An Interview with Bluesman George "Guitar" Bostick, a guardian and knight of Blues culture and legacy

"Albert King and B.B. King as well as all of those old players lived the blues and could express that experience in their music."

George "Guitar" Bostick: Keeping the Blues torch

George Bostick grew up in NYC and began playing the guitar at age 14.  He practiced daily, imitating his idols as well as honing his own sense of style. He was influenced by Muddy Waters, Curtis Mayfield, Jimi Hendrix, Otis Rush, and several other blues legends. George played on LI with the Belairs until he enlisted in the United States Navy in 1966. While serving in the Navy he played with various bands and at different venues. Upon his honorable discharge in 1972, he moved to Chicago, IL. While living there he played with Tyrone Century’s Band, Lafayette Leake (Muddy Water’s keyboard player), Willie Dixon’s sons and several other groups.

In 1984, he moved back to Long Island, NY and played with Doug McLean for 11 years as well as several other bands. He’s been featured at BNL’s Blue’s Summer Fest. He has also played at The Riverhead Blues Festival. George enjoys jam sessions with some of his musician friends. He currently plays with The Unity Band when time permits. He also has a band of his own called Blues House. Upon retiring George will be playing with his band full time.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues music and what does offer you?

To answer your questions I'll start out by thanking you for your interest in an old blues man and I hope that I can respond to all of the questions to the best of my ability.

First of all, I as a small child, our house always had music playing on the radio or from records as well the TV. My dad had an orchestra guitar that he had bought used back in the 20's when he used to take lessons from a musician he knew. I still have that guitar (A Rodgers- non electric) which I don't play at all. My mother was from the south and she'd have a black music radio station on during the day while my father would be at work and I'd hear some of the blues and other popular music of the day. When I was about 9 years old I really got into the new music that was later called Rock and Roll, which I felt was a lot like the Gospel music that my mother would sing around the house. I started loving the Doo Wop and the other R&R music as well as R&B, which it was all R&B music. I was getting some guitar lessons from my father, but he wasn't in to the blues or R&R music since he was from Trinidad and being born in 1895 he was more into Irish and Spanish (which he spoke) songs. So I picked just enough from lessons to figure what I needed to play blues and R&R. The music made me feel good and it impressed my friends and family when I would play what I picked up. I would put on 45RPM records and try to pick out the notes that I heard and practice it over and over until I felt that I was good enough to play it at will.

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

The blues is music that touches the soul of a person that if he or she had a bad day they can get a sort of therapy and a release. I call blues Medicine for the soul. I try to put that in my sound. Make the guitar sound like a friend who lets you know that I with you and I do feel your blues. Also blues has another side that is uplifting and makes you want to dance and party.

What characterize Bostick’s sound and philosophy of Blues music?

My guitar influences are from many places. Chicago would be Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Otis Rush and all of the Chess and Checker record artists. Mississippi would be Robert Johnson, B.B. King and all of the Mississippi Juke players I've heard. Memphis would be Albert King and the entire artists that has recorded out of Stax and Sun. As a kid I had collect many of the blues sounds from these places as well as Texas blues men such as Freddie King, Johnny Winter just to name a few.

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

You ask for the worst moments of my career. Well let me say they're few and most of them were what most musicians have gone thru. The biggest negative moments that I can recall was when my band  the BELAIRS was playing a gig in an all black club in Riverhead Long Island, NY back in the mid 60s and while we were on stage doing an up tempo tune a man was shoot while he was on the dance floor. Nobody stopped dancing, even while the guy was lying on the floor, until we finished playing the tune. Another time was when I was playing in a town outside of Boston, Mass. in 1968 with a band called Huey and the Bossmen. We were playing for an all white crowd at a debutant ball when after we went on break, I walked to the bar area to get a drink and saw most of the people that were dancing before crowded around the small b/w TV set and found out that Martin Luther King was shot. The band had to finish the gig as best as we could and when I got back to Boston the bus stopped and couldn't go any further do to the riots that were taking place there.

Are there any memories from Albert Collins and his band, which you’d like to share with us?

