Detroit bluesman Howard Glazer talks about Honeyboy Edwards, John Sinclair, Johnny Winter and Motor City

"A lot of old blues they were signing about things and using hidden meanings for things, and situations that the black people of that era couldn't talk about freely in public."

Howard Glazer: Motor City Blues Axe

Howard Glazer is one of the most outstanding names in Motor City contemporary blues scene. Howard  is a Detroit native, moving only for a few years to nearby Chicago where he honed his blues skills before returning home. The music that came out of Memphis, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit and other American cities in the 40s found a new friend in the electric guitar. Howard Glazer chosen Outstanding Blues/R&B Instrumentalist 2014 (Guitar) from The Detroit Music Awards Foundation. In the hands of a skilled axman, nothing could better convey the mournful wailing and hectic existence that was the blues. The small "combo" amps of the time were all driven by the vacuum tube. Many of them had EL 34s glowing in them, heating up the already soulful sound. They supplied the warm, gritty power that give the Blues and Rock & Roll their distinct sounds.                                                    Photo by Dennis Metea

In keeping with that tradition, Howard Glazer and the EL 34s will always keep their brand of High Energy Detroit Motor City Blues "as hot as a vacuum tube". Howard has performed extensively both nationally and internationally including festivals/tours in the USA, Japan, Australia, Italy, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Switzerland, Holland, Greece, England, Germany, Czech, Poland, and Canada, among others. Howard has shared the bill with many greats including: Johnny Winter, B.B. King, Emanuel Young, Lady T, John Sinclair, Savoy Brown and David “Honeyboy” Edwards to name a few. Howard Glazer's new CD Looking in the Mirror released Oct. 21, 2014 by Lazy Brothers Records.

 

Interview by Michalis Limnios

 

When was your first desire to become involved with the music?

I grew up with music all around me. My father was a professional saxophone player (he played with Don Pablo& his Orchestra). My mother taught music in the Detroit schools. I started playing trumpet at about 7 years old and started picking up guitar when I was 8 or 9 years old. I wanted to play music as long as I can remember.

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

Like most artists, I suppose, I am just interpreting the world around me. To me when I’m playing blues I feel like I’m reaching way inside myself. The blues is music at its most essential, straight from the heart.

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas most frequently for songs?

All kinds of things trigger ideas. Of course there's your usual relationship based song. Other things that inspire my song ideas can be happiness/sadness or things or topics that move me or I think are relevant to the times or place I am in, for example, Gas Pump Blues talks about the high price of gasoline. Some songs I write are about real life experiences and I transform them into song (which may mean mixing with fiction). Sometimes I will write a song that is designed to sound like a real life experience and it is really just a made up story (total fiction). Sometimes those are the hardest because you have to make it seem real...usually there is something that sets a spark and I go from there, it can be something I have heard or seen, and I develop it into a song.

"Well…at this point in my life it’s all I know.Guitar is how I express myself.How I interact with other musicians. How I make myself and others happy."           (Photo by Dennis Metea)

How do you describe Howard Glazer sound and what characterize your music philosophy?

I think my sound is a mix of all the music I have listened to and played over my career, everything from punk rock to jazz & classical to blues, it’s all in there. That is why I choose the name “Looking in the Mirror “ for my new CD. I really strive to make music that is my own and not sound like somebody else. I was never inspired to try and copy other players, that is not to say that I am not influenced by other musicians. I don’t do many covers, only songs that I can really feel or that really move me, and when I do I always try do them my own way.

Is it easier to write and play the blues as you get older?

Yes it is easier to write and play the blues as you get older for a few reasons: 1st The older you get the more real life experiences you have to draw from. 2nd I am always trying to grow as a musician, so the older you get the more time you've had to grow. 3rd I really think the older one gets the more you understand and feel the blues. Blues as in any other form of music be it rock, jazz or whatever is about feeling. You can play the right notes but if you don't have the feeling it still won't sound good.

Tell me a few things about your meet and work with poet and activist John Sinclair.

 I first met John Sinclair in the 1980's I had a band called What If Thinking, and we played a show with a couple of bands he managed. Of course almost my whole life growing up I had heard about him, the White Panthers, The MC5, The Stooges (both bands I had been listening to since I was about 8 or 9 years old- thanks to my older brother Steve). Plus he's always been and still is a big activist for the legalization of Marijuana. The MC5 were a major influence on my musical way of thinking and my guitar playing. What a great band!

