Q&A with Dutch blues band of Barrelhouse - blends into an energetic and solidly lubricated piece of rhythm & blues

"Music in general brings people together. Apart from the protest blues is about."

Barrelhouse: On The Road (Again)

Old photos are like old memories; some are bright and clear, some are vague. 'Do not Look Back' is what Van Morrison already sang. An easy advice to follow for a young Tineke Schoemaker at the time. 45 years and 12 albums later you get a bit more difficult. Barrelhouse released the collection box '45 Years On The Road 'with all albums in February 2019. The first six have never appeared on CD before. Barrelhouse was not in the first instance to score a hit. Everyone has their own favorite songs on every album. 12 albums since 1974 of which the first 6 only appeared on vinyl. If you look at the publication dates of albums you will see a period of 10 years in which no albums appeared and no gigs took place. In 1993 Barrelhouse decided to play again, after which the urge to make new songs came back. Since then, 6 more albums have appeared, of which the most recent 'Almost There' has been awarded an Edison.

Barrelhouse plays since 1974 in unchanged line-up with Tineke Schoemaker (vocals), Johnny LaPorte (guitar), Guus LaPorte (guitar), Han van Dam (piano), Bob Dros (drums) and Jan Willem Sligting (bass). John Laporte and Jan Willem Sligting left Oscar Benton's Blues Band in 1974 to form Barrelhouse, first as an instrumental group. Soon Tineke Schoemaker joins them. They are very popular in the Netherlands because of their life reputation. It even results in a concert with blues master Albert Collins in 1978, issued on CD by Dutch label Munich Records.In 1985 Tineke is replaced by Jony de Boer, but a year later the band gave their last concerts. The members of Barrelhouse all join different bands. Much to the joy of many blues lovers in the Netherlands, Barrelhouse comes together again in 1993 with all the old members, including Tineke. Since then they recorded 2 new albums and a new one is being issued soon… extended biography will be put up. Barrelhouse is ‘magic’, a lucky combination of musicians that blends into an energetic and solidly lubricated piece of rhythm & blues, all at once catching the eye, forcing you to dance. Barrelhouse is dynamic in their slow blues and medium tempo, but even more so when they get worked up with an energetic number which they perform with a kind of enthusiasm that puts a spell on any audience lucky enough to catch a show.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Johnny: I’m not a blues man, I am a guitar player and I love to play blueslicks like Eric Clapton in the sixties and Jimi Hendrix, Peter Green, Mike Bloomfield, Johnny Winter, Mick Taylor etc. After the sixties I didn't listen to any blues record. These guys hit me in the soul with their licks, that's what the blues means to me. I try to do the same.

Jan: I realized that you have to be yourself, playing the blues, it's not about technique, it's about what you have to tell, no matter which instrument you play.

Bob: Although I have not been frequently in contact with original blues musicians there are of course influences in my personal perception of these men and women’s worlds. I was raised in a convincing Protestant family. My dad played the organ in the local church and was very fond of Mahalia Jackson and her gospel in the late 1950s. As a child I quickly learned to accept black musicians and it was their emotional contribution to the generally solemn atmosphere in our home that paved the way for my interest in secular blues and soul music. I learned to play drums at home and started my first band in my home village. We played Beatles and Stones. At that time, I lived somewhat isolated on one of the Dutch islands and decided, as a young adult, to move to Amsterdam and find a new bunch of musicians there to start a real soulband (1967). Much later I understood that playing blues music gave me much more freedom as a drummer than I had ever expected. A very nice discovery. It had to do with the relatively simple blues schemes that trigger creativity.

Guus: I've learned to have respect for those blues guys and for everybody who is seriously busy making music. JLH said: "Everybody can have the blues".

How do you describe band's songbook and sound? What characterize band's music philosophy? What is the story behind "Barrelhouse" name?

Jan: Half of our songbook is rare old blues songs, that did inspire us before we even could play the blues. Beside other things, Barrelhouse is a piano style, played in barrelhouses, a barrelhouse is a juke joint with a piano.

Bob: Barrelhouse rose from the ashes of one of the first real bluesbands in the Netherlands, The Oscar Benton Bluesband. Oscar left the original blues path and three remaining band members decided to start Barrelhouse, then called Barrelhouse Bailey’s Blues and Boogie Band. In their search for a drummer they picked me up from a regional rockband called Head Over Heels. They wanted a drummer with a rock feel. But after the first rehearsal they sent me home to study drummers like Fred Below and S.P. Leary to broaden my repertoire! My personal heroes became Bernard Purdy, Sam Lay, Sonny Freeman, Mick Fleetwood and last but not least a man called Clem Cattini (look him up!). And I am a Ringo Starr fan. About 10 years ago we decided to tour theaters and small clubs with an acoustic variant for which we chose a double bass, acoustic guitars, brushes and, if available a grand piano. Of course, a microphone for the lady.

