Q&A with German guitarist Jimmy Reiter - firmly rooted in the tradition of Blues and R&B, but with a fresh style

"The Blues is incredibly great at connecting people of different generations, origins and cultural backgrounds, so it can help to integrate people. All music can do that, but what I keep noticing about the Blues especially is that it touches people no matter if they’re 8 or 80 years old - everybody can relate to it."

Jimmy Reiter: Blues Is The Key

"What You Need" (2019) is the third album by the Blues/R&B guitar player and singer based in Germany, Jimmy Reiter. The new album features eleven mostly original songs and a few covers from the classic R&B treasure trove. On the CD, Reiter is backed by his regular 4-piece band with guest appearances by various artists like sax players Amadee Castenell and Sax Gordon. Jimmy Reiter, who for over 10 years was lead guitarist with US Blues singer/harmonica player Doug Jay as well as supporting player for numerous international Blues artists on their European tours, such as Larry Garner, Big Daddy Wilson, Albie Donnelly and Memo Gonzalez, released High Priest Of Nothing in 2011, his solo debut as a front man. The CD, winning the German Record Critics' Award and gaining praise by fans and critics alike, launched his career as a bandleader and frontman in his own right. Extensive European touring quickly established the Jimmy Reiter Band as a class act in the international Blues scene. On his 2015 album Told You So, Reiter once again showed his talents as a guitarist and singer, and proved to be a convincing songwriter, firmly rooted in the tradition of Blues and R&B, but with a fresh style of his own.

He is supported by his German/Dutch band consisting of Nico Dreier – organ/piano, Jasper Mortier – bass and Björn Puls – drums. After the release of What You Need in early 2019, the tight four-piece band is touring all across Europe in support of their new album as one of the most interesting acts on the current Blues circuit and continues to impress audiences wherever they play. In addition to fronting his own project, Jimmy Reiter is a welcomed guest on studio albums of other artists, such as "Love Is The Key" by Big Daddy Wilson, Keith Dunn's "Collection", "Kinky At The Root" by Dede Priest and "Shake-Down" by Chad Strentz. Reiter has released two successful video guitar courses for TrueFire, Soul Guitar Guidebook Vol. I and II. Reiter had the pleasure of working with: Louisiana Red, Eric Bibb, Duke Robillard, Billy Boy Arnold, Darrell Nulisch, Larry Garner, Aron Burton, Alex Schultz, Dave Myers, R.J. Mischo, Keith Dunn, Doug Jay, Boo Boo Davis, Mz. Dee, Angela Brown, Deitra Farr, Albie Donnelly, Guitar Crusher, Big Daddy Wilson, Memo Gonzalez, Frank Biner, "Sax" Gordon Beadle, Paul Orta, Big Bones, Janice Harrington, Ron Williams, Sydney Youngblood, and many others.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

For me, the Blues is the root of all my favorite styles of music. It’s the most honest form of expressing yourself and telling stories by playing and singing. It’s so universal and still so relevant today. Growing up as a German middle-class kid I would never consider myself a true “bluesman”, but it’s the music I love the most, so I try to pay respect to its tradition while also putting my own stamp on it. Maybe the most important thing I learned from the Blues is to be yourself -  the artists I look up to the most shine through their great personalities and don’t need to hide behind fancy gimmicks.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues researches? How do you describe your songbook and sound?

I got interested in the Blues as a teenager. When I started playing I spent all my money on Blues albums and read every CD booklet to find out who was playing what and who wrote which song, because I was just so into it, I wanted to find out as much as I could.

My own style draws from many different influences. Of course, there’s a lot of classic electric Blues in there. As a guitar player I’m a huge fan of Freddie, Albert and B.B., and also Eddie Taylor, Robert Lockwood, Jimmy Rogers and so on. Then there’s the funkier stuff like Johnny Guitar Watson, Wolfman Washington or Snooks Eaglin. In general, I found that I love everything that comes from New Orleans – The Meters, Dr. John, Allen Toussaint. I always go for a good groove and a nice melody, so I hope my own songs would reflect that. I also like keeping it simple. Long solos with a thousand notes per minute bore me to death. Everything needs to serve the song.

