"My wish for the Blues is for it to stay underground, not to become mainstream. This way it won’t lose its essence."
Blas Picón: Blues to the bone
Blas Picón was born in Barcelona 1969, has been in the music business for over fifteen years, both as a singer-harmonicist and drum player. After being the drummer in bands such as Brioles and The Bop Pills, with which he recorded several albums, in the year 2002 he started his most personal project to the time: The Lazy Jumpers, a four member Blues and Rhythm'n'blues band, since these are the styles in which he feels most comfortable.
Performing as singer, harmonicist and songwriter of most of the songs, he released three CDs: "Somebody Tell that Woman (2003), "Bad Luck – Turn my Back On You" (2005), and "Comin' On Like Gangbusters" (2007). Besides touring Europe for six years and visiting the States twice, he collaborated with Blues artists such as Al Copley, Mitch Woods, Little Rachel and Mark Tortorici. In the year 2005 he joined the band The Nu Niles as the drummer, with which he recorded several albums and of which he is still a member.
He also developed, for several years, a project along with the great Blues and Boogie Woogie pianist Lluís Coloma, whose first album together “The Honky Tonk Blues Sessions” came out at the end of 2010. In January 2011 he started his current project: Blas Picón & The Junk Express, recording, that same year, a 7' and a CD named after the band. His extended career has allowed him to share stage with great musicians such as The Cleftones, The Cadillacs, The Teenagers, Billy Lee Riley, Sonny Burgess, Joe Clay, Dale Hawkins, Carl Mann, Rayburn Anthony, Janis Martín, Nick Curran, George Bedard, Casey Sisters, Kim Lenz and Rocky Burnette, among others.
When was your first desire to become involved in & from whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues?
Blues is not something you get to through logical reasoning, you don’t choose it, and it rather chooses you. I’ve been addicted to Blues ever since the very first time I listened to it, there’s something about it, strength you can’t ignore. It’s like alopecia, once you have it, you can’t let go.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?
I don’t consider Blues a religion or a philosophy. What I’ve learned about myself has been determined by my life experiences. It is living the life of a musician that makes you learn about yourself, no matter the style you play, because there’s no established routine and you have to improvise all the time.
The Blues, to me, is a style that captures me because of its strength and honesty, and besides, it has a very interesting historical and social component, being aware, though, that we are not a part of this historical and social environment.
How do you describe Blas Picón’s sound and progress?
My early musical influences came from 50’s Rock ’n’ roll, and from there have evolved towards the Blues. I’ve also listened to a lot of Swing and Early Jazz. All of these styles have influenced me somehow and there have been times when I’ve been closer to one or another, but nowadays, in perspective, I realize that I tend to simplify and try to reach the essence and unique feeling of Blues in my music, using the least musical ornaments possible.
Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
Most likely the best time of my career is the present, since I’m a full time musician and I write and play my own songs, which involves me in a more personal way in every concert or recording session. Despite the fact that there are good and bad times, the worst possible moment for me would be if I had to quit playing, and luckily, that time has not come.
What is the “feel” you miss most nowadays from the blues of past?
I think that often the primal and almost animal feeling of the Blues has been lost because of an excess of self-conscious technical virtuosity. I believe that the technique is the means and the music is the goal. If understood the other way around, which sadly happens a lot, the Blues disappears. Fortunately, there are still a lot of musicians able to display virtuosity without loosing the essence that makes this music have sense.
Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?
Like I said earlier, right now I’m better than ever, due to my situation regarding my job and also because on a personal level I’m in a very stable period, and for someone as passionate and emotionally unstable as I am this is very important. Emotional stability allows me to be creative.
Why did you think that the Blues continues to generate such a devoted following in Europe and especial in Catalonia?
Mainly I think that the Blues is an easily transmitted music because it is based on very basic feelings with which it is very easy to empathize. Even though it won’t become a mainstream style, it will always have followers because it touches a lot of people emotionally, and once this happens, you just can’t ignore it. Besides, in Catalunya, there are some associations for the promotion of Blues that help its diffusion and this contributes to generate a reserve of young musicians and Blues lovers which keep it alive and make it grow.
Are there any memories from Billy Lee Riley, Sonny Burgess, Dale Hawkins, and Nick Curran, which you’d like to share with us?
All of them are or were great musicians, and what made them even greater was their sincere modesty, but I specially remember Billy Lee Riley and Nick Curran, with whom I had the chance to play in several occasions. Billy Lee Riley was 74 when I last played with him and he’d had an accident, despite that, it was clear that he gave it all on stage, I think he nourished more on music than food because, clearly, he came to life on every show. It was very exciting to see that passion and dedication.
With Nick it was the same, during the day he was quiet, almost on stand-by, but as soon as he set foot on stage he transformed and you could see that he was born to make music, especially life. His recent death has meant the loss of one of the greatest talents of Blues and music in general.
Which memory from touring in Europe, US visit, and meeting with Al Copley, Mitch Woods makes you smile?
