"I’ve learned to approach situations as a learning experience and have made the attempt to be more conscious so that no matter what I come away with something."
Brian Stoltz: Karma of New Orleans' wisdom
Brian Stoltz has released four solo albums, has toured and recorded with Rock ‘n Roll Royalty and has performed on a string of recordings – playing, producing or writing for various artists. Basing his art on street virtuosity, raw emotion and a stinging signature style, he is becoming known as New Orleans’ premiere guitarist and songwriter extraordinaire.
While touring, writing and recording throughout the 80′s with the world-renowned Neville Brothers Band and for fourteen years with The funky Meters, Brian has created unique, original bodies of work. In addition to being in demand as a phenomenal guitarist, his skill as a songwriter has caught the attention of artists like Aaron Neville, The Neville Brothers, Coco Montoya, The Wild Magnolias, Zydeco artist Zachary Richard and writer/film director’s John Sayles and Alex Lemay.
Never satisfied with the stereotype of a funk guitarist, and being a chameleon by nature, Brian’s unmistakable sound has been featured on recordings by artists as diverse as Dylan, Edie Brickell, Linda Ronstadt, the Neville Brothers, Dr. John, The funky Meters and Aaron Neville. His panoramic career also includes the release of four solo albums including Up All Night/Live (2007), God, Guns & Money (2005) and East Of Rampart Street (2003) and the now out-of-print Starving Buddha (1999).
His television appearances include The Tonight Show (with Jay Leno & Johnny Carson), Saturday Night Live, Late Night with David Letterman, Austin City Limits, Cinemax and Showtime specials, and concerts with the Grateful Dead. Ever socially conscious, Brian toured, along with the Neville Brothers, U2, Peter Gabriel, the Police and Lou Reed as the torch-bearers of the first Amnesty International Tour in 1986 to raise consciousness of the fate of political prisoners around the world.
Brian Stoltz's artistic photos by Stephen Poff
How do you describe your philosophy for the music and what characterizes the sound of Brian Stoltz?
Whether it is my music or the music of others, the most important thing for me is to serve the song, playing what the song needs. Within that I like having a wide dynamic range – the tools to be able to go from sparse, delicate ambient sounds to full-range screams. I like a palette that has everything from the cleanest chimes to the most distorted, demented growls when it comes to sound. I use a wide variety of colors and textures in my own music and when working with some other artists, although the role of the guitar in most of the New Orleans acts that I work with call for more straight-ahead, regulation guitar sounds. I am able to experiment and use more of that palette on my own stuff.
Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
There are so many highs and lows that it is difficult to determine definitive instances - and I do my best to not let rejection, insult, praise and compliments affect me, but what comes to mind as one of the best moments was when I received copies of my first album, East Of Rampart Street in 2002. It was a great feeling to have the years of hard work honing your craft and the months of recording and shaping your art come together in a tangible form.
One of the worst moments was in early 1981. I was playing a club on Bourbon Street. Back then I only had one guitar, a heavy Les Paul that I played 5 nights a week, 6 sets a night. I began having a sharp, shooting pain in my left hand. Over a period of a few weeks the pain went further up my arm and became more intense. Finally one night my left arm just fell from the neck of the guitar and I could not lift it. I had full-blown Carpal Tunnel Syndrome that required surgery and a long healing period. I couldn’t play, or work, for about six months. I didn’t mind being off of Bourbon Street, but the bills were piling up. My wife was working as a photographer for the newspaper at the time, so that helped but didn’t cover all of the expenses. Despite that being a difficult time, I have some fond memories from that period. Early every morning I’d drive out to Salt Bayou to fish and catch lake crabs. I enjoyed that and we ate well for those six months.
Some music styles can be fads but the New Orleans music is always with us. Why do think that is?
I think there are a lot of factors involved, but I feel that the main reason that New Orleans music has a lasting quality is because the music and the musicians are tied to such long-held traditions. There are many genres that contribute to what I consider to be New Orleans music – traditional jazz, blues, folk, gospel, r&b, early rock ‘n roll, hip hop – all evolving out of long-standing traditions and borrowing from each other. The best of this will stand the test of time and defy being dated. Those traditions carry on through time as New Orleans culture passes through those musicians.
What do you think is the main characteristic of your personality that made you a musician?
