Musician/ journalist/ broadcaster Vicente Zumel talks about the Spanish scene and his experience in Blues

"Blues is a respected music, the mother of  popular music of the XXth Century. But perhaps there is a simple answer, 'the Blues had a baby and they call it Rock & Roll'."

Vicente Zumel: La Hora Del Blues

Vicente Zumel was born in Barcelona, is director, host and DJ of "La Hora del Blues" has a wide knowledge on the blues world. He fell in love with the blues when he was 18 years old and, as the years have been passing by, he has acquired a deep experience on the blues field that has let him do a blues radio show in Radio PICA (96.6 Barcelona FM) since November 1981.

 


In other blues fields, he has collaborated as reporter and photographer in national and international blues magazines. He has also helped in the organization of international blues festivals in Catalonia -Figueres, Valls, Reus, Hospitalet (that broadcasted among others such great artists like John Mayall, Koko Taylor, Little Charlie & The Nightcats, Carey Bell, Pinetop Perkins, Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith, Jimmy Rogers, Big Daddy Kinsley, Luther Johnson Jr, Mick Taylor, Albert Collins, Luther Allison, Phillip Walker, etc). As a harp player, he has been one of the first Spanish musicians who formed a Spanish blues band. Leading the "Harmonica Zumel Blues Band" he has travelled all over Spain doing gigs in the most important blues events or backing well known blues musicians such as Memphis Slim, Champion Jack Dupree, Louisiana Red or Johnnie Mars among others and even sharing the stage with the legendary John Mayall. The "Harmonica Zumel Blues Band" has been the blues birthplace of important blues Spanish musicians, such as Ricky Gil, August Tharrats, Big Mama, Amadeo Casas, Joan Vinyals, Joan Ventosa, Sweet Little Montse or Alex A. In 1987 the band was honored by the Blues Foundation in Memphis (USA) as one of the best non-American white blues bands. From February 2005 to March 2009, Vicente Zúmel was founder member and president of Barcelona Blues Society


Interview by Michael Limnios

 

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues?
I felt the call of blues when I received a present that was an Elvis Presley EP with four songs. Two of them were “Shake, Rattle & Roll” and “Lowdy Miss Cloudy”, but at that time I did not know these tracks were blues songs. Sometime after I received another present, an Elvis Presley’s album with Christmas songs that included “Santa Claus is back to town” and I got mad with this song, although I still did not know it was blues too. This happened in the middle of the sixties. In 1969 I began to listen and discover a lot of music with my hippies friends (southern rock, psychedelic… and the music of those years, but the bands and music I loved best were groups like Canned Heat, John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown… I also began to listen to Blind Lemon Jefferson, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Frankie Lee Sims, Bukka White,  Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Paul Butterfield, Big Joe Turner, Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson, Otis Rush…. And it became an endless list. Since those days, I could not get out alive of blues!!
A couple of years later, a friend of mine gave me a Marine Band harmonica and it was then when I began trying to make it sound.
During the seventies I got as much as blues records I could and little by little I became gradually involved with blues in different fields.

 

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
The best moment was when I and my band “Harmonica Zúmel Blues Band” opened for John Mayall (July, 10th 1991) and some years later when I had the pleasure to share stage playing with Hubert Sumlin and Louisiana Red. I also have good memories of playing with Champion Jack Dupree, Memphis Slim, Johnny Mars, Luther Allison, John Primer, Billy Branch, Lynwood Slim or Dave Specter.
I do not remember any bad moments in my career. I enjoyed a lot playing blues and trying to give my music all over Spain on a time blues was practically unknown in my country.

 

Tell me a few things about the story of “La Hora Del Blues”.
"La Hora del Blues" is weekly on air since 1981 in Radio PICA, a non-commercial radio station at the 96.6 of Barcelona FM .The basic aim is to explore, give knowledge and popularize blues music in all its aspects from the origins until now. To do so I have an archive of more than 6.000 blues LPs and CDs from the first blues recordings till the more actual ones.
The show's performance is a pleasant easygoing way without forgetting a touch of knowledge and specialization that does not mind erudition. The show gives the possibility of listening to the same blues and artists who are playing on any USA blues station. La Hora del Blues playlist is monthly submitted since middle eighties to Jim McGrath of LIVING BLUES Mag. for TOP 25 LIVING BLUES RADIO CHART and ROOTS MUSIC REPORTS among others.
La Hora del Blues is member associated of The Blues Foundation in Memphis and also belongs to the board of the European Blues Union, a non-profit organization which principal aim is to develop blues around Europe. In “La Hora del Blues” you can find more than 3.000 blues cds reviews as well as different information, news, Spanish blues gigs calendar,,, and so on.

