Q&A with American/Spanish duo Pig Fat - a unique blend with Delta, Piedmont, Memphis and Ragtime styles

"The blues is a culture that wants to escape imposition and order. In my opinion, it is the culture most antiestablishment that there is because it doesn't offer a solution for everyone, but reminds us that the solution resides in each and everyone of us."

Pig Fat: Blues Evolution With Deep Roots

Richard “White Boy” White is an American blues guitarist, singer and songwriter delivering a unique blend of Piedmont Finger style, Delta, Memphis and Swing to audiences all over the world. Richard from his humble beginnings in the coffee houses of his hometown Philadelphia, he made his way to Europe before returning to the states to study with the master of the eight-string classical guitar, David Harris. Over the years he has shared stages and licks with many world-class musicians, and his mentor David Harris with helping to shape his take on the world. The road eventually took him to New Orleans, a period which had a profound influence on his style and outlook, but ultimately it was the move to Spain that was to be the ultimate turning point. It was there that he was introduced to Junior Blues Charley aka Carles Vergés, with whom he formed the blues duo Pig Fat: the satisfying combination of White Boy’s deep tenor and Junior’s fresh take on a much-loved genre is the musical equivalent of soul food – a must-have experience.                      Photo by © Josep Maria Argilaguet

In much the same way as did blues legend Robert Belford, White Boy began his recording career later in life, releasing an album with Pig Fat titled Shadow of the Night in November 2013. His follow up will come in the form of a long-awaited and much anticipated debut solo album “Till I Find My Dying Bed” which is slated for release in 2016. Besides travelling the world with guitar in tow, White Boy is an acclaimed visual artist and sculptor with many international exhibitions to his credit, his works much lauded by critics, art lovers and his peers. He founded the Tarragona Blues Festival in 2010 to showcase international as well as emerging blues artists, a festival in which his Pig Fat partner, Junior, also plays a vital role. He’s currently living in Tarragona with his wife Pili. White Boy White will release his new solo album “Till I find my dyin’ bed” in January 2016.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Richard: Blues is a music that reflects the human condition and suffering. From all my years of playing the blues, I have learned to have compassion for all living creatures.

Jr. Charley: With the blues I feel very close to those slaves that came from Africa and sang about there pain and suffering. They were of course humans that were treated with cruelty like work animals, They were dehumanized not very different in this aspect, today, being just a gear in the works to satisfy an elite few. The blues expresses a universal sentiment. It is the reason to live: live life the best way you can. In the worst moments, you find consolation in the good things of your existence such as love, companionship, hope and good memories. Blues is therapy.

How do you describe Pig Fat Blues sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

Richard: Pig Fat has been a slow evolution. What gives us our unique sound is I play old school and Jr plays a more current style of which we braid into our Pig Fat sound. Our song book is always changing and growing.

Jr. Charley: The Pig fat sound is honestly loyal to who we are. White Boy White is a bluesman of Delta, Piedmont and ragtime styles. He also likes jazz and I am a son of rock and rhythm and blues. On our record album, you can hear my guitar as a rhythm section of bass and drums, maintaining the groove. On the other hand, White Boy playing overtones licks along while singing the melody. This has evolved and taken to a new level as we would swap roles and braid our sound into a new dynamic voicing. This was our objective when recording our first record. This was our focus point.  We decided not to put any “makeup” or any editing, recording everything as a live session because that is we do it live on stage.

"Blues is a music that reflects the human condition and suffering. From all my years of playing the blues, I have learned to have compassion for all living creatures." (Photo © by Pep Alcanyiz)

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

Richard: I have met a lot of top shelf blues men through my time. I learned from all of them one thing or another. However the most important influence for me would have to be David Harris, eight string classical guitar master. I studied with him for a period where we became good friends. He taught me how to think about the music and life. These are lessons that still serve me well.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Richard: There are so many. Each one has its own special magic. If one was to stand out, I would say it was a small get together and jam with the musician that I invited to perform in the 1st Festival International Tarragona Blues. I was just so overjoyed to have some real blues cats hanging with me in Tarragona, Spain.

Jr. Charley: There are many memories. I remember one moment, however, in the recording studio. The studio like most others, was cramped and short on air supply. White Boy and myself were trying to record a relatively easy song but we just couldn't get through a single good take. We ended up doing 47 takes of it before we finally got a desired result. On this project we had the privilege to work with Little Victor as the producer which was inspirational and educational. I will always appreciate it! To be on the stage with other musicians that I have barely met and have hardly spoken with icon be quite memorable.  When we begin to reach and animate the audience, that is something that I can find hard to believe and to think that I was able to part of that. The overall emotion I get from it can last me months! In our concerts, I am always surprised at the relationship we have with our public. There will never be enough time nor words, nor opportunities to properly thank them for continually coming to see us.

