An Interview with Larry Garner a swamp blues philosopher: Everyone Has a Shade of Blues in Their Life

"In my opinion blues is life. Some people have a harder life than others and everyday is the blues for them but I believe that everyone has a shade of blues in their life."

Larry Garner 

Further More Than Bluesman, Philosopher !

The Baton Rouge guitarist brings his swamp blues tradition with current subjects and problems of everyday life to the people all over the world.
For a man who came to the blues relatively late in life from a day job and family life in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Larry Garner wanted no time earning a worldwide reputation as one terrific bluesman. Maybe his roundabout, diverse route is a part of why he brings such freshness of vi-sion along with a solid all-around grounding as a musician, poet and storyteller. The combination is certainly paying off.

He has been influenced by many of the Baton Rouge blues scene: Lonesome Sundown, Silas Hogan, Henry Gray, and Guitar Kelly. He writes his own material and this reflects his upbringing and surroundings. Larry had his first guitar at eleven years old and he tells a great story in his live act about being taught a blues lick, which he practiced and practised and was then "encouraged" by his proud parents to play at the church. He then moved through various musical styles before, rather inevitably, settling on The Blues. Larry served in Korea, still playing The Blues and then returned to Baton Rouge to get married. A family followed and he got a good job with Dow Chemical while playing Blues gigs in the evenings. As Larry continued to play further afield from Baton Rouge he started to reach a wider audience and in 1988 he won the BB King "Lucille" Award for "Doghouse Blues".

The big break came in 1992 at the Burnley Blues Festival in England, where he was a big hit and this led to the London based JSP records signing Larry in 1993 (To general disapproval from his parents!) and "Double Dues" and "Too Blues" rapidly followed. Allegedly "Too Blues" was so called because a record company had turned him down in the past because his music was - "Too Blues"! The Gitanes Jazz label in France (Owned by Verve) heard the JSP recordings and when Larry made another storming live appearance, this time in the "New Morning" club in Paris, they decided to sign him. Subsequently "You Need To Live A Little" came out in 1995 to be followed by "Baton Rouge" in 1996. Larry left Verve in 1997 and subsequently he recorded " Standing Room Only " with the German Ruf label (Luther Allison recorded on the same label). On 2000, Larry has released also a live album on Ruf records but, unfortunately, health problems obliged him to stay away from the recording studios .

He’s back, with the « Here Today, Gone Tomorrow » (2007) cut with the band he used to work with and some friends like Henry Gray, Stanley “Buckwheat Zydeco” Dural, Oscar “Harpo” Davis, Rudolph Richard, Elvin Killerbee and Jared Daigle.  Recorded at The Tivoli Theatre, Wimborne on 8 October 2009 "Live At The Tivoli with Norman Beaker and Friends" (2010) is a latest release.


Interview by Michael Limnios

 

What are your first musical memories & who were your first idols & what was the first gig you ever went to see?

When I was a very young child I used to listen to the radio at my grandmothers house, later we got a TV at home and there were the singing cowboys and there was lots of singing and guitar playing at our church, but I most remember going to my Uncle George Lathers house with my parents and while my dad would work on his car he would sit in his wheel chair a play the guitar. I guess the first gig I ever saw was the gospel groups that traveled around from church to church with the evangelist guitar playing preachers and I did idolize these guys.

 

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues & what have been some of your musical influences?

In my child hood I just wanted to play guitar and learn from anyone who would show me a lick. I used to live down the road from a juke joint and I guess that along with WLAC and WXOK gave me a desire to play the blues.  I started playing with gosple groups at age 11 and with my cousins R&B band when I was sixteen. When I got older I listened to everyone from Lighting Hopkins to The Temptations.


Is “blues” a way of life & what does the BLUES mean to you?

In my opinion blues is life. Some people have a harder life than others and everyday is the blues for them but I believe that everyone has a shade of blues in their life.


 

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

Its easy to say the best moment in my career is the day I walked of my day job and started touring full time. The worst moment has the be two worst moments. Once we got ripped off by the promoter in Kalispell Montana by White Dog Promotions and the second time is when I got kicked out of Beirut because some one with my name did something that got him on the red flag list so immigrations think I am this guy and they wont let me enter the country. It feels like Identity Theft and I felt and still feel helpless about this because I don't know how to clear up this situation. I know how an innocent person in prison feels somewhat.