It would be that part of me that is sensitive to sound – that part of me that as a child had a strong, visceral reaction to hearing the marching bands and especially the big bass drum and drum section as it approached us on the street during a mardi gras parade. You’d first hear it from a distance and I can still feel the excitement it created as the band got closer and closer and the beats got louder. It was that same part of me that became ecstatic the first time I heard The Beatles on the radio.
What does New Orleans Music mean to you & what does New Orleans culture offered you?
Being born and raised in New Orleans, the music and the local culture are the tools and materials that I used to build a foundation for my life and career. Being a multi-cultured city with multiple genres of music, you can’t help but be influenced by it all. You are surrounded by an endless variety of music, food, neighborhood traditions and people of many different races, creeds and nationalities. You have influences from Africa, Cuba, the Caribbean, European influences, French, Spanish…I grew up in a neighborhood of mixes races with a family background of German and Sicilian cultures. It was beautiful – it’s all here. From neighborhood to neighborhood the people, the food, the specifics of the culture may change, but all with the common thread of those people being New Orleanians.
What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician and songwriter?
Oh, I could write a book on just this subject. A lot of it would pertain to the culture I just mentioned. Over time I’ve learned to approach situations as a learning experience and have made the attempt to be more conscious so that no matter what I come away with something. It helps to have something real to draw upon when writing songs.
From early on I had a supportive family. That helped to lay a solid foundation. Although my parents were concerned that I chose a career in music (I made the decision when I was 8 years old), there was never a time that I was discouraged by them. They bought my first electric guitar after a couple of years of hearing me thrash around on an old acoustic that an uncle of mine gave me. My grandparents bought my first really good amp – a Fender Bandmaster Reverb with the big 2x12 speaker cabinet. This was 1969 – the amp sitting on top of the speaker cabinet was bigger than me. So it’s helpful to have had a lot of encouragement and support to draw on.
New Orleans had great radio stations back in the 60’s. It was one of the main things feeding my obsession. Whether I was home or in the car with my folks the radio was on. While all the other kids in the neighborhood were playing ball and carousing around I was usually inside spinning records or flipping through radio stations, listening to the sounds - searching for the songs that grabbed my attention. With such a wide variety of music I quickly became discriminative in my listening habits. Something about it had to move me or bring about a certain feeling or else I moved on to the next station. Whether it was the sounds, the beat, the voice, the melody - something had to grab me and hold me there. I guess we all do that to some degree, but think I sharpened my blade more than most. There were so many good things to listen to that I refused to waste time on music that other people just seemed to passively tolerate. For me music was not just something to pass the time. I was not yet proficient on an instrument, so when I listened I didn’t know technically or musically what was going on, but I soaked it up like a sponge and retained the feeling and the spirit of it all. It is an obscure thing to put into words, but later on as I found my way on the guitar it was this that I used to propel forward.
From the time I began playing with other musicians I tried to position myself into situations with players who were better than me. From the musicians I played with in high school, playing weekend dances, teen joints and country bars to the artists I’ve toured and recorded with, it was important to not only contribute, but to be able to learn something and better myself in the process. Doing my best to keep my eyes and ears open, I’ve learned a lot from some of the great artists, producers, songwriters and musicians I’ve worked with. Whether being around them for decades or for just a couple of days, the more powerful ones like Art Neville, Daniel Lanois, Brian Eno, Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, radiate in a way that if you can remain open around them, you can capture something very special.
Are there any memories from The funky Meters and Neville Brothers , which you’d like to share with us?
Oh, there are so many stories… I had a regular nightly gig at the 544 Club on Bourbon Street. That’s where I met Art Neville in 1980. He and his brother Aaron would occasionally come into the club. I met them there one night with singer, Rita Coolidge. I played with Art in The Neville Brothers from September 1981 until January 1990 and rejoined him in The ‘funky’ Meters in, I believe, early 1994. The years in between were spent doing various projects – an album for RCA Records, touring, writing and recording a couple of records with Zachary Richard, a couple of recording projects with Linda Ronstadt and a year or so touring with Dr. John. After a moderately hectic decade throughout the 80’s with the Neville’s, I was ready for new scenery and new experiences. These various projects provided that and kept me busy. I enjoyed spending time with a lot of the new people and was especially happy to have new musical challenges. I was moving forward and didn’t spend any time looking back. I didn’t see or talk much to Art during the period in between bands. I realized later on that during these few years I had somehow blocked out of my mind a good portion of my stint with the Neville’s and much of this period. The next time I saw Art was sometime in 1993 at Sea-Saint studio on a session with Edie Brickell and Paul Simon. Shortly after, he asked me to join The ‘funky’ Meters.
