"It’s there even if people don't know it, Blues is soul, so anything soulful has a bit of blues and emotion to it. It's pure at least the true blues is to me."
Kirk Fletcher: My Blues Pathway
Widely considered one of the best blues guitarists in the world, Kirk Fletcher has commanded the respect and acclaim of critics, peers and fans across the globe. He is a four-time Blues Music Award nominee and has played with a variety of popular artists, including a four-year role as lead guitarist of The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Kirk first picked up a guitar at age eight, playing alongside his older brother Walter in their father’s church. It wasn’t just a gospel influence that Walter shared with Kirk, but an appreciation of many musical styles from Hendrix to Steely Dan. One of the most important lessons Kirk received from his brother was about having great guitar tone, something Kirk is known for today. That early experience guided Kirk through high school as a member of the jazz band, and by graduation he was collaborating with friends and taking off on road trip around Southern California. One day he found himself in a guitar shop, which ultimately became his second home after meeting Jeff Rivera, Robben Ford’s guitar tech. (Kirk Fletcher / Photo by Rick Gould)
It was in the next few years that Kirk’s full introduction to traditional blues occurred. He started seeking out other musicians who shared this same understanding – enter singer and harp player Al Blake. He helped Kirk to establish connections to other West Coast artists like Junior Watson and Lynwood Slim. So followed Kirk’s first gigs as a blues guitarist and eventually the recording of his first album I’m Here and I’m Gone for the JSP label. Al would also introduce Kirk to Kim Wilson, who invited him into his then-project, Kim Wilson’s Blues Revue. One highlight during this time was at Antone’s 25th Anniversary, which gave Kirk the opportunity to perform with his blues heroes Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton and Hubert Sumlin. So began four years on the road with the Thunderbirds and time spent with many blues artists along the way, including a brief stint with the late Doyle Bramhall Sr. Kirk contributed to the Thunderbirds’ Paint It On before embarking on another record of his own, a release entitled My Turn (2010). Since then Kirk has been singing and leading his own band between the occasional international tour as a member of The Mannish Boys and as lead guitarist for Italian, Eros Ramazzotti. Kirk released a live album Live At the Baked Potato Burning Blues (2014). Award-winning American blues guitarist Kirk Fletcher is to release his sixth album “My Blues Pathway” via Cleopatra Records. The 10 tracks will be released on CD, vinyl and digital on Friday September 25. “My Blues Pathway” follows hot on the heels of Kirk’s 2018 Blues music award nominated album “Hold On.” The album features a mix of originals, covers and two co-writes with Robert Cray’s longtime bass player Richard Cousins, with all music arrangements by Kirk Fletcher. Kirk recorded this album over the Christmas holidays 2019 in six days over a two-week period.
Interview by Michael Limnios Special Thanks: Bill James (Glass Onyon) & Clea Zajc
What do you learn about yourself from the blues culture and what does the blues mean to you?
The blues is life to me because the originators were singing of life experiences. And I somehow could relate to it on some kind of level at a young age. Maybe because of my religious background it seemed closely related. And it just seemed to be pure emotion, and I have searched my whole life for that. Be it happiness, sadness, anger, Love.
What were the reasons that you start the Blues researches? What characterize your sound and songbook?
It started by hearing these great guitar players like BB King, Bobby Bland with Wayne Bennett, SRV, Albert Collins, and many others. And I was always a person to try to dig deeper so I would read who my idols listen to and I would buy those records, like so many others have done. Seeing BB King on TV and getting a chance to see Albert Collins live shaped my early sound and playing. Also my dynamics. Songbook constantly changed from day to day. One day Stevie Ray the next Sonny Boy Williamson. And that always kept it interesting. (Kirk Fletcher / Photo by Rick Gould)
"My drives comes from what made me excited about music and blues music in the beginning of my Career. Trying to balance being an artist and having a social media presence. And booking dates I would say."
How do you describe “My Blues Pathway” sound and songbook? Is it easier to write and play the blues as you get older?
"My Blues Pathway" is a reflection on my life at this time. Where I started and how I have grown. I thought about the things that inspired me when I first started playing Blues clubs. The people and the musicians. When I first started out, I wasn't a singer or songwriter. On "My Blues Pathway" I wanted blend original songs with covers. I chose covers mostly by the lyrics and having a personal connection with the song I was covering. The older I get it's still the same. Some songs come easy and some songs the process is longer, but that’s what I love about it.
How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
I don’t listen to Rock music hardly at all. On the other hand Blues music teaches you about many things. It’s a study of history. If it wasn’t for blues, I probably wouldn’t have experienced any journeys or at least not in the same way. If you travel it changes your whole perspective on the world and how other people live. Also, how other countries value there culture and heritage. I’ve learned a lot.