John Lennon & Yoko Ono came to Ann Arbor, Michigan and did a "Free John Now Concert (I think in 1972) and a day or 2 after John was released from Federal Prison. He was given some crazy long prison sentence for 2 joints. So when I met John it was a pleasure and an honor, and the fact that he liked my band was even cooler! He even ended up managing my band What If Thinking.

A few years later I started seeing him perform with his "Blues Scholars" and became very interested in the way he put his poetry over blues & jazz. When we recorded Wired For Sound we had an instrumental jam that from the moment we recorded it I thought to myself (this should have John Sinclair on it" and I got a hold of him and he said "I would love to do it". We were in the studio after he did his track and we played him Detroit Blues Party and he heard Honeyboy Edwards and said I want to be on a track with Honeyboy, I have a poem right here about Honeyboy so we added him to that track as well, So that track became the final song on the CD - Detroit Blues Party Reprise.

 

"Blues is a very a heartfelt soulful raw earthy music form. It started coming to America and was developed by the Africans brought over as slaves (very sad). But blues can be very happy or sad music."  (Photo: Howard Glazer and John Sinclair)

What was the relation between Blues, poetry and activism?

Well if you listen to a lot of old blues they were signing about things and using hidden meanings for things, and situations that the black people of that era (in the USA) couldn't talk about freely in public. So that says a lot right there. There's a guy if you aren't hip to you should check out John Trudell he's Native American, he used to be an activist and the US Government was after him for years (to make along sad story short - I'm sure if you Google him you can find out more) but anyway he switched to doing poetry over music instead of public speaking at demonstrations. Much safer! They won't arrest you for poetry (at least not yet!)

 

Are there any memories from John Sinclair which you’d like to share with us?

I've had the honor to perform with him many times (many photos are on my Facebook page). We always have great fun performing together and I really like his work. I always look forward to the chance to do a gig with him, I played and performed with him at his last 2 Birthday Parties! One time many years ago we were sitting around his office having a joint and he was telling me about his meetings and dealing with John Lennon. He talked a lot about John and the last time he saw John was a hotel in NYC. Being the Beatles fan that I am I thought that was pretty cool!

How do yoy describe and what characterize the sound of Motor City Blues?

I think there is a certain sense of rawness and urgency in the city of Detroit and it comes out in the blues as well as it does in rock, jazz and other forms of music (as well as visual art and poetry). Detroit Blues (even the old stuff) has a rawness that isn't in other blues... say Chicago Blues. I guess that's why I love the Detroit sound so much! As Harmonica Shah would say "it's dirty and in the gutter"!

"Originally US had the soul because it was created here. People in Europe had to look at American blues, study and analyze it to be able to play it." (Photo: Howard and Honeyboy Edwards) 

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory of "Honeyboy" Edwards?

Wow, Honeyboy! In 2001 harmonica Shah & I played the Dresden Blues Festival (Dresden Germany). Honeyboy, Harmonica Shah, Robert Jones, Sharrie Williams and I all were in the same hotel. They would pick us up in the early afternoon in a van and drive us pack, so we basically spent several days together. My room was right by the hotel entrance and Honeyboy's was the farthest room from the entrance so I would always carry his guitar to his room for him. On the very last day he looked at me and said " don't worry I can carry it myself"......We had many long talks about various blue people including Robert Johnson and how he went and stayed with Robert's sister for a week after Robert died, how cool is that to talk with somebody that was a personal friend of Robert Johnson's. He talked about hoping trains from town to town making Canned Heat - sifting Sterno through a ladies nylon and mixing it with orange juice. The first time he heard me play (Harmonica Shah and I were playing the main stage at the Dresden Fest w/ a German backup band), after the set Honeyboy came up to me and shook my hand and said "you can really play that thing" - I still feel honored that he said that.

 

What's been your experience from the “studies” beside with the bluesman Emanuel Young?

Emanuel Young is a very close friend of mine. I would love to see him get more recognition like he deserves, he's a great guitar player and singer. I currently perform every Friday with him at get this the "Asteria Lounge in the Greektown Casino". I constantly learn from Emanuel. We both "steal" from each other. That's the beauty of it; we both come from different places both in life and musically. It's a pleasure and an honor to perform with him. It makes me happy when we are playing and I hear him play something he stole from me! We're both still learning. I've been studying Emanuel's guitar playing since about 2000. For those of you that don't know Emanuel played with John Lee Hooker in the late 1950's. In 2007 I recorded a CD with him "Live In Detroit".

 

"I think there is a certain sense of rawness and urgency in the city of Detroit and it comes out in the blues as well as it does in rock, jazz and other forms of music (as well as visual art & poetry)." (Photo: Howard and Emanuel Young)

Are there any memories with Lady T which you’d like to share with us?

