Director, writer, producer and editor Dan Chinander talks about the blues, bluesmen and Blues Man

"A bluesman to me is a gifted poet that has experienced many hardships and life lessons. He is one who knows how to take the words from his or her life and blend them poetically with his instrument."

Dan Chinander: Blues Man's Story

Daniel W. Chinander serves as the director, co-writer, producer and editor of HIDING VICTORIA. Dan has operated his production company, FishTale Entertainment, since 1999; producing, directing and editing motion picture, video and other media. Dan is pleased that Hiding Victoria not only won festival awards but was picked up for distribution both domestically and internationally. BLUES MAN, is a feature-length film and is in development on a slate of four of his other screenplays ranging from drama, action adventure and family films. Blues Man is an independent film written/produced by Dan and directed by Rowdy Herrington (Road House, Striking Distance, Murder of Crows) and is inspired by a true story. If you love the Blues you may want to follow this production. If you don't love the Blues you might after seeing this film. There is not only a good storyline but lots of music - the blues.

Also, this film will educate the viewer on the history of the blues. A line taken from the script says, "If we didn't have the blues we would not have jazz. If we didn't have the blues we wouldn't have the big bands of the forties. If we didn't have the blues we wouldn't have rock & roll. And ladies and gentlemen, if we didn't have the blues we wouldn't have had Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, or the Beatles!" Synopsis: Seventeen year old David Alvarez's only dream in life is to become a national hip-hop artist.  After his mother’s deployment overseas, David’s dreams are shattered when he is forced to leave Los Angeles to go live with his grandmother at a retirement community in Visby Falls, Minnesota. Not liking small-town living, David reluctantly accepts the reality that he is facing a long and boring year; that is until he meets the McKinney brothers. The McKinney Brothers are three old blues men from Mississippi who were displaced by a hurricane and relocated by FEMA to the same retirement community as David's grandmother. Initially, David and the McKinneys have little in common, especially when it comes to their music, but in very short order they overcome their differences and David takes an interest in the blues, discovering the blues is the very foundation of his hip hop. As Galin McKinney teaches David how to play the harmonica, David gets pretty darn good, so good in fact, the McKinneys decide to pull their band out of retirement after 20 years and make David their new lead harmonica player.  After a number of venues the McKinneys and David learn that they have been accepted into the Battle of the Blues competition where hard decisions and unbelievable surprises await them all. The Blues Man production team is very excited to have the following musicians and blues artists in film. Some playing themselves in cameo roles in the "Battle of the Blues" scene, while others will have some of their music in the film: Ronnie Baker Brooks, Eric Gales, Magic Dick, Deitra Farr, and others. Currently will be start a global crowd funding campaign (from August 2nd) to fund this project.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues culture and what does the “Blues” mean to you?

The Blues to me is like a release valve on a pressure cooker. As the pressures of life build, playing the Blues is a release valve. It doesn’t mean the Blues will solve your problems but it is a good way to let go of some of the pain. Now, I claim not to be a Blues expert by any means. But I love the music and the history and am still learning everyday more and more about its roots.       

How important is music in your life? How does the blues music affect your mood and inspiration?

Music is a part of my being. Sometimes it feels like a curse at times because I can’t turn off the music in my head. I am always whistling, blowing the harp, playing the keys or humming or tapping out a beat with my hands. If somebody is talking to me and there is music playing in the background, my ear tends to zero in on the music and not what the person is saying. I have to constantly tell myself, “listen to what they are saying, listen, listen, listen.

What were the reasons that you started the idea of film's global crowd funding campaign?

Global Crowd Funding seems to be the way of the future and has proven to be a model that works, not only for start-up companies or new product launches, but for film. It has many benefits, but the one we appreciate most is the fact that the world can help produce our film and experience some of the joy that goes along with the process! What I mean is, making a movie is like having a baby, you have the conception, the formation and growth in the womb, then the delivery. It’s like our backers are family and in the delivery room with us when our film is birthed. It means a lot to people when they feel they had a part in bringing something to life, especially when they get their copy of the film and see how the baby turned out! One thing I should mention is each backer (whichever level they come in at) will get an exclusive password that allows them to watch current behind the scenes of the making of the movie and the recording of the soundtrack. During these broadcasts, they’ll hear from myself, our director and from time to time some our actors and blues artists.  

"I miss hearing the old Delta slide, the one-man show on a street corner who plays a slightly out of tune guitar and sings with a tired voice. Much of the blues today is show in my opinion, and that’s okay because I understand times have changed." 

How started the thought of "Blues Man"? Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?

