was sitting on a chair and I felt like I was approaching royalty. I introduced myself and told him I was from the south side of Chicago and he lit up at that and we talked about my old neighborhood that he was very familiar with. Then I told him I was playing in a blues band here in Los Angeles now and I handed him the pin. A woman in Muddy’s entourage was standing behind Muddy and she looked down over his shoulder at the pin in his hand and said to me «The Blue Wave Band? I just saw you guys play last week!» Then she leaned over and said to Muddy, «Muddy, these guys are good!» Muddy smiled and then took the pin and put it on his lapel. He reached out to shake my hand and his massive hand swallowed mine up! Then he put his other hand over my hand and pulled me in closer to him. He looked me dead in the eye and then he said quizzically «You doin’ ok out here baby?» and I said «Yeah Muddy, I’m alright» He said «OK then, you keep showin’ ‘em how we do it in Chicago» and he smiled at me and got up to head back onstage. I went back out to sit in the crowd and watched the king of Chicago blues play his set while wearing a pin with my band’s name on it. How can I not keep representin’ for Chicago? I got my marching orders from the man himself!
Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?
People often will equate blues music to the state of feeling blue. Certainly, a slow, sad blues song resonates with folks because it’s a feeling we all experience. However, blues music isn’t only about expressing sadness, inequality and unfairness. It can convey joy as powerfully as it does feeling down. It can be funny. It can be sexy. The blues music genre all fits under a big, wide tent. You can like the way Stevie Ray Vaughn delivered it, you can like the way Tommy Johnson delivered it, you can like the way Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf delivered it or the way Fantastic Negrito delivers it or the way I deliver it. It don’t matter; it’s all good and it’s all blues.
Are there any memories from Willie Dixon, Albert King and Etta James which you’d like to share with us?
Willie Dixon is the best songwriter that ever lived. His way with words and his sense of humor affected me greatly. When I met him it was near the end of his life. We sat in a room together and I was so overwhelmed being in his presence that I could barely speak. We only made small talk, talking about Chicago, the band I was in at the time and the weather. I wish I could have gotten a “do-over” on that because of course the minute he left, I regained my composure and thought of a million things I wanted to ask him about.
Etta James also intimidated me. She was very heavyset at the time, but sizzled with sexual energy and an incredible assuredness. I was a boy in my twenties and she was a woman so far removed from where I was in life there wasn’t much to talk about…but I could not take my eyes off her! She worked the crowd into a frenzy and could have had any man in the room.
My band opened for Albert King in Hollywood CA in the early 80s. My bandmate Dan and I were huge fans of Albert and we boldly went to his tour bus before the show and knocked on the door. The driver opened it and asked us what we wanted. We wanted to talk to Albert. The driver went to the back of the bus to ask Albert if he’d receive us and he said yes! We had a great time on the bus with him and then he asked us if we heard about this young guitar player from Texas who was making a name for himself playing in Albert’s style. I had just read about a blues cat who was around my age that just played on a David Bowie record “Let’s Dance.” I said “Albert, there’s a cat out of Texas named Stevie Ray Vaughan who just played on a David Bowie record, is that who you mean?” and he said “Yeah, that’s the one!” I’m going to Texas from here and we’re gonna do some playin together and I’m gonna show him how it’s done!” Later on that night during Albert’s set he said to the audience “now I hear there’s a young cat out of Texas who’s gunnin’ for me and I’m headin out there to meet Mr. Steven Bowie for myself” Danny and I fell out laughing!
Alive or dead, who is the one person that you’d like to meet face to face if they were alive, and talk to over jam?
I miss Honeyboy a lot. He was notorious for not sharing with other guitar players his technique but I was convinced he would live forever and someday he’d relent and give me a guitar lesson.
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from Muddy, Wolf and Honeyboy to Jeff Dale?
I would have to first say that from a chronological perspective that line would have the Butterfield Blues Band, The Siegel-Schwall Blues Band and even the Rolling Stones between Muddy, Wolf, Honeyboy and me. My older brother turned me on to their music first before I was even a teen and I worked my way back to the originators from there. My first hero of the originators was Muddy. The combo sound of Chicago blues: guitar (sometimes two guitars) piano, bass and drums is the blueprint for my own music. The pre WWII country blues styles of Honeyboy and Robert Johnson also resonates within me as I started playing professionally when I was a teen, as a solo performer. Till this day I try to honor the originators’ legacies by including their songs along with my originals in my sets. Their music will always inform my own.
"Blues music casts a continually wider net but if you do not understand that its origins are African-American and the inescapable importance of where this music comes from then you do not belong to any real blues community." (Photo: Jeff Dale Archive / All rights reserved)
What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better blues musician?
Its important to note that blues music is the music of life, and life is a mix of pain and joy. I like to write from a place of joy and express that part of me as much as I like to gain release from life’s hardships by expressing them through my music. Just like every other person on the planet I have loved and lost. Been cheated on and cheated out of what’s mine. Lost loved ones near and dear to me. Failed financially. As an artist I have the ability to express that pain but I also am often wracked with self-doubt. This is one area where Honeyboy helped me immensely. When I met him I was at my own crossroads. Here I was, a middle-aged man doing the same thing I’d been doing since I was a teenager. I was in no measure a success. Meeting Honeyboy, who was already in his 90’s at the time, and accompanying him made me rethink how success was measured. He too started out his musical career as a teen. For all his accomplishments he did not become well known until much later in his life. He made me realize that this music, this feeling, is what I know and there’s no reason to stop if you love what you do. The fact that he liked my original music and encouraged me to continue down my own path was the boost I needed at the time and I carry those words with me still.
What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?
I also like to write about social justice, an important topic to me, and that theme appears in my music too. The beauty of expressing oneself through a song is that it forces the writer to be concise, unlike writing for a blog or conversing or pontificating via interview. But in the 21st century with all kinds of music being ubiquitous and struggling for listeners’ ears, to assume blues music, mine or anyone’s, is currently impacting the world is probably a non starter. What I will say is this: if you are a white person playing blues music and you have never been in a situation where the color of your skin gave you an advantage over a black person, then you need to learn the meaning of cultural appropriation. Blues music casts a continually wider net but if you do not understand that its origins are African-American and the inescapable importance of where this music comes from then you do not belong to any real blues community. I have played music in neighborhoods where my black band mates have escorted me in and out of the club for safety reasons and I have been in haughty situations where I felt it necessary to escort my black band mates so that they would not be mistaken for criminals in a white neighborhood. While I am not aware of how the music itself plays any role in today’s hate-filled climate, I know one thing: if you see black and white professional musicians on a stage together, they are not thinking about each other’s race. They are listening to each other and thinking about how best their actions will compliment what the others are doing so they can create something beautiful and harmonious. That’s exactly my wish for how the whole world should relate.
Jeff Stone (Jeff 1979), James F Dean (Jeff & the South Woodlawners), Lynn Orman (Jeff & Honeyboy Edwards)
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