 

What are some of the memorable interviews you've had?
La Hora del Blues radio show does not include interviews on its format. But in the website our collaborator in USA, Monte Adkisom, “The Blues Stalker”, does regularly interviews for the website. One thing I can tell you is that before Internet existed and I used to write for different magazines, I specially remember the interviews I did to Jimmy Johnson, Billy Branch and B.B. King.

 

Are there any memories of all these “blues cats” which you’d like to share with us?
I have some amusing details I remember…
I remember one afternoon my wife and I spent with Billy Branch and A.C. Reed.  A.C before a show spent the whole afternoon drinking milk with peppermint and he was continuously repeating “I’ll wanna boogie all night long”.
In another occasion my wife and I had dinner on a restaurant called “Chicago Pizza Pie” in Barcelona with Billy Branch. The restaurant was decorated as if we were in Chicago (pictures, street names… and so on). Although the restaurant belonged to a chain of restaurants, Billy was so impressed that the wanted to greet the owner because he thought he was from Chicago.
I fondly remember all the interesting blues stories Louisiana Red told us while we were eating “paella”.

 

What does Blues offered you & why do you play the blues?
The blues has given me everything. That is the reason I have devoted my life to blues in all fields I felt I could be helpful to popularize it. I have written articles, worked as musician, organized blues gigs and festivals host a radio show, write record reviews (more than 3.000) and managing a website “La Hora del Blues”. During the eighties I also collaborated with some written material with The Blues Archive of the University of Mississippi and in the pictures collection. I am retired from live music now. I do not play anymore because I felt my mission was accomplished in this field. When I began to play with my band, there were not blues bands in Spain and we spread the seed of blues. Now there are many good blues bands in our country, so they have taken the blues flame.  

 

How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?
When I was on stage I was completely absorbed in the music we were playing and I left aside of the audience reactions.

 

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues music?
I have learned from all the records I have listened, and also from books, different magazines and live shows.

 

Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet?
I really would have loved to meet and talk with Muddy Waters. Anyway I have had the pleasure to see him in a live show in 1976 at The Palau de la Música in Barcelona.

What are some of the memorable gigs and jams you've had?
I have many memorable gigs and jams to remember, but I personally am very proud about the night my wife and I were at Rosa’s Club in Chicago in 1989. Billy Branch and The Sons of the Blues were playing there and Billy invited me to join them on stage to play a couple of songs. I am also very proud to have shared stage with Memphis Slim, Champion Jack Dupree, John Primer, Louisiana Red or Luther Allison. 

 

 

Tell me about the beginning of the band. How did you get together and where did it start?
At the beginning of the eighties I was writing about blues in some magazines and I also was weekly doing my blues radio show. To celebrate the fourth anniversary of Radio PICA (a free radio station) a big festival was organized on a hall called 666. The radio owner suggested to all radio programs directors to collaborate in some way to this festival. I thought that the best way was to form a blues band for that special occasion and play in the festival with other bands of different styles. I recruited some musicians; we did some rehearsal and played there. At that time blues was practically unknown for the kind of audience who came there, they were most punk, grunge and rock fans and they were surprised when they saw a blues band on stage, but they liked it and even they clapped hands. So, after that, I decided to follow on with this project and that was the beginning of Harmonica Zúmel Blues Band.

