Interview with bassman/humanist Lane Baldwin, a musical ambassador of DC and a gifted blues walker

"Blues is honesty, and its ability to heal. When you can listen to the Blues and it hurts to do so, but you feel better because you let yourself feel the pain, it can change your life."

Lane Baldwin: Music & Hope - We need

For Lane Baldwin, the Blues isn’t about chops – although he and his band have more chops than a Texas steak house. It’s about the stories, the emotion… feeling the pain and wrestling with it, then letting it go. “The Blues give us a way to give voice to our pain and to find renewal,” says the veteran vocalist and bassist. “And that’s a lot better than letting it eat you up inside. That’s the power of the Blues; that’s why it’s still important today, and always will be.”

During a career that has spanned forty years and six continents, Lane has toured and recorded with some of the best Blues musicians in the country. In 2008 he released Dig the Hole with his band Deeper Blues, a Power Blues trio that legendary bassist Johnny B. Gayden called “perfectly named”. He is now in production for his first CD as a solo artist. A Musical Ambassador for the Nation’s Capital of USA, and a gifted speaker and writer, Lane’s workshops are widely regarded as among the best in the industry. He also presents to students of all ages, promoting music as an important part of education, and promoting the Blues as a thriving art form. His essays have been published in the best-selling Chicken Soup® series and elsewhere, as he promotes positive living, and the servant-leadership management philosophy.

Lane is also the founder of Foodstock Charities, serving food and hope! – to those in need™; he is the cofounder of Low Notes for Nashville, a world-wide community of bassists assisting in relief efforts after the 2010 Nashville flood. Lane is back in the studio, recording tracks for "The View From Here", his first CD in five years. And people are already calling it a masterpiece of sound and emotion.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

The Blues is the best way I know to deal with personal pain. Musician and listener both can use the Blues to let the pain go and find a sense of renewal. It’s also a great way to celebrate the good things in your life.

What the Blues has taught me about myself is that I’m stronger than the pain.

How do you describe Lane Baldwin sound and progress and what characterize your music philosophy?

I don’t know if I have a specific sound, because my songs go from field chants to heavy Blues Rock. The thread through all of it is to serve the song and the story. I let the story tell me how the song is supposed to sound. And that’s the core of my philosophy. Another important factor – to me – is to not fall victim to overplaying. I’m happy to let fly when the song calls for it, but most of the time, I focus on creating the biggest, fattest groove I can.

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

Well, I hope the best moments are still ahead of me, but the best moment so far was the night I met Johnny B. Gayden, bassist for Albert Collins. We met at a Blues jam in Washington, DC, when the Icebreakers had a night off. After the jam, several people went back to the hotel the band was staying in, and Johnny spent hours talking with me, encouraging me, and teaching me. It was the beginning of a long, wonderful friendship.

Are there any memories from recording time and touring, which you’d like to share with us?

One of my favorite tours was in 1988, when several bands from the Washington, DC, area went to Italy to take part in the first San Remo Blues Festival. It was my first overseas tour, and it was a blast from one end to the other.

One of my most interesting recording projects was done in Athens, Greece, in about 1984. Our rhythm guitarist was Greek, and had friends that owned a first-class studio. We recorded there for a week, then spent a week on Antiparos to unwind. I love Greece, and really enjoyed getting to know the people there.

Which memory from Johnny Copeland, Albert Collins, Danny Gaton, and Mark Wenner makes you smile?

Johnny Copeland – sitting in with his band at the Gentry, in Washington DC.

Albert Collins – a late-night conversation with him, and his bassist Johnny B. Gayden, about the power of the Blues. That conversation was the beginning of my journey to “deeper Blues.”

Danny Gaton – seeing the 5-string basses he made. He took 4-string Fender basses and added a string, and this was long before any company thought of doing it.

Mark Wenner – the first time I got to perform with Mark was when I was working with Daryl Davis. Mark really opened my eyes about the right way to play harmonica. His “rhythm” work is very tasty, and he never gets in anyone’s way.

You have come to known great musicians. Which meetings have been the biggest experiences for you?

As I said earlier, Johnny B. Gayden was a wonderful mentor, and had a huge impact on me. I was just getting into the Blues, and he really helped me understand what it was all about, and also what my role as a bassist was. Without him, I don’t know if I would have done as well as I have.

Another very important person for me is my producer and manager, Polo Jones. He has been a major support for me, and has helped me bring my music to a much higher level. I’ve learned a lot about playing the bass, singing, songwriting and production from him. I’m really grateful for him, and for his belief in me as a musician.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues? What is the best advice ever gave you?

Well, I have to go back to Johnny B. Gayden. He’s the one who really helped me understand my role as a bassist. He’s also the one who encouraged me to write about my own personal pain, and to not sugar coat it. It’s where I got the whole “deeper Blues” concept that drives me to this day.

What the difference and similarity between the BLUES, JAZZ, SOUL, and ROCK feeling?

The Blues is the father of all the rest. If you listen to early Jazz – as well as some modern Jazz – you can hear the Blues in there. Later, as Jazz progressed, it strayed farther and farther from the Blues, incorporating different scales, and different feels.

