"I do think music is a direct reflection of what’s going on in the world yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I also believe with a powerful song you can sway the direction of a culture, but few have ever done that."
Hector Anchondo: All Directions Blues
Hector Anchondo doesn’t just play the blues— he lives and breathes the blues. At 16-years-old, the budding musician picked up his first guitar and never looked back. He began an instant love affair with the instrument, especially Fenders. Born in Omaha, but raised seven miles outside of Salem, Missouri, Anchondo was able to take advantage of the tranquil farm life and learn guitar at a steady pace. He was drawn to those artists who played Fender Stratocasters like Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Clapton, but also respected the country greats such as Johnny Cash and Hank Williams Sr. As he got older, his propensity for music only intensified. After playing countless shows at family gatherings and hole-in-the-wall dive bars, Anchondo made the move back to Omaha, Nebraska in 2000. His first official recording, Rookies of the Year, was with his first band, Anchondo, and featured more energetic, Latin-influenced grooves. Recorded by the infamous A.J. Mogis of Presto! Studios (and later Saddle Creek Records), the album funded any touring for the next few years. With a home base in Omaha, it made traveling much easier.
In 2002, Anchondo and cousin George Keele released an acoustic rock album, Somewhere in Middle America, and followed up with 2004’s The Audience is Waiting and an EP, 2006’s North of the Border. After years of touring and living on Ramen Noodles, Kings of Nowhere was released in 2008. At the time, Anchondo had gained significant amounts of traction and even without promotion, would sell out shows. However, once the economy crashed, people suddenly stopped going to shows so around 2010, Anchondo made the brave decision to take the solo route. Only this time, his focus was on the blues, which didn’t happen by accident. Friend Tim Convy and owner of the St. Louis-based label, Red Bird Records, contacted Anchondo about recording a blues album. He jumped at the opportunity. He released the Kickin’ Up Dust EP (2012), his full length album “Young Guns” (2014) and his album “Roll The Dice” (2017). Sharing the stage with notable artists such as Mato Nanji of Indiginous, Magic Slim, Royal Southern Brotherhood, Hamilton Loomis, and Coco Montoya, and getting private guitar lessons from James Brown’s guitarist Damen Wood, gave Anchondo the confidence to pursue his dream. Hector won first place for solo/duo performance at the 35th Annual International Blues Challenge (IBC), held in Memphis, Tenn., by The Blues Foundation in 2020.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues culture and people and what does the blues mean to you?
I’ve learned a lot from the Blues culture, the thing I learned first, was that it was where I belong. It’s a community of loving, supportive, and accepting folks. The music business can be a cruel and hard lifestyle, but in the Blues world it doesn’t seem hard at all. It’s like going to a family reunion wherever we go. Ultimately, what I’ve learned from the Blues culture is that it’s one big happy Blues family.
Blues to me means full, unapologetic; self-expression, how amazing is that? To be able to fully express oneself is a feeling I wish everyone was able to experience. Ironically, if there were more Blues in this life, this world would be a much happier place.
How do you describe Hector Anchondo sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?
The way I’d describe the sound is that it’s an eclectic mix of several forms of blues. I love all Blues and for me, it’s hard to just pick one and stick with it forever. I love to mix it up and go Blues in all directions. The songs are a reflection of my life, so when you listen to the songs you’re also looking through a window into my soul.
My philosophy on music is an expression of life. It’s a mind, body, and soul kind of expression. I believe to have wonderfully powerful music: you need to have a positive mind, a healthy body, and a truthful soul then you can hit the audience with something powerful that touches deep down into their body, mind, and soul.
How has the Rock n’ Blues music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Rock n’ Blues and music in general has helped me see the beauty in everything, that not everything is the same, even the tree is filled with leaves growing in every direction, but together it stands as a marvel. Like, watching the swirls in the river, amongst its infinitely changing canvas it’s, in my eyes, perfect. A great Blues solo makes me see all those things, because just like the tree and river there are countless ways to express it and however it comes out, including mistakes, is absolutely perfect.