As to my time with the late blues man Albert Collins and his band, I must start by how I came to meeting Albert. In 1988 I was playing in the Harmonica Doug McClean Blues Band, which I had been playing guitar with for about a year or so back then, and we had been asked to play a concert at Stony Brook University on Long Island, NY and open up for Albert Collins. We did our set and got a great applause and show of approval from the audience. The concert was also being broadcast on the Radio. At that time Ms. Debbie Davis was playing guitar with the Albert Collins Band and as I was leaving the stag she approached me from behind the curtains and stated that loved my playing and how much she enjoyed the show. I thanked her and said something to the effect of have a great gig and myself and the band went to the dressing room that we were assigned. One of Albert's band members walked toward us and asked if we would join Mr. Collins in his dressing room before he hits the stage. Of course we accepted and we went to see Albert. We were introduced to everyone by Albert and told to have some refreshments drinks that they had in their dressing room. Albert told me that he liked my style of blues guitar and would like to do some jamming with me. As he was talking to me he was sitting down playing with his guitar and he seemed to be working on a new song and the guitar parts he wanted to use. I should have brought me guitar with me but I had stored in it's case and left it with the other gear that we had left back in our dressing room .He was very easy going and talking about my playing and he wanted to know more about my experience with playing blues. My late wife took our pictures. She and I had only been married for about 5 months then and she was very excited as I was to meet a blues legend like Albert Collins. After a couple of minutes after we had chatted he was told to get ready for his concert and so we left him and went to enjoy his performance which was as awesome as expected. Ms. Davis did a great job playing in the band as well. After the show was over we left. Unfortunately, a few years after we lost Albert to cancer.

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

As far as me learning secrets about playing blues guitar from others or about blues music in general, I can only say that I learned to listen and study the different styles that the blues has. The music is about feeling and expressing those feeling through your voice or your instrument. Keep it simple but make it funky when you need to. There are so many styles and versions of just one blues song that you would have to learn as many as you can in order to be able play the one that fits the occasion. I've backed up so many players and vocalist that if I didn't know what style of blues that will work with that person or band I would have a very hard time making the music sound right.

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

You asked about the blues and why it endures through all of the fads that have come and gone. I can only give my opinion and tell you that good music that you can feel and makes you feel better stays around from one generation to the next. I have heard it said that the blues is about somebody expressing what is on their mind of which they don't talk about. I would love to see more young people stop with the Rap music and go back to singing and playing musical instruments and get into the blues more.

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

The best jam that I have ever played is a tough question to answer since I have been jamming and playing for such a long time. The only one that I can even think to tell you are when I was living Chicago and had went to the Tuesday night jam session at the blues club, The Kingston Mines. That night I went with my friend Tyrone Century, who was a full time drummer who had played and toured with so many of the big blues names that I can't name them all. He knew everybody and their mamas, so to speak. Hubert Sumlin was playing and running the jam that night and Tyrone asked him if he would let him and I come up and do some blues with his bass guy and keyboard player. Tyrone got on the drums and Hubert let me play on his white Strat guitar since I didn't bring my Les Paul that I had. We did some uptempo blues tunes and after we had finished our jam Hubert said to me, after I was handing him his guitar back, that he hadn't heard good guitar playing like mine in a long time. He also said that he really enjoyed what I did. People in the crowd were telling me that I can really play. I thanked Hubert and the other nice people and went to bar to calm my nerves, knowing that Hubert, the Wolf's main guitar player, had told me that he liked my playing. WOW!!!

What is the “feel” you miss most nowadays from the Blues of 60s?

The 60's blues was raw with much soul and didn't have of the electronic affects that some people put into it. Some people play it too darn fast and they lose the feeling that the blues should have. Albert King and B.B. King as well as all of those old players lived the blues and could express that experience in their music. They lived through the racism and bad times to be able to play the blues with a whole lotta soul. You can be the son of a banker or a Wall Street tycoon and play the blues with that 60' feeling.

How has the blues business changed over the years since you first started in music?

