Interview with guitarist, singer and songwriter James Armstrong - was born to play the blues

"The blues has changed for the good and bad. A lot of the blues today is basically rock blues. The guitar playing is fast and a there is a lot of distortion; for me some of it does not have any feeling."

James Armstrong:

Blues Been Good to Me

Guitarist, singer and songwriter James Armstrong was born to play the blues. His mother was a blues singer. His father played jazz guitar. Born in Los Angeles, California, Armstrong formed his first band in the seventh grade and by the age of 17 he was touring the country. Today he travels the world and continues to infuse his voice and guitar playing with his unique personality and seasoned skills. In his twenties James was the youngest guitar player to play in Smokey Wilson’s legendary band. James also helped form a band in Southern California called Mama Roo. That collaboration resulted in an album of the same name, and his first recording contract with Crescendo Records. In the early 90’s James got plenty of exposure to his musical influences, including Albert Collins, who spent quality time with James and taught him a few tricks. Shortly after that he was discovered and signed by HighTone Records owner Bruce Bromberg who found Robert Cray, and Joe Louis Walker.

Over the years Armstrong has performed in many countries including North America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East. He has worked beside Albert Collins, Buddy Guy,  Keb Mo, Chaka Khan, Coco Montoya, Walter Trout, Tommy Castro, Roy Brown, Shemekia Copeland, Charlie Musselwhite, Ricky Lee Jones, Joe Louis Walker, Mitch Mitchell (Hendrix’s drummer), Peter Tork (The Monkees), and Jan & Dean, just to name a few. Catfood Records announces an October 20 release date for Blues Been Good to Me, the new album from James Armstrong, which he produced with Blues Music Award-winner Johnny Rawls. This is his third album for Catfood, following Blues at the Border (2011) and Guitar Angels (2014). Recorded primarily at Sawhorse Studios in St. Louis, as well as at associate producer Jim Gaines’ Bessie Blue Studio in Tennessee, Blues Been Good to Me showcases the vocals and guitar of James Armstrong, backed by a hand-picked group of musicians who have played with him on numerous live shows, which made for a very comfortable fit. The band includes Matt Murdick on keys, vocals (worked with Buddy Guy, John Primer, Little Milton, and Johnny Johnson); Johnny McGhee on rhythm guitar (worked/recorded with Marvin Gaye, Natalie Cole and, George Duke); Andrew Blaze Thomas on drums (worked with Billy Branch, Bernard Allison, Anna Popovic and Ronnie Baker Brooks); and Darryl Wright on bass (worked with Mavis Staples).

Interview by Michael Limnios      Photos by Randy Squires

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

In my lifetime, I’ve played rock and country music. When I was young and started playing the blues, it seemed like blues fans were calmer/easy-going then some other genres of music.

How do you describe your sound and songbook? What has made you laugh from 'Blues Been Good to Me' studio sessions?

My sound and song book are a combination of the influences I grew up with: jazz, blues, rock and country. I was so worried the first day in the recording studio because I didn't feel I was prepared. But on the first day, I started laughing at life because I had hired close friends who were a really good rhythm section and we recorded six songs in the first day.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Irving Ashby was Nat King Cole‘s guitarist for many years; when I was growing up, he and my father were my biggest inspirations.

"Being able to travel the world playing the blues has made me realize how many good people there still are in the world."

(Photo by Randy Squires)

Are there any memories Albert Collins, Roy Brown, and Bruce Bromberg (HighTone) which you’d like to share with us?

Albert Collins told me once no matter what happens in your life just keep playing your guitar. When I first played with Roy Brown, he never looked back at the band; we were hired musicians. When I did my first solo, he turned around, looked at me and smiled and motioned for me to come up to the front of the stage. Roy Brown was a gifted man and treated me like a son. Bruce Bromberg taught me so much about the music business. When I met him, I did a lot of Jimi Hendrix; he would not sign me to HighTone Records for three months. He told me to go home and practice and find myself; then, he would sign me.

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

The blues has changed for the good and bad. A lot of the blues today is basically rock blues. The guitar playing is fast and a there is a lot of distortion; for me some of it does not have any feeling.

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

If I could change something in the music world it would be that blues and jazz would have more respect.

How has The Blues & Soul music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Being able to travel the world playing the blues has made me realize how many good people there still are in the world.

What is the Impact of Blues/Soul music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?                 Photo by Randy Squires

Blues music has not always been a melting pot for the races, but now it seems like it’s bringing more people together. Unfortunately, there are not enough young African-Americans listening to the blues.

"My sound and song book are a combination of the influences I grew up with: jazz, blues, rock and country. I was so worried the first day in the recording studio because I didn't feel I was prepared. But on the first day, I started laughing at life because I had hired close friends who were a really good rhythm section and we recorded six songs in the first day."

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

If I could take a trip in a time machine, I would like to go and hear all of the greatest guitar players of all music, sitting around jamming and talking about guitar.

James Armstrong - Official website

 

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