An Interview with guitarist/singer Lawrence Shy Gladney: Chicago blues has a feeling that can't be denied

"The Blues means let it all hang out…let yourself go but "respect the music" in music everyone has a place to be. Know your place."

Lawrence Shy Gladney: Personal Bluesman

"Shy" is one of the up and coming talents in today’s Chicago music scene. Having successfully co-written and recorded the "Leaving Mood" Cd on the Delmark records label with rising local blues talent, Toronzo Cannon along with becoming an international artist with his 2010 Riga, Latvia headline performance of his blues album "Like The Wind", a conclusion was reached.

Influences starting with, the one and only Prince, to Maxwell then back around to old school roots like Cameo and Curtis Mayfield. There are definitely many nuances to be heard. Shy is co-founder of Chicago blues band of Checkmates.
Like so many other south side Chicago bands, the Checkmates found themselves sliding into the cracks of cover song madness as they made their way through countless nightclubs. Frontman Lawrence "Shy" Gladney utilizes his silky yet powerful voice to convey his emotions as he brandishes his lifelong exposure to such influences as Albert King, Little Milton while even paying direct homage to B.B. King himself.


Interview by Michael Limnios


When was your first desire to become involved in the music & what does Blues offered?
When I was 9 or 10 a cousin had a Band that played R&B music. While his band would practice I would sneak behind the bar in his basement and play with an old white Fender Stratocaster he had. That started my desire for not only music but more specifically a white Fender Stratocaster which I now own two cheaper "squire" copies.  When I was young listening to Muddy Waters, BB King, Johnny Guitar Watson, Chuck Berry and Albert King, blues offered a more simple way to begin playing by ear as I had very little formal training. Now, having played gigs in and out of the United States, the blues to me represents a common ground upon which people of any nationality can come together to share their thoughts and emotions and their good and bad experiences. Its universal.


What do you learn about yourself from the music, what does the blues mean to you?
I learned that confidence is truly important but one must walk a fine line due to the fact that it’s a thin line between confidence and arrogance. I can say with pride that I'm no where near arrogant but I am still working on being truly confident. Your confidence plays a great roll in your ability to affect an audience.  The Blues means let it all hang out…let yourself go but "respect the music" in music everyone has a place to be. Know your place.


How do you describe Shy’s blues and progress? What characterize your music philosophy?
My music tends to tell a story like most, at least I hope it does. You can't affect everyone the same way but I'd hope my music has the ability to affect many people on a deeper level in different ways individually. I'm not a very deep person but there's nothing like knowing someone can truly understand where you are coming from, maybe they have even lived through similar situations themselves.  My philosophy? Music has to be personal.  It has to come from the soul or its not real.  Once you get someone's attention, if you can hold it, make them nod their head and tap their feet to the music and feel the grooves then you’ve got something.


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
The best moment of my career was my recent trip to France to tour with the "Gas Blues Band" for 23 days. I met interesting people and was introduced to a totally different culture and way of life. Gaspard Ossikian-guitar, Patrice Meyer-bass, and Yannick Urbani-drums, are some of the most professional and sincere musicians I’ve met in quite some time. We all built true bonds of friendship during our tour simply because we all are honest, sincere people whom share a love for the Blues and music in general. The worst moment in my career? I'd have to say it was more than 14 years ago when I was not yet a part of a band and I was running around to any and every jam session there was. It was a Monday jam at Buddy Guy's legends club and I didn't know any chords or keys, really I knew nothing except to play the SRV songs I’d learned by myself. My buddy Giancarlo talked me into getting up on stage. There was a young lady that was killing. She was singing and playing her life away. She was really good... I had no clue what to do... then she pointed to me and said on the mic, "Take it away” I froze… I shook my head and pointed back to her to continue. It was my most embarrassing moment on stage yet it was a pivotal point. I couldn't wait for the day I'd go back and prove myself. Years later I did just that.


Tell me about the beginning of The Checkmates. How did choose the name and where did it start?
Actually, four years ago the second guitarist of The Checkmates, "Half Blind Mike Zaremba" came up with the name. I'm a pretty easy going, go with the flow kind of person and thus began our journey as "The Checkmates", Russel Wallace-bass, Chris Alexander- drums and Mike and myself.  


Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?  
I would have to say the most interesting period for me was again, the tour of France. Being away from the states and everything I was accustomed to. It also made me appreciate my role as a husband and father more. My wife Angela always supports me even though she says "I can never stay gone that long again"…also, Being the only child of Loretta Arceneaux and Larry Gladney, I began to think in more detail about all they strived to teach me though out life and the things they wanted for me. Now I want those same things for my own children.


