Q&A with guitar virtuoso Randy Casey - his original compositions push the boundaries with a rock and roots soul.

"In music, as in life, be careful who you trust. Not everyone is your friend. When you do find those friends that you truly trust hang on to them."

Randy Casey: Americana Blues Time

Randy Casey's new 11 all-original tracks album titled Record Time (2020). The album recorded in just 24 hours of studio time with Randy playing all instruments, harks back to a simpler time, when songs had to sink or swim based on musicianship and songwriting rather than studio tricks and gaudy effects, when music was played on records, not MP3 players. Randy is donating half of all proceeds from the sale of this album to the Equal Justice Initiative. Randy Casey’s music career spans more than three decades of twists and twangs. From the stages of CBGB and Whiskey a-go-go to a recording gig attended by Bob Dylan, Randy Casey is a commanding front man and an engaging solo artist who rocks roomfuls of revelers with classic covers and captivates jaded music heads with his own emotive, evocative songs. His original compositions push the boundaries of what’s expected from a guitar virtuoso with a rock and roots soul. His beautifully crafted songs evoke the Rolling Stones jamming with Andy Griffith; a surprising and delicious blend of corn pone meets Brit rock. From session work to live stages, Randy is a human jukebox, instantly recalling, recreating and reinventing generations of music and musical styles. In the studio, he’s a producer’s dream: a talented session ace able to explore alternatives while always delivering on mark.                    (Photo: Randy Casey)

From session work to live stages, Randy is a human jukebox, instantly recalling, recreating and reinventing generations of music and musical styles. In the studio, he’s a producer’s dream: a talented session ace able to explore alternatives while always delivering on mark. In fact, Casey was getting it back; the 1969 Gibson Les Paul Custom was the first guitar Casey had ever played as a kid. When decades later, the neighbor who had let him play the guitar back then got an offer from Neilsen to buy it, he offered it to Casey first. Casey dug deep, and the neighbor let him make payments, but at last, his first love was his. Immediately, songs began to flow from the guitar, Casey said. It’s that guitar that produces the swampy slide of “Bed Bug Blues,” “Broken Arm Blues,” and “That Train,” the Stonesy rock of “One Step Ahead,” and the moody overdrive of “Strange.” Casey is a consummate guitarist; as Shannon Curfman’s first music director, he has played the largest of stages with the biggest of stars. He’s also gotten his instrumental work placed on NPR’s “All Things Considered” and other national shows. I Got Lucky reveals Casey’s other prodigious talents as well, including creative and clever songwriting that captures the essence of classic blues while contributing tasteful innovations to the genre. The result is a collection of songs that is at once impressively eclectic and firmly rooted in tradition.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I was a sideman for a young up and coming blues artist named Shannon Curfman (Arista Records). In the band with me was Keven Murphy, the dude who started Rufus and who gave Chaka Kahn her start. We opened for some pretty heavy artists: Jimmy Vaughn, Robert Cray, John Mellencamp, Melissa Etheridge, the Fabulous Thunderbird to name a few. This gave me an up-close view of how roots music can pull people together. There was nothing contrived about any of these people. They are all honest performers and that is how I wish to be perceived.

What were the reasons that you started the Folk/Roots/Blues researches and experiments?

Being the youngest sibling of six had me exposed to all kinds of music: orchestral (my first instrument was the violin), my parents used to dance to big band and swing, my sister was really into Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen and Donovan (and other folksters). My brothers were into Cream, Hendrix, Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. It was a neighborhood friend that really exposed me to some eye-opening stuff...namely Led Zeppelin. Zeppelin wasn't just a heavy blues-based rock band, they used a lot of acoustic instruments as well. Jimmy Page describes it as "Light and Shade" and I totally bought into that. Folk/Roots/ Blues just seems to be part of my DNA.

"The killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota really touched a nerve. I'm from Minneapolis and I love my hometown. To watch it being destroyed by the wrong type of "activism" made me feel that it was time I do something, anything to try to help. We need to demilitarize the way policing is done in the United States and the Equal Justice Initiative is on the ground working to make that happen." (Photo: Randy Casey)

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

I have always walked a fine line between Blues, Folk and Country. If you asked me, I'd say that is the definition of Americana. Andy Griffith jamming with the Stones.

How do you describe "Record Time" sound and songbook? How do you want it to affect people?

Every song on "Record Time" was recorded live, meaning I played guitar and sang at the same time so at the core they are real, live performances. I hope people can hear and feel that when they are listening. I didn't "phone it in" or "fix" anything up.

I consider the song subjects and characters to be relatable. Everybody knows someone who's an alcoholic, been divorced, fallen in love or been taken advantage of etc.  It's all in there. I don't have any expectations of what people will take away from these songs, I just hope they listen and take away what they will.

How started the thought a solo album and what was the hardest part of making this (one-man band) album?

