Q&A with exceptional acoustic guitarist Dik Banovich - Folk Blues drawn from the deepest Roots of the Delta

"My feeling is that the Blues should make people aware of the oppression and inequalities that people suffered in the past, and still do to this day. These are the things that gave birth to this music and should be talked about in an open and honest manner and we should be working for solutions and not brushing these issues under the carpet..."

Dik Banovich: Run Back To The Roots

For 40 years Dik Banovich has played his mix of "Acoustic Roots & Blues" at concerts and festivals in Scotland, England, Brittany, France, Europe, Scandinavia, U.S. and West Africa. He grew up in Chicago USA in the 1950s and 1960s and was influenced very early on by the blues, swing and other styles of American guitar music. Dik is inspired by the best of traditional and contemporary fingerstyle guitar methods. He moved to Scotland in the late 1960s and was known to his contemporaries as the "Almost Blind Boy Banovich" in Glasgow because of his "downhome fingerpicking" style. Very high quality concerts, built around the traditional acoustic blues, drawn from the deepest "Roots" of the Delta, but also swing, ragtime, americana and folk blues.          (Photo by Jackie Calley)

Dik Banovich is an exceptional acoustic guitar player with a solid and sensitive picking style, his singing talents are not to be outdone and his voice is wonderfully posed on this traditional field blues ... in fact, we hear his life and his guitar in the blues tradition, but with today's influences. Dik has performed on the same stage of Peter Green’s Splinter Group, Paul Lamb and the Kingsnakes, Tam White, Run Rig, Dick Gaughan, Mojo Pep, The Men They Couldn’t Hang as well as Hot Chocolate. Dik has also performed with Soig Siberil, Hoffman Family Blues Experience, Spider (harmonica) Mackenzie, Ronnie Gerrard (ex New Celeste), Jim Condie, Mark (Tiny) Hamilton, Bill Alexander, Fraser Spiers and the great jazz drummer Alex Ross, to name just a few examples. He was also a member of The Willow String Band (Bluegrass) in the 1980s with the late Ray Stewart on banjo, Bernie Stocks on violin and Ian McIver on double bass. Together they made numerous appearances on radio and TV. Since he moved to the Côtes d'Armor, he continues to perform solo throughout Brittany and France. His new album titled "Run to You" which will be released on the 16 May.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Being brought up in Chicago I was influenced by the blues as well as other forms of American music; Blues, Jazz, Country, Elvis and more were all on the radio when I was growing up during the 1950's and 60's. Also, my mother was Irish, and my father came from Yugoslavia, so of course all their records were being played all the time at home. So, in one day I would hear everything from Glen Miller to polkas to Irish folk songs to blues & jazz and country music, operas the lot. My music teacher at my school in Chicago in the 1960's  was near retirement age and she would teach us songs which she knew from when she was young like "Side-walks of New York"  and other popular songs from the early 20th century as well as some Old Timey and other Folk Songs and Spirituals.

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

My philosophy I suppose is to listen to lots of different stuff, take it on board, put it in the blender and see what happens. I'm passionate about the acoustic guitar and spent years trying to blend all my influences to sound like myself. Apparently blues and blues influences come out strongly in my playing, so I've been told. In my publicity I describe my music as Acoustic Roots & Blues .... Acoustic - because I play acoustic guitar, Roots - as in my personal roots, and Blues - because I love the blues.

"I've only ever really been in my own personal past so I can honestly say that I don't miss anything because I'm still here, still listening to some of the same stuff I listened to when I was younger and most importantly, I'm still playing. The blues will always be around - in one form or other, because we live it every day and I think that will continue no matter where we end up as humankind. It's almost like The Blues is a "fact of life"." (Dik Banovich / Photo by Jackie Calley)

What touched you from fingerpickin' style? Why do you think that the acoustic Blues continues to generate such a devoted following?

Listening to Big Bill Broonzy and Brownie McGhee turned me on to fingerpicking, then there were the great English guitarists like ,Wizz Jones, John Renbourne, Davy Graham, Ralph Mctell - I began to realise that  there was so much available in fingerpicking guitar styles, from blues, to classical, flamenco, even the medieval lute playing of John Williams and the like. I felt I could learn something from all of these guitar styles, for instance the flamenco repertoire and use the technique in blues. I think acoustic blues will always appeal to people because it touches something inside them that they can relate to.... and this happens internationally regardless of language and culture...The blues is everywhere, which is why I also think that it's important for people to appreciate and support music from their own culture as well. There’s Blues in every culture.

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

For 10 years in the 1990's I played with Spider McKenzie, one of Scotland's top harmonica players. I remember we had a gig in a hotel in Tain, a town in the North of Scotland, north of Inverness... we also had Dagger Gordon, a wonderful mandolin player playing with us at this gig. We'd played this hotel a few times so we got to know a few folk quite well and knew it could get a bit "wild " because of the amount of whisky the folk drank... The bar was full and as we were playing,  I noticed, at the end of the long bar opposite where we were playing, a girl we knew who was with a different guy from the last time we were there ...but her old boyfriend was hanging about getting whisky drunk.. the old boyfriend threw a punch at the new boyfriend .... missed and hit the guy next to him... who then threw a punch ... missed and hit the guy next to him... Before very long that whole end of the bar was throwing punches, knocking tables and chairs over, breaking glasses, women screaming, whisky and beer all over the floor and the whole thing started moving along the bar getting closer and closer to us and our Pa equipment.

