Interview with New York bluesman David Spectra aka The Masked Bluesman -- R&B, Funk Rock with Soul

"The Blues is Life, good or bad."

David-Ali Spectra: The Masked Bluesman

David Spectra aka The Masked Bluesman is an American, based in New York, blues guitarist, singer and songwriter. In the 80s WNYW/then new FOX TV in NYC on news broadcast summer 1987. It’s combined with a Hendrix tribute in which he played song that Jimi played as R n’ B sideman before his success, floating around for decades. The latter was on public access TV originally. He never seen them. People from all over have told him of them. In 1989 The Star USC newspaper, The State Newspaper (Columbia, SC 1994-97) Carolina Reporter Nov 1994, Sandlapper Magazine. WIS TV 10 PM Magazine 10-1-90, WIS TV news June 1994. WOLO TV 25 Jan-Feb 1995, perhaps more in Columbia SC to NY Daily News 10-27-00 David @ World Series.

There more David know of, but April 3, 1915 for two nights ago he was on public access TV MNN; interview and solo performance. In YouTube you’ll see his performing as leader, or backing up singers in mainstream live band works & solo shows as street musician (busker). SoundCloud has his recordings with The Blues Gang and Blues night house band. His nickname The Masked Bluesman is a fun based trademark.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos by Ivan Velez Sneed and David Spectra's archive / All rights reserved

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

Blues is Life, good or bad. I like the feel and sounds I hear from the voices to instrument used on Blues tunes. I recall when Blues was played on the radio in NYC (scarce) In the  50-60s Southern USA it was  aired alongside current R n B, or pop hits. Blues varies with cultures who listen and perform it. People have told me I'm a Bluesman no matter what style of music I play; be it rock, soul. If I play baroque, they all say that’s Blues. I don’t mind. I guess I’ve got soul.

How do you describe David Spectra sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I’m more R&B, Funk Rock guitarist in most MY shows. Blues is the base of everything I play. Straight Blues or MY brand of Blues is more modern than BB King’s but influenced heavily by his notations, note bending n touch. He has identity. He the 1st musician I heard with it. You know it’s him. I strive for that too. Blues Funk D is our opener on Blues Gang CD. I’d say the title Blues-Funk describes my sound. I grew up NYC, but visited the south frequently as child summers vacation with grands. Much Blues music mixed with Gospel, & Soul on the same radio station show. You see Jimi Hendrix came along n changed the Blues scene for generations to follow. He was like BB King on steroids (HUGE TONES)   

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?                                                          Photo by Ivan Velez Sneed 

My outlook is positive on Blues music in general. I don't see it coming back as charting material like 70yrs ago. However its foundation will always be in modern music. That’s why R n B so popular thru-ou the ages. Blues had a baby, it’s called Rock n Roll. I wish we’d see more young  American Nubian artist featured, not only one or two, and have many white young white artist hailed as 'Kings of the Blues getting big $$$ Or the fact many established Nubian bluesman will invest in a young white artist n ignore their own. Worse when they say, "Young black kids should listen to & respect The Blues and it artists. Whenever a young blues person joins them on stage they get threatened n chastise the young artist right there on stage for nothing except jealousy (Old master threatened). More so if audience really likes the youngster. I’ve had that happen 3x to me.

We young upstarts (I’m 60) are taking the Blues to another level. Today s blues aren’t necessarily our great grandpa’s blues. The purist among us passed along their trade to us n we applied our lifetimes of today’s Earth to our blues, OR the way we play granddads blues. That’s what connects Blues to Soul & R n B, Rock, Jazz, and most form of modern music, especially Hip-Hop. I’m not a fan but it has Blues written all over it. If you called Blues, "Hip-Hop Heritage" U might get a mini -market of young fans digging Blues? As a live performer, I see organics of this as kids move n sway to the beats of what we’re doing on stage or the streets, to tunes kids n some others never heard before. (Natures s true reaction s in them) I perform 70% of my shows as busker (street performer) TRUTH equal the reason why Blues, like Gospel are continuous. People want truths.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Many meeting of great talents n celebs. One night 1976-7 at Bottom Line, Buddy Guy s guitar pick shattered during 2nd tune. My friend Mike & I were front row n handed up our guitar picks. Mr. Guy felt both n picked mine. 1983 at Lone Star, I was nervous in approaching Buddy for a picture. He sees me, "HEY YOU (me) you re the kid with the guitar pick. Get over here!" This man meets, Kings, Queens, & Presidents. He remembered me. I felt 50' tall that night. I found out later this was seen as a token of respect; when a guitar gives his guitar pick to another guitarist. WOW I’ve had that happen to me also. Marlon Graves subbed for Alan Holdsworth 1976-77. I caught their show a Bottom Line. Best and still most influential concert ever. His guitar playing on position he’s the first Nubian guitarist I saw Hendrix influenced playing jazz and doing R&B dance steps n dressed the way I would be dressed on stage. I would meet him 30some years later on subway. We’re good friend ever since. He went to produce some R&B and reggae act as well as backing most major R&B artist. Mike went on the lead Mike Hill's Blues Mobs, Buddy Guy and BB King asked if they could sit in with him. Drink Smalls an internationally known Bluesman is the REAL deal. He’s the last of the Piedmont Blues guys of the Carolina s blues elders. He also a good friend of mine. I worked as sideman n sit in guest on his show when I’m in SC.

What is the best advice ever given you?