Blues Man was inspired by a true story that happened to me. One day I took my mother shopping and on the way back to her apartment she said to me, “You are going to like this, three old bluesmen moved into my apartment building”. As I carried her groceries through the front door there they were sitting in the lobby and one of them, Jerry, was messing around on his guitar. My mother said, “Jerry, this is my son I told you about, the one who plays the harmonica.” Well it so happened that day I was dressed in business attire due to a meeting I had and I clearly did not look like a bluesman. So Jerry and the others sized me up and said, “Oh, the bluesman!” They all chuckled to each other. I then stepped up and said, “I know I don’t look like a bluesman today but I would like to play the harmonica with you guys someday. Jerry looked at his two buddies and then back to me and said, “Well son, where we come from we call it a harp. Blowin’ the harp”.

I then replied, “Okay, I would like to blow the harp with you guys”.  Jerry with somewhat of an attitude said, “We’ll think about it.”

The following week as I took my mom on her normal Friday shopping trip, this time I did not dress preppy in business attire but wore black jeans and a black t-shirt.  I also slipped a harp in my back pocket just in case. As I entered the lobby carrying my mother’s groceries I noticed that the three bluesmen were not there.

As I led my mother down the hall carrying her groceries she stopped and knocked on an apartment door. There I heard a voice, “The door’s open Gladys”. I quickly walked back to my mom and asked what she did and she said, “I set up an audition for you.” Feeling like I was in the 7th grade again I sheepishly walked into Jerry’s apartment. There he was sitting on the sofa with a Gibson hollow body guitar resting on his belly.  He said to me, “Okay, let’s hear what ya got”.

I pulled out my Key of F Blues Harp and gave him a show. Jerry got so excited he sat up in his chair and said, “What key is that?” I said, “Key of F”. Jerry quickly retuned his guitar and said, “I ‘m going to play a twelve-bar-blues double time and I want you to keep up. So Jerry took off on his guitar and I got right into his face and kept up.  After one pass Jerry hit his leg and said, “Gladys, your boy is hired!  We’ll have the jam this Saturday!”

That next Saturday I went to the Jam and had the time of my life. As I walk back to my car I thought, “This is my next film, ‘Blues Man’, a story about a 16-year-old teen’s life being changed when meeting three old Bluesmen from the South.” Now clearly I am not a teen and if I was to have anybody see this film I would have to make the main character a young man, so I did.

"The Blues to me is like a release valve on a pressure cooker. As the pressures of life build, playing the Blues is a release valve. It doesn’t mean the Blues will solve your problems but it is a good way to let go of some of the pain." (Photo: Dan with Jamiah Rogers & his band)

How has the Blues and Blues people influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

One thing I have seen over and over again as I have been meeting with blues artists around the country is the fact that they all have been kind, polite and humble people.  Maybe this comes from the tough road many blues musicians travel, I don’t know, but one thing is for sure, hang out with a blues musician and I can guarantee, you will walk away with a few inspiring stories and learn a few life lessons for yourself as well.

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

Blues music has clearly impacted culture through the birth of other music such as jazz, swing, rock & roll, r&b and hip-hop. Today you have so many people who have become musical artists that fall into one of these genre groups. But what is sad is the fact that many of the younger artists don’t realize if it wasn’t for the Blues they wouldn’t have their music today. I’m hoping my film will enlighten them, because in my opinion, it is very important that one knows the foundation of whatever they are doing in life. As far as political, I don’t even know where to begin here, except that I do believe that here in the United States so many people have made their political party their religion, which in my opinion, is one of the causes of the great divide we see in our country today. Regarding racial, what I have been seeing as I travel is the fact that there does not seem to be any racial barriers when it comes to the blues or even music in general. What I mean is, I have seen bands made up of Black, Asian, Hispanic, White, Native American, and I even heard there is a blues group in the Middle East made up of Jewish and Muslim musicians. There is something magical about blues music (and music in general) that seems to draw people together.

Where does your creative drive come from? What would you say characterizes your work in comparison to other filmmakers?

My drive comes from the fact that I believe God has given me a creative gift and a purpose for my life, which is screenwriting and filmmaking. This gift showed up at a very young age. I remember when I was just 5-years old I went up to my teacher, Mrs. Wolfson, and told her I wanted to put on and direct the play “The Wizard of Oz” for the entire school. I handed her a casting sheet and I showed her each person in the class I cast for the characters. I told her about the big sets I wanted built and that the janitors could help me build them! I made it clear that I didn’t want cheap-looking paper sets, but the “real-looking ones, just like in the movies”. Mrs. Wolfson, bless her heart, had to bring me back to reality when she told me that I couldn’t put on the play for the school. Looking back through the years I clearly see the hand of God on my career path. In fact, I am writing a book called, “From the Gas Pumps to Hollywood a High-Octane Experience!” So, did this gift and purpose in my life come in my timing?  Absolutely not, I had to wait until I was 47-years old to produce Hiding Victoria, which was my first film.