The business of the blues and how it has changed over years depends on things like what big named white blues artist talks about you and lets you tour with them or when you started playing it, what race you are. B.B. King and Buddy Guy are doing well these days, but so many are not. I think it's because the majority of the people who go to hear blues and buy blues Cds are generally white. White people here in the USA who is blues fans do support the blues and want to hear it more so than blacks. They know of B.B. King and Buddy through white artist such as Eric Clapton and the Stones etc. People who don't get much exposure like Bobby Rush and the lesser known artist don't get a chance to make to TV and big concert blues tours. There are so many great blues players and singers who will never get in to the spot light for these reasons. Blues music doesn't get the mainstream radio and TV exposure like Rap and Pop music gets and that is due to another factor. You don't have those small mom and pop recording labels that used to put blues out there. The recording business is mostly run by the big conglomerates such as Disney and Time Warner. Their only concern is the "bottom line". They couldn't give damn about talent. They wouldn't know talent if it ran them over!

                                                                                                              Photo by Mark Gresser

When we talk about blues, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. Apart from the old cats of blues, do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

When I listen to what is playing on the radio and the TV these day, I can't help but to think that maybe my grand-kids will never really know or have any interest in what we call blues now. The real blues in hardly ever played on young people's radio stations or heard anywhere that young folks hang out today. Only we can keep the blues alive and pass it on to the next generations if it is to survive at all.

Do you believe that there is “misuse”, that there is a trend to misappropriate the name of blues?

As far as the blue's name being misused in anyway today...that has been an issue for as long as I can remember. I've heard some people call rock music blues and I can only go back to what I've heard Albert King said in an interview once. It went something like..."If you want to play the Cream or the Beatles then you play that music. But if you're gonna play the blues then play the blues."...I must agree. When I do a jam at a club and a young player comes up to the stage and says that he is gonna play some blues...yet he starts playing hard rock riffs and power chords....I can only wonder what is his idea of what is the blues. Yes...some rock has it's roots in the blues...but when you say that you're gonna play me some blues...then that's what I expect to hear.

What's the legacy of Blues culture? 

Well. I can answer that by saying the "Blues culture" is not what it used to be from what I see. It has been marketed very well now. Lots of blues clubs around and festivals are taking place today than ever before. I see more blues items for sale today such as T-shirts and hats etc...But it's only the music and not the real down and out life style of what the real blues men went through in Mississippi and other areas of the South and other parts of American where a man of color's life wasn't worth a cent back in the day. Blues makes money for some people and very little for others. The older cats are dying away fast and the sound changes as others try to play the music as they feel it.

Of all the Blues people you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most?

Of all of the blues people that I've met and know... (the ones that are still alive)....I must say that BB king and Otis Rush are my blues icons. Albert Collins and many of the ones that I have met (Hubert Sumlin, Honey Boy, Willie Dixon etc...) have left this world.

Tell me a few things about your experience in Windy City’s blues clubs, which memory makes you smile?

My memories of the Chicago blues clubs are many...funny and sad. But the most humorous one that I can think of was when the late great Detroit Jr would play piano and make music with his rear-end...you would have to have seen it to understand. He was quite an entertainer.

You have been traveling all around the US. What are your conclusions about the local blues?

As far as local blues goes...it really depends on where you are and if there is a real blues culture in the area. I must that I've been surprise of how well people in countries where blues music was not even found 20 years ago is doing very well and the musicians are very impressive. I guess with today's technology the music has traveled to all parts of the world.

What is your music DREAM? Happiness is……

My dream in the blues music business is to see more and more young people get into the blues and maybe it wouldn't die out in 30 years. I would love to be one of blues men that will help to pass on the blues torch.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft and what is the best advice a bluesman ever gave you?

The best advice that I could give to anyone who wants to play blues and do it right would be to first learn about the roots of the music and how it came to be. Listen to Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters as well as many of the blues legends that they can. You have to be deep into the music and let the music be part of who you are. Depending on what instrument that they would want to play...study the people who best mastered that instrument in blues and build off of that. I was never advised personally by any blues men ...but I did sit and watch what they do and how they made it work. Watch and listen ...and of course ...practice, practice and practice!!

 

 

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