It felt good to once again be in a band with Art after not working with him for so long. Having spent so many years together on the road and in the studio I was well aware of how important he was in shaping and refining the way I play, but not having worked with him in so long, that was just an understood awareness in the back of my mind. The specifics of all the little things that I picked up from him over the years remained unconscious or had long faded into the background behind the flurry of recent events.
The first couple of shows with ‘funky’ Meters were good, but apprehension kept me on edge. I quickly realized that the songs had evolved over the years and that their already loose structure was now even more improvisational. My focus was on keeping up and locking in with the band. The music was free as they took the liberty of going down any musical avenue they pleased. Art was especially going to play these songs according to how he felt in the moment, but it seemed that on some of the tunes he took an approach that was quite different from the way he used to play them. Your ear gets used to hearing certain things over and over and there were melodies and phrases of his that I’d grown accustomed to. I used them to play off of or as cues. Now he approached them differently. I started thinking that some of the things he played sounded like something I would have played on guitar. Sometimes it was a rhythm or maybe a particular lick, but I felt like I was hearing him play these things for the first time and that he was pulling them from my personal bag of tricks! I thought, “Hey Art, you’re stealing my shtick!”
After a couple of shows I began to relax and settle in. I was now able to sit back and objectively hear what was going on in an overall way. Art’s playing had changed over the years - so had mine. Playing the songs that ‘funky’ Meters and the Neville’s share in common like, Fiyo On The Bayou and Hey Pocky Way, began to jog my memory. As I nightly watched and listened to Art dominating the Hammond organ, I started thinking of particular instances from years before with the Neville’s and all of the little things he told me over the years – subtle things - metaphors and analogy he used to explain the way he wanted the music to come across. I thought about his attempts to get me to understand what he meant when he talked about the secret groove. Realizing how these things manifested over the years, with a better understanding I could now see specifically how they had shaped the way I play. I was slapped in the face with the truth of just how much I had unconsciously picked up and learned from Art. I wouldn’t necessarily call it an epiphany, but I remember one night onstage laughing to myself when I heard him play one of his signature licks on the organ and I thought, “Wait, I got that from him!” I realized just how much had snuck in under the radar.
Why did you think that The funky Meters continued to generate such a devoted following?
Because funky Meters are a great live act! About 99% of the repertoire is the Meters’ catalog brought into the 21st century. And people mostly seem to have a thing for nostalgia.
Which memory from Bob Dylan, Dr. John, and Bo Dollis & the Wild Magnolias makes you smile?
I remember, sometime in the early nineties, not too long after I worked on Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy album, I was playing a festival in Switzerland. Bob was also on the show, but on a different stage, quite far away from where I was playing. I wanted to catch his set and I was hoping to see him and some friends that played in his band, but was unable to make arrangements to get to that stage. By the time I went on, I had come to the conclusion that I wouldn’t have the opportunity to see him on this day. I was disappointed, but thought, maybe next time.
The side of our stage was cordoned off with high, thick curtains so you could not see anything to the side or backstage area, except for an open space to the rear where the band entered and exited the stage. About half way through the set, I sensed a presence to the right of me. I had that feeling of being watched. I looked to the right side of the stage. Straight across from where I was standing, the curtains had slightly parted and I saw an eye looking out, straight at me – just one eye. My intuition told me that it was Bob, but I wasn’t sure. After a few more peeks to the side, I noticed that the curtain had parted a little more and just enough so that I could see that this person with the dominant gaze was wearing a grey sweatshirt with a hood over his head. I started laughing to myself because by then I was pretty sure that it was Bob. We finished our set, said goodbye to the audience and began to exit stage right. As I approached the exit, the curtains abruptly opened. The guy in the grey hoodie leaps out and says, “Hey Brian, remember me? It’s Bob!” That was so unexpected I could only laugh. We spent the rest of the afternoon backstage in the dressing room swapping stories with Willie DeVille, sipping Jack Daniels. Even though I’m not much of a drinker, I had a little nip that day (it kept us warm). How unthinkable that anyone in this world would ever forget Bob.
