An Interview with the "Ministers" of Blues in India, MoB: We believe that the Blues is pretty much eternal

"The blues is a platform of expression, it helps you tells your story…if it’s good, people will always listen and enjoy."

Ministry of Blues: The Red Hot Blues Band

Although Philipe, Vinoo and the late Deepak have been playing together since 1993, MoB as a concept and a band, was formed in 2005. Sarat Sidhan was the original Bass player for MoB. He moved out of Bangalore & MoB for professional reasons a year later. The first difficult task was coming up with a name that suitably described the blues-rock music played by the band.

 

 

After experimenting with a series of names the band finally settled on “Ministry of Blues” coined by Deepak or DK for short, which somehow seemed to sum up the overall feel of the band.
MOB performed their first gig Bangalore to all of ten people...but then The Police have actually played a gig where only three people showed up! The subsequent performances showed a rapid recovery with turnouts ranging from crowded to over flowing to “Are you nuts?...there’s too many people in here...can’t get to the wash room!” The success of MoB’s performances, marked by raw energy, quickly generated great interest in the band .
MOB's repertoire is a mix of classics like Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix, Robben Ford, John Mayall, Joe Cocker, Deep Purple, Gary Moore and Eric Clapton among others. The band is known for their unique rock renditions of these classic tracks, making their music appealing to lovers of rock, rhythm and blues.
The MoB line-up includes Philipe Haydon (vocals & lead guitars), Vinoo Matthew (bass), Rauf Abdul (vocals & keyboard) and Guru Somayaji (drums).


Interview by Michael Limnios

 

When was your first desire to become involved in the music & who were your first idols?
Vinoo: I was about 8 or 9 when I first heard a guitar and fell completely in love with its sound, especially that of the open, low E. It made such an impression that I have clearly remembered that sound all my life. So much that when I got my first guitar (age 14 or so), the first thing I figured out was that the note I’d heard was the open 6th-string.
My first idols were The Shadows (the twang of that guitar in ‘Apache’! Ohhhh!) and The Ventures. Then Eric Clapton and Alvin Lee, though I didn’t know yet that they were very heavily Blues-inspired. A while later I heard BB King and my hair actually stood on end. Everything became clear to me then
My influences have been somewhat diverse, though - not necessarily on the way I play, but also on the way I feel about music - and include Roy Buchanan, Jerry Garcia, Danny Gatton, Albert Collins, Jack Bruce, John Entwhistle, Eurreal ‘Little Brother’ Montgomery, John McLaughlin, Skip James.

 


Philipe: I first wanted to be a Rock N Roll star at age six. My mom used to play her records of the Beatles and I had a badminton racquet that I used for a guitar and mimed along spiritedly!
A few years later my brother got me into Deep Purple, Grand Funk Railroad and importantly, Jimi Hendrix.
I started playing guitar quite by accident. My dad came back from a trip to Goa with something that he bought off a hippie on the beach. It turned out to be a classical guitar. He asked my brother Mark (also a great blues rock guitarist) and I ‘anything you guys can do with this thing…?” Well that changed our lives forever.

 

How do you describe Vinoo’ sound and progress?
I don’t think I have a guitar ‘sound’ though my band-mates and close friends say they can tell when I’m playing guitar even if they can’t see me. My bass sound is a growly, in-your-face, fart.
Progress was very choppy: at the age of 18 I decided I didn’t want to invest my entire identity into being a musician because I felt there were more important things to learn and understand in life. So I stopped playing on stage or with other musicians, tore up all the songs I’d written and just doodled at home on my own on an acoustic guitar while I did other things that gave me very little money but much personal satisfaction. I was 35 by the time I finally had enough money to buy an electric guitar (2nd-hand) and played my ‘first’ gig in 91 or so, after a break of some 17 years. For the past 10 years, I have had little interest in learning new techniques. My quest has been devoted to trying to learn how to reproduce the sounds that I hear in my head and feel in my heart, through my fingers. There is more than enough challenge there.

 

How do you describe Philipe Haydon’s sound?
My guitar playing has mostly been inspired by greats like Gary Moore, Jimi, Joe Bonamassa, Steve Morse, Eric Johnson, Joe Satriani , Robben Ford etc.
My sound and style could be described closest to Gary Moore with a whole lot of other influences ranging from Zakk Wylde to Yngwie Malmstein getting thrown in.
I have been able to nail down an extremely distinctive style as well as tone that are rather recognizable by the folks who come out to listen to MOB.

 

Vinoo, tell me about the beginning of the band. How did you get together and where did it start?
Philipe, DK and I stumbled upon each other, hit it off very well and began playing together in a hard-rock band called Aftermath. It was very interesting because our influences were very different – we were each 7 years apart in age, with DK the youngest and me the oldest. It was also a challenge for me because much of the music we were playing was stuff I never listened to. Eventually we got sick of what we were doing, couldn’t turn the band around and disbanded. Sometime later, DK & Philipe formed MoB. I joined them a year or so later.
I had 2 wonderful ‘homecomings’. The first was when I rediscovered the Bass (the instrument I love playing the most) after a gap of 17 years. The second was when I joined MoB – I played the music that I loved the most, with the musicians I loved playing with the most.