Soul took the Blues and funked it up, but you can still hear the Blues in there.

So much of the Classic Rock I grew up on was really Blues played loud. Jimi Hendrix, Cream, Led Zeppelin – they were all Blues bands underneath it all.

The main thing that separates the Blues from everything else is how you can use it to deal with your pain. You can really wallow in your pain as you sing about it… really feel it, then let it go. It offers a sense of renewal like no other. To some degree, people have forgotten about this important aspect of the Blues. One of my goals as a musician is to remind people of the power Blues has, and what it can do for a person.

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?

Because of the power it holds, and because of its honesty. At its best, the Blues is emotion translated directly into song with nothing left out, nothing diluted. The Blues is as real as it gets, and that’s why people will always relate to it.

What's the legacy of Blues todays?  What Blues records you would put in a "capsule on time"?

That’s a tough one. I’d need a really big capsule to hold everything I’d want to have in there. There are so many great artists in every era of the Blues and I wouldn’t want to miss anyone.

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?

Yes, I do. Joe Bonamassa has gone beyond the Blues, but even today, his Blues are very, very powerful and authentic. Warren Haynes and his band are amazing, and their Blues are as powerful as anyone’s. The Tedeschi-Trucks band is another example of outstanding modern Blues. And there are a lot of bands that may not be superstars, but still bring the Blues in a great way. Just looking at the Washington, DC area, where I spent so much of my career, you have The Nighthawks, Linwood Taylor, Jimmy Thackery, Tom Principato and Cathy Ponton King. All of them are carrying on the tradition in a good way.

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

Yes, I do. I think there are some out there playing what sounds like Blues, but isn’t, because it’s lost the real power that I talked about earlier. It may be a Blues form, and use a Blues scale, but it’s lost the feeling in favor of ego-based solos with no point except to show off. I mean, I’ve heard songs that were really just excuses for guitar solos, and to me, that’s not Blues.

Which incident of your life you‘d like to be captured and illustrated in a painting?

My mother was a gifted pianist, and we would play together when I was learning to play the bass. I’d bring my amp down to the den where the piano was; she would play a song, and I’d try to follow her. It was great training for me, and was a very happy time for both of us. I’d love to have a painting of her at the piano with me standing next to her, playing the bass.

You have an interesting project Foodstock. Where did you get that idea? Would you tell a little bit about that?

Foodstock got started when I released Dig the Hole with Deeper Blues. We produced a benefit concert for the local food bank and called it Foodstock. (Stocking the shelves with food.) It did so well, that the town asked us to do another one later that year, and it became an annual event. We also produced other, smaller concerts and events, and for a two years, I did a monthly free Sunday dinner. Altogether, we raised more than $25,000 in donations (food and money) for the food bank, and provided several thousand meals to those in need.

I was also co-founder of Low Notes for Nashville – which raised more than $50,000 in gear and money donations to help Nashville bass players after the flood there.

These are just two of the recent ways that I have used my music to help others. I believe it’s important for all of us to do what we can to help those in need.

What is the “feel” you miss nowadays from the Soul, Jazz and Blues of the past?

Again, we’re back to the emotion, and the power the Blues has to heal. I miss that more than any particular style or feel.

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

Today it’s a lot easier for new bands, and “smaller” bands to reach an audience. The Internet has made it possible for someone like me to reach people all over the world. Dig the Hole – the CD I did with Deeper Blues in 2008 – has reached over 50 countries. I never could have done that back when I started.

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following in new generation?

Because of its honesty, and its ability to heal. When you can listen to the Blues and it hurts to do so, but you feel better because you let yourself feel the pain, it can change your life.

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from workshops and lessons with new generation?

I had a student many years ago who was in his 50s. All he wanted to do was to be able to play in the living room with his friends who played acoustic guitar. He studied with my for about six months, then I moved. It was several years later that he sent me an email to thank me. And he said, “you helped me make my dream come true.”

That comment means more to me than I can say, because it lets me know I helped make someone’s life better. And to me, that’s the true purpose of being here – to make the world a better place, one person at a time.

What is your music DREAM?  Bass is ……   

My dream is to continue to write and sing my songs for and bring them to the world.

Bass is the foundation of the band, the foundation of the music.

What turns you on? Happiness is……

Happiness is using the gifts I’ve been given to make the world a better place. Happiness is bringing joy to the lives of others.

When I’m not playing music, I love to cook, and even have a web site called Manly Kitchen where I share recipes and videos. I love cooking for others and seeing them light up when they taste what I’ve made.

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

What I’m doing right now is the most interesting time. I moved all the way across the country to work with Polo Jones on my new CD. It’s been a wonderful, challenging experience that has helped me grow immensely as a musician. And I’m looking forward to bringing my music a much larger audience than I’ve ever reached.

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

Treat it like a job, and a business, because if you’re going to make music your career, that’s exactly what it is. Focus on being the best musician you can be, and the best person. Be professional at all times, and be easy to work with. And make sure you practice every day!

Lane Baldwin - Official website

Photo by Anna Henderson

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