I toured for about a year in the early 90’s with Mac Rebennack, aka Dr. John. He is a real character, or as he would say, a char-actor, in the literal sense of the word. Almost everything about him makes me want to smile, or laugh, depending on the situation – mostly for his masterful knack at twisting words and bending language in his own unique way. He’s an old spirit - a hoodoo raconteur with never-ending stories and a sequined rooster sewn on the back of his jacket. Every day on the road with Dr. John was a new journey. Many of his tales can’t be repeated after-the-fact because they were so visual – you just had to be there to get it.
When Dr. John and his band hit the road, we relied on promoters to provide backline gear for us – amps, drums, piano, etc. The only time I got to use my own amps was when we were playing New Orleans and that was rare, mostly during Jazz Fest. Most of the time I was at the mercy of having to play on whatever old amp was provided – and it was usually crap! They were mostly amps that were uncared for, the tubes were never changed; sometimes the tubes weren’t working at all so you only had half-power – a real sorry state of affairs when you’re trying to get a good, clean sound happening. Some of the amps were so bad that you put the volume knob on 2 or 3 and the sound was nothing but fuzzy distortion. Usually an amp has to be cranked up fairly loud before the sound turns into distortion and that’s how I like it because you have to turn up a bit to get on top of a big band with horns, keyboards, bass, drums – and I like the sound to still be fairly clean. Despite the lame situation I did my best to deal with it and make things sound as good as possible.
One night somewhere, I don’t remember where – we played a killer show! Despite the fact that I had a half-broken down, sorry excuse for an amp, everything flowed onstage. The show was sold-out, the set list was perfect and the crowd was loud and enthusiastic the whole night. It could not have gotten much better. We finished the set and walked off-stage. As we enter the backstage dressing room, Dr. John says, “Yeah band, that was all right! That was a good set! Except for Brian – he had a ‘lil too much extortion on his guitar!” Being all in fun, Dr. John always knows how to get a good laugh – usually at your expense!
I get a self-gratifying grin every time I think about one particular day in the studio with Bo Dollis and The Wild Magnolias. They are truly wild and wonderful to work and hang out with. I co-wrote a batch of songs with some friends from Nashville and I was hired by their company to produce a number of New Orleans/Louisiana artists for a record they were releasing. In addition to writing for and producing Art Neville, Sonny Landreth and a few other acts, one of the songs was for Bob Dollis and The Wild Magnolias featuring Bonerama.
Recording this track seemed easy to me, but not everybody thought so because I wanted to do the whole thing live! I wanted to set up the instruments and microphones in the room just as we would at a gig, and simply capture a great performance. That’s not always as easy as it sounds, but I knew that once we kicked it off everything would fall into place. Some of the others didn’t agree. They worried about the tracks bleeding into each other and losing the ability to fix things if something messed up. They thought it would be hard to mix, but they were being too technical. I thought, so what if the tracks bleed into each other? It’s all going on the record anyway. I was more concerned with the feeling of it than with the technical issues. So when the musicians and singers arrived, the engineer and I forged ahead getting set up and placing mics on all of the instruments.. It was easy getting volume levels on everything because it’s hard to get musicians to not play – the engineer got the sound right from the spontaneous jams that naturally kicked off and from running through parts of the song to get the arrangement.
Everybody was in a festive mood - laughing, swapping stories and telling jokes. As we were about to roll tape, one of the other producers who had just arrived looked in and saw all these musicians and the set up about to be recorded – a full drum kit, big bass drum, two guitars and amps, bass guitar, four trombones, a tuba, Bo Dollis at his mic ready to sing and Indians shaking tambourines about to do the background chants. He looked at me, shook his head and said, “I’m glad I’m not producing this one.” Everybody laughed, but there was no hesitation or lack of confidence in the room. The party was ready to begin – and a party it was! The tape rolled, we counted it in and about five minutes later we were all done with everybody hoopin’ and hollerin’ and carrying on. The laughter went seamlessly right back into telling stories and joking around. That’s how it’s done in New Orleans.
What is you miss most nowadays from the 70s / 80s and your first steps in music?