 

Why did you choose that name & what is the “philosophy” of the band?
Vinoo: The name was DK’s idea. People often ask us, “Surely you’ve heard of the Ministry of Sound?” Of course DK had heard of them, but it didn’t matter. ‘Ministry’ has its own associations with Blues & Gospel, and the acronym MoB was a good bridge between the Blues and the Hard Rock/early-Metal he and Philipe were rooted in.
The ‘philosophy’ of the band lies in 2 areas. Firstly we believe that the Blues is pretty much eternal. It evolves and even reinvents itself to suit new eras and countries far away from the original culture and times, without losing sight of its roots. We’re not a Chicago Blues band, we’re not even a 60s Blues-rock band. We’re a 21st century Blues-rock band. We take the Blues and add all our own musical influences to it.
Secondly, MoB was formed at a time when electronic and DJ music was at a peak in Bangalore. We wanted to re-introduce music lovers to the sheer excitement and raw power of live music at its best.

 

Are there any memories from the Ministry of Blues, which you’d like to share with us?
Vinoo: With all respect to you and all who read this, there is a barrier of grief between my recollection of these memories and the recounting of them, caused by the loss of a greatly-valued musical relationship and a profound friendship of nearly 20 years. I am sorry, but I am still unable to talk about these.
All of us pretty much went into a shell for some time after DK passed away; and we had to lift ourselves out of that by our bootstraps. Guru has been a real ‘find’; and that’s helped greatly. There are songs that Philipe and I have written about DK/those days; and we need to get off our asses and bring them to reality. It might get easier to talk about it once we’ve done that.
Philipe: Our first show, with heavy duty sound, lights, lasers, fog machines…that had all of 10 people in the audience!!!!

 

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from Deepak Kesavan?
Vinoo: I was walking down the road one day, when this young man who’d heard me play at a jam at a friend’s place some months ago hurriedly parked his bike by the side of the road, came running up to me and said, “Hey, will you play with my band?” I must have been 37, he was 14 years younger. But he was so sincere in his conviction that I agreed despite my misgivings.  I’m glad I did.
Philipe: I shared a house with DK for three years, he was my closest friend and have played with him for twenty years. Way too many fond memories!

 

Philipe, how has blues and rock music changed your life?
I have been playing blues-rock music for close to thirty years now. My first band was with my brother Mark it was called “Hammersmith” we took the show on the road and were India’s second band to be featured on Asian MTV way back in 1992.
Blues-rock has always been a part of who I am. So not sure how it’s “changed” my life because I haven’t really imagined adult life without playing music. Something like answering a question “has oxygen changed your life?”!!!
I guess without the blues I would be a boring corporate person wondering what I’d be doing after retirement!!!

 

What does the BLUES mean to you & what does offer you?
Philipe: The kind of Blues I’m currently playing with Ministry of Blues is a rather aggressive form of blues-rock. We chose this particular style because we wanted to put a strong mark of who we are as a band onto songs that were basically deemed to be done in a particular style. We choose the song turn it upside down and give it the MOB treatment.
The challenge is transforming traditional blues pieces into modern ones, and that’s what I get out of the blues these days!

 

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?
Vinoo: All of them. It’s about how you understand and internalize them. If you’re a good man, you’re a good musician. If not, you’re just an asshole with a guitar-playing ability
Philipe: I believe that you first need to be a good human being in order to become a good musician.

 

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
Vinoo: Funny, but I’ve never asked other musicians this, so I don’t know if we’ve been just plain lucky. We’ve always had great gigs
Philipe: Being a performer for over thirty years, it’s hard to be precise on this. Each performance somehow seems to be better than the last! Yes but I must state that I absolutely love playing with Vinoo our bassist and Rauf our keyboardist.
There’s a great comfort factor playing with folks you care for. It gives you the courage to go out on a limb. Now looking forward to a new chapter in the MOB story with Guru on drums.

 

Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet and who are your favorite blues artists?
Philipe: Would love to meet Robben Ford, Eric Johnson and Steve Morse. They are also my favorites.

 

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music?
Vinoo: From my ears and my heart, I guess. The Blues doesn’t have any secrets, actually.
Philipe: Have learnt from my brother and guru Mark Haydon who has pretty much taught me all that I know.

 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues and jazz is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
Vinoo: The Blues is about the human condition, so it will never lose relevance. I believe the Blues is the sound of the heart dancing. (I need to mention my gratitude for the concept of the “dancing heart” to my old friend Asif Merchant; a wise man who also plays the Sitar and the Dilruba - a fretted, bowed, Indian classical music instrument relatively unknown today. He is not a Blues musician; but he taught me so many of the things I know, musically and otherwise.)
I’ve never wished anything for the Blues. I’ve never felt the need to. It is powerful enough to stand on its own. This is why I never mention the Blues except with a capital B.
But I would love to see/hear Blues (rather than jazz) musicians in India who are also influenced by WC Handy and Jelly Roll Morton, and not just RJ and thereafter. Personally, I haven’t incorporated any of their stuff into what I do either. I guess I’ve taken the lazy way out.
Philipe: Classical music, Jazz and the blues I guess are permanent genres that go way beyond “fads”. The blues is a platform of expression, it helps you tells your story…if it’s good, people will always listen and enjoy.

