"Well, blues along with jazz was invented by African Americans, so in a way, it has done good things for black people in the US. This music brings whites and blacks together. That was especially important in the 1950’s and 60’s here. But now blues inhabits a very small community and has little social implications."
Dudley Taft: Simple (Rock n' Blues) Life
Cincinnati based singer-songwriter and guitarist Dudley Taft is a tour de force in the blues world. Dudley Taft grew up in the American Midwest where he learned the values of friendship, roots blues, rock 'n' roll and a good ear of corn. In his music you’ll hear delta roots mingling with Seattle grunge, a southern twang with a high-octane propulsion. His unique sound—Delta riffs and Texas sagebrush served with edgy Seattle's rock intensity—reflects the eclectic journey of his 35 years in music. Dudley embraces the Blues—the foundation of all the great late ‘60s and early ‘70’s rock he loved as a teen. Local guitar hero Rob Swaynie in Indianapolis taught Dudley the value of music theory interspersed with B.B King, Led Zeppelin and ZZ Top riffs. Dudley Taft grew up in a country called the "Midwest", where he learned the values of friendship, roots blues, rock 'n' roll and a good ear of corn. With a background that includes Berklee College of Music as well as years touring with the hard-rock bands Sweet Water and Second Coming, Dudley is a thinking man’s blues rocker.
(Photo: Simple Life's album cover / Header photo by Stefan Schipper and Edward Sawicki)
There’s plenty of swagger here, but also the sensitivity of a thoughtful songwriter. In his music you’ll hear delta roots mingling with Seattle grunge, a southern twang with a high-octane crunch. Dudley’s music career began in high school when he founded the band Space Antelope with friend Trey Anastasio (of Phish). In the 1990’s he joined Seattle band Sweetwater, touring the states with Monster Magnet, Candlebox and Alice in Chains. After recording two albums for Atlantic, he left the band to resurrect Second Coming. More touring followed with an album on Capitol Records and a taste of success thanks to the single “Vintage Eyes” which made it to #10 on the Rock Radio charts. In 2006, Dudley started playing blues rock in Seattle, and released the albums: Left For Dead (2010), Deep Deep Blue (2012), Screaming In The Wind (2014), Skin And Bones (2015), Summer Rain (2017) and one live album Live In Europe (2016). Dudley's music can be heard in movies and on television, most notably The Sixth Sense, and on That Metal Show and Gene Simmon's Family Jewels. Taft's new seventh album "Simple Life" (2019) to be released on September 6th. On his new full-length independent solo album, the singer, songwriter, guitarist, and producer delivers contemplative songwriting between bouts of howling guitar and delicate delivery. For the album, Taft enlisted the talents an all-star cast of musicians to round out the sound. In 2017, Dudley was nominated "Best Guitarist" by the European Blues Society.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?
The blues and blues-rock I play is an expression of my taste, interpretation and sensibility. Growing up in the ‘70’s, most of the rock music I was listening to was based on American blues. I like the darker side of things and the blues can touch those dark emotions that run deep. Playing and listening to blues can make you realize that those dark feelings you think are only yours are actually shared by a great many people, and this is comforting to know!
How do you describe Dudley Taft sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?
My sound is rock that emerged from the blues, went to Seattle, and dipped back in the blues again. Like some sort of circle, I touch on a lot of different influences, but the voice remains my own. My philosophy is to let songs emerge without trying to make them into something they are not- the idea is to keep them true to themselves. “The truth talks, bullshit walks.” They are parts of you that need to come out. And if I am inspired to play a four minute solo at the end of a song, then that’s exactly what happens.
"The blues and blues-rock I play is an expression of my taste, interpretation and sensibility. Growing up in the ‘70’s, most of the rock music I was listening to was based on American blues. I like the darker side of things and the blues can touch those dark emotions that run deep."