There was a sense of discovery and a feeling of innocence in the early 70’s that I miss. The music then seemed more magical. It was a very creative period. Being a primitive, untrained musician, I had to dive fearlessly into the sounds to figure it all out. As I get older the music becomes less and less magical because too often I hear something and I know exactly how it’s played or how it was recorded and put together. There is an advantage to this, but it alters the way I like to hear music. I still try to listen as a fan. I miss the mystery of hearing something for the first time that is so moving that you’re intimidated by it, but then you are compelled to jump in, pick it apart and figure what makes it tick - like it was hearing Jimi Hendrix or Muddy Waters the first time.
There were lot of bands and musical acts coming to perform in New Orleans throughout the 70’s – rock bands, blues acts, you name it. In 1970 a New Orleans promoter began having all ages shows in an old, deserted, red-brick warehouse on Tchoupitoulas St., on the bank of the Mississippi River. They named it simply, A Warehouse. The place was huge, holding thousands of people. On any given night and especially on weekends you could catch any number of acts that were now gratefully routed to New Orleans – The Allman Brothers, Bob Dylan, Jeff Beck, Yes, The Who, Johnny and Edgar Winter, Leon Russell, King Crimson, ZZ Top…the list seems endless. This was where I first saw a lot of great New Orleans artists like Professor Longhair and Snooks Eaglin. The days are gone where you can catch a show with Muddy Waters, Albert King, Lightenin’ Hopkins and Johnny Shines all on the same bill. I was there for as many shows as I could afford. When I didn’t have the money and a show came along that I couldn’t miss, I got there early and signed on to work the concession stand selling cokes and popcorn – at least I got to listen. I miss those days of concentrated creativity and inspiration.
The 80’s didn’t seem as adventurous and exploratory. It was in the sense that technology was starting to grow at a rapid rate. Drum machines and synthesizers were becoming more prominent. Music and the recording process began to change, affecting the way musicians interact with each other. Artists were more and more using click tracks to record. Everything started to feel stiff - the groove narrowed. In the quest for perfection, music would more frequently be recorded over-dubbing one instrument at a time. The need for bands to spend time together rehearsing and creating a sound was no longer necessary. Nowadays, with digital recording, everything is done with computers on a grid which allows for easy editing and perfection. It is sometimes a problem when you have engineers who think digitally and musicians who still think analog. Technology has flourished and gotten better and I enjoy all aspects of recording, but sometimes I miss the days when we didn’t have as many choices and recording required you to be very good as a band!
Of all the people you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most? Which meetings have been the biggest experiences?
There are a lot of great artists that I admire, but the answer to that lies outside of the music industry. In 1983 I met the Himalayan sage, Swami Rama and his successor to the lineage, Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. These are men of the highest caliber. They have transformed the lives of countless beings. This Himalayan lineage can be traced back over 5000 years. I was fortunate to have met them and to be initiated into the tradition. The experiences one has with them are difficult to speak about in a short amount of time. For those who are interested or curious I can suggest two books that will help explain the tradition and the possibility of experiences, Living with the Himalayan Masters by Swami Rama and At The Eleventh Hour by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait. There are many more books that explain this tradition and its practices, but these two are full of amazing stories that show the full potential of the lineage.
Swami Rama left his body in 1996, but I continue to have a relationship with Pandit Rajmani to this day.
Some of the most memorable tales and experience from the first Amnesty International Tour in 1986?
It was a very exciting time. The acts on Amnesty International’s Conspiracy of Hope Tour were U2, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Sting/The Police, Bryan Adams, The Neville Brothers and Joan Baez. U2 were at the peak of their career and Peter Gabriel’s So album was riding high in the charts. With so many great artists involved, this tour was surely one I’ll never forget. One incident in particular comes to mind.
At the end of each show there was a finale where all of the artists joined U2 onstage for a version of Dylan’s I Shall Be Released. Although I was at the original rehearsal where it was decided how the artists would share the song verses, it was never made clear as to whether the artists’ bands, their musicians and sidemen, should also go onstage or if the finale included the main artists only. Some of the musicians were at the rehearsal, but some were not.
So on the first night, with this ambiguity, I didn’t go onstage for the finale. I noticed that none of the musicians from Peter Gabriel or Lou Reed’s bands were going up - and earlier that day I was told to go to a photo shoot, but when I got there, promoter Bill Graham, who was also The Neville Brothers’ manager, looked over at me and the other Neville band members, with his arm outstretched and his index finger pointing to the door he said, “No, not you, get out of here.” He was not including the musicians in the official tour photos. So after that incident I assumed that the finale was only for the main artists. That night I just watched from the side of the stage.