Lady T I can't say as much about except that she's a sweetheart of a person and a fine singer. She plays around Detroit with several different people and she also deserves more attention. She came and sang on Detroit Blues Party being called an hour before the session and having never heard the track and she "nailed it" first take.

Do you know why the sound of slide and resonator is connected to the blues? What are the secrets of?

That’s like several questions…..First just a brief history of the resonator guitar (for the readers who aren’t familiar): Created about 1925 by John Dopyera, the first successful resonator guitar was the tricone metal bodied guitar. The tricone has three resonating cones placed in a triangle pattern and when played, has a rich, deep sound that is unique to the tricone. This guitar was manufactured by the National Corporation that was formed by John Dopyera and George Beauchamp” then they later built the single cone (which is what I own), the bridge was on the biscuit cone. I think the original idea behind the resonator guitar was to make the guitar louder. After all they didn’t always build electric guitars and amplifiers. Slide on the resonator guitar just has a sound…that to my ears seems to work so well with the blues.

Now slide….I have to admit I'm not a historian I'm a player. Just like I have several guitars but I'm not a collector. But I would say it goes back to the old homemade Diddley Bow type guitars or even before. You can just take a slide and slide it around on one 1 or 2 strings and make some really heavy sounds!! I believe originally came from the one string guitar like instruments probably from Africa – ex. the modern day diddly bo or cigar box guitars. They didn’t have frets so you played them with a slide. Slide being a bone, metal, glass object or who knows what that you slide across the strings. The beauty of the slide sound (to me) being that there are no frets, the pitch is not perfect or absolute. When you play a note on a fretted guitar or piano…you play the note and that is what you get. With the slide you can slide in out of pitch or around the pitch or whatever variation you choose and that is a lot of what makes the blues sound. Listen to a great classical singer and they hit the notes perfectly (which is the nature of classical music) but listen to a great blues singer and like the slide…they may slide into or around the note or waver it (which is the nature of blues). As for secrets of the slide, I think like everything else people have their own style. The only real secret (if you want to call it that) is vibrato (took me years to figure out – seriously). Because as I said the pitch is not perfect or absolute, without using vibrato it can sound out of tune, so that being said I guess the secret is learning to use vibrato to make something that isn’t technically in tune, sound in tune.

Ηow started your thought you make an own model in Greek Olympus Custom Guitars?

I met Johnny Prapas owner and builder at Olympus Custom Guitars on Facebook. I commented on his guitars, they looked so nice, they really sparked my interest.  I had first sent him my music and BIO regarding looking for gigs for me in Greece. I had performed there in 2000 and again in 2001 with Harmonica Shah and have always wanted to perform there again. Johnny seemed impressed with my music and started talking to me about building me a guitar and he offered me an endorsement. He first talked about building me his “Black Rock” model, which I liked, but I have always wanted a really light weight semi hollow body guitar, so we decided to make the Black Rock body shape but semi hollow. I sent him a set of custom made D. Allen “Tom Cat “pickups to put in it and Johnny built an amazingly beautiful guitar! I had no idea the guitar he was going to build would become the “Howard Glazer Signature model”, that was my surprise when it arrived!!

What does: “The Blues”, ”The Rock” and ”Guitar” mean to you?

Blues is a very a heartfelt soulful raw earthy music form. It started coming to America and was developed by the Africans brought over as slaves (very sad). But blues can be very happy or sad music.

There could be NO rock without blues. Rock to me was pretty much blues sped up and louder. As John Lennon said if Rock n’ Roll had another name it would be Chuck Berry.

Guitar to me is an instrument or a tool guitarists like me use to express themselves. Guitar to me is a very beautiful instrument that sounds great in many styles of music- blues, rock, jazz, classical, country and many more.

...and what experiences in your life make you a good musician?

All kinds ...the good…the bad…Happiness, sadness…I think it is all part of the equation.

What do you learn about yourself from music?

My voice and thoughts come through in my music. If you know me you can hear my moods, thoughts and ideas in my music. To be a good musician it’s not just about technique (blues is a perfect example) but it’s about mental discipline. It teaches you how to think.

"Soul is soul, the instrument you play is your voice that you use to express yourself."

What mistake of music would you want to correct?

Playing so loud when I was younger and waiting so long to start signing.

Do you believe, Europe has the “brain” and U.S has the “soul” of blues music?

