Canadian guitarist Anthony Gomes talks about Jeff Healey, BB King, Robert Plant, & Big Jack Johnson

"Blues is the ability to play music from an emotional perspective rather than an intellectual one."

Anthony Gomes: Electric Blues Passion

Singer-guitarist Anthony Gomes lives by that credo of truth as an artist, constantly challenging himself to expand his explorations of heart and sound. The release of his album “Up 2 Zero” (2012) represented a full-circle return to his love of high energy, guitar-driven blues rock. The new collection of songs combines straight ahead power blues compositions with tracks that incorporate soul-injected melodic moments. Born in Toronto, Canada, to a Portuguese father and a French-Canadian mother, Gomes began playing guitar in his early teens and was drawn to the blues sounds of B.B. King, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix.

While he honed his skills in the blues bars at night, Gomes earned a Master’s Degree in history from the University of Toronto focusing on the ‘Racial Evolution of Blues Music’. He relocated to Chicago in the late ’90s to learn from the blues masters and to establish himself as a musician and artist. During his brief stint as a sideman for Magic Slim and the Teardrops, Gomes put together his own group and won the first annual Buddy Guy’s Legends “Best Unsigned Blues Band” competition in 1998. Three years later, he moved to Nashville to sharpen his skills as a songwriter. Every one of Anthony’s albums have varied with a genuine personal vision of the blues and beyond. Gomes shows no signs of slowing down. Early 2015 released the new album, Electric Field Holler, a guitar driven blues infused rock ‘n’ roll album that showcases Gomes‘ blistering six string work and whiskey soaked voice.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos by Anthony Gomes Archive / All rights reserved

Anthony, when was your first desire to become involved in the music and who were your first idols?

I just evolved into playing music naturally. I started to play guitar and loved it. Put a little band together in High School. Started to play bars.  Found the blues. No one wanted to sing the blues, so I started to work on my singing. And, here we are today.
My first idols were rock players like Hendrix, Van Halen, Clapton. Then I found the blues and beautiful guitar players like B.B. King and Albert Collins.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues? What is the best advice has given you?

I have learned that we all have the blues. No matter where you are or where you’ve been. No matter what the color of your skin is or what God you pray to. It is something universal within all of us. We are one. At the same time, we are all unique. It is our differences that make us special and important. So many times it is our differences that result in us being judged or not accepted. But these differences are what contribute to the greater good and make the collective much stronger and richer.

The blues has taught me to be honest with myself regardless of what others may think. It is important to trust your gut. The blues has also taught me that anything is possible. The blues grew from prejudice and oppression in Mississippi and now has grown to be a worldwide musical phenomenon that includes all. It is amazing that a white boy from Canada can play the blues. If you can dream it, it can happen.

"Music brings us together. Society tries so hard to define us in terms of how we are different. Music serves to remind us of how we are the same. I hear the blues in Technicolor."

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

My first song I learned was “Hey Joe”. My first concert was “The Turtles” when I was 11.

In what age did you play your first gig and how was it like (where, with whom etc.)?

My first gig was at our high school band night.  I was 16.  We played “Smoke On The Water" / Deep Purple and “Heartbreaker” and “Communication Breakdown” / Led Zeppelin. I went to a Catholic school and we had to audition to get a spot. They wouldn’t allow us to sing the word “Suck” in the break of “Communication Breakdown”. The nuns thought that was too much. We ended up saying "squeeze my lemon" instead, which was probably worse.

What are you thinking when you are on stage?

I try not to think. I prefer to be absorbed in the moment. I try to connect with the audience so we can share a moment together.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues/Rock researches and experiments?

It just seemed to be a very natural thing to do. I have a blues soul and a rock n roll heart. I love Muddy Waters and ZZ Top. I don’t really look at one as “blues” and one as “rock/blues rock”. I look at them as sonic superheroes.

Are there any memories from “Electric Field Holler” studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I was in the studio singing vocals in Ferguson, Missouri the night they had the riots in protest for the Michael Brown shooting. We were just three blocks away. We had to stop because you could hear the police helicopters in the vocal microphone. It was like a war zone.

Which are the best and the worst things in touring?
The best thing of touring is that you have friends all over the world and you get to visit them. It is great to see so many different places. There are so many beautiful people and cultures.  We always learn something new by seeing how things operate in a different place. The worst thing is that you miss home and your loved ones. Most people’s lives are pretty normal with a few highs and lows. Touring is the opposite. Nothing but extreme highs and lows.

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

Everyday is a beautiful moment. Any chance to play music is a joy.

What does the BLUES mean to you & what does music offered you?

Blues is the ability to play music from an emotional perspective rather than an intellectual one. That’s why it has to have the feeling. Good blues has a lot of passion and personality to it. The blues is about healing, that's what makes it so human. That's why we all have the blues. Music gives back much more than it takes. It is a teacher and I remain it's humble servant.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?

