Interview with Colombian Carlos Elliot Jr. - inspired by heritage of Mississippi, African & Latin American music

"Blues may be sadness or pain but is more likely to be hope and joy, Blues is that cryin’ from the soul to The Good Lord for pain relief that frees you and connects you and no matter where it is played at, Blues is so powerful."

Carlos Elliot Jr.: Blues World On Fire

Native from Colombian hills, Carlos Elliot Jr. is a Bluesman who has been inspired by the Mississippi Hill Country Blues and heritage found in African and Latin American music. Sensitive to the need to promote the preservation of ‘Mother Earth’ and ancient traditions, he has been creating his own sound with a blend of his backgrounds, the beat of rural dance music of North Mississippi along with a self-discovered sense of spirituality in the Blues; Carlos plays guitar and fife as the pioneer of the Hill Country Blues in South America. He got his hypnotic rhythmic style playing in Delta Juke Joints and Backyard Blues parties in North Mississippi with local Blues legends with whom he learned and lived their culture, permeating their musical expression and Hill Country Blues traditions. Through this, Carlos managed to permeate his already rich and diverse Colombian cultural roots with the power and the deep spiritual feeling of Blues music.

After his second record “Mystic Juke-Joint Blues” created in the heart of Mississippi with his U.S. based band The Cornlickers, last band of the legendary Bluesman Big Jack Johnson, Carlos starts promoting his third record RAISE THE FIRE AMERICA in 2014 as ‘Power Blues Duo’ sessions. Carlos lives in Colombia and keeps touring and participating in the North and South America scene. He also supports and leads the Colombian Blues Society. He inspired by the beat of rural dance music of north Mississippi, the Hill Country Blues along with a self-discovered sense of spirituality in Blues music, creates a unique sound that blends his backgrounds in African & Latin American music with Rock n’ Roll, incites you to party and the dancing ritual. Considered the Hill Country Blues Pioneer in Latin America. After his third and successful record that showed a strong connection between the rhythm and melody with some fusions of Afro and Latino American rhythms, now he brings of 2015 album "Del Otún & el Mississippi" featuring the legendary master R.L. Boyce. He has experienced and lived the Blues & Rock’n Roll right where it was born, playing for years with local legends in Juke Joints and Backyard Blues Parties in North Mississippi.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What were the reasons that you started the Blues & Rock’nRoll researches and experiments?

I started listening to Rock bands when I was young but then I developed a desire of looking back to the roots and naturally found the Blues. It’s been a marvelous journey that took me to the place where the blues was born and experienced it right from the people that created it and are still doing it today.

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

The Blues has been that constantly inspiration to keep looking back to the roots in music and in life itself, Blues changed my path, taught me the spirit of music itself, and I found it on the way of a spiritual realization search and respect for ancient traditions. Blues may be sadness or pain but is more likely to be hope and joy, Blues is that cryin’ from the soul to The Good Lord for pain relief that frees you and connects you and no matter where it is played at, Blues is so powerful.

How do you describe Carlos Elliot Jr. sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

Carlos Elliot Jr.’s music is a very strong music, cheerful and rhythmic, is a very strong connection between rhythm and melody. Has been inspired directly by “Drums & Fife” and music from North Mississippi over the hills, it’s mixed with Afro-Colombian music (South America) and with little bit of Rock; Preserves the Mississippi Blues legacy but in a new language for the new generations. I play it in what I call “Power Blues Duo” just me and the drummer, Rural dance music motivated by the traditional duos in north Mississippi, we are the beat machine that incites you to party and dancing ritual. Conceptually and philosophically, my music is inspired by the Juke Joints, Backyard & house Blues parties and all those great moments I’ve been experiencing with my masters and friends in small towns up north Mississippi and that is one of the things that I sing for, bringing that joy of party wherever I play and that makes me so much happy to share. On the other hand keep looking back to the roots in African and American heritage; it took me to experience moments with our ancient and native communities, which have inspired me to sing to mother earth connection and preservation, mystic connections with nature as a path to find the universal father. I think I like what “American Blues Scene” highlighted last year, Carlos Elliot Jr. a Colombian with a mystic connection with the Blues.

What's been your experience from the USA? Which memory makes you smile?

From the USA I have recognized the spirit of music itself and have learnt how to get my own music, thanks for the love and respect I got for the Blues. Beside the road teaches you; whenever I tour around USA, it pushes you to do your best, very tight schedules and hard work to do. I love too, music in church Sunday mornings that’s such a peaceful and striking feeling I’ve experienced anytime I go. I remember 6 years ago one Sunday morning in a hot summer, back in those days in a very bad hangover after a wonderful night playing long in Clarksdale, Mississippi; I had to walk with no money toward the Grayhound bus station to catch the bus down to New Orleans for a gig that day and the sun shining up close noon time and hands carrying guitar cases and heavy luggage, walked for almost 2 hours! That was painful! That’s something now I remember laughing but I felt the deep pity for the hard working men and sharecroppers in the cotton fields back in the day.