This was actually a really easy record to make, thanks to producer Rob Genadek. I would get a good take of the song and Rob would make subtle suggestions on how to "sweeten" the overall sound with some overdubs i.e. spacey texture guitar, harmonica, slide guitars etc... I had done a solo/acoustic tour of Europe in April 2019 and was offered a record deal with a label based in Germany.  We just recorded a set of songs similar to what I played on the tour. Once the album was done, I had a lawyer take a look at the recording agreement and he suggested I pass on the deal. So, I put the album out on my own.

"I have always been attracted to guitar-centric music. Being a guitarist myself I pay close attention to having good tones, textures and techniques. I feel in order to be a true musical entertainer you should be proficient at your instrument. That much has always been true for me." (Photo: Randy Casey)

How important was activism in your life and how does affect your inspiration? What touched (emotionally) you from Equal Justice Initiative?

I have always been liberal in my views of politics, meaning I believe all of us deserve the same fair treatment by our government officials, police and from each other.

I have never really been much of an "activist " in the past. The killing of George Floyd at the hands of police in Minneapolis, Minnesota really touched a nerve. I'm from Minneapolis and I love my hometown. To watch it being destroyed by the wrong type of "activism" made me feel that it was time I do something, anything to try to help. We need to demilitarize the way policing is done in the United States and the Equal Justice Initiative is on the ground working to make that happen.

What do you hope is the message of your music? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?

That melody, imagination and musicianship is not dead! Real people are out here playing real instruments and making "real" music. At least I still am.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I have always been attracted to guitar-centric music. Being a guitarist myself I pay close attention to having good tones, textures and techniques. I feel in order to be a true musical entertainer you should be proficient at your instrument. That much has always been true for me. By studying the great musicians and songwriters I have grown into writing music that I am truly proud of. I've learned from the best and I've taken it to heart. If I don't dig it, nobody else is going to hear it.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?           (Randy Casey / Photo by John B. Riekena)

Peter Himmelman has been a great influence on me. He helped me record one of my first songs. He even wrote a bridge for it. He can write a song about anything; a garbage can, a gum wrapper...anything. From him I learned the importance of good song writing. Another guy who influenced me greatly is an old neighborhood friend named Kurt Paulsen. When I was a kid playing the violin Kurt turned me on to all kinds of great guitar players. The first time I ever heard Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton, Johnny Winter, Rory Gallagher etc. was in the Paulsen's basement. Kurt designed the album cover for "I Got Lucky". He's still an influence. The best advice I ever got was from my father. When I was seventeen and playing in a band, he sat me down and asked me what I wanted to do with my life. I told him I was already doing it: MUSIC. He knew I loved it and he was very supportive. He told me, "It's a long life so make sure you do what you love and love what you do". He was a Depression-era, World War II survivor who worked a labor-intensive blue color job all of his life.

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

Once, at a rehearsal for a recording session I met Bob Dylan. Dylan is Peter Himmelman's father in law. I wasn't aware of it at the time but Peter invited Bob to a rehearsal. He came in while we were running through a song and he stood behind me. I did a little double take over my shoulder. Holy crap...it's Dylan! What made the whole experience super freaky was two weeks before that my sister, a huge Dylan fan told me that I was going to meet him.

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

Great records are made by people playing in the same room at the same time and it was real. That seems to be disappearing. Now, music has gotten so digitized and sanitized that the life has been sucked out of it. There's no spirit. It's more impersonal now. In many cases its no longer performance based, it's computer based. Although I use digital formats to record my music, I try to keep it as real and performance based as possible and my hope is that more artists will come back to that. Also, concert tickets have gotten so expensive that the average music lover can't afford to go to every show that they'd like to go to.

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

People used to buy an LP, get together with their friends, listen to both sides and talk about it. Today's music consumer seems to barely have time to listen to a whole song, let alone the whole album. If I had my way, people would slow down and really listen.

"Everybody gets the blues and everyone can relate to it. Blues and Roots music crosses every perceived cultural, racial and social boundary. It has influenced every genre of western music. And that music has the power to heal and unite people and we need that now more than ever." (Photo: Randy Casey)

What touched (emotionally) you from Minnesota music scene? What characterize the sound of local scene?

I grew up in Minneapolis. The music scene was vibrant. The Lamont Cranston Blues Band, Willie Murphy and Doug Maynard introduced me to local blues. The Replacements, Soul Asylum and Husker Du were the DIY kings of garage rock. The first time I saw Sussman Lawrence (Peter Himmelman's group) I wanted desperately to be in that band. Bob Dylan and Prince were the high-water marks. When people learn that I grew up in Minneapolis they always ask me, "Did you know Prince?"

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

In music, as in life, be careful who you trust. Not everyone is your friend.

When you do find those friends that you truly trust hang on to them.

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

Everybody gets the blues and everyone can relate to it. Blues and Roots music crosses every perceived cultural, racial and social boundary. It has influenced every genre of western music. And that music has the power to heal and unite people and we need that now more than ever.

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

Chicago. South side. Muddy Waters' house. Johnny Winter, James Cotton and Pine Top Perkins are there. Muddy was the real deal surrounded by amazing characters. That would be a riotous education!

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