"Pig Fat has been a slow evolution. What gives us our unique sound is I play old school and Jr plays a more current style of which we braid into our Pig Fat sound. Our song book is always changing and growing." (Richard “White Boy” White/Photo by Fernando Fernández Baliña)

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Richard: The old blues musicians performed blues in a way that can never be repeated. It was the time, the attitude, the lifestyle that gave the music its flavor. Today, the blues is an art form. It wasn't so back then. This changes how we perceive blues now a days. I am glad to see however, that there is still some evolution to the music and how it is played. Some of which is quite exciting. Frankly, I don't like the “guitar hero” mentality among many modern blues musicians. Long tiring solos are often boring. Old school blues was never about that for good reason.

Jr. Charley: The blues from back in the day was an expression of freedom. The early blues was now or never or you have it or you don't have it. The mojo sprung out of need and inspiration. What makes me sad is that the blues which in modern times had become an artistic institution that has lately been converted into a marketing product. It is then manipulated to fit the masses. This cheapen everything. For me mass marketing and arte are exact opposites. I hope to discover musicians that are capable to dedicate their life to bringing about new and genuine musical results with their fresh expression and feelings.

Make an account of the case of blues in Catalonia. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Jr. Charley: In the fall is a very beautiful time here because we had been celebrating Festival International Tarragona Blues. Also, in April here, they celebrate the Dixieland festival where we can share great moments with the jazz musicians.

"Most blues songs deal with fears, sadness, rejection, love, death, humor and reflection. I believe that these are the elements that gives blues its universal impact." (Photo: Junior Blues Charley)

From the musical point of view what are the differences between: American and Catalan blues scene?

Richard: The Catalan blues musicians are generally very good musician. They put high value on there abilities to perform a song correctly. As an American I am more about finding the mojo, wherever it may be. Maybe I play a strange note or I play off time, I don't really care as long as the song swings and is soaked in the mojo. The Catalans also find it awkward when singing the blues. How should the sing it? Should they use perfect southern United States English? Maybe they should just sing the blues in Catalan. Who knows? Perhaps it would be more honest.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

Richard: I don't know if I am laughing that much right now considering the numerous hardships that today's musicians are going through. I try not to take myself to seriously and if I laugh, I am usually laughing at myself. I'm not afraid to be a bit of a clown on stage. The blues is inherently sad but it can display a glimmer of hope and a smile too.

Jr. Charley: I remember one night in the bar where I once worked for some years. I hardly ever played music there but I don't remember why, White Boy and I picked up the guitars and started playing a song.  There were just a few people seated there watching with interest. They all asked us to play another song when we finished. When all was said and done, we ended up playing our entire repertoire and packing the house. Everyone was  so animated with a spark in the air that we continued to play songs that we never performed together before. Then we started to improvise songs. We ended up signing and selling a bunch of our CD's  and making new friends. On the other hand, I remember receiving the bad news about the death of our friend Quim. He was a bass guitarist and uncle of our favorite drummer Marcel Redondo, who left us when he lost his fight with cancer. In the funeral we met up with many musicians from our city of which we had all the opportunity to play music with Quim. It was a deep collective feeling of loss and grief realizing that we would never perform with him again in this life. What touched me and made me reflect was the hope that we would all meet somewhere in the afterlife and play music once again together.

How started the Tarragona Blues Festival? What are the ties that connect the Blues from US to Iberia peninsula?

Richard: The festival International Tarragona Blues started in 2010. We were trying to participate in the Tarragona Dixieland Festival but we weren't selected. I showed my dismay to the director at that time and he replied saying if you don't like this festival go start your own. So I did. We are now friends and we laugh about it. He told me that he didn't think I would go and do it. He told me that he didn't think I would go and do it.

"The old blues musicians performed blues in a way that can never be repeated. It was the time, the attitude, the lifestyle that gave the music its flavor. Today, the blues is an art form. It wasn't so back then." (Photo © by Fernando Fernández Baliña)

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local folk music and traditional forms?

Jr. Charley: Of course there are similarities. Flamenco, for example, the sentiment of sadness that it transmits is very similar to blues. In other styles such as Habaneras, there is the facet of cross culture influence which is characteristic of the blues. Local traditional folk musics and blues often share similar harmonic structure and movement as well.

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

Jr. Charley: The blues is a culture that wants to escape imposition and order. In my opinion, it is the culture most antiestablishment that there is because it doesn't offer a solution for everyone, but reminds us that the solution resides in each and everyone of us. Most blues songs deal with fears, sadness, rejection, love, death, humor and reflection. I believe that these are the elements that gives blues its universal impact.

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

Jr. Charley: It would be hard to choose just one! Of course, I would like to meet some of the great legends such as Howlin' Wolf or Muddy Waters as well as others lesser know musicians like Frankie Lee Sims, Also, to see Skip James or The Reverend Gary Davis performing in a juke joint would be quite exciting. I would want to live in the era of the great jazz clubs of Harlem or New Orleans. I don't know why, but I would have to guess it would help me to understand the motives and reasons that made that time the golden age of popular music.

Richard “White Boy” White - Home

Photo © by Lopez-Monne

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