Q&A with Florida-based Bill Blue, one of the original blues road warriors, crackles with energy and edgy guitars

"Blues was Black people's music. It brought Black people's struggles into the consciousness of White America. I think it was Keith Richards who said that Blues was America's greatest gift to the world."

Bill Blue: The King of Crazy Town

Bill Blue born in Aberdeen N.Carolina and raised in Yorktown VA, Bill first picked up a guitar when he was at school in Richmond VA. Playing along with records at first, Bill began to develop his unique slide guitar technique. A chance meeting with Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup who wrote Elvis Presley’s hit ‘That’s Alright Mama’, ignited Bill’s lifelong passion for Blues music. With the British music invasion of the 60’s and 70’s, bringing R&B bands like The Rolling Stones to the USA, interest in Blues music grew and Arthur Crudup who’d been working as a farm hand, asked Bill to put together a live band. Arthur and Bill toured the USA, most notably opening for Bonnie Raitt on her first American tour. After Arthur died in 1974, Bill went out on his own and for a decade toured extensively sharing the stage with BB King, ZZ Top, The Allman Brothers, Albert King, Johnny Winter, Hank Williams Jr and countless others.

Bill made 2 LPs for Adelphi and the worldwide distribution the label offered gave him the chance to be heard around the world. Bill toured to promote his records in all the Scandinavian countries and in addition played in France, Estonia and Lithuania. In the eighties, tired of the road, Bill stopped touring and moved to Key West. Bill ventured out of Key West to play the occasional festival, but apart from putting together the occasional compilation LP and a live recording at the legendary Full Moon Saloon in Key West, Bill didn’t record anything new until 2013 when new Key West resident, British producer Ian Shaw persuaded him back into the studio. Bill Blue, one of the original blues road warriors, follows up his 2013 comeback album Mojolation with another standout blues collection, The King Of Crazy Town (Release Date: March 6, 2020). The King Of Crazy Town, on Key West’s new Conch Town label, crackles with energy and edgy guitars, most of which were recorded live in one or two takes with the full band, topped with Bill’s authentic and gritty vocals. The album features an arsenal of top Florida artists plus ace guitarist Matt Backer (Joe Cocker, Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris). Horns were recorded in New York with the Funky In The Middle Horns.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I grew up in the South so the Blues and R&B was just natural to me, what they called Garage Bands back then. Radio was playing Blues; Bo Diddley Chuck Berry that's what we heard. Blues was all around me. My entire view of the world has been influenced by my love of that music. All the decisions I've made in my life have been made with my heart and a Blues sensibility rather than my head. I've lead a kind of Outlaw life. I didn't follow the traditional path my parents wanted me to take.

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

I like to call my sound "Rhythm & Roll", it's just a little bit more upbeat than most Blues bands. I like raw, noisy guitar sounds and energy. I write songs about what I know, I never been a guy who goes to work every day and writes songs. My philosophy is that a song will come to you. If you sit down and think about it too much, it won't happen.

I think when you're a musician that IS your creative drive. Making music, to me, is as essential as breathing. I've had music in my head since I was a kid, I was even writing songs when I was a little boy not knowing really what to do with them.

"For the future, I hope the Blues organizations open up a bit more and recognize some of the new acts out there. It seems to me that every year, it's largely the same acts winning awards." (Bill Blue / Photo by Ralph De Palma)

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

Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup started me in this business when he asked me to put a live band together for him, so that was probably the most important meeting in my career.

BB King was probably the most awe-inspiring person that I got to know. He was generous and kind and told me to not let anybody stop my dreams. He said "do your thing", and not to listen to critics. Your audience will let you know that you're doing it right.

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

I've opened for lots of great acts including The Allman Brothers, Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry. My band The Bill Blue Band were even Chuck and Bo's band for a few gigs. Opening for BB King and Bonnie Raitt were probably my favorites. I even got to play with BB on one occasion in North Carolina. I've jammed with lots of people. Delbert McClinton and The Nighthawks were fun!

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

There’re so many bands playing The Blues now and they're categorized. it wasn't so much like that in the old days, you either played Blues or you didn't. Now you've got Chicago Blues, Delta Blues, Piedmont Blues and on and on. I guess it was always there but somebody had to put a name to it. I don't like that so much.

For the future, I hope the Blues organizations open up a bit more and recognize some of the new acts out there. It seems to me that every year, it's largely the same acts winning awards.

"I like to call my sound "Rhythm & Roll", it's just a little bit more upbeat than most Blues bands. I like raw, noisy guitar sounds and energy. I write songs about what I know, I never been a guy who goes to work every day and writes songs. My philosophy is that a song will come to you. If you sit down and think about it too much, it won't happen."

What would you say characterizes Florida's blues scene in comparison to other US local scenes?

35 years ago, they were very few clubs in all of Florida that had Blues bands. Now they're all over the place, a very good scene in Florida. Florida only has a few homegrown Blues stars though, maybe because the majority of people who live in Florida came from somewhere else. I don't think there's a Florida Blues sound.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from the late great, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup?

He was a real Mississippi Delta Bluesman. He told me horror stories about his 2 years in Parchman Farm prison in Mississippi. He showed me the scars on his back where they would whip him, it was a very moving story. What used to make me laugh was that he could never get Elvis Presley's name right. Arthur wrote "That's Alright Mama". I'd say, "Arthur, it's Elvis Presley", he'd go "That's right, Elvin Presley".

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

Play in front of as many people as possible, always do your best show whether it's 2000, 200 or 2 people. You got to stick with it and don't quit, you've got to make the sacrifice.

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

That's too deep a question for a white Bluesman to really answer properly. Blues was Black people's music. It brought Black people's struggles into the consciousness of White America. I think it was Keith Richards who said that Blues was America's greatest gift to the world.

"I think when you're a musician that IS your creative drive. Making music, to me, is as essential as breathing. I've had music in my head since I was a kid, I was even writing songs when I was a little boy not knowing really what to do with them."

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 go back and meet again some of the great Blues artists I met back in the day. I wish when I was young, I'd paid more attention to some of the wonderful times on the road when I met my heroes. They were all very nice and good to me and I wish I'd appreciated it more at the time. I didn't even have a camera back then. I'd definitely take one with me if I could go back.

Bill Blue.online

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