"My biggest concern is the devaluation of music in general. When you can pay 10$ per month to have access to all the world’s greatest music on some streaming platform, something is just terribly off." (Photo: Jimmy Reiter, Nico Dreier, Jasper Mortier and Björn Puls)

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

I had the fortune of growing up in a town that has maybe the best weekly Blues jam session in Germany. I started going there when I was about 16 and got to meet and later play with many great players. The connections I was able to make at that jam session were incredibly important and as a relatively young player I was already able to play with and learn from the best players in the area. This was also where I met Doug Jay, a harmonica player from Washington, D.C., in 1999 who had just moved to Germany and was looking for a band. We hooked up and I played in his band for about 10 years. We toured all across Europe and recorded two albums during that time. By playing with a harmonica player I learned a lot about backing up other musicians. Doug is also an amazing songwriter, which definitely helped me write better songs as well. We still collaborate on songs to this day. Doug co-wrote two songs on my new album “What You Need” with me.

Of course, there have been plenty of other important people in my carreer, starting with my guitar teacher Tosho Todorovic who put me on the right path as a teenager not only by showing me chords and licks, but also by playing me a great variety of Blues styles and introducing me to many important players of this genre.

I also consider myself very lucky to have the guys in my band, Nico Dreier, Jasper Mortier and Björn Puls. With Jasper and Björn especially I’ve worked together for ages, so they play a very important role in the Jimmy Reiter Band. I believe we have developed a pretty tight and individual sound over the years.

And then there’s my buddy “Sax” Gordon Beadle, who is one of the best sax players around and also one of the greatest people I’ve had the pleasure of working with. He was a big help on all my studio albums. Back in 2010 we booked a studio session together because we had nothing else to do on an off-day. That eventually led to my first solo album “High Priest Of Nothing”. I think we used two or three tracks from that session for the album.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?                          (Photo: Jimmy Reiter & Eddie Clearwater)

So many nice ones! I always enjoy going up there and playing my own music to people far away from home. I get a kick out of seeing different places and meeting interesting people, trying local food - and drinks. Going fishing on a fjord in the North of Norway before the gig, or playing on the Canary islands, seeing great towns like Rome, Venice, Madrid – those are all great memories.

I’ve had some cool studio experiences, too. Being able to record with Billy Boy Arnold on my friend Chris Rannenberg’s project or with Eric Bibb for a Big Daddy Wilson album.

One nice live memory: Early in my career with Doug Jay & The Blue Jays we played a festival in England and Eddie Clearwater was on after us. I was a big fan and wanted to get a picture with him, but I didn’t see him anywhere before the show and I didn’t want to invade his dressing room. So just when I thought it wouldn’t happen, there’s a knock on the door to my dressing room and it’s Eddy Clearwater wanting to take a picture with me after he had seen our set! I thought that was cool!

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

I miss the sound of clean guitars. Just a guitar through a loud tube amp. Distorted guitars don’t do anything for me in a Blues context. To my ears, all that processing takes away from the individuality of the player, and in my opinion that’s what it’s all about. I miss good songs, too. Too much of what I hear just seems like an excuse to do a long guitar solo. This might be strange to hear from a guitar player, but I have a feeling that the Blues today is so dominated by this one instrument, it gets a little boring. I love to hear saxophone, harmonica, piano and organ, too!

It’s a fine line between staying close to the tradition and becoming a cliché, but for me personally the goal is always to be myself and have an individual style, while paying respect to all the great music of this genre that came before me.

It’s going to be very important to get young people interested in the Blues. The Blues doesn’t have as much exposure as it used to, so we all need to make an effort to bring it to the younger generation if we don’t want it to disappear. In times where record sales practically don’t exist anymore as a source of income, it’s vital to have an audience to play to!

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

My biggest concern is the devaluation of music in general. When you can pay 10$ per month to have access to all the world’s greatest music on some streaming platform, something is just terribly off.

What touched (emotionally) you from the German Blues Scene? What characterize the sound of local blues circuits?         Jimmy Reiter / Photo by Tony Joe Gardner

As I mentioned earlier, there’s a Blues jam in my hometown of Osnabrück every Monday night where I got to meet a huge amount of great players and human beings in general. I’m grateful for having been given the opportunity to become a part of that scene. I had a lot of encouragement and advice from the people there. These days, being a little (!) bit older, I’m still going there on a regular basis and now I try to give some of that back to the younger generation of players. It’s so great to see new talents coming up who share the same love for the Blues. In general, that’s the coolest thing – having a great musical community with everyone benefiting from each other.

"I miss the sound of clean guitars."

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

The Blues is incredibly great at connecting people of different generations, origins and cultural backgrounds, so it can help to integrate people. All music can do that, but what I keep noticing about the Blues especially is that it touches people no matter if they’re 8 or 80 years old - everybody can relate to it.

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

Of course, there are so many great artists that I would have to loved to see, I can’t make up my mind. I’d be very interested in next week’s lottery numbers though, so I guess I’ll take a little trip to the future!

Jimmy Reiter - Home

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