Interview with Aussie Soul/Blues artist John McNamara - style and delivery that stays authentic to roots

"Playing the blues and really getting into what 'makes' blues music has shed new light on all genres of music."

John McNamara: Rollin' With The Blues

Multi Award Winning Australian Soul/Blues artist John McNamara released his debut Album "Alone With The Blues - One Voice, One Guitar" in August 2014. John Won the MBAS Blues Challenge Solo/Duo Catergory in July 2014 and represented Australian Blues in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis Jan 2015! Taking cues from soul greats such as Otis Redding, Sam Cooke and Bobby Bland, John Delivers an emotionally charged performance, with fiery Blues and Slick Guitar Playing making John McNamara the new artist to watch on the blues scene.

John has worked as a Guitarist for local and international acts and appeared on programs such as Chanel 10's 'The Morning Show', Rage & MTV. Opening for acts such as Joanne Shaw Taylor, Jon Stevens, Rick Price, Diesel, Shannon Knoll, Russell Morris aswell as touring with Mr. Big Vocalist Eric Martin. John has found acoustic soul & blues to be the perfect showcase for his guitar playing and powerful voice. With a style and delivery that stays authentic to it's roots. In less than last years on the Blues scene John has wowed audiences and critics world wide. With 2 successful Edinburgh Fringe Fests under his belt (2012 - 13), two tours of Germany and a tour of Singapore and Malaysia! John is also becoming a regular on the Aus Blues scene, playing festivals and shows all over the country showcasing his unique talents. “Rollin' with It” (2017) is a brand new album by John McNamara. Recorded in Ardent Studios, Memphis TN, using Stax Records legends, John has created a truly authentic, exciting new fresh Rhythm & Blues album.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Blues music taught me all about groove and the subtle intrinsic within genres of music. From there it taught me a deeper respect for all kinds of music. And as they say “the blues is the roots.” I feel I can stand strong on my own two feet (musically speaking) from knowing the blues. For me, playing the blues and really getting into what 'makes' blues music has shed new light on all genres of music. Blues music for me has been a great joy, it’s allowed me to travel and meet many amazing people.

How do you describe John McNamara's sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

It’s Blues and soul. I more than often am playing around within the classic blues shuffle, triplet grooves and then adding soul when I sing. The singers that have inspired me most are soul singers. But the soul singers that came out of singing in gospel groups, singing blues. It’s has that phrasing and heart you know. I guess that also sums up my music philosophy. To carry on that ‘style’ and add my own flavor, via songwriting, performance and such.

My sound is Raw, Intimate, Soulful. It's Soul Blues. My live shows are performed solo, and that's the way I recorded my debut album also "Alone With The Blues - One Voice, One Guitar." There are 8 originals and 4 covers on the previous album. I play some traditional blues, gospel and soul songs inclusive the Etta James classic 'Damn your Eyes' and the Bobby Bland tune 'Lead Me On.'. Playing these songs with just the guitar backing creates a great atmosphere. And that's what I'm always striving for. That atmosphere and space where the guitar and vocal can interplay and create something my own within the genre.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues researches? What touched (emotionally) you from Soul music?

I started out playing in rock bands, country bands, cover acts, and first came across the blues from hearing the blues rock players such as Gary Moore, Jeff Healy and Walter Trout. It was like the hard rock players I was looking up to but with something else you know. So from there I went all the way back, until listening to the likes of Son house. Because I was a guitar player first, long before I tried to sing a note, I was following the great players and trying to mimic what they were doing. I later became a fan of vocalists more so than guitarists. The more I started singing the stronger this became. When you hear people like, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding or Al Green poring their heart out I just don’t think it gets any better than that.

"I think there is no better time for the blues than right now. I miss nothing from the past of the genre because we can now draw from all the history and great artist that have left behind amazing bodies of work to enjoy."

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

I wouldn’t say It’s influenced my views on the world, but it has certainly given me many amazing experiences that I cherish. Playing blues has taken me from Europe to the UK, SE Asia, Japan and the US as well as all over Australia. Made friends all over and had a blast. There is a community within’ the genre, bound by people who share this passion for Blues/Soul music that has allowed me to travel and be part of something very cool.

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

It's real music for real people. It's not focused on all the other trappings that surround pop and rock. It's about chasing the Groove and not the glory. And I think people really pick up on that.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

I've been lucky enough to work along side many amazing musicians which has been a great source of inspiration. Eric Martin from Mr. Big has been a huge influence vocally and touring as his guitarist gave me a lot of confidence. I have opened for acts such as Joanne Shaw Taylor, Diesel, Rick Price, Jon Stevens and Russell Morris who has been a great help. Michael Winslow has help opened doors also. The Johnny Rieger Band in Germany has helped me to break into the German market and became close mates also.

What is the best advice ever given you?

Just too always keep practicing and bettering yourself. Know your audience is a Big one! And really... Don't take it too seriously. For me it’s all about creating an enjoyable, adventurous way of life.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, studio and festivals which you'd like to share with us?

