Q&A with Budda & Nico Guedes of Budda Power Blues - a Portuguese trio that plays the blues from the guts

"Music is always a sharing process. It’s a celebration!!! That’s why world music is so popular these days."

Budda Power Blues: Don't Stop The Boogie

Budda Power Blues are a Portuguese Power Trio that plays the blues from the guts. They deliver a punchy powerful, soulful, electric blues that makes you want to jump and shout. But they don’t do it on their own! The audience is always their 4th member, making every show a celebration of blues and life itself. Rumbling Bass (PEDRO FERREIRA), Power Drums (NICO GUEDES), Overdriven Guitar, and Power Vocals (BUDDA GUEDES) makes Budda Power Blues one of a kind. But don’t be mistaken: they can also be gentle and the dynamics may vary from blasting to whisper! Budda Power Blues were born in 2004 with the goal of being a laboratory band, where the three musicians could adventure into the improvisation world without any commercial compromises. But soon the band took off and got bigger than anyone ever imagined.

They recorded the first record in 2005, in Ferro, Covilhā, naming it “Wanted”. This record sold out pretty soon, and in 2008 they release their 2nd record “Busted”, at Gaia Blues Festival, where they performed alongside Shemekia Copeland and Sherman Robertson. The band tours all Portuguese festivals and in 2010 and release their 3rd record, honoring the 40th anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s Band of Gypsys record. They named it “Kind of Gypsys” because, as usual, the band turned the Hendrix record upside down and completely changed the arrangements. In 2013 Budda Power Blues releases their 4th record, and the first only with Budda’s original songs and lyrics. “One in a Million” is acclaimed by critics and fans as the band’s best record, and it took Budda Power Blues to a next level. They played in all of the Portuguese blues festivals again, and have been considered by critics as the best Portuguese blues band, and Budda as the best bluesman in Portugal. In 2015 Budda Power Blues release the self-titled 5th record.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Budda: Blues is a way of life, not just a music genre. It influences me in every aspect of my life. It’s the search for tone and great musicality. Blues means improvisation, tone, feel and soul. You have to do as much as you can with just one note. You have to groove it. Blues is who I am, it’s the first thing I ever play when I pick up a guitar or when I grab the mic for sound check.

Nico: Well, it’s kind of difficult to explain that in few words… The blues culture is broader than it seemed when I began to play it, and of course at this time, I already realized that the blues is a universal language. The blues is a feeling, it invokes happiness while talking about unfortunate events, or a sexy lady, or a manly guy and… It talks about universal and raw matters. Now musically, and besides its universal lyric content, both the harmony and the rhythmic section contributed a lot to the contemporary pop music. And despite the fact that we’re always talking about 3 chords per song, it’s simplicity makes this genre challenging, sincere, truth full, and filled with feeling. That is the Blues’ magic and tone. It’s the repetition, it’s the rhythm, it’s the dynamics, and it’s the voices, the choir, the 5th note escape… It really is a rich way to express myself.

How do you describe Budda Power Blues sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

Budda: I’ve been always influenced by that electric, powerful, Woodstock blues. And we bring that heavy stuff into our blues. Budda Power Blues got its name exactly because we were not playing just blues. We were playing Power Blues, at the image of the power Trios of the 60’s and 70’s. We know the roots and have studied it deep, but we try to bring something new to the game. And we are white and European, with also influences a lot our way of playing and feeling it. We will never have that Black Chicago feel, because we just can’t. So we embrace our culture instead of trying to be someone we’re not.

I’m not a purist in anyway. I love and respect the roots, but I think blues is about bringing yourself into the music, and not just copying the classics. You need to know and learn from the classics, but you need to bring something new to the table. Muddy Waters didn’t mimic Robert Johnson, BB King din't mimic Son House. But they where influenced by those guys too. Budda Power Blues is exactly that. We play 21st century Blues, heavily influenced by our life experience and all that surrounds us, trying to avoid being just a recreation of the classics. We couldn’t be as good as the originals even if we tried.  We grew up in the 90’s so the bands that made me play in the first place were Nirvana, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Rage Against The Machine, Metallica, Pantera. Etc. Then we got in touch with the 60’s and 70’s, knowing Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, AC/DC,.. From Jimi Hendrix’s album “Blues”, I got to know all the greats, since it had a booklet explaining all Jimi’s influences, and it talked about Muddy Waters, Freddie King, Albert King, BB King, Big Mamma Thornton, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, etc.

