Q&A with Eric Hughes, embodies the sound of Memphis through his live shows and award-winning recordings

"I miss the value and attention that music once had, when people really listened deeply to a recording or to a live show. I miss crowds of people dancing, and I miss talking to audience members- shaking hands, conversation between sets- without fear of getting sick. I miss performing for people who actually came to hear live music, instead of playing with their phones and talking loudly. I miss traveling."

Eric Hughes: Bluesicana Greetings

Eric Hughes was born and raised in Memphis and spent his weekends in Mississippi, where he came to cherish blues music. After a couple of years at Mississippi College, Hughes joined the Marines, and found himself stationed far from home.  Hughes bought a guitar, hoping that learning some blues might ease his homesickness.  That guitar did more than that.   A decade of learning followed, traveling and learning from various bluesmen. Eric first began performing in the clubs on Beale Street in 2001, where he continues to play several nights a week as a solo entertainer, with a duo, or in front of the Eric Hughes Band. Eric Hughes exemplifies Beale Street today: steeped in blues but representing so much more; he has played over 4,000 shows on that famed avenue. Hughes sees his role of Beale Str. mainstay as a profound honor and sacred responsibility. Eric is a musician, storyteller, historian, tour guide and a rock-solid songwriter. Through his new album "Postcard From Beale Street" (2020) Eric lets you hear what Memphis sounds like today, and what it sounded like yesterday.                           Photo by Steve Roberts

Eric’s songs here range in style from soul, indie, jug-band, ballad, rock, and – of course – blues. Eric and his band of skilled musicians (who toured and recorded with music legends such as Albert and BB King, Little Milton, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Jeff Beck, Buddy Miles and many more) are augmented by solid Memphis session players (with musical resumes that rival anyone). Postcard From Beale Street represents the diverse influences that make Memphis music more than a thing of the past. Like Memphis, Eric’s music can’t be “pigeon-holed”; he’s not merely a blues artist. This is a songwriting album: ear candy from some fine musicians. Each of these songs tell a story through lyrical imagery and crafty songwriting. All of these songs are ABOUT something, not just words to accompany music. Postcard From Beale Street is a homegrown production from start to finish, every song was written, played, and recorded in Memphis by Memphis musicians – produced, mixed, mastered and manufactured in Memphis.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

My travels have given me an opportunity to compare Memphis music to so many other styles, and so many other places. No matter where I go, I bring some of the sounds with me from home. There is a saying here that goes: “It’s much cooler to be a musician FROM Memphis than to be a musician IN Memphis. Sometimes it takes removing something from its environment to truly see its value.

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

Although one foot is rooted in blues, my music is not afraid to break boundaries of style, genre, and classification. I would describe my music as “Bluesicana”.

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

I have met, jammed with and learned from too many of my blues heroes to mention here, but enjoyed my impromptu guitar lesson from Honeyboy Edwards, loved meeting RL Burnside, and having my songs recorded by other artists- a particular honor.

"My travels have given me an opportunity to compare Memphis music to so many other styles, and so many other places. No matter where I go, I bring some of the sounds with me from home. There is a saying here that goes: “It’s much cooler to be a musician FROM Memphis than to be a musician IN Memphis. Sometimes it takes removing something from its environment to truly see its value."

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

I miss the value and attention that music once had, when people really listened deeply to a recording or to a live show. I miss crowds of people dancing, and I miss talking to audience members- shaking hands, conversation between sets- without fear of getting sick. I miss performing for people who actually came to hear live music, instead of playing with their phones and talking loudly. I miss traveling.

What does "Beale Street" mean to you? What touched (emotionally) you from the feeling and atmosphere of place?

I have played around four thousand shows there, I receive mail there, I practically live there. It’s home. I have loved it since the first time I went. The sound of people, of music, the energy and vibe… I love meeting people from all over the planet who have come to hear Memphis music.

What would you say characterizes Memphis Blues Scene in comparison to other US local scenes and circuits?

Memphis blues is more varied, and thusly harder to describe. Memphis blues has a wider range of influences that other blues genres.

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

I want my music to be enjoyed, simply. I am not trying to change the world, but merely make it more enjoyable.

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

Hard work. The fun-filled few hours onstage are made possible only by unseen hours of hard work, frustration, and ridiculous obstacles: none of which the audience knows about (they’re not supposed to know about). I have also learned that your show has very little to do with how you think you’re sounding or how fulfilled you feel at the time; it has everything to do with how you make the audience feel.

"Memphis blues is more varied, and thusly harder to describe. Memphis blues has a wider range of influences that other blues genres." 

(Eric Hughes performing solo/acoustic in Germany / Photo by Michael Bach)

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

I’d like to visit Beale Street in the 1920’s, when music from orchestras down to jug-bands were performing live.

Eric Hughes Band - Home

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