 

How/where do you get inspiration for your songs & who were your mentors in songwriting?

I get inspiration from every day events that move me. Sometimes I get a line for a song or a title or a name for a cd. I can hear someone say something and if it moves me I will say "that's a great hook line" or " that's a good cd title"....ect. My mentors are probably Willie Dixon, Bill Withers, Bob Dylan and Curtis Mayfield

 

Do you believe MUSIC takes subject from LIFE?

Of course it has to because they go hand in hand, music takes subject from life and life moves to music.

 

How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

Everyone has access to everything now with the internet and youtube. Anyone can put out a CD where in the past it was a lot harder to be heard and you really had to pay some dues. The musicians are not as ignorant about the business as before. 

 

I wonder if you could tell me a few things about the story of Tabby’s Blues Box

When I first found Tabby's Blues Box it was in the early, early eightys and it was the only place in town where musicians could go and jam to an audience. I was on my way home from work one evening and there was an accident on the highway so I took a shout cut through an area of town where I didn't usually go. I passed this little place that had a sign out front that said "Blues Jam 2 Nite", so I stopped and went inside. Tabby was there practicing on stage alone and the bartender was sweeping the floor. I asked what time did the jam start, Tabby told me and the rest is history. There were other places before Tabby's but the Blues Box stood alone at this time. The blues were making a comeback and the older black folk (most dead now) were mixed in with the younger white college students, it was great. The place was small and if there were 60 people in there it was packed. It was definitely a city juke joint on Weds, Thurs, Fri and Sat nights. If it had not been for the Blues Box I would never have met Rudy Richard, James Johnson, Silas Hogan, Guitar Kelly, Clarence Edwards, Henry Gray, and all of the other players that came in there Chris was still in high school at that time. 


What do you miss most from of the Louisiana Blues Scene at 60s 70s

The clubs didn't close so early back then and you could party until 4am.


What kind of a guy was Silas Hogan, Whispering Smith, Arthur Kelly and Raful Neal & how was your relationship with all these musicians?

I played with all of those guys except Whispering Smith. These guys were the inspiration of many  Baton Rouge blues musicians. I had close connections with Raful, Silas, and Arthur Lee (my cousin in law). I also am very good friends with Henry Gray right now but I very seldom see Tabby anymore because of his illness. He has had several serious strokes and he does not comprehend very well anymore. My hat still goes off to Tabby for the resurgence of the blues in Baton Rouge.

Is there anything that you miss from your childhood times?

Yes. I miss the freedom of being a child back then, we would go outside and play all day with no worries. I would not want to be a child today with all of the problems of growing up. I cant imagine having to ride in the car being locked into a safety seat not being able to see the country side or not bing able to ride in the back up a pickup truck or sit in my fathers lap and drive in the country side. When I grew up we had toys that you could play with in the dirt and we also made a lot of our toys. I had a BB gun and went hunting with my father at a very early age. I'm so happy that I was a child before so much government involvement in a childs life. When I was a child pain was part of my education and today children are so sheltered from pain until when they get older and feel pain for the first time they don't know what to do except have a therapist explain it to them at a cost. 

 

Were there any places where you did especially well in Louisiana?

The biggest gigs in Louisiana were the Baton Rouge Blues Fest and the New Orleans Jazz Fest and we played them both for a while.

 

What does Blues offer you & why do you play the blues?

Playing the blues is the closest thing to real freedom for me and playing to an audiences is my therapy. I can release all of my bottled up frustration while enjoying my guitar to people who want to hear what I have to say........and that feels good.  

 

What do you learn about yourself from music?

I learned patience, respect and appreciation.

 

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

My time in the military was a very interesting time in my life because it was the first time I was away from family and on my own somewhat. Getting to know the Korean people and their way of life was a great experience for me.

 

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?

Meeting other musicians around the world and experiencing other cultures. I think anytime you can meet someone that plays differently from you it gives you the opportunity to be a good person and ask that person to show you a lick and that helps you become a good musician. 

 

How do you want to be remembered?

I would like most to be remembered as the guy who told you the truth so he could sleep good at night.

 

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?

I would like to have a chain of Bar B Que and Gumbo restaurants. I think have a very good recipe! 

 

What’s your poison & what turns you on?

