Interview with Washington area young phenom Andy Poxon - just gettin started a new page in blues history

"I think blues will last particularly long because it’s so based on feeling, and people react and relate to that."

Andy Poxon: Must Be The New Blues

Andy Poxon comes from a long line of accomplished musicians. His mother and father met while studying classical music at the University of Maryland. On his mother's side, Andy's grandfather played the French horn for over 30 years, while his grandmother continues teaching classical violin to this day. The combination of Andy's voice and guitar playing make for an unforgettable evening of music. He performs regularly with the Andy Poxon Band, and has also performed with Tom Principato, Bobby Parker, Dave Chappell, Daryl Davis, Pete Ragusa, The Nighthawks, the Thrillbillies, Li'l Ronnie & The Grand Dukes, Greg Phillips, Hot Rods & Old Gas, Scott Ramminger & The Crawstickers, Robert Fiester, Billy Thompson, Clarence “The Bluesman” Turner, and Tony Fazio.

In 2011, Andy played in a tribute to Pinetop Perkins with The Nighthawks at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis and the State Theatre in Falls Church, VA. In 2010, Andy received Wammie nominations for Best New Artist, Best Debut Recording, and Best Blues/Traditional R&B Recording. The band's debut album "Red Roots" was released in 2010 and is an all-original album. It has been getting excellent reviews nationally and internationally. In addition, Andy was nominated for the 2010 Best New Artist of the Year. In October 2011, signed a licensing agreement with EllerSoul Records to promote and distribute “Red Roots.” Andy's second CD, "Tomorrow", produced by Duke Robillard released in 2012. The third CD "Must Be Crazy!", (released September 18 from EllerSoul Records) by Washington area guitarist-vocalist is the latest by a young phenom that certainly has attracted the praises of many. Poxon travelled to the Nashville area where he recorded at Kevin McKendree's Rock House Studio. Andy has opened shows for Tommy Castro, Duke Robillard, Joe Louis Walker, Coco Montoya, JD McPherson, and many more.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Andy, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues & who were your first idols?

I’m not sure what the first blues I heard was, but I enjoyed improvising and playing over blues chord changes, so I went to a music store and asked an employee if he could recommend any blues CD’s. I ended up getting a B.B. King album and loved it. For my birthday a few weeks later, my parents got me tickets to a B.B. King concert with Joe Bonamassa opening. I had never heard of him, but was blown away by his performance and became a big fan of his after that. That was closer to the rock and hard rock that I was into before I discovered blues. B.B. King also became a big influence on my playing then. That concert I went to was in 2005, and for the next couple of years I was very into blues-rock. Since then I’ve really lost interest in most blues rock and especially Joe Bonamassa. I’m now more into older blues and other kinds of music from the 40s and 50s.

What characterize the sound and the music philosophy of Andy Paxton? Where did you pick up your guitar style and what were your favorite guitars back then?

Just what I said before, I try to combine all my influences into one style and sound. I never try to imitate anybody, just absorb what I like about their playing and let it become a part of my own. I listen to as much music as I can and try to come up with my own style. I don’t want to be known as an SRV clone, or “that guy who sounds just like Albert Collins,” etc. I love the sound of big hollowbodies like the early Gibsons and Gretsches.

"Blues offers me a long, hard life, living from gig to gig, barely scraping by, hoping my girlfriend doesn’t leave me for being a loser musician, and enjoying all of it." (PHOTO: Andy Poxon's Band)

What was the first gig you ever went to and what were the first songs you learned?

I first started performing blues at local blues jams. I met older musicians and eventually got asked to open for some local bands, I played guitar and sang in a few bands, and eventually I had enough experience and knew enough people to form my own band. My band’s first public performance was in June 2009 and there are actually some videos of it on youtube. I really don’t remember what the first songs I were exactly, but I remember performing “You Upset Me,” “Black Cat Bone,” and “Don’t You Lie to Me.”

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

They come from all different places. Sometimes I’ll hear a phrase and then write a song around it. Sometimes I’ll come up with a riff or chord progression and then write words around it. I don’t have any set method of writing songs. I don’t have any mentors in songwriting, I just listen to all the music I can and steal their ideas without making it too obvious or breaking any laws.

Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet?

I’m not sure there’s any one person in particular, I would just like to have lived back in the 40’s and 50’s and gotten to play with and meet all the great musicians from back then.

Do you think that your music comes from the heart, brain or soul? What does BLUES mean to you and what does offered you?

All three, depending on the song and the context. If it’s a built up guitar solo on some slow blues, it’s soul, if it’s a song I write about my girlfriend, it’s my heart, if it’s me trying to remember the words to a song that I’m performing for the first time, it’s my brain.

Blues offers me a long, hard life, living from gig to gig, barely scraping by, hoping my girlfriend doesn’t leave me for being a loser musician, and enjoying all of it.

"I think the blatant stealing of black music by whites has done serious harm to the black musical culture and to blues music itself. "

What are the lines that connect "Must Be Crazy!" with "Red Roots" and "Tomorrow"?

“Must Be Crazy” is a natural progression from the first two. There is a little more blues on it, but it still has a mix of styles like the others. The songs are more personal and deal more with experiences I’ve had in life, as opposed to just copying what I’ve heard in other songs.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?

I think the only way to learn any style of music is just by listening to it. I can learn a lot more secrets about blues by listening to old obscure blues artists than I can by taking a guitar lesson even with a great blues guitarist. Not that there isn’t lots to be learned in lessons.

Who are your favorite blues artists, both old and new? What was the last record you bought?

My favorite blues artists include Johnny Guitar Watson, Magic Sam, B.B. King, Freddie King, Wynonie Harris, Calvin Boze, and Smiley Lewis. I’ve been buying mostly jazz lately. Stuff like Cannonball Adderley, Jim Hall, and Bill Evans.

