Interview with Finnish roots singer/guitarist Pertti Puusaari - expressing his blues with gospel feeling

"The Blues is very primitive music. It generates feelings that rise from very inside me. Music, its rhythm and simple words let me have words and expression of basic feelings."

Pertti Puusaari: Blues Of 1000 Lakes

Pertti Puusaari is a blues fan and singer guitarist from Finland. He started actively to play acoustic guitar at the age of 13. His first touch with fingerpicking blues happened when he got his hands on Stefan Grosman’s book Finger Picking Guitar Techniques. From that moment Mississippi John Hurt and Mance Lipscomb have been his major influences. All the time there has been room for Gospel music and use of fingerpicking guitar as an accompaniment instrument. Around ten years ago Puusaari fell in love with National style resophonic guitars. That meant learning of open tunings and slide guitar.

Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, Robert Wilkins and Blind Willie Johnson together were artists to show the playground while todays artists, guitarists Michael Messer and Jonne Kulluvaara showed the way to go there. Nowadays Gospel blues play major role in Puusaari’s interest. Fingerpicking gospel blues from artists like Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis and slide gospel blues from Fred McDowell, Robert Wilkins and Blind Willie Johnson are all at the top of the list. Mostly Puusaari plays with the National, Fine Resophonic and Michael Messer guitars, each guitar having its own special sound. Pertti Puusaari is seen every now and then expressing his blues alone or with Duo Resophonic Gospel Session together with double bass player Pekka Maalo. He also actively participates other compositions including accompaniment his wife.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Absolutely great question - this is why I am in the blues. For me blues is very primitive music. It generates feelings that rise from very inside me. Music, its rhythm and simple words let me have words and expression of basic feelings. This means that the blues is central to my being really important for me.

How do you describe sound and what characterizes Pertti Puusaari´s music philosophy?

Sound is primitive. Rhythm and power together. But most of all is the sound of feelings inside me. Of course there are different sounds – the soft touch of fingerpicking country blues like Mississippi John Hurt, hard blues from Son House and finally gospel sounds from Blind Willie Johnson and Gary Davis. All these are played with National style resophonic guitars. So there is a different tone and expression.

National style resophonic guitars - it’s so easy to love them and their sound. These highly technical instruments are combined with blues and gospel. There something powerful there: the beauty of guitars, their technology, their sound and my expression. That’s part of my music philosophy.

My other side is to accompany my wife. This means beautiful gospel music. Not at always blues. Typically with my sound there is a tendency towards gospel blues. All though bases are the same - there is a difference. It’s what you wanna express with your music.

"You can see there are a lot of different blues artists in Finland. All the styles are covered. From acoustic fingerstyle country blues to a more modern approach. So there are a lot of lines and transfer of the legacy from the States to Finland." (Photo  by Jorma Niemelä)

From whom have you learned the most secrets about the blues music?

This is a long story. But it started in Central Finland when at the age of 13 I got my hands on Stefan Grossman’s book Fingerpicking Guitar Techniques. Along with late night blues radio, blues started to grow inside me. Mississippi John Hurt, Mance Lipscomb, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, ...  familiar names to all of us. But I´ve  got to say that Stefan Grossman created miracles. Blues teaching was available there in my home town.

There are other people, too. Encouragement by British blues artist Michael Messer has been absolutely invaluable. I would also like to mention my guitar teacher, Finnish blues guitarist Jonne Kulluvaara and my singing teacher Elina Hjelt.

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

It’s so close to the real human being. It talks to people listening to it and mostly people doing it, expressing themselves through it. That’s why. So if this music opens our minds and lets us talk - why not?

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

There have been a lot of good jam sessions. I remember some with the special feeling of learning something new. Sometimes there was just the feeling of flow. I believe the most memorable gig was my first one song gig playing slide and singing - nearly 700 people were in the audience and I survived. Very good ones were those made in local small theatre Eräs Teatteri. We were there with my duo Resophonic Gospel Session – Double Bass player Pekka Maalo and me. It was a combination of acoustic blues and poems telling stories about men. This was very touching; both elements completing each other.

"Typically with my sound there is a tendency towards gospel blues. All though bases are the same - there is a difference. It’s what you wanna express with your music." (Photo: Pertti & Mika Soramäki)

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

For me the past was simpler. Just a guitar and a man - no PAs. A lot of soul. Now all are so educated and skilled professionals that there is a risk of losing the soul. Anyhow this is a good basis to widen the perspective of blues; find out new ways to express feelings in the mood of the blues. So there is a rigid ground to further develop.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Finland. What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from the States to Finland?

You can see there are a lot of different blues artists in Finland. All the styles are covered. From acoustic fingerstyle country blues to a more modern approach. So there are a lot of lines and transfer of the legacy from the States to Finland. No problem with that.

If you could change one thing in the local blues scene and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I would like to see more acoustic blues. Of course I love Gospel blues and it’s very seldom heard in Finland in a major role. Maybe that’s my task.

When we talk about the blues, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. Apart from the old cats of blues, do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Of course. It’s up-to-date music. For me blues is a way to express my feelings today. And feelings are a reality every day. We all know that ordinary life is not always so beautiful - and that’s the blues. But we´ve got to remember that things that happen may be in some existence different, based on different times in society. But anyway feelings are the same. So there is real blues today.

"The blues is central to my being really important for me."

Do you know why the sound of slide and resonator is connected to the blues? What are the secrets?

It’s easy to cry with slide. Sliding notes - blue notes. It seems to be so that everyone has their own style and touch with slide. That is one secret.

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

I would like to stay with Blind Willie Johnson.

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