East coast-based acclaimed guitarist Paul Gabriel talks about B.B. King, Duke Robillard and the Blues roads

"Blues comes from inside you – and it has to have feeling, not just the right notes. Real blues comes from inside the individual, not out of a book."

Paul Gabriel: Man Of Many Blues

Paul Gabriel is a Blues Music Award-nominated guitarist, singer and songwriter. In March, 2018, Gabriel was presented with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Connecticut Blues Society for excellence in guitar playing, singing and songwriting; and in July of that year, he was also inducted into the Connecticut Blues Hall of Fame as a Master Blues Artist. Over the years, he has shared the stage with B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters Band, Mick Taylor, James Cotton, Robert Cray, Jaimoe, Gatemouth Brown, Buckwheat Zydeco, Matt Murphy, Johnny Winter, Delbert McClinton, Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl, Toy Caldwell, Roomful Of Blues, Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Band, Lonnie Mack, Sugar Ray & The Bluetones, Mark Naftalin, Arthur Neilson, Shemekia Copeland, Bonnie Bramlett, Susan Tedeschi, Christine Ohlman, Sue Foley, Debbie Davies, Candye Kane, Tommy Castro, Joe Bonamassa, James Montgomery, Gov't Mule, Orleans, Tower Of Power, Rick Derringer, Issac Hayes and many more.

He appeared on three Harry Chapin albums, played slide guitar on Rory Block’s Grammy- nominated album, Mama’s Blues, and toured with Michael Bolotin (Bolton). His last release, Paul Gabriel - What’s The Chance, was produced by Duke Robillard for Shining Stone Records and was nominated for a Blues Music Award in 2014. It charted on The Roots Music Report (for 22 week)s, plus the Living Blues, Blues Debut and Cashbox charts, reaching #8 nationally. While almost always performing with a blues band under his own name, Gabriel has also been a member of several other groups that have made an impact; most notably Blue In The Face, The Mojomatics and HooDoo Band. Acclaimed New England-based guitarist/singer Paul Gabriel announces an August 2 release date for his latest CD, Man of Many Blues, coming from Smoke Ring Records. Produced by Duke Robillard (who also guests on the new CD), Man of Many Blues was recorded at Lake West Studio in West Greenwich, Rhode Island, by Jack Gauthier, and also includes perennial Blues Music Award nominee Sugar Ray Norcia as a special guest.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?

I was drawn to the blues at a very early age, and grew up listening to quite a few black Rhythm and Blues artists – in the later 60’s I discovered that a lot of the Blues I‘d listened to from white artists had come from elsewhere. Blues has been a way of life for me, it’s not a pastime or hobby.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?

The answer to this is simple – it comes from inside you – and it has to have feeling, not just the right notes. Real blues comes from inside the individual, not out of a book.

How do you describe Paul Gabriel sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

My sound is based on pure tone – without additional effects. Progress to me sometimes means playing or singing less - while making every nuance count.

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

Blues music has been my life and career for 50 years...It pretty much has had an influence on everything I have ever tried to do because it is my heart and soul, and has always given me great comfort. I have always been a messenger of this music, and will continue to be in my own special way. This music, in its multiple and various versions has been my journey.

"The Blues is a specific genre, as well as an artistic movement, but in my case is also a state of mind. I'm poor financially, I live my life from day to day, and hope tomorrow might be better. As I like to say sometime: "I'm in the red, I'm white, and I've got the Blues."

How do you describe "Man of Many Blues" songbook and sound? What characterizes new album in comparison to previous?

'Man Of Many Blues' is a versatile collection of songs that I wrote covering some not so traditional Blues, some Jazzy Blues, some 60s style Rhythm and Blues, some Gospel tinged Blues, and an instrumental dedicated to a dear friend and pioneer of 60s Gospel and Blues... Georgia Louis.

What has made you laugh from "Man of Many Blues" studio sessions? What touched (emotionally) you from Georgia Louis?

