East Coaster Albert Cummings talks about Double Trouble, Jim Gaines, Texas Blues; and his own paths

"I think the blues was the beginning of all music we know today. It is a music that can’t be faked."

Albert Cummings: 

Blues makes you feel good !

Breaking every cliché associated with the blues while producing some of the most powerful music of the 21st century comes as natural to Massachusetts native Albert Cummings as swinging a hammer while constructing one of his award-winning custom built homes. Not until he was 27, an age when other musicians were either already established or had long ago put their dream aside for the realities of life, did Albert finally decide to go for it.

An intense period of wood shedding resulted Albert sharing a bill with Double Trouble, the late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section. So taken with Albert’s fire and passion were bassist Tommy Shannon and drummer Chris Layton that they volunteered to play on and produce his debut recording. In 2003 the aptly-titled From the Heart (Under the Radar), with the awesome power of a Nor’easter and the soul of a natural born artist. A year later Double Trouble joined Cummings again as he signed with Blind Pig Records to create True to Yourself. This time they brought in legendary producer Jim Gaines to control the sessions. Tours and shows with blues legends B.B. King, Johnny Winter, Buddy Guy and others brought his music to an audience grateful for the opportunity to be rocked hard by a man possessed to play every song like his life depended on it.

Working Man (Blind Pig), Albert’s summer of 2006 blockbuster release, is the culmination to date of a guitar hero’s career just taking off.  Albert Cummings released his sixth album titled No Regrets. Poignantly capturing the core of his influences, and displaying the impact that R&B, Rock, Soul, Country and the Blues have had on both his playing and writing, No Regrets is everything the guitarist aimed to capture when returning to the studio.

Albert Cummings is a man of his times and the man for the times. As he has done with his innovative homes, he has taken tradition and built his own musical edifice that expresses his thoughts and dreams. It is a vision that alternately excites and soothes while also clearly providing a glimpse of his unlimited future. The best is yet to come.

 

Interview by Michael Limnios

 

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

My first gig was playing five string banjo with my dad playing acoustic guitar with me. It was for a political cocktail party. I only knew a few songs but they wanted me to play anyway. We were background music at best. I remember when we finished the first song nobody even acknowledged we were there. I thought I would hear a small applause or someone would turn around or something.. I turned to my dad and he said “I know they’re out there. I can hear them breathing!” It was the perfect ice breaker and we continued thru the next hour playing everything I could. I actually have a picture of my fist gig on guitar. (When I say gig I mean when I am playing an entire show or night not just getting on stage) I played with my band Swamp Yankee and we played in a dorm at Williams College which is in my home town. I remember it just being fun. I’ve never had a gig which I didn’t enjoy in some way even if the gig is going terrible. There is always something good about it.

 

 

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

This is a good question. My answer may surprise you. A lot of people think that you have to feel terrible to be able to sing the blues. Well I had a lot of tragedy and I’ve had hard times and I’ve had good times. I don’t think you have to be feeling bad inside to sing the blues. My message to the world is that Blues Music makes you feel good! I think for someone to be good at playing the blues, they have to be very confident on the inside. They have to be able to express their feelings honestly. My definition of blues music is simply an expression of your feelings. They could be sad or happy or any emotion. Whatever song you are performing you have to believe what you are playing/singing and express yourself in a way that reflects the mood of the song.

 

How/where do you get inspiration for your songs & who were your mentors in songwriting?

I really don’t have one single mentor that I can point to. I like songwriters who tell a story when they write their song. One of my favorite songwriters is Delbert McClinton. He always seems to put his sense of humor into his music which is always fun. I get my inspiration from everyday life. I look for an idea in everything I do. I of course don’t always find one but every once in a while someone will say something nor do something and I will say hey! That is a song!!

 

How do you describe Albert Cummings sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

I would describe my sound as one of a kind. Maybe someone would argue that but I don’t think I sound like anyone else. That is my top goal. I don’t ever want to sound like someone else. I always say be yourself because everyone else is taken. My main goal is to come up with music that no one else has ever come up with. I’m not into people putting new words to old rhythms. This is just plain boring and to me shows little creativity.

 

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music?