Oh man, so many great memories. I look back on them often. Traveling and playing with the Johnny Rieger Band in Germany was the most I have laughed in my life. Great times! Touring with my rock idols from the band Mr. Big was an actual dream come true, touring with Eric Martin and Pat Torpey throughout Japan was surreal.  To not only be acknowledged by people you have been listening to since high school, but to be in “their” band and live DVD release in Tokyo was an honor.  I have been fortunate enough to have shared the stage or toured with several acts that I been a big fan of. My latest album “Rollin’ With It” was recorded in Ardent Studios in Memphis with the cream of Memphis Soul musicians. STAX records legends! Then to have Lester Snell who co-produced with me say “It was MUSICIAN talking to MUSICIAN, That link that is unexplainable.” He love the album and that means a Lot!

Jamming with Police Academy star and good friend Michael Winslow inside a large inflatable cow each night at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to playing on steam trains, Paddle Steamers, Trams, Festivals, Theatres, Clubs , Old military bases, Churches to backyard bikie BBQs in Germany. It’s all very special to me.

So many great memories. For an Aussie that has grown up in the farm lands of central Victoria. Playing overseas is always a great honor. Wither it’s playing to a backdrop of the Black Forrest Hills in Germany, a Medieval Church in Scotland or playing alongside the River in down town Singapore. These are all special memories for me that I draw on often. Oh and one of my most memorable Jams would be The times I've joined the man of 10,000 sound effects Michael Winslow (Police Academy) on stage for a blues / beatbox showdown. Inside a venue that is actually a Large upside-down purple Cow!!! Fun times.

"The Blues is real music for real people. It's not focused on all the other trappings that surround pop and rock. It's about chasing the Groove and not the glory. And I think people really pick up on that."

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

I haven’t been doing it long enough perhaps to really make a worthwhile comment. But, It’s lack in any mainstream sense would be something. Perhaps the fears of the future of blues would be gaining enough of a young fan base, through to the decline in record sales due to online streaming and such. But, where there is a will there is a way. If good music is being made, I think it will find an audience.

I think there is no better time for the blues than right now. I miss nothing from the past of the genre because we can now draw from all the history and great artist that have left behind amazing bodies of work to enjoy.

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

That good music with substance and variety would dominate the mainstream market. Ha, you could have some fun with this question. But I’ll behave. Let's just say, all music has its place. It's just sad that majority of the highest exposure music is aimed at very young people who's music palate is very immature. Which is fine, but when it dominates the airplay etc. so heavily it's hard for, dare I say 'better' music to reach those masses and possibly enrich a few palates. Ha. 

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

Right now is a Great time for Blues Music in Australia. We have great blues societies and clubs. The Melbourne Blues Appreciation society (MBAS) is one of the most active in the world. I am honored to say I'll be representing them in the international Blues challenge in Memphis in Jan 2015. We also have some truly unique venues and venues for blues music here on Oz. We have the Blues Train which hosts a blues party aboard a moving train every weekend. 200 people and 4 blues acts and they are celebrating 20 years! How cool is that. So, I think right now is the most exciting it has been. There are amazing Blues clubs and Blues societies in Australia. It seems all the regional towns are having blues festivals and there are so many talented and varied Blues acts here in Aus that the rest of the world is starting to catch on to the excitement for the genre here in Aus.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from UK and United States to Australian?

We listen to all the greats from the UK and the states. Many of which tour down under due to festivals such as the Byron Bay Blues Festival. Which is a massive draw card for big international Blues acts.

But we also have a very rich local blues scene with established acts influencing up and comers creating our own sound in the process.

"Blues music for me has been a great joy, it’s allowed me to travel and meet many amazing people."

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

Growing up in Australia on the farmlands, middle of nowhere, where I still live today, I can’t comment too much on that. I would be speculating. My experiences have always been people celebrating good music. I have seen some great fundraising been done by blues acts and a strong community feel is always present.

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

Hmmm, so many possibilities. I think it would be really cool to go back to 1969 to my parents wedding. Hang out and converse with family members in their youth. That would be a real treat. But let's face it, I think we would all just take the cue from Back to the Future 2 and go back in time to make an easy fortune 'Biff' style. Yeah, that's what I'd do. 

Maybe I’ve watched too much sci fi over the years but I have several angles on this. Ha. I guess, if I was to be honest I would go back and invest or something and travel back to an overflowing bank account.  Who wouldn’t! I love Europe and the history of cities like Paris, Edinburgh, soak in the macabre of the era, but I think just walking around those towns with a good imagination would be enough to not waste my one trip in a time machine.  Perhaps I would go back to my parents wedding to be a fly on the wall. See everyone looking young, get a whole new perspective, I think it would be amazing. Warm the heart. Ha.

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

Well I'm 34 now. I don't think age matters. We have to remember that all the greats of the genre were recording some of their greatest works when they were rather young. The blessing of the genre is that age (more importantly experience) only gives more cred and acceptance. This does not exists in many other genres.

What is your BLUES DREAM? Happiness is…

My Blues Dream? ... I guess to play alongside one of the giants of Blues. Someone like Buddy Guy, Robert Cray etc. That would be amazing. But just to be converting people to blues and making a real connection at shows is a satisfying ‘blues dream’ I am enjoying as a reality on a regular basis.

John McNamara - official website

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