"They're both (Blues & Reggae) fighting for freedom, equality and justice, for peace, love and togetherness."
Rusty Zinn: One Love, World and Music
Rusty Zinn has travelled the world over performing Blues and Soul music. During that time he has performed and recorded with many legends in those genres and received rave reviews, accolades, and award nominations. All who saw and heard him marveled at his mastery of the idioms, his astonishing guitar playing, his soulful singing – a musician’s musician. But Blues and Soul was just the beginning of Rusty’s musical journey which ultimately led him to pursue his deeply rooted love and passion for all things Reggae.
He was raised in Northern California, and was introduced to music via both his mother's and brother's record collections. He bought blues recordings himself, intrigued by guitar players such as Robert Lockwood, Jr., Eddie Taylor, and Jimmy Rogers. Having practiced the drums as a youngster, Zinn purchased his first guitar at the age of seventeen, and then witnessed Luther Tucker performs in concert with Rogers. Within twelve months, Tucker invited Zinn onstage and gave him some guitar playing advice. By the late 1980s, was playing in several Bay Area bands, and had backed both Rogers and Snooky Pryor. Photo by Lee-Ann Wylie
A spell in Mark Hummel's backing band The Blues Survivors followed, and he later met Kim Wilson at the 1992 San Francisco Blues Festival. Subsequently, Zinn joined Wilson's band, alongside the former Canned Heat bassist, Larry Taylor, and played on Wilson's 1993 album Tigerman. He also toured, and played on Wilson's 1994 effort, That's Life.
In 1996, released his solo debut album, Sittin' & Waitin', on Black Top Records, which saw Wilson act as both accompanist and record producer. It earned Zinn a Blues Music Award nomination as 'Best New Blues Artist'. Confessin' was issued by Zinn in 1999, and then The Chill (2000), featuring Elvin Bishop on slide guitar. Zinn's more recent issues included Zinfidelity, Vol. 1 and Reggaeblue. The latter fused blues, reggae and soul stylings. In 2009, released Manifestation, which was recorded in Jamaica.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues and reggae culture and what does “Reggaeblue” mean to you?
Wow! Tough question! I'm not sure I've really learned anything about myself from trodding through both of these cultures but just being blessed to have been embraced by people in these cultures has taught me to become more humble. "Reggaeblue" is not really a positive memory for me, but such is life and I take the bitter with the sweet! The record label at the time was cutting corners in the budget and so that CD has a very unfinished sound, almost like demos! I re-recorded several of my songs from "Reggaeblue" when I went to Jamaica to work on my latest CD "Manifestation, so I was able to achieve the sound and vision I had for many of these songs when I wrote and recorded them.
How do you describe Rusty Zinn sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?
My sound is always centered around the respect for the tradition and foundation of whatever style of music I am exploring. I don't aspire to copy and imitate but to dive into the music and become one with the sound. I never think in terms of "pushing the music to another level" or taking a "modern" or "progressive" approach to it. I feel that often times when musicians take this attitude towards roots music, that it means they haven't done their homework and apprenticeship and therefore don't have a firm grasp and understanding of it. It's almost like a cop out and winds up sounding insincere and premeditated to my ears. If You just let the music and creative process flow naturally, it will be progressive and modern because we are here NOW! The bottom line to me is that good music is timeless! My music philosophy is to create songs that are beautiful and soulful in melody, lyrics and arrangement, to create something that people can remember and sing along with.
Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?
I would have to say the most interesting period in my life was when I went to Kingston, Jamaica to record my current CD release "Manifestation" with a number of Jamaican music luminaries. I would also say this was the best moment in my career. I can't really say that I've had a worst moment. It's all been good, some moments better than others but the only negative experience I can think of would have been dealing with having my publishing stolen from me on some of my original compositions from a record label.
What are the difference and similarity between the Blues and Reggae culture and music?
There are more similarities than differences in these two wonderful music genres. Both genres cover the subjects of love, of lost love, of financial hardships and poverty, of injustice, etc..... the difference I find is that there is more of a lyrical resolution in Reggae in the song, like a light at the end of the tunnel that you very often don't find in Blues, except for maybe when You hear them say "the sun's gonna shine in my back door one day". LOL! But I find in Reggae there is more hope in the song. There is also a lot of similarities in the two genres because Blues is a very important ingredient in the foundation of Jamaican music and before Jamaica's first indigenous music, Ska was created, Jamaicans were performing their adaption of American Blues and R&B as well as their own music, Mento which is basically a stripped down countrified approach to Trinidad's Calypso. I also see a lot of cultural similarities in the dress and style within these two cultures, especially in the ghetto. When I first went to Jamaica, it was apparent to me, that many of the people down there are living The Blues, they are The Blues! All of this music and culture is rooted in Africa so we know that it's all coming from the same source.
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Afro American culture of USA and Rastafarian culture?