 

Where did you pick up your harmonic style & what characterizes the sound of Harmonica Zúmel?
I think my style on harmonica comes from Howlin’ Wolf and from that starting point I developed my own style.
Harmonica Zúmel Blues Band had a sound based on Chicago blues performed by white musicians. It was a natural pure cool sound, without any artificial sounds. The principal aim was to perpetuate instead of innovate blues. The Harmonica Zúmel Blues Band was also a kind of blues school for more of the musicians of that time, because many artist of Barcelona scene interested in blues music played with us. Anyway, the best thing to define us is to see an slow blues we did 25 years ago for a TV show

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the blues.
Blues is a music that comes from the heart and soul of people who play it. You cannot play blues if you do not feel it and this real feeling also catches the most different audiences especially if you are a sensitive person. And there are also the “blue notes” that give form and life to the blues and captivate you with their loving tone. What I mean is a cruel person will never feel and love the blues. That is the reason why if you discover it you can never get out of it. So blues will always survive. My wish is “long life for blues”

 

Why are Europeans so enamored with the blues?
Perhaps because we have never had to work as slaves or have been oppressed at black people were in the south of USA. For us blues is a respected music, the mother of popular music of the XXth Century. But perhaps there is a simple answer, “the blues had a baby and they call it Rock and Roll”.

 

Why did you think that Harmonica Zúmel & “La Hora Del Blues”, continued to generate such a devoted following?
As you may know Harmonica Zúmel Blues Band is not active any more. At the time we were active, we were one of the first blues bands in our country. I only remember two or three more blues bands in Spain at that time. My purpose was to spread the blues in our country and I think I’ve got it, because now you can find many good blues bands around. So mi mission was accomplished.
La Hora del Blues is now the pioneer blues radio show in Spain (more than 30 years on air) and it has gained a reputation around blues lovers. Our website includes information about blues in Spain and also gives a general view about blues. I’m proud of my blues CDs reviews section. Along the years I have written about 3.500 blues reviews (most of them can be read at lahoradelblues.com/criticas). It is quite normal than a magazine like Living Blues has published in 40 years more than 6.000 reviews written by different people. But that a single person like me has written in 10 years about 3.500 reviews without getting any money, is something that makes me feel satisfied. Perhaps someday I will publish some of them on a book.

 

How did the idea for Barcelona Blues Society come about?
I knew an American musician from Florida named Mike Shannon. She settled in Barcelona and one day he called me saying a city like Barcelona should have a Blues Society. We contacted some other blues related people and musicians and we decided to found the Barcelona Blues Society. I was the President for four years where the Society grew up and was very active. After four years a new board has been elected, that keeps it alive too. Now I am a only a member of the society. Before finishing the interview let me also tell you that La Hora del Blues is also represented at the European Blues Union EBU, a non-profit organization which wants to promote blues in Europe. My wife Roser is an elected board member. I invite you to visit its website at www.bluesyou.com, and spread it about your contacts. I encourage all of you to support it and become a member.

 

Who is considered the "godfather" of the blues in Spain?
I do not know who is the godfather of blues in Spain nor, but I think there are some people who are working hard to keep the blues alive here. What I can tell you is that during the eighties and nineties I was very popular around Spain as one of the most active people to promote blues in my country.

 

What are the main influences of Blues in Spain? Do you think that the main influence is the scene of UK or US
At the beginning the most influences came from British Blues, but now I think most of the musicians who play blues find their influences in American blues musicians.

 

 

When it all began for the blues in Spain?
The first blues gig in our country was in 1952. Bill Big Broonzy was touring Europe and he came to Barcelona (the second biggest city of Spain after Madrid) playing in an old theatre called Capsa that today is closed. This was possible thanks to the efford and work of an old association of jazz fans, the Barcelona Hot Club,  that was founded at the beginning of the forties. This association was very active and for about fifty years, has worked to promote and develop jazz and blues music in Spain. Thanks to them, there were organized the first jazz festivals that, with no institutional promotion, got an important popularity and tradition among the more intellectual people. These festivals always included some blues artists on their programs.