"Blues to me means full, unapologetic; self-expression, how amazing is that? To be able to fully express oneself is a feeling I wish everyone was able to experience. Ironically, if there were more Blues in this life, this world would be a much happier place." (Hector Anchondo / Photo by Blake Harris)
Where does your music and lyrics creative drive come from? How do you want it to affect people?
My music and lyrics come from my everyday life as well as the people I try surround myself with. My writing style is like a pressure cooker, I wait and absorb and then it all comes rushing out. I want to impact folks in an emotional way, I want to touch their souls and attempt to make them feel something or take them to a place and feel of my past.
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Two of the most important meetings were when I got to meet Chris Layton of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Double Trouble and Mr. Buddy Guy. I met Chris around 2004 in Austin, TX during South by Southwest Festival, he had just finished drumming for his band at the time and he was cool enough to come meet everyone after, I got to shake his hand, there wasn’t much exchange of words, but that meant a lot to me because I had grown up loving SRV and that was a big moment.
I got to meet Buddy Guy in Chicago at his club Legends in 2010. My bassist and at the time and friend, Todd Fackler, was playing bass for Tail Dragger and he’d always put me on the guest list. Getting in for free was the only way I was getting into the show because Chicago is expensive and I was bussing tables at a Cuban restaurant… needless to say money was tight. It was at that show that I noticed people whispering to each other and I looked to see what the fuss was about and there sat Buddy Guy in the back where the bar meets the wall. I wasn’t going to say anything because I didn’t want to bother him, but Todd said go on over there, he’s a cool guy. I approached him and right away I could tell he was a really cool guy even off stage. I said, “hello and nice to meet you.” Buddy said, “nice to meet you too.” I asked how things were going and he said good, but went on to say he’d been at the Kansas City, MO airport all day and that he finally got back to Chicago. Then he said, but that’s part of the business. That’s always stuck with me. Sometimes in this business things get tough and stressful, but it’s all part of it, and that thought makes it easier.
When I was seventeen I went to a singer-songwriter workshop in Rolla, MO to listen to a traveling musician speak and he said don’t give away your music for free because then they won’t value it and may not take it seriously. I try to stick to that, because that’s also how I survive, but sometimes I can’t help myself.
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
When I was a kid growing up in Salem, MO the closest radio stations that you could tune into that weren’t country came out of Saint Louis, MO. I would tune in and they’d always talk about this club called Mississippi Nights and all the artists that would play there. The club captivated me, however I had no idea what it looked like. It had become a life dream to play on that stage one day. This was around 1996, around 2003 I finally got the chance to play the stage, via an invite from another band, and it was a packed house. I still remember to this day, looking out at the sea of people and thinking I had finally made it. Mississippi Nights is no longer there unfortunately, but its memory lives on.
"My music and lyrics come from my everyday life as well as the people I try surround myself with. My writing style is like a pressure cooker, I wait and absorb and then it all comes rushing out. I want to impact folks in an emotional way, I want to touch their souls and attempt to make them feel something or take them to a place and feel of my past." (Photo: Hector Anchondo)
Are there any memories from International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN which you’d like to share with us?
My favorite memory of the 2020 IBC is that I went into it with the attitude that I’m not here to win, I’m here to be me and to do my thing, and if they like it they like it and I’d they don’t, they don’t. It felt great going into like that. I was thinking, I’m just on the road playing another show, I wanted to be as natural as possible.
Make an account of the case of the blues in Omaha. What touched (emotionally) you from the local circuits and scene?
The Blues Society of Omaha is one of the best in the country, hands down. I’m not the only one that thinks so, others from around the country have told me the same thing out on my travels. The BSO does an outstanding job not only to keep the blues alive but to make it part of the Omaha community. They are always pushing to grow and evolve. I admire that. Plus they are damn good folks.
What were the reasons that you started "In the Market for Blues Festival? What do you love most about the solo act?
I got the idea for ITMFB when I was in Memphis in 2015 doing the IBC challenge with my band. As I was walking down Beale Street, I couldn’t help but notice that it resembled Omaha’s Old Market area. I thought, a pub crawl in the links of the IBC would go perfect in the Old Market to create the Beale and Bourbon Street music town feel. Omaha is perfect for it and is on its way to be recognized nationally as a hot spot for not only music in general but The Blues.
