Interview with blues veteran singer Dave "Elmo" Bailey - the epitome of the well-traveled bluesman

"Chicago is the Mecca for the Blues...Texas is a different animal all together....great music scene. New York is more Jazz...all though there is a small scene...."

Dave "Elmo" Bailey: The Citizen of Blues

Dave "Elmo" Bailey is the epitome of the well-traveled bluesman. After fronting Elmo and the Deadbeats in his hometown of Manhattan, Elmo went to Texas where he worked with Chuck Rainey and Sumter Bruton of the Juke Jumpers. His career really took off when he spent five years in Chicago singing with "anybody who's everybody." It was there that he met his mentor, Barkin' Bill Smith and his close friend Felix Reyes. Elmo has also appeared twice on stage with the incomparable Les Paul.

Little Apple Records of Wayne Goins has released the debut album by Dave 'Elmo' Bailey, the husky-voiced blues veteran who is best known in the Chicago area as the king of the Windy City blues singers. This highly-sought after male vocalist'"who doesn’t just feel the blues, he lives it', played regularly with Felix and the Cats at Buddy Guy’s blues club, Legends’ during his performing career in Chi-Town. The blues veteran worked with Les Paul in New York City at the famed Iridium, several television commercials while in Chicago, and also performed with harmonica player Kim Wilson. 

Bailey’s style is reminiscent of big Joe Turner, as well as his other influences, Ray Charles, T-Bone Walker, Louis Jordan, and Little Willie John. A traditional blues artist who came from a family of musicians, Bailey recently relocated to Kansas City, Missouri where he is featured regularly with harmonica player Lee McBee and the Confessors. Elmo currently leads the blues band, The Nortons, and can be seen and heard throughout the Midwest heating up the mike with his blistering blues vocals. Now, Elmo is member of Steve Gerard & The National Debonaires.

Interview by Michael Limnios    Photos courtesy of Dave Bailey's Archive

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

The Blues saved me from a life of doldrums...it allowed me the chance to work out some personal issues. The Blues mean the world to me; it is a very healing music that is what the Blues has been to me....

When was your first desire to become involved in music? From whom have you have learned the most secrets?

I come from a very musical family and we started at a very young age. I have learned so much from so many people, just keep it real !!

How do you describe Dave Elmo Bailey sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

I try and just be me…try and keep it real...

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

I would say in my 50s...did all sorts of cool things...when I met up with Steve Gerard.

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

My two performances with Les Paul, the show with Hubert Sumlin...all of the recording sessions with Steve Gerard, we recorded all over the place...so many good memories...

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

Because it's real, it evokes a feeling ...honesty...so many feelings....                                                     

What are the differences between the local blues scenes from Missouri to Chicago, Texas and New York?

Chicago is the Mecca for the Blues...Texas is a different animal all together....great music scene. New York is more Jazz...all though there is a small scene....

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

The 2011 Calgary International Bluesfest....we closed the festival....what a great show!!

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

To.... just be myself.....and meeting Steve Gerard...

"The Blues saved me from a life of doldrums...it allowed me the chance to work out some personal issues. The Blues mean the world to me; it is a very healing music that is what the Blues has been to me...." (Photo: Elmo and Steve Gerard)

Which memory from Barkin’ Bill Smith, Les Paul, Felix Reyes, Kim Wilson and Sumter Bruton makes you smile?

Oh that is a great question....They all make me smile!! They are ALL Pros...but Bill would hut this note....and it just vibrated through me...I still hear that note....

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

Maxwell street… during the 50's....just watchin....!!

What are the lines that connect the blues of past and todays? Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

We still have the two Greatest Bluesmen still with us...BB King & Buddy Guy are the links that connect with the old days.....Gary Clarke Jr. is the future!! 

Dave "Elmo" Bailey @ myspace

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