After our show on the second night I was walking down the hall on the way to catering. As I walked past U2’s dressing room, the door suddenly opened. Bono was standing there. When he saw me he grabbed me by the arm and said, “Brian, come here.” Gently leading me into the room, he told me that the finale was not just for the main artists but for everybody on the tour and asked if I wanted to come up and play acoustic guitar on the Dylan tune. As he asked me this The Edge was handing me his guitar. Of course I said, “Yes I’d love to play.” He said, “Great, let’s run through it.” We sat down, Edge picked up another guitar and we ran through I Shall Be Released with Bono singing the verses and all of us joining in singing on the chorus. We played through the song one time and Bono said, “Ok, when it’s time for the finale, come to stage right and Edge’s tech will hand you this guitar.” I agreed, thanked them and went off to catering.
Later that night, when time for the finale, I went to stage-right as I was told. The tech handed me the acoustic guitar and followed me up to get me plugged in as everyone was taking the stage. I strummed a few chords to check the volume. The acoustic guitar was coming out of the monitors perfectly. I was ready to go. Standing there waiting to begin, I noticed that none of the other musicians had come onstage. Only the main artists had joined U2 - Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, the Neville’s, Bryan Adams…and we were about to begin. I became self-conscious, but despite how awkward it felt, I didn’t have time to worry about it and there was nothing I could do about it anyway. It occurred to me that the message must not have gotten around for everyone to join in.
It was a festive atmosphere despite the commotion of people getting onstage, the loud crowd-noise and techs quickly running around making last minute stage changes. Before I knew it the song had started. The sound of it all was amazing! I was surprised that U2’s stage was not very loud with volume, but the sound was huge due to the perfectly-tuned mix booming out of the side-fills. Larry Mullen’s drums and Adam Clayton’s bass were like thunder rumbling from the sky, but not loud, just big. Art Neville took us to church on the Hammond organ as the singers traded verses and everybody, including the entire audience, joined in on I see my light come shining, from the west unto the east. Any day now…I shall be released.
As this was about the best-sounding thing I had ever been part of, I strummed along totally content in the oneness of it all. Something caught my attention and I looked stage-left. Promoter Bill Graham was looking straight at me, with his arm again quickly moving back and forth pointing to the side. His face was red. I could read his lips as he began screaming “GET OFF THE STAGE! GET OFF THE STAGE!” I could not hear him over the volume of the music, but there was no doubt as to what he was saying. Obviously, word had not gotten around that the guys in U2 wanted everybody onstage. It was an awkward moment - my mind was trying to quickly determine what to do. I didn’t want to piss off Bill Graham - he could make my life miserable. The guys in U2 were being genial and respectful; it didn’t feel right to just walk off. When I asked myself, do you once again want to be left feeling rolled over by Graham? Or can you accept U2’s graciousness? Despite the consequences the decision was easy. I chose to take the high-road and stay onstage. I looked to the side of the stage, smiled and kept on playing, I learned from this and similar situations to go with what feels right, despite fear of what the future holds.
The artists involved in the Conspiracy of Hope Tour were a gathering of very special people. I wish I would have kept a diary, but I recall the scene at the airport the morning after the tour ended. Everyone was saying goodbye and thanking each other, some were trading addresses and phone numbers. I remember being very moved at the site of Peter Gabriel running around with a big stack of tour programs getting everyone to sign them. I could only laugh to keep from crying when he came over and asked me to sign his booklets, saying they were for his family. It was this kind of humility shown by Peter Gabriel and the guys in U2 that made this tour full of stars work. This being one of the last things I witnessed before everyone parted, I thought it to be the perfect ending to a tour that could have had any number of less-than-perfect outcomes.
What is the line that connects the legacy of Louis Armstrong and Earl King with Brian Stoltz and beyond?
Well, as I mentioned earlier, being part of the New Orleans lineage, the tradition that is passed down - and the fact that I grew up hearing this music everywhere, especially Louis Armstrong. No matter how young you were you knew who he was. My mother had some of his records so I heard him from very young. I can’t recall specifically much of the music that I heard previous to hearing The Beatles in 1964, but I remember hearing Louis Armstrong and recall seeing him on TV from early on.