How has the Blues and Rock counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
I grew up listening to British Invasion and Southern Rock which was heavily influenced by American Blues artists. That music shaped my childhood, and because I started playing guitar, it became my repertoire, so I felt very close to the rhythms and melodies and lyrics of those great songs. With many of those bands “getting high” and making music, I felt like that’s what I should do too! Hahahaha… (Sorry mom and dad.) Also, there was a lot of anti-establishment themes in the lyrics that resonated with me. That music helped American society through the rigidity of the 1950s. Peace, love and happiness. Plus, distorted guitar riffs, joints and beer!
What were the reasons that you started the Blues Rock researches? Where does your creative drive come from?
After playing in rock bands through my mid-thirties, I decided I needed a break with the genre, so I thought I would do a ZZ Top tribute band for fun. After searching for live videos of them playing the songs on YouTube (which was in it’s infancy at the time), I discovered Freddie King and thought the ZZ Top approach might be a bit narrow. So, my new band, Dudley Taft Blues Overkill, played a lot of Freddie King, plus Albert Collins songs, Johnny Winter tunes, BB and Albert King’s plus many more! I think I have always had blues influences in my playing but didn’t realize it until I did this research. As for my creativity – it’s hard to say where it comes from. But I love guitar-based music so much that I can hear new songs in my head, and I do my best to “catch” these songs as they come in.
How do you describe 'Simple Life' songbook and sound? What characterizes your new album in comparison to previous?
This album is about me and my beautiful wife being happy after all of our children have left home to start their own lives. We have a lot of freedom now and can travel about as much as we like. It is also about appreciating the very simplest things in life, like conversations with friends, hanging out with our dogs, drinking a few beers, or my favorite; tequila! A lot of my previous albums have concerned themselves with depression, loss and death. This one is much more about love!
"I grew up listening to British Invasion and Southern Rock which was heavily influenced by American Blues artists. That music shaped my childhood, and because I started playing guitar, it became my repertoire, so I felt very close to the rhythms and melodies and lyrics of those great songs. With many of those bands “getting high” and making music, I felt like that’s what I should do too!" (Photo by Robert Wilk)
Are there any memories from Simple Life's studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
We were prepared to record the album with an Irish drummer. We had done some preliminary demos outside of Paris in the countryside, honing each song and experimenting with arrangements. He knew the songs inside and out but turned out to be unable to come to my studio in the US (visa issue). Luckily, Walfredo Reyes Jr (Santana, Chicago, Steve Winwood, etc…) moved to Cincinnati about the time we wanted to cut the new record, so he ended up playing on most of the cuts. I think he did a terrific job!
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your paths in music circuits?
Avoid crappy hotels! Hahahaha… the world is a big place. One thing that is really amazing about being a touring musician is getting to see parts of the world and meet people you never would have if you were just a tourist. People love music all around the world – it really does connect us all!
Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?
The best advice ever given me was to just be myself. Being true to yourself comes through in your music. I discovered that what I do naturally gets the best results.
What touched (emotionally) you from the local (Cincinnati) blues scene? What characterize the sound of local scene?
I have only lived here for 5 years as an adult. So I don’t know that much about the music scene except that there is a lot of activity here. There are many venues of all sizes to play- so in addition to some great local talent, we get a ton of touring bands coming through! After getting to know some of the other blues guitarists here, I formed the Four Aces. That’s me and three other blues rock guitarists. We play shows where we all guest on each other’s songs and play some great cover tunes. Harmony guitar solos? Hell yeah! It’s really rewarding to be a part of this local music scene.
"The best advice ever given me was to just be myself. Being true to yourself comes through in your music. I discovered that what I do naturally gets the best results." (Photo by Robert Wilk)
What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?
Well, blues along with jazz was invented by African Americans, so in a way, it has done good things for black people in the US. This music brings whites and blacks together. That was especially important in the 1950’s and 60’s here. But now blues inhabits a very small community and has little social implications. It used to be very important but now is a fading genre. I am hoping there will be more innovators like the Black Keys and Jack White and Gary Clarke Jr to keep the genre vital. And I’m doing the best I can!
Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?