Are there any memories with Magic Slim, Royal Southern Brotherhood, and Damen Wood which you’d like to share?
Opening for blues legend Magic Slim was surreal and a true honor, the main memory of opening was getting to watch a true blues legend do his thing. Royal Southern Brotherhood was a good time all around and I mostly remember dancing all night to their infectious sound. I didn’t share the stage with Damon, but I did get a guitar lesson from him. It was cool hearing his views on guitar and music. It really helped boost my confidence on guitar at the time. He helped me realize that I was on the right path on guitar.
"My philosophy on music is an expression of life. It’s a mind, body, and soul kind of expression. I believe to have wonderfully powerful music: you need to have a positive mind, a healthy body, and a truthful soul then you can hit the audience with something powerful that touches deep down into their body, mind, and soul." (Photo: Hector Anchondo)
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
The most important lesson I’ve learned in music is to not try to hard and to focus more on letting it happen naturally. The feel is far more important then trying to be the “perfect” player and performer. That was a lesson that spilled over into my everyday life, stay focused but don’t obsess about the little stuff, just let it happen.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
The thing I miss most about the Blues of the past is the Blues artists. I wish I could have seen Stevie Ray Vaughn, Robert Johnson, Jeff Healey, and Albert Collins in person. They are true legends and it would have been extraordinary to see them live, I’m envious of anyone that has.
My hopes for Blues in the future are that it keeps gaining in popularity with the mainstream. It seems like it’s going in that direction and that’s exciting! I hear a lot of mainstream artists that are adding Blues guitar into their music, or doing Blues albums like the Rolling Stones recently did, to me, that was a huge moment for Blues in the mainstream. My fear is that people will stop seeing live music altogether and turn to electronic music. I fear that people are losing site of how powerful live music really is.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
I’d change how the “Powers That Be” that market music. I’d change it in a way that would make it more genera fair, letting all kinds of music have a chance to let the world know that there’s more to life then the same Pop icons that “pop” up over and over again. There’s so much more out there, and Blues is definitely one of those really hip genera’s that gets brushed aside.
"The Blues Society of Omaha is one of the best in the country, hands down. I’m not the only one that thinks so, others from around the country have told me the same thing out on my travels. The BSO does an outstanding job not only to keep the blues alive but to make it part of the Omaha community. They are always pushing to grow and evolve. I admire that. Plus they are damn good folks." (Hector Anchondo / Photo by Blake Harris)
What has made you laugh from Marshal Tucker? What touched (emotionally) you from Magic Slim & Johnny Winter?
In 2015, we got to open up for Marshal Tucker at Sturgis in South Dakota at the Whitewood Camping and Concert area. That was a big day for all of us, because they had been around as long as we could remember and they were Southern Rock legends. Something that made me laugh was the realization that they were just some good ol’ boys and very down to Earth, it made them seem more real and I really liked that about them. They are such nice guys.
Opening for Magic Slim and Johnny Winter was incredible to say the least. True Blues legends and there I was getting to be on the same stage on the same night. Wow! Magic Slim was all feel and personality and really took the crowd on a ride, it was a learning experience to watch him play. I got to open for Johnny about a month before his passing and I consider myself very lucky to have worked with a guy like that. Johnny was one of those icons that you’ve always seen or heard in magazines, TV, or radio; so it was very surreal seeing him in person. It was one of those moments where I had to make sure I was actually not dreaming. Johnny was still tearing it up just as great as always! My favorite part about the show is that he smiled one time and that was directly after someone shouted out “Johnny you’re a God!”
What is the impact of Blues, Rock and Soul music on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?
I try my best to stay out of politics publicly, not because I don’t care, but because I like to make people happy and help them escape the everyday hardships of life. That’s my job. I do think music is a direct reflection of what’s going on in the world yesterday, today, and tomorrow. I also believe with a powerful song you can sway the direction of a culture, but few have ever done that.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
Go directly to the 20’s, because live music, at that time, was all about awesome displays of musicianship. It would be great to go back to that time to soak up as much of that in person as I possibly could. I’d find Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, and Blind Lemon Jefferson and start a jam that would last all through the night.
(Hector Anchondo / Photo by Blake Harris)
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