Where does your creative drive come from? What was the hardest part to be a blues musician nowadays?
My drives comes from what made me excited about music and blues music in the beginning of my Career. Trying to balance being an artist and having a social media presence. And booking dates I would say.
How do you want your music and lyrics to affect people? What do you love most about the act of writing songs?
I want people to be able to relate and hopefully helps and inspires. I love telling a story and also talking about things that I feel are important to me.
"The blues is life to me because the originators were singing of life experiences. And I somehow could relate to it on some kind of level at a young age. Maybe because of my religious background it seemed closely related. And it just seemed to be pure emotion, and I have searched my whole life for that. Be it happiness, sadness, anger, Love." (Kirk Fletcher / Photo by Rick Gould)
Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice has given you?
Every single thing has been important to me, good or bad. Either what to aspire to or what to look out for. The guy at Lamar's records in Long Beach, Al Blake, Jr. Watson, Chris Cain, Kim Wilson, Rusty Zinn, Lynwood Slim, James Cotton, Hubert Sumlin, and it would be a hundred more tomorrow! hahaha! Arthur Adams telling me to join BMI was huge!! That is one that comes to mind. Friends telling me to start singing, even if it did take me forever to start.
What moment changed your life the most? Are there any memories Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton, and Hubert Sumlin which you’d like to share with us?
The moment that changed my life the most was becoming a father, musically I would say when I started singing. Playing with James Cotton and him liking how I played was amazing for me and a memory I will forever cherish. Pinetop Perkins was an absolutely magical person and his ties with so many great musical influences of mine, made just being in his presence life changing. Playing with Pinetop was just the real deal authentic blues. Hubert Sumlin was just a beautiful person and very generous with his stories and on the stage and it was an incredible experience to play with him.
What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits nowadays?
I would say doing my Youtube videos and the fans and their comments. And that also definitely touched me with their kind words. When we could play music live, people coming out to shows and appreciating what I do always touches me.
What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better blues musician? Happiness is…
The hardest obstacle to overcome is just simply dedicating your life to your music, and having no security. I would say writing songs and following my own path has made me a better musician. Happiness is something that comes from following your dreams and achieving some of them.
"I would say doing my Youtube videos and the fans and their comments. And that also definitely touched me with their kind words. When we could play music live, people coming out to shows and appreciating what I do always touches me." (Kirk Fletcher / Photo by Rick Gould)
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
I should have start singing sooner and writing songs.
Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?
I think it’s absolutely both.
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
There are so many to name, but joining Charlie Musselwhite’s band, and joining The Kim Wilson Blues band stand out because I was a young guy and I got to experience a lot and I still lived at home so it was no pressure. And also playing with the older generation bluesmen was absolutely a thrill!!
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I miss being able to hear blues in clubs 7 nights a week and sitting in with your peers and Saturday afternoons at the Blue Cafe. I hope that it will come around and more live music clubs will come back and my fear is that it won't.
Are there any memories from your European tours which you’d like to share with us? What has made you laugh?
Probably hearing a band play one of my songs like El Medio Stomp or Blues for boo boo. It’s like wow I’m so humbled by that. And something that made me laugh, probably when people dance and laugh at my jokes on stage!
That I got to play with BB King and Albert Collins.
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Jazz and continue to Rock, Soul and Gospel music?
The Song, The history, Soul...
"Every single thing has been important to me, good or bad. Either what to aspire to or what to look out for."
(Photo by Rick Gould)
What would you say characterizes LA blues scene in comparison to other US local blues scenes and circuits?
I’d say it’s a smoother in general, but I know some incredible and very versatile musicians from the west coast. A lot of great bluesman moved to the west coast like T-Bone Walker and I believe it influenced there sound. It was a lot of blues made on the west coast.
What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from the Antone’s 25th Anniversary Week, TX?
Ted Harvey's (drummer for hound Dog Taylor) blowing his whistle to get everyone on stage was so funny and awesome at the same time! Seeing Kim Wilson stop and listen to James Cotton play with me, and laugh with me. And a great picture I have of me and James Cotton. And me getting to play with Hubert Sumlin.
What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?
It’s there even if people don't know it, Blues is soul, so anything soulful has a bit of blues and emotion to it. It's pure at least the true blues is to me.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
I would want to go to the Bobby Blue Bland session's for "Dreamer", and hear BB King live during the mid-sixties. Catch a week at the Fillmore East or West, Chicago in the mid to late sixties. The list can keep going!!
Kirk Fletcher / Photo by Rick Gould)
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