What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN?
First, the struggles. Ones ability to overcome adverse situations defines one's character. There are common struggles in everyday life and even in the blues world itself, whether its club owners with the run around only hiring a select few bands while also expecting local bands to draw crowds as though they were BB King, or Prince. Or it’s other musicians undercutting and defaming you to get a gig as they smile in your face misconstruing the masking of two faced back stabbing for "professional composure”. Then there's the good times… everybody wants to smile, laugh and have a good time. There's nothing better than a good story read to a jumping blues beat or something so funky you can smell the rhythm.  


From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music?
No one in particular. If you play enough gigs and pay close attention, there's something to be learned in every situation from anyone starting with the audience to the club owners to the musicians themselves.  


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
The blues is pure uncut expression without the need to be vulgar or obscene therefor it will stand the test of time. Some of the most well known grooves are simply derivatives of earlier blues songs. My wish for the blues is simple. There are several avenues on public radio by which all different genres can be accessed on a regular and constant daily bases. Why not the blues? If the majority of the options given are all the same, where then will they get the access and the choice of listening to something different. A groovy little piece of history if you will. An example by which they will see that they don't have to follow suit. There are more distinguished ways to express yourself.


What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?
Don't limit yourself. Study all genres. Know the technical end but have the soul, feeling and desire to catch on by ear. You'd be surprised at the number of well versed technically apt musicians who frown upon musicians that only play by ear. Yet numerous technical musicians lack the ability to play with deep feeling and expression... Seek to master both ends of the equation. There's always more to be learned.


Which artists have you worked with & which of the people you have worked with do you consider the best friend?
Ha! That’s a trick bag… but I'll answer it. I've worked with several musicians and still the number I haven't worked without weighs the number I have worked with. I will say this; very few if any will stick their neck out for you. There are some of them that are truly good people but even then there are limitations within the ramifications of friendship and business.


What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
The best jam was years ago at Lee's Unleaded Blues. I actually got the chance to play behind Otis Clay. This was the first Iconic performer I’d ever met and played behind. It was very inspiring. The most memorable gig was when I played a gig at Buddy Guy's and him; "Buddy Guy" came up on the stage with us and sang. I’m sure he does that with several other bands but it is still an awesome feeling when one of the Icons takes the stage with you.


Why did you think that Chicago Blues continued to generate such a devoted following?
So many consider Chicago the Blues headquarters. Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howling Wolf, Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy laid this foundation we have here. People respect that and they want to feel connected to that part of American history.


Some music styles can be fads but the Chicago blues is always with us.  Why do think that is?
Chicago blues has a feeling that can't be denied. Everyone gets the blues from time to time and when that raw blues lump comes at you with that incomparable snare popping walk you're drawn to it. It seeks out the very core of your pain or happiness and forces you to acknowledge it.


What is the think you miss most from the original blues era with Kings, Willie, Muddy & Wolf of nowadays Chicago?
The purity! It was as though the blues was actually their skin. Not a demeanor or an outfit to be put on and taken off. When you looked at them you saw the blues… When they spoke when they smiled and when they sang you felt and heard the blues…


How do you see the future of Chicago blues music?  
Well, there are so many different forms of music nowadays but one thing is for certain. The blues was here when most other forms of music came and went and it will always be here. The Blues has taken on several forms its self. Most don't actually realize that there is a difference between South Side, West Side and North Side Blues... But the core will always remain.


What is your “secret” music DREAM? What turns you on? Happiness is……
Everyone wants to be a star of course, but my dream is simply to make unforgettable music. To never be forgotten. My happiness rest in my efforts to create a legacy for my children and family to be proud of. Something they can stick their chest out about.


What do you think is the main characteristic of you personality that made you a musician?
I’m a very diplomatic and emotional person. I like smooth sailing. Music is just that. You can put music on and time passes in the blink of an eye. Two people who may have totally opposite beliefs can find that somewhere, theres a song or an artist they both are drawn to. Troubles fade however temporary the solution may be. Music can access every emotion we have. I am music.


Do you think that only real blues is something gloomy played by old grey-haired men with harps and battered guitars in some smoky, dark and little shabby clubs?
No. The Blues is a celebrated art form for all ages to gaze upon. It’s the roots. More and more blues festivals are popping up everywhere. Don't get me wrong, the blues rest in experience, but when a baby cries… it has the blues…. when a child misses their parents or their home… they have the blues… When a young man or young lady loses their significant other or can't seem to find their way… they have the blues….When One's bills outweigh One's income, One has the blues…. The blues is not limited and age or a place but moreover it’s tied to life's experiences.  


The Checkmates


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