Advice! The best advice I got was "Do it yourself" as kid. As adult musician/artist, "Go for your own!" I learned from my 1st pro gigs 1978 touring the south. My boss gave me plenty of advisory things on how to carry yourself n what is a professional and what isn’t!! 1980-1985 I took a hiatus from music biz. I became a NYCTA Subway Conductor, on my way to realizing my childhood dream of Engineering or Motoring a train. I love trains. However when slash& burn job cuts came around to my division at yard services ended, I went back to music. Bad side of Blues n ATTITUDES MINE!  I could not go back to cloning records anymore. That’s when I took the above advice. I did perform w/ various R n B outfits while playing blues on the side. In October 1993 with clubs closed or closing, work got scarce. I took to becoming a street musician in SC. I lived there then. I haven t looked back. It’s been 21 seasons steady. Of course I still mainstream musician s work too; Studios & Bands. Also events & private parties!! The 1st celeb I met was Sammy Davis Jr. when I was 10. He was the epitome of class n' cool. He had come my neighboring school. He came shook hand with me n friend. We talked a few minutes. I learned from that about how to carry oneself. He was as cool as my Dad. Same with Muhammad Ali. Hearing a young cat sounding like my Dad when not in the ring n dead serious on life. That s Blues too!        

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

Wow jams & gigs. Too many. I dig playing in the south more than the north. Something in the air / weather. As Jimi said. “A warmer audience feeling!" I miss that. September 2014 I was inducted into The NY/NJ Blues Hall of Fame.  It took me by surprise. Nice to know many said  " Finally, or u deserve it!" ...Do I? Yes I do! ~ And so do many others more deserving. I worked opening shows for major acts 1978 where I got started. Jamming with the TSOP back up musicians was something else. Offstage they Bluesed it up, Then Jazzed out. I’ve never backed any big time acts...Only played in outfits with those who did. They kept my chops up. They still do only its different now, BLUES we’ve gotten older.

Columbia, South Carolina, I hosted a Blues Monday jam session at then top Rock club Rockefellers. I became host when owners saw whenever I left the stage people left the building. The Blues Gang, my outfit was formed there. While never an official band we had a rep NC, SC, GA, & Florida where we never All of were committed to other groups & businesses to become a band. I did take time to record us. The Blues Gang CD wasn’t meant for public as it wasn't completed. We only cut samples FOR a demo. My cuz leaked some stuff. People liked so it ...It came in handy for keeping the lights on when there wasn’t any work.   

"People have told me I'm a Bluesman no matter what style of music I play; be it rock, soul. If I play baroque, they all say that’s Blues. I don’t mind. I guess I’ve got soul." (Photo by Ivan Velez Sneed) 

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

Laughter is the best medicine! We (NY/NJ Blues chapter inductees were told not to post or contact other Blues organizations. Then I get emails from its ambassador on my case for post pic w/me and my award and that I have to respect him because HE got me inducted & his position because the other organization doesn’t  like him. After laughing, I called him 2 days later I called him & straightened him out. He wound admitting people were posting it as well and this interview invite for this interview +plus some invite for when I get back south.  My friend’s n family in the south weren’t laughing. And this guys say He wants to 'Unite the Blues'! Unite the Blues? Jealousy abounds him. Yes Michael, we laughed. But I got serious in telling him "Never Tell David -Ali Spectra What to Do!"

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

I snack on danger n' dine on death my life 24 -7 or should I say, "25-7 Eight days week!" Blues again, but happy too. WOMEN, the best part of the Blues. You can’t have the real Blues with or without them. Blues without women equal death. My happiest hours are Blues of happiness n joy. I don t fear death, but I do fear dying homeless. I’m homeless at times. My life s at the point of most people s retirement. If it weren’t t for busking, playing the streets, I’d probably live on them. I thank the lord each day I wake up for another day of life. I wouldn’t  want to live of I couldn’t  play music anymore unless I’m with a good woman I love, who loves me, and loved well. I don t see that happening. But it’s another happiness towards something greater in our lives. The ladies in life are big influences in the 'push' incentives. Dancing with them at shows with guitar. Oh yeah! Blues baby. U meet many biz types on Blues based circuits. I’ve met many women on Amtrak trains too. Any females into model railroading?       

"The best advice I got was 'Do it yourself' as kid. As adult musician/artist, 'Go for your own!' I learned from my 1st pro gigs 1978 touring the south. My boss gave me plenty of advisory things on how to carry yourself n what is a professional and what isn’t!!"

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

I don t know what I want to change. Maybe more blues n jazz stations on AM / FM radio. Also show more young folks who are into Blues and other forms of music. They need to put Arts & music BACK in the schools. Not the politics of "Were Broke," then point fingers! Who’s this Masked Bluesman from parts unknown? I’m not sure on this one. I can tell you he’s in development. He’s made few appearances on the NYC jams scenes last winter. He will be performing in the south later this year. Am I The Masked Bluesman? Hmmm well I tried on his mask. I now know why pro wrestlers hate having to wear mask. Sweat & more sweat. How he breathes I don t know? He may have a Bluesy future. Standby! Imagine the future with a Masked Bluesman on the circuit, especially if he’s good!           

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

Time is of the essence...I think and reminisce, but I do not want to go back in time. Memories do that! I’m about tomorrow. I’ll be 61 in July. I’ve no idea where or who I might spend my birthday with. All I can say is, "I hope I’m happy on that day!" I’m asked many times on Europe. I’d like to see the Blues scenes there & other spots on Earth. I’m glad for the internet. Things changed for the better musical $$$ after bought my 1st computer. It would nice if MY talent can by a house so I can build my model railroad n have some women, OR a good woman enjoying them with me. Be nice if that s this coming July, either way, "it’s all Blues!" You folks can catch some live jams with musicians on YouTube that may be in our collections as backups to media stars & soundcloud for some Blues Gang CD recordings done in South Carolina 1991. Thank You!

Photo by Ivan Velez Sneed

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