"I think as long as people keep listening to blues and acknowledge the roots and be respectful to that, we have nothing to worry about. But I see and hear a lotta stuff I don’t really like concerning acknowledgement of the REAL roots."
Big Pete: The Blues King of Benelux
Dutch blues vocalist and harp master Pieter "Big Pete" van der Pluijm may not be a familiar name to American blues audiences, but he's already well-established in the Netherlands. At 23, Pete was handpicked for a European memorial tour to honor the music and memory of legendary harmonica player and vocalist Lester Butler, backed by several of Lester's original bandmates. The project was met with great success and critical acclaim, so more tours and a CD by the Lester Butler Tribute Band soon followed, securing Pete's arrival on the scene as one of the premier next generation blues performers in the Benelux region. Since then, Big Pete has gone on to form and record many other successful projects including his debut "Bathroom Acoustics" by The Strikes, a couple of CDs by the rockin' 50's Chicago blues outfit The Backbones, and most recently, the more progressive and forward-thinking group 'Men Of Considerable Taste'. Pete's growing reputation has also led to tours and performances backing many blues artists including Alex Schultz, Mitch Kashmar, Monster Mike Welch, Hook Herrera, Matt Schofield, and Ian Siegal. (Pieter "Big Pete" van der Pluijm / Photo by TK Pix)
Pete's informal introduction to the U.S. market materialized in March 2010 with his appearance on The Mannish Boys' 5th anniversary release "Shake For Me." Pete closed out the album in style paying tribute to his hero Lester Butler on the storming New Orleans romp "Way Down South," backed by Kid Ramos, Willie J. Campbell and Jimi Bott along with special guest pianist Andy Kaulkin, who previously recorded with Lester Butler on the classic album "Thirteen." Now Holland's best kept secret makes his official American solo album debut with an incredible all-star recording lineup featuring Kim Wilson, Paul Oscher, Al Blake, Johnny Dyer, Alex Schultz, Kirk Fletcher, Kid Ramos, Rusty Zinn, Shawn Pittman, John Marx, Mojo Mark, Rob Rio, Willie J. Campbell and Jimi Bott. “Choice Cuts” is guaranteed to be an instant classic not to be missed by anyone who considers themselves a true blues lover! A new live album coming soon!
What do you learn about yourself from the blues music and culture? What does the blues mean to you?
It’s very hard to remember how exactly I caught the ‘blues bug’, but my father had some good blues records and that’s where it start before I was a teenager. After that I got into rock music and different styles of music. In 1993 (I was 15 years old) I saw the Red Devils with Lester Butler on TV and I got back into the blues in a very heavy way after that. Hearing that band made me go back and learn about little Walter, Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Rogers and all the other originals. I also got involved in the ‘blues scene’ locally so I started playing in blues bands by then.
How do you describe Big Pete sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?
Well, I like to think my sound is a mix between a vintage style and more modern style. I like to incorporate all the music I like (not just old school blues per se) in my sound and my music so I hope that in that way it comes out sounding like ‘Big Pete’. (Photo by Rutger Haspers)
What were the reasons that you started the harmonica researches and experiments? What are the secrets of harp?
Like I said, Lester Butler started me into learning about all the other players and styles, and later Alex Schultz got me into a lot of the West-Coast players I’d never heard about like William Clarke and Rod Piazza. Through their music I learned how to play the Chromatic harp. I also learned from watching videos and reading what kind of gear you needed to get a good harp sound other than just the acoustic sound which is actually the most important sound.
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Alex Schultz was very important, also Matt Schofield, Eddie Clark (drummer for William Clarke and Lester Butler’s 13) and I also picked up a lot from Mitch Kashmar and ‘Monster’ Mike Welch. Best advice? Be yourself and play it like you mean it- Finis Tasby told me that. Also getting to play with Johnny Dyer was a very big deal for me. Al Blake is a HUGE influence. James Harman also. And Hook Herrera I also picked up a lot from. And another huge influence is Paul Oscher. There are probably many more but these guys have all had a big impact on me and my playing.
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
The studio session for my record ‘Choice Cuts’ was really special. We recorded it in 3 days, with about 11 special guests so that was an absolute trip. Great experience working with all these people. Photo: Big Pete & Alex Schultz
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I don’t really miss much, as I was never a part of the real blues past. All of that doesn’t really ‘belong’ to me if you understand. There are only a handful of people still alive that can tell you anything about that, and you really have to respect that. It’s not my place to reference on the past too much. I think I play music my way, and it’s all ‘rooted’ in blues and roots music. But I’ll never be a ‘blues man’ like the many greats that actually lived through those times.
I think as long as people keep listening to blues and acknowledge the roots and be respectful to that, we have nothing to worry about. But I see and hear a lotta stuff I don’t really like concerning acknowledgement of the REAL roots. I hope that changes and people start understanding that part of it.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
People with ‘special’ talents should be able to make a living using their talent. Whether it be music, art, sports, whatever- I’d like to see that happen at some point.
Make an account of the case of blues in Benelux region. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?
The late 1990-ies were a great period over here, right now there are also some really nice bands and players. So there’s always something happening which is good.
"I don’t really miss much, as I was never a part of the real blues past. All of that doesn’t really ‘belong’ to me if you understand. There are only a handful of people still alive that can tell you anything about that, and you really have to respect that." (Photo by TK Pix)
What are the lines that connect a Dutchman with the blues? What touched (emotionally) you from Lester Butler?
I’m still trying to figure that out! He just grabbed me and never let go!!
What is the impact of Blues culture and music to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?
Well, I could go on and on about that, especially right now. When I see ‘blues people’ or even ‘blues musicians’ who write or support some insane right-wing agenda, it really pisses me off. It shows you that there are a lot of folks out there with either a lot to learn, or that should not be involved in anything having to do with a culture that isn’t even theirs to begin with. I mean, I see stuff- confederate flags, racist comments on Facebook it goes on and on. Really sad disrespectful stuff. Like I said, I could go on and on. RESPECT comes first if you wanna be involved in something like blues music.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
Haha, ok…Maxwell Street, Chicago…1949?
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