Q&A with blues musician D.K. Harrell from Ruston, Louisiana - his philosophy and motto is that the Blues is Everything

"I miss the authentic sound, blues to me now is too rock-ish. I miss when the guitar wasn’t overpowered with gain or distortion and bands had horns and every man shined on stage in a nice suit and uniformed. I also miss the showmanship, the new players like Toronzo Cannon and Eric Gales have that showman ship cause they move and dance a little when they play."

D.K. Harrell: The Blues Is Everything

Guitarist and singer D.K. Harrell from Ruston, Louisiana is a pure bluesman. The story is that his first words were the thrill is gone in his car seat. As a teen he fell for the guitar. In 2019 D.K. Harrell got a chance to play with several B.B. King band alumnus. His motto is that the Blues is Everything. D.K. says: “My grandfather was my number one influence on the blues. We listened to so many records together from BB King to Johnny Taylor to Sam & Dave, and so many more. He was the father I needed. I’ll always love him. “My record will be there” was his favorite performance he had seen me done with Brother Ricky Davis.”                                               (D.K. Harrell / Photos by Jasmine Johnson)

D.K. says: "My sound now is a gumbo of Guitar Slim, BB King, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Freddie King, Grant Green, Django Reinhardt, and a few others. The foundation of my playing and tone is BB King style, I feel many players can hit bb king licks but getting that warm but bright tone and vibrato can be a challenge even for myself. When writing a song 9 out of 10 it’s about what my heart went through or what my mind dreams of. It’s hard to write when you have your emotions to express. You’re trying to find the best way to let them out in a certain box of time and when you do get it out specially if it’s about something you care about that’s when the tears roll. So, I say if you’re going to play or sing do it like it’s the last time."

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Blues and R&B music showed me that it’s okay for a man to cry, that it’s okay for a man to feel and that’s a big influence we need today. We need that teaching of that it’s okay to say how you feel, it’s okay to cry and have something or someone on your mind. It encouraged me to be open and honest with myself, to be able to tell the world my story. The journeys I like experiencing is meeting different people because you never know who you are going to meet as you go on in this world. If something bad happens between you and that person or people sometimes a relatable blues or R&B song can help you cope with it and if something good happens it just makes that song a lot better. The music is just life itself.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My sound now is a gumbo of Guitar Slim, BB King, Buddy Guy, Magic Sam, Freddie King, Grant Green, Django Reinhardt, and a few others. The foundation of my playing and tone is BB King style, I feel many players can hit B.B. King licks but getting that warm but bright tone and vibrato can be a challenge even for myself. When writing a song 9 out of 10 it’s about what my heart went through or what my mind dreams of. It’s hard to write when you have your emotions to express. You’re trying to find the best way to let them out in a certain box of time and when you do get it out specially if it’s about something you care about that’s when the tears roll. So, I say if you’re going to play or sing do it like it’s the last time.

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

In 2019, I was invited to the bb king symposium in Indianola Mississippi. There I met many great musicians but one of the most important encounters was with Walter Riley King, BB King’s Nephew. He encourages me to still play and learn certain subjects of music. He says, “have a good list, have a good variety let people know you have more to you.” So now with being associated with Jontavious Willis, Quise Knox, Sean Macdonald, Dylan Tripple, Jayy Hopp, and Stephen Hull I slowly but surely learn from them like certain chords and licks.

"I’ve recently noticed that some of my peers have been quoting or listening to artists like Nina Simone, who of course was to me the biggest and most influential woman to musically express and speak on racism and the self-love of the black community." (D.K. Harrell from Ruston, Louisiana / Photo by Jasmine Johnson)

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

I don’t have a favorite gig or show just yet. I feel every show I’ve done has been good but never the best because each show I get better and better. A great but recent memory was the first annual blues retreat held at foxfire. The guys I mentioned before Jontavious etc. were all performing on a Thursday night and I sometimes lose myself when performing, I become someone else. I say this because I started playing on my knees and back and busted my shirt open, first time I ever did something like that. I laugh about it now cause that’s really realizing that I’m a showman at heart.

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

I miss the authentic sound, blues to me now is too rock-ish. I miss when the guitar wasn’t overpowered with gain or distortion and bands had horns and every man shined on stage in a nice suit and uniformed. I also miss the showmanship, the new players like Toronzo Cannon and Eric Gales have that showman ship cause they move and dance a little when they play. You can’t be so technical, be more spiritual. I feel the blues is in good hands with the many young men and women who play blues. Now the business and society just need to notice them and embrace them and put what’s needed into them to prosper and keep this father and mother of all music alive.

What would you say characterizes Louisiana's blues scene in comparison to other US local scenes and circuits?

Where I live (Shreveport/Bossier city) there isn’t too much of a music scene. If there is its mostly rappers or southern soul. New Orleans is the spot where you may hear more blues and jazz than where I live. I wish Louisiana had the type of places like buddy guys legends or historical juke joints that are spread all over like in Mississippi. I wish we had more blues lovers and players in Louisiana. But thank god Louisiana Blues is still acknowledged by many.

"Blues and R&B music showed me that it’s okay for a man to cry, that it’s okay for a man to feel and that’s a big influence we need today. We need that teaching of that it’s okay to say how you feel, it’s okay to cry and have something or someone on your mind. It encouraged me to be open and honest with myself, to be able to tell the world my story."  (Photo: D.K. Harrell from Ruston, Louisiana)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Most important lessons I’ve learned is be yourself when playing or singing and always put a little more than 100% into what you are doing. Jontavious tells me, ”drag it out, let the people hear ya when ya sing man”. He is a great mentor and great friend. He’s my brother. He teaches to learn and try and just do it.

What is the impact of Blues on the racial and socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

I’ve recently noticed that some of my peers have been quoting or listening to artists like Nina Simone, who of course was to me the biggest and most influential woman to musically express and speak on racism and the self-love of the black community. If my peers are listening to her then they are influencing cultures and future generations about the same topics Nina taught our grandparents and parents and so forth. So, I feel if the right songs or right artists are played to each individual person and they can relate to it we will have more blues lovers, players and listeners in the world. I got my cousin in love with Bobby Bland “Aint no love in the heart of the city” he learned from that song that love is hard but to keep loving.

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

A day wouldn’t be enough haha but I’d say the 60s. When I look at Woodstock and the type of performances given then it gives me chills. Seeing footage like muddy waters and Lonnie Johnson playing overseas or Sammy Davis Jr. singing “birth of the blues “for interracial audiences. That time was packed with so much love for music and the fire to love one another during the hard times of segregation and 'Jim Crow'. That’s a very deep time. We need that type of drive now that says we want to hear and feel emotions and we want to walk hand in hand, and we want to be a force of nature and symbolism for positivity. The artists of the 60s emphasized that desire in their music, films, and literature. We need that now.

(Photo: D.K. Harrell from Ruston, Louisiana)

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