In the beginning was instantly struck by their philosophy: blues can be found in many kinds of music. It is a basic feeling that is not just reserved for what we call ‘blues’, but which can be found in soul, rock, jazz and even country music. We called ourself a bluesband, but our broad vision and the music that came forth from it led to much criticism when we played, for instance, soul balads in Memphis style or a transposition of a Hank Williams or even an Ike Turner song. Of course, this had to do with our singer as well, mrs. Tineke Schoemaker, who could perform all these styles so very well. The traditional blues magazines sometimes had difficulty in defining our style. Blues? But the blues has always been and still is our point of departure. My band members, all of them, are fond of the American blues history and have thorough knowledge of it (not me, though). Our Vintage Blues cd was dedicated to these, our heroes, such as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willy Dixon, Leroy Carr, Little Walter and Billie Holiday.

We have two guitar brothers in the band. One is very much influenced by the British blues guitarists (Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Peter Green), and the other the (mostly black) American guitar heroes (BB, Albert and Freddy King, Otis Rush and Albert Collins, John Lee Hooker, to name a few). Their different styles mix very well in their ‘guitar battles’.

"We live in a multi-cultural society and there are many more factors that contribute to the acceptance or rejection of different life styles and cultures. Blues music may have contributed to acceptance, I don’t know. I hope so."

What were the reasons that make the Netherlands to be the center of Blues researches and experiments at the 70s?

Johnny: I don't know. I studied playing guitar like these guitarists and from the seventies I developed myself finding my own style with their ingredients. Maybe that was what happened in the Netherlands at that time.

Guus: The British discovered the blues in the sixties, the Dutch followed soon, as we stood open for British and American music. After the British blues invasion in America, the black blues guys invaded Europe, especially Holland. We had a lot of bluesband in that time.

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

Johnny: For 40 years I worked at the office of an Insurance Co. One day someone put a postcard in my drawer with a quote on it from Miles Davis, that said: "When You Don't Make Mistakes, You Don't Learn".  I use these words on stage and in real life.

Jan: The way Duke Ellington did write music and his way of leading a band: he made every musician sound like the musician he is, be yourself, and try to express a feeling.

Bob: Barrelhouse is a vital band with a reputation of lively, dynamic shows. What contributes to this is that we hardly ever play in minor keys. We try to leave the music ‘open’ and we all are at times playing reluctantly, leaving space for each-other. Another ‘rule’ within the band that turned out to be very fruitful to me personally was the 80% rule, may be the best advice: play at 80% of your max and use the other 20% to look and listen and to initiate creativeness. Our aim is to play as one ‘organism’, and to express the emotional impact of a song. We are not very fond of the kind of musicians with ‘large egos’ and long solos in which they show off with tremendously fast and virtuoso notes.

Guus: In high school I met somebody who had a lot of records of black early blues singers, Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, Blind Lemon J. etc. I love that old stuff and try to interpreted their way of playing in my own play. Don't cover but discover, somebody advise me.

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

Johnny: Once we did a TV show with Albert Collins. I played on a Gibson SG with a loose neck and sometimes I made it sound like a tremolo by moving it a little for and backwords. Albert liked that and said to me:"Hey Johnny, that sounds great, how did you do that?!" I showed him and he tried to do the tremolo with his Telecaster. It didn't succeed and he was very disappointed. Give me your guitar!! After 10 minutes he was done, he didn't sound like the Master Of Telecaster anymore.

Bob: Four years after our start we had the opportunity to choose a ‘fellow’ artist for a radio and TV show. It was February 1978 and freezing cold. We invited the ‘Iceman’ Albert Collins who came over in a day (the Iceman never knew it could be so cold on earth). It was his first visit to Europe. We were ready and warm after only one rehearsal. It started an unforgettable tour and a live recording and Albert returned to Europe many times thereafter. A very good-humored and sympathetic man (and his lovely wife Gwendolyn). The contact remained until his sudden death in 1993.