We had to wait until 1957 for receiving the visit of another bluesman. This time was the great singer and guitar player Josh White who came and played at the Coliseum Theatre on an incredible session that many old jazz and blues fans still remember. Soon a jazz club called Jamboree opened its doors and in 1962 the singer and piano player Memphis Slim came there. This club has been closed for more than twenty years and a few years ago has been rebuilt on the same place. As you can see we only had three blues gigs on ten years.
In 1965 arrived the American Folk Blues Festival. They did an open air gig at the Ciudadela Park near the zoo on an attractive and suitable location to do a blues event. In fact, it was not until the beginning of the seventies when blues began to have a relative popularity and we could regularly enjoy with more visits of blues musicians. The 1970 the Chicago Blues Festival with Big Joe Williams and John Lee Hooker among other musicians toured Spain and, since that moment, blues concerts could be found in different parts of our country. Some of the names that played in Spain in that period were Otis Spann, Otis Rush, Jimmy Dawkins, Sunnyland Slim, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, James Booker, Screaming Jay Hawkins, Bo Diddley, Lafayette Leake, John Littlejohn... that were backed by so great rhythmic sections such as Oddie Payne, Bob Planket, Bob Stroger or Aaron Burton. The Chicago Blues Festival 1972, 1974 and 1975 also toured in Spain.
The first Spanish blues bands also appeared at the beginning of the 80’s. In the north part of Spain recorded The Dolphin Blues Band and few months later I founded my own band Harmonica Zúmel Blues Band, that still works although, over the years, musicians have changed.

With the band I have had the pleasure of playing together with Memphis Slim, Louisiana Red, Hubert Sumlin, John Primer, Champion Jack Dupree, Hezekiah Early, Luther Allison, Johnny Mars, Billy Branch, Dave Specter or Lynwood Slim... Some years later, at the beginning of the 90’s appeared new blues Spanish bands. Some were very good ones but unfortunately others were quite bad. They sang in English (the official blues tongue) but also in Spanish, because they could better communicate with Spanish audience who could understand their lyrics. In the south of Spain the more prestigious bands are Caledonia Blues Band (today Blues Machine) and Algeciras Blues Express. But there were also good bands playing blues all over Spain, such as Tonky Blues Band, Harmonica Coixa Blues Band, All Nighters, Los Perkins, Bluesfalos, Alligators, Blues de Garrafa

 

What are the differences and similarity between the first years of the presence of blues in spain and today?
During the fifties and sixties people listening to blues were mainly jazz lovers. Blues shows were mainly booked in jazz festivals and jazz clubs. During the seventies blues became apart from jazz because young people discovered it thanks to British blues, so blues became closer to rock than to jazz. During the eighties appeared the first Spanish blues bands and audiences were generally rock oriented ones. During the nineties blues was quite popular and today you can find Spanish blues bands and blues lovers almost in every corner of Spain although blues continues to be a minority genre that goes apart from big audiences mass media.

 

Who is the leading representative of the blues in Spain abroad?
To talk about blues in Spain abroad is to talk about Vicente Zúmel because I have been internationally active for about thirty years.  Nowadays the Spanish musicians who are quite well known abroad are singer and guitar player Big Mama, piano player Lluis Coloma, and guitar players Tonky de la Peña and Javier Vargas. Since the European Blues Union was founded, Spanish musicians have also participated representing Spain at the European Blues Challenge organized by the EBU. Last year we had the acoustic duo The Suitcase Brothers and this year we will have Mingo Balaguer & The Blues Intruders. Finally my wife Roser Zúmel belongs to the European Blues Union board.

Do the media help the blues in your country?
Not enough. National and most influential media do not take blues into account. Normally they are local specialized media the ones which do a good job to promote and keep the blues alive.

 