"In Portugal, Blues is still a foreign music style and it has not been assumed as a life-style, or a solid culture. But the funny thing about the Blues’ presence over here is that its audience seems to be numb."

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice has given you?

Budda: Meeting and playing with older guys is always a great experience and learning moment. I thinking having played and spend quality time with Shirley King (BB King’s daughter) was an amazing experience, because she’s the real deal!!! She’s Blues in a box. And we’ve learn a lot from playing with her. The way to address the audience, the importance of the lyrics, etc. Meeting and playing with Paul Lamb, and have him to record on this last record, was also an amazing experience. He’s the other side of the Blues: the British blues. He’s got the experience and the feel of those great players, and he is an amazing guy. I’ve played in his band and spend some days having lunch and dinner together and sharing experiences and ideas. Lately having played and writing songs for Maria João (one of the greatest singers in the world right now) was also an incredible experience. She’s from the Jazz world but she has all the soul of a blues woman hiding inside. She has traveled all the world singing, and her life experience is so rich.

But one of the most important meetings I had was with Hermeto Pascoal. I think he’s spiritually more evolved than all the humanity. He’s so honest and truthful!!! He taught me there’s no shortcu8ts in life. You need to do the walk, and not just the talk. He said, life is like a starway you need to climb. You can take the elevator, but you’ll eventually fall down and will have to climb the stairs all over again. That’s a very important lesson. Probably the best advice someone gave me was at a very young stage in my career. An older friend told me “we will always have people saying you’re the best. Don’t you ever believe in it”. And it’s true!!!

Nico: Some of the most important experiences I had where passed on by either my family, or great musicians I’ve played with. Family comes first so I remember my grandmother’s critic after she saw me play for the first and only time: “You look lovely on stage because you’re always smiling! It made me happy”. That was the first specific critique that made me think about the musicians’ posture on stage, while performing any king of song. You can actually express more accurately what the song feels, if your physicality also “lives and breathes” the song.

Then, the second simple thing I learned with the blues, I did it while listening Miss Shirley King (blues singer, daughter of B.B. King). We were preparing our first show with her and we told her “If you want us to stop, to go louder or softer, anything... just give us a sign”. She immediately answered: “I don’t care about the band!! I care about my audience! I care about what they see, what they feel while listening to a blues show! So I’ll be facing them, taking care of the audience while you take care of the song!” and it actually made total sense! She was trusting our guts to play the blues, and she was driven by the audience, while leading them. So for me, one of the most important things of the blues (and all kinds of shows, for that matter) is the connection you establish with your audience. There is no show without an audience and they really make the difference between the shows, so you gotta pay real attention to the way you look at them, the way you move on stage, the way you talk to them and the way you play (of course) shouldn’t be affected by all the above!

"Blues is a way of life, not just a music genre. It influences me in every aspect of my life. It’s the search for tone and great musicality. Blues means improvisation, tone, feel and soul."

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

Budda: There’s so many memories it’s very hard to pick one. But I remember a Show we did in Festa do Avante. Sound check was at 9 am and we played at 1am next day. So we were at the festival all day, talking loud and listening to bands perform. When it was time to play I was voiceless!!! I though I would never be able to do the show. Somewhat or somehow I got on stage and did one of the best shows in our life, always tasting the blood in my throat. It was a very painful show, but it was also amazing!!!

Nico: Well, I play since 1994, so there are large amounts of gigs that I already forgot. But… I don’t know. One of the craziest moments we had while playing, was at a Harley Davidson convention back in Porto. The Portuguese Harley Davidson’s owners aren’t gang members or outlaws. Those bikes are way expensive so there customers are doctors, layers, and people with some money and of course, with the Harley Davidson paxion. So we we’re invited to play at a Harley’s dinner in a middle of a journey that 200 riders were doing. We played a lot that night and really close to the end of the dinner, after like 2 hours of our gig, everybody was dancing, having fun, drinking and singing. Till I noticed one particular girl (with her 40’s) that climbed up to a table and started to do dance her foxy way. So, in a “mind reading state” I proposed Budda to gradually change the song we’re playing to “You Can Leave your Hat on” (composed by Randy Newman and made popular by Joe Cocker), just to spice up the dance. So we did... So did she!! The girl started to strip, strip, strip and everybody was really having fun!! She did a full spontaneous strip till the dinner’s producer promptly asked her to stop and get dressed. So yeah… We prorogued a spontaneous strip tease with a blues.