We had Gary Lucas on one of our CDs, we recorded with three traditional Mongolian musicians who never had heard of a blues scheme and communicated through three or four German words (and their instruments) and we recorded the old American traditional ‘The Fields Have Turned Brown’ with The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi. These were all fantastic experiences. Through these people we really could express our musical philosophy.

Guus: In '78 and' 79 we toured with the great Albert Collins, that was quite an experience. Lovely human being.

"The sixties when some Dutch bluesbands were high in the charts. The Dutch blues singer Oscar Benton had a nr 1 hit with Bensonhurst Blues in France, Italy and the Eastern Part of Europe. I'm still playing with him, also doing shows in the East of Europe."

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

Johnny: In the sixties and seventies they played blues music on the main radio stations. Nowadays it is like forbidden. You have to listen underground to blues, it is gonna die.

Jan: what I like in blues is the way it can be powerful, romantic and modest at the same time.

Bob: I’m confident that ‘blues’ as a way to express oneself as a musician, will never fade away. And there are many interesting ‘cross-overs’ that keep the blues lively. Some of us regret the decrease of a romantic feel in the blues these days. Fast and loud seems to be the crede.

Guus: I think the blues will always be there. Lots of young musicians discover this music art. Gary Clark Jr, North Mississippi All Stars interprete the groovy one-chord style of R.L. Burnside and J. Kimbrough.  I don't fear.

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

Johnny: The sixties when some Dutch bluesbands were high in the charts. The Dutch blues singer Oscar Benton had a nr 1 hit with Bensonhurst Blues in France, Italy and the Eastern Part of Europe. I'm still playing with him, also doing shows in the East of Europe.

Jan: Interesting was when hippies, late sixties, did adept blues, that was a period blues seem to be everywhere for a while. In the USA scene my favorite period was 1928-1934, a voice and a guitar.

Bob: The Dutch blues scene is very much alive. There are countless bluesbands that operate in a diversity of localities, mostly small clubs and cafes every weekend. Most of them are local heroes. Cuby (Harry Muskee) and the Blizzards introduced a raw and pure kind of blues around 1966. The group was instantly popular and is regarded as the initiator of the ‘blues disease’ in The Netherlands. The Oscar Benton Blues Band, John the Revelator and Flavium soon followed. The late 1960s was also the time when a number of boogie-woogie pianists were popular in our country. The fast fingers of André Valkering and Mr. Boogie-Woogie, the perfect timing and authentic feel of Rob Agerbeek and the tastful touch of Han van Dam were frequently heard at the brand new Alcmar Blues Society at Alkmaar, Holland.

At this time, we have a number of leading bands, such as Magic Franky, Left Hand Freddy, Ruben Hoeke, Julian Sas, The Juke Joints and Ana Popovic and of course our ‘Edison’-award winning Barrelhouse, 45 years on the road in 2019.

"I’m confident that ‘blues’ as a way to express oneself as a musician, will never fade away. And there are many interesting ‘cross-overs’ that keep the blues lively. Some of us regret the decrease of a romantic feel in the blues these days. Fast and loud seems to be the crede."

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

Johnny: Blues connects. When Albert Collins came to Holland to play with us, we only rehearsed three songs and Albert said okay that's enough. Let's drink whisky, the next day we did the live TV show. Amazing!  We spoke the same language, the blues! Blues ends wars when the world leaders want it.

Jan: Music in general brings people together. Apart from the protest blues is about.

Bob: I think this is, for me, incalculable. We live in a multi-cultural society and there are many more factors that contribute to the acceptance or rejection of different life styles and cultures. Blues music may have contributed to acceptance, I don’t know. I hope so.

Guus: Blues songs had mostly more layers in the early days and were used to bring covered messages.

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

Johnny: The year of 1969, Woodstock Festival to see Jimi Hendrix playing Stars Spangled Banner, to see Santana, The Who, Joe Cocker, Ten Years After and all the others!

Jan: I would like to be there in the late twenties in the Peabody Hotel in Memphis when Robert Wilkins (Rolling Stone Blues) or Son House (Death Letter Blues) recorded their blues.

Bob: I would like to go to Timbuctoo, Africa, where, 50 years from now, the biggest multi-cultural music show is held for the 3rd time. Of all places on earth it turned out to be the most inspiring festival of all festivals. It is attended by more than 500 groups from all over the world and the Sahara Desert site is covered with more than 200.000 people, dancing and singing day after day. I am one of them, just 25 years old.

Guus: Imagine me sittin' and playin' on the front porch of Mississippi John Hurt's cabin and he's singin' 'My Creole Belle'.

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