What are the most popular local bands of blues?
You can find popular local bands in almost every corner of Spain. In Cataluña we have Big Mama, Amadeu Casas, The Suitcase Brothers, Txus Blues & Jose Bluefingers, Tota Blues Band or Midnight Rockets together with piano and boogie woogie players August Tharrats, David Giorcelli, Lluis Coloma or Bernat Font.  In the North of Spain area you can find Marcos Coll & Adrian Costa, Victor Aneiros, The Reverendos or Travelling Brothers. In Madrid and the central part of Spain Edu Manazas & The whiskey Train, Fede Aguado & Osi Martínez, Tonky de la Peña, Juan Scotch, Juan Bourbon & Juan Beer, harmonica player Ñaco Goñi, Red House, David Garcia & Vladi Olmos, Downtown Alligators, 44 Dealers, Blu Tones, King Bee, Forty Nighters, Fritos Blues Connection, Smoked Cotton Blues Band, The Street Pickers, Violante Blues. Rafa Sideburns and The Bluedays. In  Aragón and Navarra Ana Midón & Miles Away, Greenband of Blues, Metroblues or De 2 Blues Band . In Valencia and Mediterranean Coast, harmónica player Danny Boy, Nasty Boogie, Big Hollers or Los Fabulosos Blueshakers. In Andalucia Mingo Balaguer and The Blues Intruders, Algeciras Blues Express, Los Andabluses, Lolo Ortega, Alex Guitar (expert on Resonator guitar), Anomia Blues Band, Kid Carlos, Pepe Delgado y La Reunión de Blues, Felix Slim, Pure Tones, Blue Hackers, Susan Santos (based now in Madrid with his band Papa’s Red Band), Guitar Not So Slim, Chili Con Carne or Pronóstico Reservado. In Mallorca and Baleares Islands harmonica player Victor Uris, Balta Bordoy, Big Yu-Yu, Jay Kaye Band, Hoochie Coochie Band or Bluesmafia & Es Saligardos. Finally in Canarias Island you can find SinElefante, Gumbo Blues, Blues News Band or Three Bones. 

 

 

What are the main blues festivals in Spain?
The main blues festivals in Spain are the Hondarribia Blues Festival in the north of Spain and the Cazorla Blues Festival in the south in Spain. Both take place in July and they include a non-stop program on about four days of intense blues. Every year they book the most reputed national and international blues artists and bands.
There are other interesting blues festivals, perhaps not so popular but that try to keep a high quality level, such as Reus Blues Festival, Cerdanyola Blues Festival, Getxo Blues Festival, International Béjar Blues Festival, Ritmo y Blues de Aragon, Festival de Blues Ciudad de Cordoba, Festival de Blues de Antequera, Festival de Blues de Caceres and Santa Blues in Tenerife.

What are the bars and clubs that host blues events?
There are not local clubs in Spain which only schedule blues performances. Normally our blues bands work in jazz and rock clubs that devote some nights to blues music. There are hundreds of clubs and bars that regularly include blues.  So, if you want to have a complete list of them I suggest you to visit the Spanish blues calendar gig in our website. where you will find a daily updated list of the blues shows you can find all over Spain 

 

What are the international artists who have a special relationship with the blues in Spain?
I can’t remember any artist who has a special relationship with blues in Spain. Perhaps mention Julian Vaughan (former drummer of Johnny Copeland and Albert King among others) who came to play in the middle of the eighties with the Chicago Blues Festival which included Maurice John Vaughan and AC Reed. He knew a girl here and he settled in Barcelona where he lives now. Some years ago I booked for the first time in Spain Chicago singer piano player Barrelhouse Chuck, one of the most traditional Chicago blues piano players, deeply influenced by Sunnyland Slim and Little Brother Montgomery. He knew here one of our best local piano players, Lluis Coloma. The y became great friends which led Lluis to be invited to Chicago and record a cd produced by Barrelhouse Chuck. In fact the songs selection was done by Barrelhouse and Lluis and Chuck sings on a cd song.

 

 

Which was the best moment of local blues scene and which was the worst?
I think that although blues is still not popular, now is the best moment for local blues scene. There are many very good local bands and although they are not many places to play, they have gained recognition through Internet and other social media (facebook, youtube….) which allows them to reach popularity at a national and international level. The worst moment was perhaps about thirty years ago when blues was completely strange for audiences.

 

Do you think the younger generations are interested in the blues?
Not at all but at least if they have interest for the music, blues is more available for them than it was in the past. There are schools of music which teach blues, and internet offers them a wide possibility to discover it. In fact nowadays music in not so important for young people that it used to be when I was a teenager.

 

What mistake of Spanish blues scene you want to correct?
Local authorities should promote more blues acts and venues that they do now and organize different blues festival and cultural acts related to blues. They should include blues music in their public theatres
Mass media should include more blues in their newspapers, radio or television programs. Finally there should also be more live music clubs that include blues on their roster.

 

Do you have a message for the Greek fans?
Love the blues and try to keep it alive in your country.


Vicente Zumel & La Hora Del Blues

 

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