I think that is a way of looking at it, but not the only way. Originally US had the soul because it was created here. People in Europe had to look at American blues, study and analyze it to be able to play it. So in that sense it’s true. But now it’s not so much like that because things have grown and many people in Europe know blues now. Just like here in the US people used to say you have to be black to have soul. I don’t believe that is true. We ALL have feelings and we all go through life’s experiences so we all have soul. Some people just bring it out in their music more then others. When I was a just starting to play blues and rock, I would try to think about the saddest thing that ever happened to me before I started to practice.

Describe the ideal rhythm section behind to you on stage and studio?

It depends on the situation, I love playing in a trio with a smoking hot drummer and bass player. But for bigger gigs a percussionist can be cool, or keyboard or 2nd guitar.

What turns you on? What is happiness …? What’s your greatest fear?

That’s a loaded question… Peace, music… I’ll stop here……!!!

Not being able to play anymore and not ever being recognized for my playing.

"My voice and thoughts come through in my music. If you know me you can hear my moods, thoughts and ideas in my music. To be a good musician it’s not just about technique (blues is a perfect example) but it’s about mental discipline. It teaches you how to think."

How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage? Pick 3 words to describe your progress (and yourself).

I try to connect up with the audience as much as possible. I want them to have a good time and enjoy themselves.

Never - stop - learning !!

Are there any memories from Kim Simmond of Savoy Brown and the bluesman Harmonica Shah?

Harmonica Shah and I played some great music together. It’s too bad we parted ways in the way we did. But touring with Shah we went to a lot of great places and met a lot of great people like you. I learned a lot just playing so much and being around so many great blues musicians on the tours and festivals we played. So I'm happy because Harmonica Shah and I are performing together again, we have a new CD "Stepchild of the Blues".

I warmed up for Savoy Brown in Chicago. Kim Simmonds is another favorite of mine. At the time Kim was reunited with former singer Dave Walker (Dave sang on Street Corner Talking & Hellbound Train). Dave and I had become fairly good friends so when I warmed Savoy Brown up it was quite a treat. My band rocked the house and really created a buzz. At the end of the night Kim walked up to me and shook my hand and said "thanks for warming us up tonight".

I have been lucky to keep somewhat regular contact with Kim Simmonds and some of the Savoy Brown crew since meeting/ opening for them in Illinois, I always enjoy the chance to talk guitar/ music with Kim after a show, if I can catch him when I am not gigging.

"Blues as in any other form of music be it rock, jazz or whatever is about feeling. You can play the right notes but if you don't have the feeling it still won't sound good." (Photo: Howard and Harmonica Shah)

Are there any memories from Johnny Winter and B.B. King which you’d like to share with us?

To start with warming up for Johnny Winter was a total gas! He's always been one of my favorite guitar players. At the time he had James Montgomery playing harp in his band. James is from the Detroit area and I had done a gig with James about 6 months earlier. So after the show James took me to meet Johnny I shook his hand and said "Johnny it's great to meet you, you’ve always been one of my favorite guitarists". He looked at me and said "I heard you, you're pretty good yourself". Needless to say I was honored! We ended up hanging out in the dressing room talking guitar and sharing stories for about an hour or more.

Since I warmed up for Johnny, I have seen him several times after shows, just to say “Hi” and see how he is doing.  I am really happy that he is doing so well and keeping so busy, I think Paul Nelson has really has done a great job managing him.

I was on the same festival with B.B. King (Piazza Blues - Switzerland) but I didn't have any interactions with him. All though I did play several gigs and did a Public Television appearance with his daughter Shirley King.

Why did you choose to playing guitar?

Well…..at this point in my life it’s all I know. Guitar is how I express myself. How I interact with other musicians. How I make myself and others happy. It’s also how I write music. I first started playing guitar to put my poems to music and turn them into songs.

Is there any difference between the soul of a guitarist and the soul of a musician who plays other instruments?

I would say no. Soul is soul, the instrument you play is your voice that you use to express yourself.

"I try to connect up with the audience as much as possible. I want them to have a good time and enjoy themselves.

Never - stop - learning !!

How do you want to be remembered your music?

I hope I’m remembered as a fine guitar player that left behind a great body of work.

Which is the most interesting period in music and why?

I really can’t a “most interesting” but I’m generally drawn to the music of the 50’s, 60’s and early 70’s.

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

I have to admit I’m not the kind of person that thinks about that kind of thing often, but if I had too…..it would have to be one of 2 choices…I always thought it would be awesome to play on a John Lennon Record (after the Beatles), so going back in time and spending the day in the studio with Lennon, and 2nd (not necessarily in any order) I always thought it be great to jam or perform with Johnny Winter. Especially Johnny in his early 70’s years.

Howard Glazer's official website

 

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