Which memory from studio and Duke Robillard makes you smile? What is the best advice ever given you?

I had a great time playing with Duke on the last track, "Jamming at Lakewest". After we had finished tracking all the songs I brought with the band, I asked him if we could do one with the two of us playing. So he came up with a little tune and I put a harmony part on top of it and we recorded it in one take. That was all completely live, and I think the spontaneity of the situation comes out in the recording. He's always been one of my favorite blues guitarists, so actually getting to play with him was a dream come true. Duke gave lots of great advice about many things, but I don't want to give away any of his secrets!

What compliment do you appreciate the most after a gig?

I appreciate all compliments. The one thing I don’t like is after I’ve played a set and I’m happy with what I played and feel like I’m having a great night and the crowd is really into it and the first thing anybody in the crowd says to me is, “Hey man, I love your hair.” That bugs me, but I guess it’s to be expected.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice has given you?

I’ve been extremely fortunate to play with a lot of great musicians since I started. I think the best advice I’ve ever gotten is to stay away from drugs, alcohol, and loose women. Someday I might even follow it.

Are there any memories from Mark Wenner of The Nighthawks, which you’d like to share with us?

I’ve gotten to play with the Nighthawks several times, which is always a lot of fun. It was actually Mark Wenner who introduced me to Ronnie Owens, one of the owners of the label I’m on, Ellersoul Records.

(PHOTO: Andy Poxon & Mark Wenner of The Nighthawks)

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

I try to stay away from blues standards in general. I’m more into older, more obscure blues. One standard that I can think of that I do perform though is Eyesight to the Blind. That’s a song that’s been covered by a lot of blues artists.

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

I played at a big blues festival (Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Little Feat played later, and people like Buddy Guy and Aretha Franklin have headlined it before) near my house and the guy I was playing with, Daryl Davis, picked me up on his shoulders and carried me out a couple hundred feet into the crowd. One thing I’m doing coming up in September is a Sean Costello benefit concert that his parents asked me to play at, and I’m getting to play with his former backing band. That should be a lot of fun.

When we talk about blues, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. What is the "tomorrow" of Blues?

I think blues and roots music is based on feelings and emotions, more so than some other types of music. Those emotions are felt by all generations young and old, which is why the blues has thrived since its found.

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

Streaming and downloading music are great, easy ways to listen to lots of new music, to hear things you might not have heard otherwise, since you don’t have to pay for it. Unfortunately, it does a huge to disservice to so many musicians and songwriters who make less and less money from their music. If I could change one thing, I would do away with all free streaming and downloading.

I would love to go back and perform at a time when blues was still new and all the singers were young, so I wouldn’t have to listen to anyone tell me “you’re too young to sing the blues!”

What is the impact of Blues music/culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

That’s a big question, probably too big for me to answer. But I will say this; I think the blatant stealing of black music by whites has done serious harm to the black musical culture and to blues music itself. Since the 1950s, white men have been trying to make money off the backs of black musicians by stealing their music and repackaging it. Obviously, there are so many examples: Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, George Thorogood, etc. All of those people blatantly ripped of the music of blacks, some more graciously than others, and diluted the music into a sort of weird, trite, sound that is called “blues” today. That’s why the blues hit its peak in popularity in the 1950s, and has steadily declined ever since. Blues has largely turned into a white phenomenon. When I play at blues festivals and blues clubs, at least 90% are white. This is a form of music that can be traced directly to the music of slaves and sharecroppers, blacks who went through unfathomable hardships, who developed their own unique culture to deal with their brutal reality. But then it was badly copied by whites and mass produced by major record labels, allowing the white artists to become superstars while a large majority of the blacks who created the music were left to toil in obscurity. I think this theft is why the blues today is a dying art form, and why it is so far from the minds of young people, white or black. The first couple generations of blues musicians were coming from such a genuine, raw, emotional place, which is what made the music so gripping and compelling, and why those old recordings age well and hold up today.

White musicians, myself included, could never possibly understand what blacks went through when this music was being created, so by trying to imitate that music, we are really doing a travesty to the music itself, and doing absolutely nothing to help race relations. If anything it hurts relations, because it is just another example of whites using blacks for their own gain, which started with slavery and continues today with institutionalized racism and the widespread use of blacks by American politicians, who intentionally keep them in urban areas and in poverty, under the guise of helping them, in order to get their votes and keep themselves in power.

"I think blues and roots music is based on feelings and emotions, more so than some other types of music. Those emotions are felt by all generations young and old, which is why the blues has thrived since its found."

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is?

Blues is fairly basic and is the foundation of many other types of music. Most styles of music that are fads don’t last because they don’t evolve. Classical music, jazz, rock, country, blues they all have adapted and changed over time and that’s why they all last longer than other styles. I think blues will last particularly long because it’s so based on feeling, and people react and relate to that. Styles of music that don’t have any feeling don’t last.

How do you see the future of blues? Give one wish for the BLUES

I think it will keep evolving just as it has since it was first played. I think if Robert Johnson heard modern blues, he wouldn’t identify it as blues, so I think it’s bad when people are purists and try to define what blues is and isn’t. It’s impossible to predict what will blues will be like in 50 years. I just hope it’s still around and a new generation embraces it.

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

I would love to go back and perform at a time when blues was still new and all the singers were young, so I wouldn’t have to listen to anyone tell me “you’re too young to sing the blues!”

What are your plans for the future? Do you have a message for the Greek fans?

I’d like to travel full time and play as much as I can. I’d like to travel to Europe, I think that would be a lot of fun. My message to Greek fans is thanks for being fans, and I hope I get to play in Greece soon!

Andy Poxon - Official website

Photo by David Toms

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