I guess I would say the lines that connect the legacy of these two cultures is that they're both part of the massive and ancient African diaspora. They're both fighting for freedom, equality and justice, for peace, love and togetherness.
Why did you think that the Blues, Soul and Reggae music continues to generate such a devoted following?
These musical styles all continue to generate devoted followings throughout the world because they speak to the heart and soul of the people. There is a lot of truth and passion in this music. It's like natural medicine! Music can mend a broken heart and spirit! Music transcends everything. It's a universal language!
"When I first went to Jamaica, it was apparent to me, that many of the people down there are living The Blues, they are The Blues! All of this music and culture is rooted in Africa so we know that it's all coming from the same source." (Photo by Britt Hallquist)
What's been your experience from travel to Kingston, Jamaica? Do you remember anything funny from the city?
I don't really remember anything particularly funny although there was a lot of laughter between myself and the people there as laughter is an everyday part of my life. My experience there was bittersweet but wonderful at the same time! I did have some rough and negative moments when I was there but I sort of expected it as it can be a very tough city. However I would say that it was a mostly positive time there. I met a lot of my heroes while I was there and got to record with some of them. One of the highlights was Sly Dunbar's and Scully Simms' reaction to hearing me sing for the first time which made me feel like a million bucks!
What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
Wow! That's another difficult question to ask after so many years of constant live performances. I don't really like "jams" so I can't really comment on that but as for memorable gigs, there have been many. The most recent show that is a highlight of my career was opening for English Beat at Bimbo's in San Francisco a couple of months ago. We were received very well by the audience and treated like kings by the staff and sound people. Our sound onstage that night was top notch. Dave Wakeling from English Beat was also very warm and friendly and it was he who had to give the ok on us opening for them which made it all the more special.
Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?
There have been far too many meetings that have been important experiences for me in my music career but I guess some of the key meetings would be meeting and becoming a friend and musical apprentice to the great Luther Tucker. There are so many others but Sly Dunbar and Mikey Chung have also been very important in the development of my music. Another legend that I've had the pleasure to become friends with and work alongside is the great Hux Brown who is one of the Godfather's of guitar in Jamaican music. The knowledge I have gained from him is immeasurable. He played in my band for a period and he changed our sound greatly." Some good advice I have received has come from countless individuals and has simply been "don't ever give up!" However, the best advice I ever received came from Luther Tucker, "Russ, the Blues is nice but there's a lot of music out there. Always keep your ears wide open!" (Photo: Rusty and Sly Dunabar in Jamaica)
Are there any memories from Luther Tucker, Jimmy Rogers and Snooky Pryor which you’d like to share with us?
Far too many memories from my time spent with these Blues legends. Some really great memories of these gentlemen is when they would come to my folks' house to relax and eat dinner. Jimmy Rogers rehearsed there with me and my band and Snooky used to go fishing with my father when he would stay with us. They were all like family and they all considered me as their son. I have been very blessed!
What do you miss most nowadays from the old days of music? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I miss how music flourished more in better economic times. There were more live shows as well as more airplay for our music. These avenues created better opportunities to make money and survive through playing music. I don't really have any fear anymore as I am just happy to be alive and to be creating music in the way I want to. My hopes are to reach a broader audience through live performances and recordings and to continue creating the music I love.
What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas for songs most frequently?
I would say that the subjects of love both lost and found have triggered many songs in my catalogue but also struggle and hardship as well. Some of my songs are also based on what I observe in the world pertaining to corrupt governments and injustice. If You keep your ears and eyes wide open, it's possible to write a song about anything in life.
Which memory from Kim Wilson, James Cotton, Elvin Bishop and Sly & Robbie makes you smile?
There are too many smile evoking memories from my time with Kim to mention here as I toured and recorded with him so much in the past but some moments from these other legends that bring a smile to my face would be as follows: The first time I played onstage with Cotton, he came over to me while I played a guitar solo and said "boy, you take me back to West Memphis". The first time Elvin Bishop heard me play, he said "I love the way you play, you sound like a Chicago guitar player." When Sly first heard me sing, he already knew me but had never heard me sing or play. He said "Rusty, mi nah never know you sing so wicked" with a big smile of his own.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
I think I'd really love to be in Jamaica in 1966 with my fiancé. That year marked the beginning of Rock Steady, the most romantic musical period in Jamaica. It was a time of innocence, less corruption and violence. I would love to be there at big theatre stage show to witness a great musical review showcasing many of my singing heroes like Alton Ellis, Delroy Wilson, Slim Smith, Ken Boothe, Joe Higgs and so many others in their prime while I rub a dub dance the night away with my lady.
What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you? Happiness is…
What makes me laugh the most lately is all of the happy moments spent with my lovely fiancé and my Godson. As I get older I appreciate LOVE more than ever in my life. It is LOVE that drives me both musically and spiritually! One Love to the world!
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