Are there any memories from RL Boyce and James T-Model Ford, which you’d like to share with us?

One time we were hanging out together and drinking something while talking, I already knew T-Model so I had a little more confidence with him than RL. At a certain point in the conversation we ended up talking about singing the Blues and RL asked me to sing something while laughing aloud, but he was serious. T-Model agreed and suddenly we were having a teaching class. I’m still learning and picking up new things while singing but that day, in a few minutes I received a class of singing the Blues, we laughed a lot, but indeed that was my master class from them both.

"The Blues has been that constantly inspiration to keep looking back to the roots in music and in life itself, Blues changed my path, taught me the spirit of music itself, and I found it on the way of a spiritual realization search and respect for ancient traditions." (Photo: Carlos & RL Boyce)

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

I’ve been so much blessed meeting wonderful people like my friends “The Cornlickers” the Big Jack Johnson’s band which who I made a record with called “Mystic Juke Joint Blues” in 2012 and has being one of the most important encounters in my career, including a successful CD release tour from Chicago down to Mississippi. But also meeting my buddy RL Boyce has being one of the greatest events in music career, he use to be Jessie Mae Hemphill’s drummer and he played and learned from Mississippi Fred McDowell who was his neighbor in Como, Mississippi. So meeting RL and learning from him, playing any time I get in town with him in Backyard Blues parties and at his home has being such a wonderful experiences that has been inspiring me for years. Actually was RL Boyce who said to me, “For playing you gotta get your own sound, what is in my mind, you can’t get it, I can play what I wanna play but I can´t play like you, he or that lady play it”. Other advice came out from the great James T-Model Ford; one day said to me “You see that guitar over there? One day I said I gotta play this Motherfucker guitar! So I did it… nobody taught me”

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

Red’s Lounge in Clarksdale Mississippi is the greatest juke joint ever and stills running. I played for our CD release party with The Cornlicker during Juke Joint Blues Festival in 2012 and was one of the greatest shows. One night playing in a gig at a club in south of Chicago I ended up playing and hanging out with Billy Branch all night long talking about facing blues now days that was fun! Other great gig was a Saturday night playing in duo set with Junior Kimbrough’s grandson at Buddy Guy’s Legends Club in Chicago, was definitely fun, playing Hill country Blues in Chicago is like playing Blues in small towns in my country, people just don’t know what they are experiencing but finally they end up hitting the dance floor!

"Our African heritage is what connects us with Blues legacy, we got alive that rhythmic heritage and that’s so natural for us in Latin America." (Photo: Power Blues Duo, Carlos & RL Garcia)

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

Music changes naturally, but music industry doesn’t and now days we are facing music without purpose and spirit, just marketing. I hope we all keep looking back to roots, people start to recognize again native roots, ancient culture and respect, music then will go to another level, with all the legacy but in this time, we need a breath and it’s already happening.

What has made you laugh from “Del Otún & el Mississippi" studio sessions? Which is the highlight moment so far?

We entered the studio several times during a month where we were on tour in the States. In these sessions, we created new songs in the studio as well as recorded songs that we have been performing live for a while now. There is one particular song I always loved that has been captivating people’s heart since I wrote it and since we started to play it live, but out of all the recording sessions, I didn’t feel like trying it out. On the last day, on the last tape, without rehearsing, with the pressure of RL Boyce in the room watching us perform, we recorded one last song.  In one take, after a marvelous arrangement and production by Bobby Gentilo, we got the hit of the album “got This Feelin.” This lovely song went to number one for two consecutive weeks in Colombia and RL Boyce said at the end, “I like it!”

Your work with The Cornlickers from Clarksdale continues, and you have a new CD with them, Del Otún & el Mississippi. Tell me about your project, and why you named it after these two rivers?

Yes, this is the second recording The Cornlickers and I have done together in the studio and we’re still working together now. We have done some touring in north and South America and are projecting a European tour for 2017. We are musical partners and especially have a very strong connection with Bobby Gentilo who’s been, besides The Cornlickers guitar player, my producer and friend and we have lots of plans to keep working on the future. I came up with the idea of linking these two worlds together, you know my home town with its Indigenous and African heritage and history where I grew up and on the other hand the land of north Mississippi that has been all my inspiration and strength in my musical career and life. So the concept of the album links these two lands together, how a bluesman from the Colombian coffee hills plays this rhythmic electric hill country blues, connected to the place where it was born and directly from the hands of those who created and still carry it on. In the album, I tell a story that explains that we ain’t that different, actually it is the same story repeated in these two places in the same way. Slaved people from flat lands like the delta in crops and farms escaped up north to the hills and they were helped by Indian Americans, mixing their cultures where the drums and rhythmic patterns got together reviving and mixing ancient traditions, that’s hill country blues or as I called in my country “Blues de la montaña”.  So Otún is the name of the river that brings life to our community in my home town named after local African Americans and Mississippi is the “great river” as native Americans named it back in the day, so that’s more or less what we talk about in our more recent album.

