Q&A with Crescent City-based Big Mike Perez - Chicago rhythm n' blues with soul, funk and some rooted reggae

"Well I think we all know that blues was created in the south by African Americans. Using a lot of their influences and speaking of their experiences. It comes from a lot of emotions. Truth be told I stay away from politics so I really don’t know. As far as racial implications, blues nowadays is loved by every color and every ethnicity at least in my experience. Like I said before, it is a healer."

Big Mike Perez: I'll Play The Blues For You

Big Mike Perez is a Chicago native blues artist who’s been living in New Orleans for several years. He’s best-known for his Chicago style of blues funk/blues rock fusion and powerful, soulful vocals, which were inspired by such Chicago artists as Joanna Connor, Buddy Guy, Mike Wheeler, Rico McFarland, Carl Weathersby, The Kinsey Report, Robert Blaine and Big James & The Chicago Playboys. While residing in Chicago, Big Mike performed at many of the popular venues like the Cubby Bear, Shenanigans, Kingston Mines, Clown’s Alley and Bluebird Lanes. He eventually started leaning towards the style of Chicago blues and hasn’t left it since. His band was hired by many independent artists in Chicago to perform as a backing band for them. He has notably performed at the Taste of Chicago on the Best Buy Stage. Since leaving The Windy City, Big Mike has made a name for himself in New Orleans, performing at weekly residencies five nights a week on Bourbon Street and Frenchmen Street. Big Mike & the R&B Kings are one of the top blues bands in New Orleans - with standing-room-only crowds at most venues when they perform.

Big Mike has also gigged with long-time New Orleans blues guitar master Mem Shannon and with the Memphis B.B. King All-Stars. Last year, he performed at the 2018 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival backing soul singer Sierra Green on the same bill with Smokey Robinson, Rebirth Brass Band, and Maze Featuring Frankie Beverley. Mike’s vocals have been compared to B.B. King, Bill Withers and Robert Cray, and he is best-known for his aggressive style of blues, long solos and tight gospel rhythms. His performances are fun and interactive. He creates a real show delivering the old school blues form of creating stories for the crowd to listen to and respond. One final note: Big Mike & the R&B Kings is a polished Chicago blues band that is ready to knock people out of the chairs and onto the dance floor. Big Mike & the R&B Kings will be released on November 22 their new CD, This Song’s for You, a merging of Chicago blues and R&B sounds with New Orleans funk for a show-stopping, dance-worthy set of soulfulness on Red Tint Records. This Song’s For You is an eclectic album that encompasses Chicago rhythm and blues with soul, funk and some rooted reggae. Created at DPL Studios in New Orleans and Rick Barnes Studios in Chicago.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

As far as my views of the world. In my line of work, I come across everyone from every part of the world. I work as a musician in New Orleans which is a tourist hub. From speaking to singing the blues to so many people from around the world I have realized that people just simply need some healing. Sometimes people need to hear the soloist. Sometimes people need to sing the lyrics, and sometimes people just need to close their eyes and dance. When the show is over and they talk to me. These same people can barely speak the language but they thoroughly enjoyed themselves at my show. I feel like they have released the negative vibes in their body and mind. Blues has ups and downs, joy and pain, smiles and tears. It doesn’t matter where you are from. The Blues is a natural healer and there are a lot of people that need some healing in the world. I’m hoping I can at least heal a few people every night I perform.

How do you describe your songbook and sound? How do you want your music to affect people?

I’ve written a lot of songs. The ones I put in this album have a little bit for everyone. Some songs are just good dancing and sing-a-long songs like Last Night, Big Boy, and Save Some Funk For Sunday. But then I’ve written songs based on people I know or experiences I’ve had. I wrote these experiences because it seemed to be a common story amongst my friends and strangers. I want people that listen to my album to know that they are not alone when it comes to heart break or love. They are not alone when they feel they have no worth in the world. Others feel the same way, I have felt the same way. My sound in this album is very straight forward. I use a lot of dynamics in volume based on solos to really interpret the solos as best as possible. My songs are told like stories for anyone listening close enough to relate to. Very intense, very upbeat, and as soulful as I can sing them.