I wont say my poisons because you may poison me but I get turned on at the sound of 30-40 watt tube amps cranked, well tuned loud engines, Harley Davidson, sharp chain saws cutting good and motor boats.

 

What do you consider the biggest problems of the world?

Greed, hatred, waste and unjust taxation to fuel political corruption are the top culprits on my list.

 

How important is a political opinion to artists?

I guess it depends. To some its important and to some its not.

 

What mistake of music you want to correct?

I dont know if it would be called a mistake but I wish I had left home at an early age and hit the road with Muddy Waters or Howling Wolf.

 

You have been traveling all around the world. What are your conclusions?

I've come to the conclusion that eventhough we speak different languages we all are basically the same, we all laugh and cry for the same reasons. I love going to other countries and experiencing their cultures and learning a new word in a different language. I love it when the people of a  country overcome the obstacles of oppression.

 

Give one wish for the music.

I wish every child could learn to play at least one song on and instrument.

 

Which of historical personalities would you like to meet?

I would have wanted to meet Jimi Hendrix, Curtis Mayfield, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Joan of Arc, Janis Joplin, and maybe Jesus for a little while to ask him to teach me the water to wine trick.

 

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

New Orleans Jazz Fest, Montreaux Jazz Fest, Buddy Guys Club, Club Milos, The 100 Club, Tabbys Blues Box, Phil Bradys, The BB King Lucille award, The BurnleyBlues Fest, The Club Mojo, The Washington DC Bar B Que cook off to name a few.

 

What are your best songs, the songs you’d most like to be remembered for?

Get High on Music, No Free Rides, The Haves and the Have Nots, Live a Little, Keeping 4 Cars Running, Strangers Blues, Heavy Pieces, Shut it Down, Keep on Playing The Blues, Where Blues Turn Black, Crazy World, For You Mr. King, Here Today Gone Tomorrow, Bull Rider, Dog House Blues, Broken Soldier, A Whole lot of Nothing, Car Seat Baby.

 

Are there any songs that you've written where the lyrics are very personal for you?

Every song that Ive written has personal feelings I could not write the song if I didn't feel it somewhat.

 

Why are Europeans so enamoured with the blues?

I believe that the American Blues Man is still an exotic in Europe even-though a few blues musicians have moved there. I also believe the Europeans have always had a greater appreciation for art and the rawness of music. 

 

Any of blues standards have any real personal feelings for you & what are some of your favorite?

Poor Boy, I'll Play the Blues for You, Going Down Slow.

 

What do you think is the characteristic of you personality that made you bluesman?

A witty honesty about life and the desire for my fellowman and woman to do well.

 

To which person do you want to send one from your songs?
I wrote one for BB King, "For You Mr. King"

 

Which is the best band that you've played with?

 Mine

 

What song of yours you would like to stay forever?

 Heavy Pieces

 

Three words to describe your sound

Raw, Real and Slow

 

From the musical point of view is there any difference between the north and the south?

Not really anymore most of the guys up north came from the south anyway.

 

Which musician have you ever wanted to be?

I never really wanted to be anyone else but in my high school days I really tried to play like Carlos Santana and Jimi Hendrix


When did you last laughing (and cry) and why?

 

The last time I laughed hard was with my cousins in law in the country side one friday night around a big bon-fire and the last time I cried is when I thought about my fathers death. I think about him a lot, especially when I'm working on something mechanical......he was a mechanical genius and he would always come by to see what my brothers and I were working on .... he would of course join in with the work and ideas.

 

Happiness is……

Conquering your own demons, making a depressed person laugh hard until their stomach hurts and true happiness is the warmth of a woman.

 

What do you feel is the key to your success as a musician?

Play the room, dont let the room play you, mean what you say and say what you mean.

Do you believe that nowdays there’re things to change in any level?
 

Yes. Unfortunately they are the same things that needed changing in the past. 

 

What do you believe will be the turning point of our civilization?

When we run out of oil and have to depend on each other more.

How dream can be carried out and not fall into a dream-catcher?

You have to believe in your dream as long as it feels good no matter how much negativity you receive.

 

If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?

I would practice more and not let the peer pressure effect me.

 

In which things can hope be based on?

Your personal willingness to change your perspective rather that changing the perspective of others.

 

Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul?

The heart, brain and soul all works together to make it happen, because one can't exist without the other.


Larry Garner Home


 

 

 

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