Dagger looked at me and said " You guys keep playing and I'll move the speakers back"... aye OK, by this time barstools were flying around like helicopters... So, there we were , Spider ,Dagger and me huddled in a corner... still playing ... with the fight moving closer... when the boss , who was a big lad, came and stood between us and the rabid crowd and shouted " Enough! if you don't stop it now, you'll all  have to leave, I'll close the bar .... no more whisky and that will be the end of your Saturday night!" (it was 9.30pm) And like magic… it all stopped ...the women stopped screaming, everybody cleared the broken glass, put the barstools back and sat down like nothing had happened. That was a real Blues Brothers moment ... In over 40 years of playing there are loads of stories from all sorts of situations... how long have you got?

"My philosophy I suppose is to listen to lots of different stuff, take it on board, put it in the blender and see what happens. I'm passionate about the acoustic guitar and spent years trying to blend all my influences to sound like myself. Apparently blues and blues influences come out strongly in my playing, so I've been told." (Dik Banovich / Photo by Jackie Calley)

What is the impact of Blues on the racial, human rights and socio-cultural implications? How do you want to affect people?

In 1980 I was in North Carolina staying with a guy called Frank Adams who was really active in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960's. Frank took me around N.C. and introduced me to older people who invited us into their homes. Their grandparents had been slaves, we sat and listened while they talked about "The Ol' Slave Lands" and how hard life had been for them. One day Frank invited me to take my guitar with me while we visited a Sewing Factory making blue jeans that was set up as a workers co-operative.... we spent the day there... in the early evening the Foreman who was in his 50's invited us and some of the workers into the office and eventually asked me to play some guitar... so I played "Keys to the Highway" sort of Brownie McGhee style.

When I'd finished the Foreman was all excited and said " That's my Gran Papy's music!!   I ain't heard that in a long time!"  In 1980 all the young folk had gone far beyond the blues and were listening to Soul and Motown and the only "blues" being played was by white guys like me   and performers that were playing to a predominately white audience who could afford to buy the records and entry to concerts. So it seems that the blues became a predominately white music, played and listened to by people who could afford to buy the discs, the lessons, the "real"guitars and had a nostalgic view of a life that had been a hard life but never theirs.

But in a way today that can make people aware of the problems that a section of American society had, and continues to have to this day. Of course, these problems are not just confined to the US, and not confined to race or religion, but are in fact worldwide and a lot of folk music from around the world illustrates the same problems. Which is why keeping all folk music and culture alive is important. But in reality, one cannot separate the real blues of the past from racial issues and inequalities that some people want to hide from and prefer to ignore because it doesn’t suit their comfortable world view. I know of a Facebook Group that is about acoustic blues... but it's rules won't allow it's members to talk about the issues that brought this music about ...in fact you can't talk about, or even mention, race, inequality, oppression or in fact anything  that is recognised as having given birth to the blues because some members get upset, start arguing and shouting and say they are there to listen to and learn to play the music and not talk or worry their heads about the social conditions that brought this music about.                                                          (Dik Banovich / Photo by Thierry Laferriere)

My feeling is that the Blues should make people aware of the oppression and inequalities that people suffered in the past, and still do to this day. These are the things that gave birth to this music and should be talked about in an open and honest manner and we should be working for solutions and not brushing these issues under the carpet... It's crazy to take one of the reasons the blues came into being out of the discussion about the music because you don't want to upset anybody. Not talking about the origins of the blues is like having a page with no words on it...Yes the Blues has incredible guitar playing, but we must remember that the lyrics are as important as the music, have meaning and tell a story...!

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

In my time I've been lucky to have opened for some amazing musicians, Peter Green's Splinter Group, Paul Jones' Blues Band, Dick Gaughan, Paul Lamb and the Kingsnakes, Tam White, Run Rig, even Hot Chocolate in 1984. It's really good to meet and work and share time with musicians  like them but sometimes the most important life changing meetings are with people that you meet on your travels, or the guy you have a beer with after the show. The best advice that anyone has ever given me? - " Don't give up your day job "... I didn't listen though.

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

I've only ever really been in my own personal past so I can honestly say that I don't miss anything because I'm still here, still listening to some of the same stuff I listened to when I was younger and most importantly, I'm still playing. The blues will always be around - in one form or other, because we live it every day and I think that will continue no matter where we end up as humankind. It's almost like The Blues is a "fact of life".

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

To never give up and be true to yourself ... don't change direction to follow a "market".

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

Back to listen to Big Bill Broonzy live and have my guitar with me for a bit of a play...oh and also back to a time where I had more hair!



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