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

Budda: What I miss the most from the past, not only applies to Blues but to music in general. I miss the commitment and the true art. A lot of people just don’t deliver. I feel a lot of people just worrying about copying the master’s music, but not having a clue about the feel and philosophy behind the music. Music and all the arts has always been a creative and innovative thing. You should no wish to be a copycat for the rest of your life. That’s just a learning process, and you have to forget all you’ve learned and start playing form the heart.

My greatest fear is that people are more and more less receptive to pay for the music they listen to, whether it’s live music or recorded music. And that’s how musicians get paid. I know a lot of great musicians that simply quit because they can’t make a living out of it. My hopes for the future is exactly the opposite takes place. I’m seeing more and more people interested in the blues, and going to shows, and buying records. So I hope more artists can be making a living out of their art, not having to work at a gas station or supermarket to pay the rent.

Nico: What I miss the most about the blues is the sonic care that the blues had in the beginning and throughout the 70´s era. I’m primarily talking about the rhythm section that started to “modernize” the bas and the drums sound up to a point that they don't “glue” with the guitar, that kept the same sonic spirit. The drums are sounding much more “clinical” and “close mic” when, for me, the blues needs and craves for the dirty sound on the drums. That “ensemble sound” of the drums affecting each other’s, and the bass shivering the snares on the drum set. For the future I fear that the blues ends up “evolving” to a similar path than R&B… That style evolved, and the only sad thing is they kept the name despite the brutal differences regarding to structure, sound and intention between “Aretha Franklin’s and Beyoncé’s R&B”. They are both musically interesting, but the contemporary R&B scene is not really R&B. It’s a new style, a new wave.

My hopes for the future are precisely the opposite of what I fear. I hope that the blues language stay’s faithful to itself and I hope I can see its influence in many, many styles and artists. This is precisely the reason why my band’s name is “Budda Power Blues”, because we’re not playing the “the blues” per say, we’re playing “Power Blues”, which was our way of saying “we respect the blues, we come directly from the source, but sometimes, in some song, we feel the need to go ahead and escape a little bit from its genesis”. It’s a more honest way of doing it, I think.

"I feel that the Blues is some kind of universal language, universal feel that can touch everybody in their own way. And because of that, I really see it as a “no race” culture."

Make an account of the case of the blues in Portugal. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Budda: Blues in Portugal is growing, and we have more and more bands and artists in the genre. Portugal has a bigger tradition in the Jazz scene, and Blues is still the underdog genre. But we are committed to make a change. The 2016 will have an increased number of Blues festivals, and the audience loves Blues. You can almost pay blues anywhere in the country and you’ll have people coming to the show.

Nico: I really believe the blues had two important “moments” in Portugal. The first one was in the 80’s with, precisely in 1980 with Rui Veloso’s debut album “Ar de Rock” that had a blasting hit single “Chico Fininho” which is an incredible blues, with Portuguese lyrics. It was and amassing success and it opened the door to several blues bands and audiences back then. Of course the incursion of the blues in Portugal comes from the first big music Festivals from the 70’s, but in the 80’s blues was “recognized” either by the audiences and the Portuguese musicians. The second big moment for the Portuguese blues scene is really our current decade! We are living it right now, the silent and slow comeback of a timeless music style, the Blues. Since the 2005, Blues Festivals are growing, the blues is also reaching to a vaster audience, and both “our fathers” (the young people who lived the blues in Portugal, back in the 70’s and 80’s) and “us” (the 30 years old generation) are looking for more blues songs, more blues bands, either it is the classic and pure blues, as it also is our “Power Blues” and “Jack White’s Blues” or “The Black Keys’ Blues”. So we are actually living it, right now!! The blues in Portugal.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from United States and UK to Portugal?

Budda: Portuguese always had both the adventure spirit and the sad moaning spirit in they’re blood. Fado is that fact made into music. Blues it’s about suffer and pain, but it’s never a sad depressing music. It’s always a way of exorcising your fears and sorrows through music. And Fado has that same philosophy!! So I think that’s the greatest connection to Portugal.

Nico: Well, they’re actually very thin! Portugal learned the blues with both the “British invasion” and the US Blues legends. Till 1974, Portugal had a dictatorial government that was stopping the American music and products (Coca-Cola for example) to reach the Portuguese audiences. After the peaceful revolution on the April 25th, Portugal opened its “cultural borders” and Anglo-Saxonic music started a bigger invasion on public radios. So we grew up listening and “trying to copy” the UK and US type of music.