"Blues music has clearly impacted culture through the birth of other music such as jazz, swing, rock & roll, r&b and hip-hop. Today you have so many people who have become musical artists that fall into one of these genre groups."

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your contact with bluesmen and the Blues?

One thing I recently learned from a local celebrity, who is also a blues musician, is this, (and I am paraphrasing here): Do not look back at all your mistakes and dwell on them, for all those mistakes are independent musical notes. When you play just one note it can sound harsh. But when all those notes are played together you end up having a beautiful song.” 

And finally, if you get asked to go on stage to blow the harp with a band, pull out the right key! 

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues? What is the best advice ever given you?

I have to say I am learning every day, but one piece of advice I was given, and it wasn’t from a blues man, but from the late Howard Minsky producer of Love Story he said, “Dan, when disaster strikes, and it will, look for the blessing in it!”   

Which was the best and worst moment of your career?  

The best would be winning Best Feature Film in a Los Angeles film festival on my film “Hiding Victoria”. The worst was when we had to deal with the dishonest people in Hollywood.           

Which is the most interesting period in your life?

The most interesting period, and I have to add life-changing, is when I came to faith in Jesus Christ. All the amazing and good things that have happened to me I can only attribute them to Him. Don’t get me wrong, I am thrown plenty of hardships as well, but He always leads me through them one way or another.    

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? Which memory makes you smile?

My most memorable meeting was with actor Malcolm McDowell. I even wrote a story from it called, “Three Days with Malcolm”. One day I hope to produce a short film based on this experience. Since then Malcolm and I have grown to be good friends. The memory that makes me smile, and I have to say laugh, was when I went up to talk to the late-actor Mickey Rooney. As I approached him he was in a state of a stroke victim and couldn’t talk. I was horrified, I didn’t know he had a stroke. Well, he didn’t. It was later that I learned that he would do this to people if he didn’t want to talk to them. I guess it wasn’t my night to talk to Mickey Rooney, but what a cool rejection!

"Everything we hear today on the radio has elements of the Blues in it. And the words are a very powerful vehicle to convey struggle, pain, loss, rejection; I mean who has not experienced any of these? The words always find a home in somebody’s heart." 

Are there any memories from Ronnie Baker-Brooks and Magic Dick which you’d like to share with us?

We are so excited to have Magic Dick and Ronnie Baker-Brooks in this film, not to mention all the other blues artists! About four years ago, when Blues Man was still in development, my wife and I met Ronnie Baker-Brooks at his hotel in St. Paul, Minnesota just before his concert. Ronnie seemed very excited about this project and the cameo role we had for him in the film. As far as Magic Dick, this last spring I reached out to his manager and introduced the film to him. The following week I was on the phone with Magic Dick and we had a wonderful talk about this project. I found both to be true gentlemen and I learned that Magic Dick and Ronnie were friends and have played together before. Both Ronnie and Magic Dick will be playing themselves as judges in the “Battle of the Blues” scene in the film.  What is also cool, Ronnie will be recording a song for a montage in the film and Magic Dick will be the studio harmonica player for a scene in the film’s climax.

What do you miss most nowadays from the old days of blues? How has changed over the years?

I miss hearing the old Delta slide, the one-man show on a street corner who plays a slightly out of tune guitar and sings with a tired voice. Much of the blues today is show in my opinion, and that’s okay because I understand times have changed.

Some music stars can be fads but the bluesmen are always with us. What means to be Bluesman?

A bluesman to me is a gifted poet that has experienced many hardships and life lessons. He is one who knows how to take the words from his or her life and blend them poetically with his instrument.

Why did you think that the Blues culture continues to generate such a devoted following?

One can’t deny that the music grows on you. Everything we hear today on the radio has elements of the Blues in it. And the words are a very powerful vehicle to convey struggle, pain, loss, rejection; I mean who has not experienced any of these? The words always find a home in somebody’s heart.   

What's the legacy of Blues in the world culture and civilization? What are your hopes and fears for the future?

One of the goals I have for my film Blues Man is that the young would realize that they wouldn’t have any of their music today if it wasn’t for the blues.

"Music is a part of my being. Sometimes it feels like a curse at times because I can’t turn off the music in my head."

Where would you really wanna go via a time machine and what books and records would you put in?

I would like to go back to the very beginning of the creation and see what it would be like to breathe clean air, drink pure water, live off fruit of the tree. No Cell phones, no computers, no TV, just family and friends. Books would be the Bible, how to live off the land, and the records I would take would be some old Robert Johnson tunes along with some James Cotton harp tunes. 

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