Well, my life is almost always interesting! When I moved from Los Angeles to Seattle in 1990, lots of opportunities presented themselves. I had been out of college for two years, and struggling to find my way in the music scene when I heard a band called Mother Love Bone from Seattle. That music spoke to me instantly because there was a lot of honesty and joy in it. When I moved, I quickly landed in a band called Sweet Water that had great success, and counted members of Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam among my peers. I was young and touring the country. It was a great time!
The early Seattle years were among the best moments of my career. When the band was in England during the mixing of our first record, I was lucky enough to hang out with Robert Plant for a couple of hours. At the end of the visit we all went into the studio and listened to one of our newly mixed tracks. He heard the guitar solo, turned around, looked at me with a big smile and gave me the thumbs up. That was a big stamp of approval. There were some very dark years at the end of my next big band, Second Coming. Lawsuits, hurt feelings, despair. That was no fun. I stopped playing for a little while after that. But time heals, and I was back at it with renewed vigor.
Why did you think that the Rock n’ Roll and Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?
Because it is real. Pop music can be really fun, but rarely does it stir the deep emotions that the blues can. Singing about despair mixed with triumph, you come across like a real person, unlike singing about happiness the whole time. Plus, there’s lots of guitar! You can’t really fake good guitar playing. People appreciate it, and grew up hearing it. It’s our friend!
"Avoid crappy hotels!… the world is a big place. One thing that is really amazing about being a touring musician is getting to see parts of the world and meet people you never would have if you were just a tourist. People love music all around the world – it really does connect us all!" (Photo by Robert Wilk)
Do you consider the Blues Rock a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?
I think blues rock is it’s own genre. If people tell you are too rock for the blues or too bluesy for rock, then you’re in the right spot! But really it draws from the well that is familiar to people of my age group – born in the 1960’s to the 1980’s. There is a comfort there. And my fans like to hear lead guitar! That’s their state of mind!
What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?
The best jams happen when everyone lets go. They stop thinking about the future and the past and are directly in the present. Sometimes that can happen when you are playing with famous musicians, sometimes it’s with your cousin. Hahahaha. I did a short tour in Sweet Water with Alice in Chains. We played first, and in the middle of the country people get there early. We were in “Quad Cities” Iowa, playing in a school gymnasium. The place was packed! Standing room only. When we started the first song, everyone in the place jumped up and down and the whole building was shaking to the rhythm. Wild. Another time I was in Second Coming and we played a ski resort in Vermont. The sun was setting and the cloudy sky turned red and purple. Seeing that and hearing the whole crowd sing along to my song was a killer moment.
Are there any memories from previous albums and recording time which you’d like to share with us?
On Screaming In The Wind (2014), we did a lot of work on the songs before we started recording. The sessions went very fast- one or two takes for the basic tracks.
"Because it is real. Pop music can be really fun, but rarely does it stir the deep emotions that the blues can. Singing about despair mixed with triumph, you come across like a real person, unlike singing about happiness the whole time. Plus, there’s lots of guitar! You can’t really fake good guitar playing. People appreciate it, and grew up hearing it. It’s our friend!"
What do you miss most nowadays from the music of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I miss real musicians from a lot of today’s popular music. I miss hearing more guitar, but there are some great new songs out there. I’m just going to keep doing my thing. Enough people seem to like it to keep me going.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
Getting paid a fair amount of money for the music. With streaming taking over, the revenues have been reduced by 90%. It makes it tougher for people to choose music as a career, and we all suffer for it.
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Hard Rock and continue to Grunge and Rock n’ Roll?
For me, those harder rocking lines start with T-Bone Walker, run through Johnny Winter, Freddie and Albert King, Buddy Guy and dudes like Dick Dale and Link Wray! They were copied in the British invasion bands, turned up louder and with more distortion (thank you Jimi Hendrix). These guys were still working from the blues, and they had that extra shot of energy that defines hard rock.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
I’m good right here, right now! After I finish this interview, I am going to plug my Strat into my Fender Deluxe and have some fun.
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