"Budda Power Blues got its name exactly because we were not playing just blues. We were playing Power Blues, at the image of the power Trios of the 60’s and 70’s. We know the roots and have studied it deep, but we try to bring something new to the game."

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

Budda: I feel really blessed with what I’ve achieved in my life, both personally and professionally. I always laugh when people come to me saying the show was great and that they had a great time. It fills my heart with joy, because, as I always say, we play for people to listen and not only to please ourselves.  Emotionally, I’m always touched when people say we mean a lot to their lives. We have people that have seen us perform more than 20 times. It’s a very strong bond!!!

Nico: I’ve been lately watching a TV documentary Series that aired on the National TV (RTP) that was called “A Arte Elétrica Portuguesa” (The electric Portuguese art) and it was basically about the electric music in Portugal, since its beginning till the 90´s. And I really had a blast watching all episodes because they really went back and talked to the musicians, promoters, label P.R.’s and they showed me a vast and rich music culture that I never kneed or learned back in school. This TV series made me realize that the Portuguese music industry has it’s great ancestors, and we all count on their fortunes and mystiques to be here, playing, in better conditions, with vaster audience, with music all around and with the Blues has one of the culture’s that transformed the Portuguese way of making music.

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local folk music and traditional forms?

Budda: The similarities are conceptual and philosophic, more than formal. The stories behind the music and the life of those that wrote it and sang it.

Nico: Well, I’m a drummer and I’m not an expert in harmony, but I believe folk music around the world seems to be mysteriously connected. The Portuguese folk music is very rich and it has lots of variations according to each region. But we have 10 strings guitars, lots of different “body shapes” and tunings and some of them really seem to invoke Robert Johnson's blues. We also have lots drum corps, traditional drums tuned with ropes and with animal heads, and some of the patterns can really fit into a shuffle. Of course they’re not the same, but they seem to come from the same place. And because of that, Budda Power Blues are already studding and trying to do a song (or three, or four) merging the Portuguese folk heritage with the blues structures.

"That is the Blues’ magic and tone. It’s the repetition, it’s the rhythm, it’s the dynamics, and it’s the voices, the choir, the 5th note escape… It really is a rich way to express myself."

What is the impact of the Blues music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Budda: Since Blues is a Black people music in its roots, I think it has made a lot of white people come closer to black people, because they share a love for the blues. A lot of black artists have become idols to all the races, and that on itself fades the racial differences, and let us know we’re all humans, no matter the color of your skin. Music is always a sharing process. It’s a celebration!!! That’s why world music is so popular these days.

Nico: In Portugal, Blues is still a foreign music style and it has not been assumed as a life-style, or a solid culture. But the funny thing about the Blues’ presence over here is that its audience seems to be numb. “Nobody cares about the blues” in a regular basis (90% of the population), it doesn't air that much on the radios or TV’s, but every time we play live, we can see the “first timer’s” face’s and expressions light up! They are listening to it for the first time, but the reality is that the blues is so universal, and it’s so embedded in the POP culture’s roots that everybody has heard it once. Even if not directly, but trough other music genres, artists, films, advertisement, etc. And because of that, I feel that the Blues is some kind of universal language, universal feel that can touch everybody in their own way. And because of that, I really see it as a “no race” culture. The Blues seems to be merged to the western society’s DNA, and for me is more of an agglutinated tool than a secessionist one.

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

Budda: I would love to spend a day with Jimi Hendrix. There’s so many things I’d like to know, see with my own eyes and ask!!! That period was amazing because everything was blossoming!! The recording techniques, the musical creation, the electric guitar. And Jimi made it all happen in 3 years!!!! I think he crossed all the borders and met in the middle, between blacks and whites. He transcended all the status quo and made music in a very free and spiritual way. That’s mostly why I admire so much! It’s not even his guitar playing skills that fascinate me the most, although that’s inevitable to admire!!!!

Nico: Well, this one is tough but… I think I’d love to spend a day at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. I’m really doubtful between the 16th or 17th of August because of the artist’s that performed each day... But the thing is... That feel, that free spirit of love and music won’t ever happen again. Nowadays society is completely different, the muss industry, the audiences, the generations… So, for one day only I’d love to go back to the 1969’s, 16 of August.

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