An Interview with guitarist/singer/songwriter Michael Falzarano: Stay true to it, it won’t work if you don’t

"I think blues stays around because it’s real feeling. One wish is that there’s always an audience for it."

Michael Falzarano: The New Rider of American Roots & Blues Music

Guitarist/singer/songwriter Michael Falzarano has been a working musician for the past 35 years, most notably in The New Riders of the Purple Sage, Hot Tuna, the famed offspring of The Jefferson Airplane, and The Memphis Pilgrims, a Memphis-style rock ‘n’ roll band which he founded. Falzarano is currently a member of The New Riders of the Purple Sage, a spin-off of the Grateful Dead, which features original members David Nelson and Buddy Cage.
Falzarano has performed on and contributed many original compositions for Hot Tuna releases, as well as the Jorma Kaukonen releases and The Jorma Kaukonen Trio Live.  A live show veteran Falzarano has toured with Hot Tuna, The New Riders of the Purple Sage and The Jorma Kaukonen Trio throughout the United States, Europe and Japan.  These bands have shared billings with The Allman Brothers, Black Crowes, Bob Weir’s Ratdog, Mickey Hart’s Mystery Box, Bruce Hornsby, Los Lobos, Dave Mason, Poco, and The Commander Cody Band, among others. He has also appeared live or recorded with such musical greats as Bob Weir; Robert Hunter; Tom Constanten and Mickey Hart; Levon Helm, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson; John Lee Hooker; Johnny Copeland; Hubert Sumlin; Willie "Big Eyes" Smith; Bob Stroger; Vassar Clements; Paul Simon; Dr. John; Graham Parker; Merl Saunders; Warren Haynes; Warren Zevon; Greg Allman; David Crosby; Maria Muldaur; Arlo Guthrie; John Sebastian; Jonnie Johnson; Buddy Cage; Derek Trucks; Paul Kanter; Trey Anastasio; Guy Davis; Melvin Seals; John Popper; GE Smith; and Pinetop Perkins.
When not performing with his band The Extended Family, Falzarano can be seen with The New Riders of the Purple Sage. Falzarano also produces other artists and teaches guitar workshops at Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peace Ranch. Michael Falzarano has covered a lot of musical ground over his career. Falzarano’s latest release, I Got Blues For Ya (2014) offers a dozen excellent tracks of blues and roots, with ten originals and two compelling covers.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos: Vernon Webb, Rich Gastwirt, Suzy Perler, M. Falzarano archive / All rights reserved

Michael, when was your first desire to become involved in the music & what were the first songs you learned?

I became involved in music very early on, my parents listened to music and so I just naturally gravitated to it. When I was 8 or 9 years old I learned Tom Dooly and a few other folk songs but soon moved on to blues…

What were the reasons that made your generation to be the center of Folk, Blues/Rock researches?

Well I think it was the first time there was a way to research the history because the bands that were getting popular had roots and made it known. Like the Beatles, Stones and Dylan. People got interested and did the research to find the roots of what they were hearing.

"I think blues stays around because it’s real feeling. One wish is that there’s always an audience for it." (Photo: Michael Falzarano and his Strat on stage /  Rich Gastwirt, 2011)

What do you learn about yourself from the Rock n’ Roll culture? What characterize your music philosophy and how do you describe Falzarano’s music?

Not sure what I learned about myself but my music philosophy has always been, keep it real, play the music you love and don’t get hung up in the latest trend. I'm a Singer song/writer American roots and blues music. 

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from “I got blues for ya...” studio sessions?

Although it was many years before the CD actually came out I think getting to record with Vassar Clemmets was a high light and touching, as he passed shortly after.

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?

Well here’s one, getting to play the song Kansas City in Kansas City with Jonnie Johnson (Chuck Berry’s piano player), Playing Werewolves of London with Warren Zevon, Playing with Hubert Sumlin, Doctor John. To be honest there are too many to mention.

What does the BLUES mean to you and what does Blues offered you?