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

We have had important Rock Blues bands in Colombia since mid-60’s; the Blues has been there all time but not exclusively as Blues bands though. In the mid 90’s appeared some Blues bands and has being playing around Rock scene. That’s pretty much what we have been doing, playing around Rock and young crowds to the new generations. I think that the most interesting period of Colombian blues scene is right now; we are considering each other and work for a common purpose as a society. Blues is visible now and since I’ve been playing in US scene helps a lot to highlight the Colombian Blues Scene.

What are the ties that connect the legacy of Blues from US to Colombia? How feels a Latino who plays the blues?

Our African heritage is what connects us with Blues legacy, we got alive that rhythmic heritage and that’s so natural for us in Latin America. Being a Latino playing Blues makes me feel powerful and satisfied for being accepted as an exponent of this culture, feels like taking an ancient legacy and doing a turnaround; beside I feel I’m doing a new expression of this music.

"Currulao is term for a rhythm in the west coast Pacifico but also means the party as well as the Juke Joint, you know!"

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

Particular acts like one of my friends in Colombia named Vulgarxito, and he does a kind of Chicago Blues but more with an Argentina’s sound ; he lays down on the floor and literally makes love to the guitar, it’s funny, he is a great guitar player and a great person too. The most emotional moment in the local circuit was a month ago in the “Rock al Parque Festival” the biggest Rock festival in Latin America scene and in front of more or less 9.000 people, my friend “Carlos Reyes” and I jointed the most 20 local musicians of different bands and made a tribute to the Blues in Colombia and all together with the company of “The Cornlickers” my friends and mentors from the united States. A Young crowd had the opportunity to experience a true legacy connection with all in the same stage, our Colombian Blues Society is growing, was emotional!

Are there any similarities between the Blues music and lyrics and any of Colombian folk roots music?

Yes, the Currulao is term for a rhythm in the west coast “Pacifico” but also means the party as well as the Juke Joint, you know! Are black communities and they are keeping their own traditions and music is primitive and rhythmic, that’s a part of our own Blues.

What touched (emotionally) you from your tour to other South American countries? What are your conclusions?

I had a magnificent experience in Chile early this year, met such a great team of bluesmen from different countries connected to the Blues and I learned that we have a great Latin American Blues community growing and is becoming like a family. It is very rewarding to find these beautiful people on the road with the same feeling in their hearts.

"For me Blues itself is the greatest example of our racial America’s condition, the mix of Black, white and Native American communities and traditions. At least that has been part of our understanding, our feeling of the matter in a personal perspective and is actually the main part of our speech, it has been very clear through the history."

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

Latin America is starting to rediscover the Blues and realizing there is a link between our musical roots. More and more people are getting to know about it, getting to recognize it, and more people are starting to feel it. The non stop work that some of the musicians, venues, festivals and promoters have done combined with living legends coming to South America has paved a path for what is the blues scene right now in Latin America.

Are there any funny memories from Juke Joints and Backyard Blues Parties in North Mississippi?

Oh yes, we have had many great times at backyard and house parties, every time is different. One day many friends were coming to hang out and at night and we made a big fire at RL’s family country house. Otha Turner’s family came with drums, we had tambourine players, me and the Cornlickers were playing all day and night with RL and Little Joe Ayers, everybody had a blast.  We made the fire so big we had to move all of our equipment further away before everything melted. We have in our memory and heart such a great experiences.

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

I would change that model of abuse and exploitation of artists, demanded for a false imposed market of disposable enjoyment and music only as fashionable product.

"Music changes naturally, but music industry doesn’t and now days we are facing music without purpose and spirit, just marketing. I hope we all keep looking back to roots, people start to recognize again native roots, ancient culture and respect, music then will go to another level, with all the legacy but in this time, we need a breath and it’s already happening."

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

In my opinion, it has done a remarkable job of helping people to question themselves and identify the nature of cultural and therefore our racial mixes in all of the America’s. For me Blues itself is the greatest example of our racial America’s condition, the mix of Black, white and Native American communities and traditions. At least that has been part of our understanding, our feeling of the matter in a personal perspective and is actually the main part of our speech, it has been very clear through the history.

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

Chulahoma Juke Joint any time during the 80’s or 90’s, at the Junior Kimbrough’s Juke-Joint. That was said to be one of the greatest juke joints before his owner passed away and it was burned down to ashes in 2000. And it was where some music came from those great masters I never personally knew but admired so much like David Junior Kimbrough and Robert Lee Burnside. Well, actually one night I went there with my friend Lightnin’ Malcolm to the Junior’s Juke-Joint’ ruins and play at night with my guitar connected to a little guitar amp, clamping, stomping and singing, then some birds got there, stood at the trees branches and then started to sing Junior kimbrough’s songs in chorus, I’m telling ya! was rhythmic, for real! Ask Malcolm if by any chance you can’t believe to me. We keep promoting our latest record and touring around taking our music and message everywhere we can, we want and we are ready take this joy, party and spirit all over the world!

Carlos Elliot Jr. - Official website

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