 

What characterize the sound and the music philosophy of Indian blues scene?
Vinoo: I’m not aware of a ‘typical’ sound of the Blues scene anywhere. Every musician is free to interpret the Blues in her/his own way. And as long as it is the sound of your own heart dancing, it will find resonance in the heart of the listener.
Philipe: Am not sure if there really is, an “Indian” blues sound or philosophy. Today it would be hard for one to distinguish between blues musicians/bands from India or any other part of the world.

 

Vinoo, you had pretty interesting project An Ode to the Blues, how did this project come about?
Guru describes this in his interview with you as a casual mention I made at CounterCulture. It actually wasn’t. I was very, very keen that something be done in Bangalore for RJ’s 100th last year. I talked to the owners of various live-music spaces in the city and got vague or uninterested answers like, “Let me check my schedules”, “Oh, it is, is it?”, “Hey that sounds like a good idea! Let me get back to you on this” “Yes, we definitely should do this. Let me talk to my events team”. So by the time I got to Vishwa of CC, my heart was pretty low. But, Wow! He grabbed it with both hands and just RAN with it, man! I’m a lazy guy, so I’m so glad I didn’t have to do anything more. AOTTB is not my baby. It is entirely CC, Vishwa, Guru and their henchwo/men. It has grown from a deliberately-casual mention to what I believe is poised to become an important event in the annual musical calendar in India. I seriously owe them.

 

Which memory from “Ode to the Blues” makes you smile?
Philipe: Rauf our keyboard player, whom I have never seen on stage without his Korg, holding the microphone and doing Crossroads, a la David Lee Roth, at the all-star jam at the end of the concert.

 

Vinoo, what would you ask of Robert Johnson and how you would spend a day with Frank Zappa?
Really, what more can anyone ask of RJ?
Hey! How did FZ get in here?  But what a genius he was! I love his music! I even stole some ideas from him for one of our versions of Willie Dixon’s ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ (bits from ‘Big Leg Emma’ from ‘FZ in New York’). I don’t think anyone, not even the rest of MoB knows this. Lol! I would’ve been awed to spend a day with The Man! I think I’d have just stood in a corner, made myself as inconspicuous as possible and watched and listened

 

Philipe, what would you ask of Robert Johnson and how you would spend a day with Jimi Hendrix?
Would ask if he indeed made a pact with the devil, if so, how one goes about doing it!!!

 

Vinoo, from the musical point of view is there any difference between Ministry of Blues and Sarjapur Blues Band?
They’re completely different. In philosophy, sound, approach, relationship with their instruments, you name it. Both are subversive interpretations of the Blues, though. One is non-Blues, the other’s un-Blues

 

Vinoo, what is the “think” you miss most nowadays from the old days of blues?
Nothing. The Blues is not about ‘think’ but ‘feel’. As long as the heart dances……

 

When it all began for the blues in India? Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene and why?
Vinoo: When the Brits re-exported the Blues back to the US in the 60s, it got exported to India as well.
The most interesting period in the local Blues scene is now. There’s been a huge spurt of interest in the Blues.
Philipe: This is possibly the best phase for blues/blues-rock in India. There are many bands today playing this style.
I like to think of MOB as being pioneers of “Blues-rock” out here.

 

 

What do you think of folk Indian music & how close are to the BLUES?
Vinoo: There are surprising similarities in terms of the ‘feel’. Both are very earthy, both are descriptions of the human condition, both are a means of getting away from your troubles; both are a means of expressing deep feelings. But having said that, I must point out that India consists of 28 states. Each has its own language, food, rituals, culture and of course – music. So there is a very great variety in folk music. In addition, there are communities. So folk music of the fisherfolk of the state of Kerala (deep South) is different from that of the fisherfolk in Maharashtra (West), which is different from the folk music of the desert people in Rajasthan (North-West); all of which are different from the music of the tribal Santhals of Eastern India. Yet all of these, like the Blues, have arisen from the wellspring of human emotion. The differences are obvious, the similarities are eerie.
Philipe: Totally different music genres! Folk music in India is traditionally dance oriented.

 

From the musical point of view is there any difference and similarities between the Asian blues musician & American …what is the most difficult?
Vinoo: If there are any significant differences between Asian and American Blues musicians, I haven’t noticed them. From what I’ve seen, the differences are of familiarity – of having it all around you when you’re growing up versus discovering it while growing up. But when your heart dances…….
Philipe: The world has got smaller with technology. Today the musical/blues influences are common, the equipment pretty much the same, Fenders, Gibsons, Marshalls, you name it! Not too much that separates.


Ministry of Blues - Official website

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