I feel the blues is where it all began, Rock and Roll, Jazz, folk, I think it all starts with an old black man sitting on a porch in the south playing blues. I think it’s the realest of all the types of music out there.

"I think it was the first time there was a way to research the history because the bands that were getting popular had roots and made it known. Like the Beatles, Stones and Dylan. People got interested and did the research to find the roots of what they were hearing." (Photo: Michael Falzarano on stage with Bob Weir and Hot Tuna)

I wonder if you could tell me a few things about your experience with Jorma and Hot Tuna.

Playing with Jorma (Kaukonen) and Jack (Casady) for close to 20 years was a fantastic trip. I went all over the world playing music with them. I still see or speak to them often and every now and then we get to play music together. Like when I produced Jorma’s big 70th birthday bash at the Beacon Theater in NYC last year.

Are there any memories from John Lee Hooker and Hubert Sumlin which you’d like to share with us?

Hubert Sumlin was one of the nicest guys I ever met, always smiling and happy. He told me some really great Howling Wolf stories back stage in NY. I only got to play with Hooker one time but it was fantastic. You never knew where he was gonna go.

What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?

Keep it real and sing about stuff you know and that happened to you.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

I think blues stays around because it’s real feeling. One wish is that there’s always an audience for it.

"When on stage I try not to think and just play the songs, that’s when it works the best. The people are the key to the whole performance, the more they’re into it the more the band get’s into it, we feed off the people." (Photo: Michael, John Popper & David Nelson)

Are there any memories from The New Riders of the Purple Sage, which you’d like to share with us?

I’ve been playing about 100 shows a year with The New Riders now for about 8 years so there are too many story’s to get into. But Just like with Hot Tuna I’m honored to be a part of this legendary band.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Stay true to it, it won’t work if you don’t.

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?

Bob Dylan and Freddie King.

You have recorded and appeared live with many artists. It must be hard, but which gigs have been the biggest experiences for you? And why?

Recording with Paul Simon, Why, because it was Paul Simon. And getting tour the world with Jorma and jack.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

I love playing music live so there always best moments even when it gets tough… So I don’t have worst.

"I feel the blues is where it all began, Rock and Roll, Jazz, folk, I think it all starts with an old black man sitting on a porch in the south playing blues. I think it’s the realest of all the types of music out there." (Photo: Michael on stage with Jorma Kaukonen, Ken Kesey & Ken Babbs)

What are the “secrets” of psychedelic folk blues rock?

Well if I told you they wouldn’t be a secret would they?

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

The sense of adventure is what I miss. Things are getting too boxed in these days. You know what I mean “it has to sound this way to be that”. The categories are getting too closed in. I hope it opens up a bit in the future.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

That musicians could make a good living from what they do. It gets harder and harder every year.

Which memory from Johnny Copeland; Jonnie Johnson; Grateful Dead; and The Band makes you smile?

All of those musicians were doing what they love. There was no other path for them. They were and are the real deal. It makes me smile to have met and had an opportunity to play music with them.

"I became involved in music very early on, my parents listened to music and so I just naturally gravitated to it. When I was 8 or 9 years old I learned Tom Dooly and a few other folk songs but soon moved on to blues…"

What are you thinking when you are on stage? How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?

When on stage I try not to think and just play the songs, that’s when it works the best. The people are the key to the whole performance, the more they’re into it the more the band get’s into it, we feed off the people.

 

Which memory from all those years on the stage makes you smile?
Playing with Hot Tuna at the Beacon Theater in NYC. We played there like 15 times and every time was fantastic.

What is the Impact of Blues and Rock n’ Roll music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

I think it did bridge a gap. People from all walks of life listen to Blues and Rock n’ Roll music.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

The day Bob Dylan went electric at The New Port Folk Festival back by members of The Band and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band most notable Mike Bloomfield. Why, it changed everything! It was folk meets blues, meets rock. The rest is history…

Michael Falzarano's Official website

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