"I feel that instrumentation is being lost in today’s music. Instruments are being replaced with digital sounds. People are afraid to sing with their natural voice and have all kinds of computerized sounding effects on their voice." (Photo by Michelle Heselton / Big Mike & the R&B Kings: Tajh Derosier (Sax) Alexander Krahe (Guitar) Mike Perez (Bass & Vocals) Ezell Smith (Drums) Will Rast (Keys)

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

There is a great guitarist named Mem Shannon who is born and raised in New Orleans. I seen him years ago perform in Chicago when I lived there. Great band. 10 years later I move to New Orleans and get on the music scene. One day he calls me up and ask if I can be his sub bassist for the night. I of course said yes. Gig went well and I got called more for his gigs. Eventually we created a friendship. Some time a long the way he sends me a video from Alan Watts titled “If money were no object”. This was Alan Watts saying follow your dreams and not money. I really took that video to heart. At the time I was working a full time corporate job that I was good at but I didn’t love. At night I was so tired from working that I would just imagine what it would feel like to be a full time musician. I decided the day my 2nd son was born that it was time to make a move and follow my dreams full time. I did and I have been successful at it. I just feel that if I never met him years ago in Chicago. I might not be where I am now.

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

Yes, it was my first sub gig in New Orleans. I get a call from a drummer named Kirk McDow. He says hey man in a week I got a gig for you down on Frenchmen St in New Orleans. I said “cool! Sign me up!!” He gives me the band leaders information to get the song list. I get a hold of him, his name is Isaac Patrick. I say Isaac I’m excited to work with you, when is rehearsal. He says “uh these guys don’t probably have time to rehearse, we’re just gonna get up there and knock it out”. I said “ok”. But in my head I was having a panic attack. Anyways I learned the whole song list left to right as best as I could. I was really nervous I was going to mess up their stuff because I didn’t know if they changed arrangement. I get up on stage, there is about 6 guys on there which 5 of them I don’t know and never met. We get up there and shake hands. Set up, sound check. Then boom they gave us the green light to start playing. This club got packed in seconds. The band was hitting on all cylinders and Isaac was a great showman/frontman. He had the crowd jumping and dancing all night. My fingers knew where to go on the bass and 3 hours later the show was over. It was so much fun, it challenged me as a musician to just get up on stage and play with a band on the fly and follow the band leader. Then to top it off, we made a lot of money that night. It was everything you want in one hard dose. It was great.

"Take me to the night at the Montreaux Blues Festival when Chicago Blues Hall of Fame Guitarist Luther Allison performed. He had the most intense guitar solos you can ever hear. His vocals were top notch. Thats where I want to be if I had a time machine."

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

I feel that instrumentation is being lost in today’s music. Instruments are being replaced with digital sounds. People are afraid to sing with their natural voice and have all kinds of computerized sounding effects on their voice. I enjoy the flaws of the human voice. Its beautiful, its what connects me to them.

My hope is that we create a strong blues come back. Fear, I don’t really have any. I’ve been living as a musician for a while now. That is pretty much terrifying all the time. Because you never know if you’re going to get hired the next month. Or if you’ll sell enough CD’s or if your band mates might pass away. I mean I know that sounds crazy. But its the truth. I just try to stay positive in all I do.

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

Simple, make satellite radio free for everyone. Because the mainstream pop music they play here is absolutely terrible. There are so many great bands from the past to present that have airplay on Satellite radio and unless you have access you will never know about it. It is shame that this music is not accessible to the public. They just won’t air play this kind of music on regular FM radio stations. Unless you have a few gems in the city where radio stations cater to that which are far and few between.

What would you say characterizes Chicago Blues scene in comparison to NOLA scene and music?

Chicago Blues scene in my experience is a tight knit group. Amazing guitarist and bands that perform at all the blues clubs in Chicago are on a pretty regular rotation. It would be hard to get a headlining spot at one of these Chicago Blues Clubs unless ya know someone or you’re backed up by a reputable record company. New Orleans is a good place for someone to start and grow their band. Lots of venues there are more open to different genres outside of the blues, lots of tourist. In Chicago, there are more bands than venues. In New Orleans, there are more venues than bands. That is the main difference.

In Chicago you would pay a cover charge. Here in New Orleans they do not have cover charges to get in. So most bands have to work off of tips. Most clubs do pay a % of bar sales. This has been the debate for what seems like decades now. Some bands want a certain fixed rate pay. Some bands like the % route. I think its more lucrative to go the % route but definitely riskier. Sometimes a bad rainy day can affect sales. Less tourist come out and stuff which effect sales which in turn effect your payout.

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

Well I think we all know that blues was created in the south by African Americans. Using a lot of their influences and speaking of their experiences. It comes from a lot of emotions. Truth be told I stay away from politics so I really don’t know. As far as racial implications, blues nowadays is loved by every color and every ethnicity at least in my experience. Like I said before, it is a healer.

"My hope is that we create a strong blues come back. "

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

Take me to the night at the Montreaux Blues Festival when Chicago Blues Hall of Fame Guitarist Luther Allison performed. He had the most intense guitar solos you can ever hear. His vocals were top notch. Thats where I want to be if I had a time machine. I unfortunately was too young to ever see him live before he passed away. But he is probably my favorite bluesman alive. He’s the guy I try to emulate. I wish he was still performing today.

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