Hard times make you grow.  Pain makes you grow. Heartache makes you grow.  Finding peace in these things makes you grow. Seeing beauty in the world and loving people and finding balance makes you grow. Being kind makes you grow. All of these things make you a good musician.

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

I miss the artists. BB King, Albert King, Albert Collins, Muddy, Wolf, T-Bone Walker. I miss the innocence and freshness of these artists breaking new ground with electric technology. Their sound was revolutionary and broke the bounds of tradition. They made their mark.

 As far as the future of blues goes, we will gain some things and we’ll lose others. It won’t be any better or worse... just different. I am excited to hear new artists grow and develop into future legends. It is very exciting. The fear is that nobody is here forever and we will lose people that are irreplaceable. But the music will carry on.

What characterize the philosophy of Gomes’ sound?
I part Blues guitar. I part Gospel vocals. I part volume.

"The blues has taught me to be honest with myself regardless of what others may think."

What do you think is the main characteristic of you personality that made you a musician?

Passion.

What were your favorite guitars back then, where did you pick up your guitar style?

I try to learn something from everyone when it comes to guitar.  No matter if it is a beginner or Eric Clapton. I love many guitar, but the Strat is my favorite.

What’s on your pedal board? When you’re composing are you thinking about what effects you’re going to use?

Overdrive, Wah, Tremolo, Octavia, Chrous, Delay. I don’t think of effects.  I think of an emotion and try to figure out how to capture that.


You have played with many artists, which are mentioned to be a legend. It must be hard, but would you try to give top 3, which gigs have been the biggest experiences for you? And why?

Touring with BB King is the number one experience because he is the reason I play the blues. He is a wonderful mentor and teacher. Also, Having Jeff Healey sit in with us at the Montreal Jazz Festival was a highlight. My family was at that show, including my grandmother (who has since passed away), and we played for 10,000 people. Growing up, it was always a dream of mine to play the Montreal Jazz. The third best experience would be Robert Plant. We were in Finland and playing the same festival. We waited in line together to say “hello” to BB King.  What struck me about Robert is that he was such a fan of music and the blues. Despite all his success, he still had a boyish gleam in his eye when he talked about Howlin’ Wolf.

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

To have artist development like they had in the 1960s and 1970s. Grow and nurture artists to become superstars. There is no long term vision for music today. We - the music lovers, are being deprived of some groundbreaking artistry.

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had? Which is the funniest story from those?
Singing Karoke with Jeff Healey was pretty fun. The most memorable jam was playing with BB King on his 80th birthday. What an honor!

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues rock music? Of all the people you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most?

I learn from many people. Big Jack Johnson was a wonderful mentor. BB King is still the King!

Which of historical music personalities would you like to meet?

Jimi Hendrix, Robert Johnson and Willie Dixon.

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

Blues is not about trends or being the hot new thing. Blues is about honesty, integrity and musicianship.

Make an account of the case of blues in Canada. What are the lines that connect the Blues from US to Canada?

To my way of thinking, the blues doesn’t connect lines. I believe it crosses them. It crosses the lines of geography, gender, race, religion. It does so everywhere and for all of humanity. Speaking of Canada, there are some wonderful blues artists there.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits?

Good music and good friends make me laugh. After all, what more do you need? It is interesting that when someone plays a musical passage very well, a musician’s reaction is to laugh. I guess it is the expression of joy.

The passing of BB King and how the blues community came together was very touching. We owe that man so much.

Give one wish for the BLUES
That they keep growing and remain the soundtrack to people’s lives.

"Blues is not about trends or being the hot new thing. Blues is about honesty, integrity and musicianship."

Do you think that only real blues is something gloomy, played by old grey-haired men with harps and battered guitars in some smokey, dark and little shabby clubs?

If I did then I wouldn’t call myself a bluesman. That is a misconception. Blues is vibrant, alive, healing, positive, uplifting.
Blues In Technicolor…

Has it always been all about the blues? Or is there any other types of music, you could say you have been strongly affected by?

I am a bluesman. I listen to music through the ears of a blues artist. But I am inspired by all music. Rock, Jazz, Gospel, Funk, Soul, Folk, etc.


I've heard two sayings about the blues, which are a little bit confusing. One is "Blues is a healer". Another one "You have to feel blue to play Blues". If it's supposed to be a healer, why should it make one feel sad?
Blues heals the sadness. It doesn’t make you sad, it takes it away. It releases the pain. So, in this way it is a healer. Everyone goes through heartache and pain. It is what makes us human. Blues helps us get through this but not in a depressing way. It does so in a triumphant manner. It also celebrates the good things in life. Just listen to "Sweet Little Angel" by B.B. King!

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

Music brings us together. Society tries so hard to define us in terms of how we are different. Music serves to remind us of how we are the same. I hear the blues in Technicolor.

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

One hundred years in the future. Let’s go hear a blues band. Wanna come?

Anthony Gomes - Official website

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