Earl King was one of many R&B artists that got played on New Orleans radio. I didn’t necessarily know his name in the 60’s, but I remember some of the songs. At some point later on I learned that the songs I’d heard for so long were Earl King. I had the opportunity to play with him once at a rehearsal for a show that disappointedly got rained out and was cancelled. But the memory of that rehearsal is a cherished recollection.
This music connects and goes beyond because it passes through in such a natural way. The feeling in this music becomes a part of you simply by living in New Orleans. As I said, it’s everywhere. This music also came back to me from artists outside of New Orleans who were affected by it, like the Hendrix and Johnny Winter. I loved Hendrix’s version of Earl's, Come On (Let The Good Times Roll). I have a bootleg recording from ’65 or ‘66 of Hendrix doing the Allen Toussaint song Get Out My Life Woman. Jimi’s groove on it has a very New Orleans feel to it and when it comes to the guitar solo, it sounds just like Earl King. Some of Toussaint’s songs were also covered by Johnny Winter. This is where I first heard Blinded By Love and Mind Over Matter. This line can come from many angles. Many artists are influenced by this music to varying degrees, but the ones who it resonates with the strongest can’t help but pass it on.
Do you know why Blues Jazz is connected to New Orleans & what are the secrets of local sound?
There are a variety of opinions and theories regarding the origins of Jazz and Blues and how they connect with New Orleans. To get to the heart of it you would have to study the history and origin of New Orleans and how that led up to the formation of this music. It is believed by some that much of the music evolved out of and was created in contrast to the society bands that were made up of musicians with a more formal training. But I’ll leave that to the historians and experts.
The question can be answered simply by realizing that New Orleans is, always was and always will be a party town!
When we talk about New Orleans music, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. Do you believe in the existence of original New Orleans music nowadays?
Speaking in general I would have to say no, not completely original. I think the more popular music coming out of New Orleans will always be in some ways built upon elements of the past. It will always ride on the cultural distinctions that make New Orleans the place everybody wants to visit. And the more popular it becomes the more narrowly it will be defined. So, I think it will get harder and harder to be innovative and for artists to break new ground. Having said that, I believe there are New Orleans artists who are good at combining their roots and cultural history with other elements, creating into something new and unique. This is true with a lot of the Rap and Hip Hop artists. There is originality in that sense.
There are artists that simply rehash the past and those who courageously move forward. There’s a place for both. But as implied in your question, people mostly seem to want nostalgia and artists will stay rooted in the past as long as the fans demand it. It is natural for people to want to hear what they already know and are familiar with. Fortunately there are those who want to hear something new and fresh, but for better or for worse, artists and musicians will always use those tried and true, proven elements of the past.
What from your memories and things (photos, records etc.) you would put in a "capsule on time"?
Well it would have to be a big capsule! I would put in it my copy of the Bhagavad Gita, my old Pioneer turntable, stereo and speakers, my entire vinyl record collection that includes an extra, clean copy of the Band Of Gypsy’s album (they will quickly wear out the first one), my ’69 Stratocaster and an amp. I would add a note that says, “Start with this and you’ll do alright.”
Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
When I look to the past I can’t judge things as good or bad, up or down or high and low. From this position I no longer see the duality. It was all interesting and for a purpose, despite the difficulties. It has all brought me to where I am today. So, the most interesting period to me would be the one we are in right now. Things seem to be the most confused and disturbed as they have ever been – politically, socially and on an individual level. But in that distress is the opportunity to grow and evolve by seeking out all of the things that we share in common as individuals – all of the things that link us together as humans. There is a lot of anxiety, but I find the possibilities on an individual level encouraging. This is what interests me most.
What is the best music advice ever gave you? Happiness is……
In retrospect, the best advice about music that anyone ever gave me was from an uncle who told me to quit music and he who teach me the plumbing business. Obviously, I didn’t listen to him. But seriously, the best advice that I used was from a person I greatly admire who a long time ago told me, “Try to not play so professionally. Play innocently, as if you are just learning and playing it for the first time.” That was a very gentle and creative way of telling me that I played too much and put too much significance on technique instead of playing in the moment and from the heart. This correlates with what I said earlier, serve the song. I understood enough of what he told me to take it to heart and over time those words blossomed and still ring true.
Happiness is proper breathing. Seriously!
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