The thing that probably made me laugh the most was when we recorded 'Dear John Letter'- it's the one song we were not sure belonged on this record. After we cut the initial track I did a few solos... but after the last one, Duke and Jack lit up a couple of lighters and said...wow-- " I never heard you play like that before"!!!!   The song is a lot more rocked out than anything else on the record, but we decided to use it anyway because you just can't ignore it.  Everything I ever did with Georgia Louis touched me emotionally. From the very first day I met her there was no question that she had a special power. Gigs were religious experiences that were hard to describe, and even at parties she mesmerized everyone there. Even at her funeral everyone knew she was in the room, and she was enjoying every minute of the tribute.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

There have been too many acquaintances to pinpoint anyone specifically, as many people have had an influence on me, but if I had to pick two people that just had something going on that nobody else had, it would be B.B. King and Georgia Louis. The best advice anybody ever gave me was to always believe in yourself, and when disappointed or failure sets in... to just remember "God has something better for you to do" (thank you, Georgia).

"My musical career has been interesting right from the beginning- my best moments have been always having the respect of the musicians I work with both in the past and into the future. There are no worst moments into a good productive career."

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music circuits?

A lot of young musicians are highly critical of other musicians... it's an easy trap to fall into, I try to always compliment and encourage people, it's a better way to be.

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

If I could change one thing I would just like to see musicians compensated fairly during the course of their work, and treated with respect. It happens a lot, but sometimes not nearly enough.

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

Blues music has impacted many things, especially the fact that is has had an impact on almost every style of music that exists. Blues might not have existed if it were not for racial strife, and that in turn makes it a social and cultural issue. I know many musicians who refused to play at the White House for this administration because they felt the administration was promoting racial strife (in my opinion).

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

The Blues is a specific genre, as well as an artistic movement, but in my case is also a state of mind. I'm poor financially, I live my life from day to day, and hope tomorrow might be better. As I like to say sometime - "I'm in the red, I'm white, and I've got the Blues.

"Blues music has impacted many things, especially the fact that is has had an impact on almost every style of music that exists. Blues might not have existed if it were not for racial strife, and that in turn makes it a social and cultural issue."

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

My musical career has been interesting right from the beginning- my best moments have been always having the respect of the musicians I work with both in the past and into the future. There are no worst moments into a good productive career.

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

Heartfelt love of the music – again, it comes from within.

Do you remember anything funny from the recording and show time with Harry Chapin and Michael Bolton?

Harry Chapin hustled me in quite a few games of pool while we were doing an album. There were some amazing moments on stage with Michael Bolton - mostly when he would get mad at me for getting the attention of some girl in the audience.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

A very memorable jam happened on some gigs with Delbert McClinton when he asked us to join him for his encore. The most memorable gigs I’ve had were opening for B.B. King, Albert Collins and Robert Cray.

"I was drawn to the blues at a very early age, and grew up listening to quite a few black Rhythm and Blues artists – in the later 60’s I discovered that a lot of the Blues I‘d listened to from white artists had come from elsewhere. Blues has been a way of life for me, it’s not a pastime or hobby." (Photo: Paul Gabriel & BB King)

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

B.B. King scared the hell out of me, but was one of the nicest men I have ever met - I’ll never forget him watching one of sets from backstage and giving us the two thumbs up sign. Best advice – if you don’t feel it, don’t do it.

Which memory from B.B. King, Albert Collins, Roy Buchanan, Link Wray and Buddy Guy makes you smile?

Being that I got to play with all of them except Link Wray, that’s a lot of smiles.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Jazz to Rock, Americana Music and beyond?

Blues is a road to almost all styles of music.

What do you miss most nowadays from the 60s and 70s? How has the music changed over the years?

The 60’s and 70’s were inspiring times for musicians, discovering our heros, creating new ground to tread on, and digging deep in the past listening for true inspiration.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of Blues?

I always have hope.

"My sound is based on pure tone – without additional effects. Progress to me sometimes means playing or singing less - while making every nuance count." (Photo: Paul & Duke Robillard)

Are there any memories from studio with Duke Robillard and Mark Naftalin which you’d like to share with us?

Duke has been my mentor for years - I knew if we got together we would produce a great product. He got the best out of me. It was a treat to finally record with Mark after playing live with him on and off for a few years.

From the musical point of view what are the differences between: a solo acoustic and electric band show?

A solo show is a lot scarier - I have no one to feed off of except myself.

When we talk about blues, we usually refer moments of the past. Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Yes, absolutely, I live it every day.

How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage? What is your DREAM? Happiness is……

I always try to make them believe what I’m saying or playing, if I can do that I’ve had a good gig. I’m living my dream every day. Happiness is good tone.

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

Chicago-early 60’s, and watch Mike Bloomfield for days.

Paul Gabriel - official website

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