There are too many memories to list, just to mention one; I remember being stuck for three days in a small village in the south of France because the van broke down. Also, the feeling of playing for the first time with Billy Lee Riley at the Los Angeles Theatre, built in 1931, that was like a time travel.
With Mitch Woods and Al Copley, I can’t help but remembering them says that harp players are a “pain in the ass” because we’re playing all the time. In their infinite wisdom, I’m sure they were partially right.
What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?
I don’t recall any bluesmen giving me any advice, but while being with musicians that have become legends or that you admire for their career and integrity as artists, you can’t help getting to conclusions. I think that those who have earned their place in the History of music have done it by being true to their own style, to their own version of the facts; this way they’ve found their own voice, which made them unique. If experience gives you good advice, it’s taught me: look for your own sound.
Do you know why the sound of harmonica is connected to the blues & what are the secrets of blues harp?
Harmonica is connected to the Blues for economic reasons: it was a cheap instrument, almost considered a toy, and black musicians of the beginning of the XX century were not exactly rich people. They made music with whatever was at their reach. On the other hand, I think it kept its meaningfulness in the style because it imitates the vocal inflections distinctive of the Blues, which differentiate it from other styles and also because, at a musical level, harp players from the 20’s and 30’s took the instrument to completely new grounds that acquired for themselves a spot in the history of music. I’m still looking for the secrets of Blues Harp; I’ll tell you when I find them.
From the musical feeling point of view, what are the difference between a harp player and drummer?
They’re completely different. The only link I find is the sense of rhythm, I otherwise consider them antagonistic, that’s why they complement each other so well.
What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
I remember a jam session with Los Reyes de KO and Nick Curran in Mallorca, in which Nick sung just like Howlin’ Wolf and I was playing the harp trying not to drown in my own slobber.
I don’t think I can choose a gig, there are too many options. All my The Lazy Jumpers tours with Mario Cobo and Ivan Kovacevic are fond memories, as well as the ones with The Nu- Niles, and each new show is a new adventure, no matter if it’s in a small club or a festival.
Would you like to tell something about Blas Picón & The Junk Express? Where did you get that idea?
Hitherto, The Junk Express is the most mature project I’ve created, it perfectly reflects everything I’ve said so far, it’s personal, simple and loaded of honesty, it moves in the field of Blues, but with its own voice. I think that after being over twenty years in the music business, I’ve finally found my sound, my voice within a style with a thousand shapes and voices.
The idea came up by chance. I was asked to play in a local festivity, at that time I didn’t have a steady band, so I improvised one with musicians that were available; casually there had to be no bass, and that made us come up with a peculiar set list and of course, made us play it in a very particular way. It turned out to be fascinating and liberating, it was like starting from scratch, and we had to play the songs in a more simple way without losing the groove. Four months later we turned it into a stable project. It makes me really proud; without my partners Óscar Rabadán and Reginald Vilardell there wouldn’t have been this magic.
Make an account for current realities of the case of the blues in Catalonia. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene and why?
There’s never been so much to choose from and with as much quality as there is right now in the blues scene in Catalunya. I suppose the reason is because nowadays we have easy access to the existing musical archives, which is the best source to learn from if you lack access to the protagonists. On the other hand, Barcelona is a very cosmopolitan city that benefits from the talent of musicians that come from abroad. Besides, some associations such as the “Societat de Blues de Barcelona”, “Bad Music Blues”, the “Escola de Blues de Barcelona” or “Capibola Blues” work towards the diffusion of the Blues.
All of these factors converge to create a good environment full of diversity and musical richness
How has the Spanish blues scene changed over the years since you first started in music?
The previous reply could answer this question. The access through internet to almost all the possible music has broadened our knowledge of the style and its possibilities, and little by little we are outpacing a certain provincial style that, unfortunately is sometimes still tangible.
And would you like to tell your best memory about your local projects with Lluís Coloma and Nu Niles?
Lluís Coloma is considered to be one of the best Blues and Boogie Woogie pianists of the world. Playing with him is always a pleasure and makes me very proud. Just being around him I have the feeling I’m learning something. With the Nu-Niles we didn’t only share a project, we also share a long friendship, and along these years we’ve grown as musicians and as persons. Although the band disappears we’ll always share these bonds of friendship. Music is a way to make a living and also a way of life, with its joys and deceptions, its loves and hates. Some of them last a while and others last forever.
Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
Like I said earlier, the Blues has an essence that makes it common to everyone, it comes from primal feelings we all share. As long as we are human the Blues will be the perfect channel to express those feelings with music.
My wish for the Blues is for it to stay underground, not to become mainstream. This way it won’t lose its essence.
What experiences in life make a GOOD BLUESMAN?
Nowadays provably a good collection of records and some talent. Anyhow, you should ask a good bluesman, I’m just a naughty bluesman.
How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage? What are your main tools right now in harp case?
I usually try to amuse people, so that they have fun and remember they’ve lived a show. The main thing is the music, but you have to give a little extra to these people who came out of their home to see you, instead of playing the record sitting on their couch. My main tool is honesty and then practice. I don’t think there is any other, if you don’t work in a circus.
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