If I had to point to where I first learned things about the blues, I would point directly at Double Trouble (Stevie Ray Vaughan’s rhythm section. When I did my first album “From The Heart” with those guys I got to spend nineteen days in Austin Texas. Every minute of that time was spent discussing how Stevie thought, how they thought, what they had learned etc. it was like getting a master degree in blues all in a little less than three weeks. They also opened my mind to things I never knew existed. Shortly after this I got to tour with BB King. I spent a lot of time back stage with Mr. King and he also gave me many ideas an pointers on how to become a better performer. I am very grateful for these experiences. Since then I have been a sponge ever since. I learn from everyone I can. I watch every performer I see very closely. Sometimes I learn what not to do which is just as important as what to do.

 

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

This is a tough question. I have had many great moments and it is hard to pick which one is the best. I would have to say the best moment of my career was the first time I opened for Mr. King. He called me back on stage and the crowd stood up while he shook my hand. To this day I still smile when I think of that moment. I get to relive it every day. A few months after that gig a guy brought me a picture he took of that very moment. I am standing there with Mr. king with the biggest smile ever! The worst moment… Hmm I’ve had plenty of those too!! The funny one that comes to mind happened when I was touring with Buddy Guy. It was the first show of the tour and we were in North Carolina. I set up my rig for sound check and everything seemed to be fine. I usually set everything up so all I have to do is walk out on stage with my guitar, plug in and play. Well I walked out on stage and plugged in and the announcer said please welcome Albert Cummings. I hit my guitar but there was no sound. We were in a theater with about 1300 people staring at me. I immediately tried to fool with my pedals and my cords. No matter what I did there still was no sound. People were looking at me like…who is this guy?? I took my guitar and plugged it directly into the amp, turned it up and played the whole set without any effects. The show turned out great and I loved the freedom of not having to worry about pedals.

 

What is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?

While backstage with BB King once he was dealing with a musician in his band who was running late. He told me that this was the reason he called his band BB King. If his band didn’t show up he knew he always would so he would always fulfill his contract. He told me that “there ain’t no one monkey that will ever stop his show”. H gave me a lot of advice but this was most memorable.

 

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Be humble. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Just because you can play an instrument doesn’t mean the world owes you something. Be yourself and be respectful. This may all seem too simple but I see it all the time on the road.

 

Why did you think that Jim Gaines continues to generate such a devoted following?

Jim is a living legend. There is nobody that has done what Jim has done. He is the master of Blues Rock type of music and he is the nicest guy you will ever meet. He is so knowledgeable about every instrument, cable and microphone. You can hear a Jim Gaines album by just putting it into your stereo. Especially in today’s record world. Everyone thinks they’re a producer these days. There are albums coming out now that just sound terrible even thought the music sounds good. Jim Gaines makes it all sound good.

 

Tell me a few things about your meet with Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton, which memory from makes you smile?

Just hearing their names makes me smile. These are two of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. I’ll never forget doing my first show with them. That night they asked me to do an album and they wanted to play on it and produce it. I was just starting out and it blew my mind. When they told me they were bringing Reese Wynans down to record with us I was even more floored. This made it the first time that Stevie’s entire band would record and full album with an artist since Stevie’s passing. I will always have a spot in my heart for those guys.

 

 

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

I think the blues was the beginning of all music we know today. It is a music that can’t be faked. You either play it from the heart or make it real or it doesn’t come out right. Lots of styles of music come and go and that will continue to happen. Blues has a strong power because it deals with emotions. It is not just some cool beat that you hear. It has meaning and depth that other music can’t provide. I believe that blues is about to make a comeback. It is being heard in country music and rock music. It is used in tons of popular commercials and sound tracks. It just has that classic old sound that makes people want to bob their heads. To find success it has to be presented to people in a way they understand in today’s world. The blues in the fifties is classic and we all love it but for it to find a new life it needs to evolve into what people are used to hearing in modern times.

 

How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?

I love the connection I feel on stage. Sometimes it is more noticeable than others but it is always there. Usually with the spot lights it is very hard to see who is in the crowd but I know they are out there. It is a feeling that cannot be explained but there is a definite energy coming from the crowd. It is my job to tap into that energy and give it everything I’ve got. When I do this, it creates more energy that just keeps coming. There is not a better feeling than sharing energy with people.

 

Do you know why the sound of rockin’ blues guitar is connected to the Texas blues?

Well I think that this is where it was all born. ZZ Top, Johnny Winter and Stevie sure brought this to light but even before that, guys like Freddie King were ripping it up. When Texas style first was recognized the blues was mostly Chicago style or Delta style. Since then there has been many more blues styles that have come in to existence. They say blues is a big house and there is a room for everyone.

 

Albert Cummings - Official website

 

 

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