Q&A with Indianapolis based musician Jon Strahl - deep fried in the blues but never loses sight of rock and roll

"Music is meant to bring people together; I can only hope that our music could do that. Music is the common language."

John Strahl: Future Blues with Roots

Heartache and Toil (2020), the new album from the Jon Strahl Band, is deep fried in the blues but never loses sight of rock and roll. Over the record’s 12 tracks it’s plain to see Strahl’s rock is tinted deep blue – and the roots run deep. His lifelong love affair with with the blues began before he was even a teenager. “I grew up in a house with music, there was always something new on the turntable and it was almost always rock and roll.” he relates. “I liked it all for the most part, but what really hit me, the first thing I really felt a connection to was this Sunday night radio show on WTTS called Blues Sunday. It featured all the real icons, from Charley Patton through Muddy and Wolf, all that. I was like 10 or 11 years old when I was listening to this and, when I heard it, it was like it was from outer space but it also felt like home. Being a little kid in Indianapolis in the 1980s I obviously didn’t know too many sharecroppers, but there was something elemental and universal about the emotion and things they were doing that immediately resonated with me.”                                   (Photo: Jon Strahl)

The Indianapolis based Jon Strahl Band was formed in 2011. They released their well-received debut EP “Can’t Look Back”. The band followed up in 2014 with the release of their first full length album “The Ladder”. The band features Strahl, guitar and vocals; Bill Mallers, keyboards; Nick Mallers, drums and percussion, and bassist Mitch Millhoff. Also featured is the horn section of Joshua Silbert, saxophones and arrangements; Bruce Knepper, trumpet; and Charlie Krone, trombone. The album is recorded, mixed and mastered by Tyler Watkins and Alex Kerscheval at Postal Recording in Indianapolis. That visceral reaction still has a strong hold on him some 30-plus years later, as Heartache and Toil nods to everything from Muscle Shoals to the British invasion to fuzzed-out garage rock and vintage soul, and ties it all together in a beautiful blues framework. Everyone talks about the Blues Highway, but few navigate the on and off-ramps (and even side roads) in the music as easily as Jon Strahl.

Interview by Michael Limnios          Special Thanks: Larry Kay (Night Train PR)

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

Blues music struck a note in my soul at an early age. It taught me that all humans are connected in some way and that our experiences are all tied together somehow. There is something about it that speaks to all cultures, races, and religions that anyone in the world can emotionally connect with.

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

I would say that my sound is influenced by a wide array of music, but it is all connected by the Blues. No matter how many other types of music I study or play, the Blues still comes through. My soul gets pulled by the gravity of it and it comes through subconsciously. That being said, I still find great satisfaction in exploring music from Bach, to Spanish Guitar, to Jazz and Dixieland, to Jimi Hendrix, to Wu Tang Clan, to Hamilton the musical.

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

I think the best advice any musician can give or take, is to just find your own voice in whatever you choose to pursue. Blues music isn't about who can play Stevie Ray Vaughan licks the best - not that there is anything wrong with it if it's what you love, and that is definitely a headspace I have been in - but, for me it's about taking everything that's gone before you as a guide to find your own truth.               (Photo: Jon Strahl)

"Blues music struck a note in my soul at an early age. It taught me that all humans are connected in some way and that our experiences are all tied together somehow. There is something about it that speaks to all cultures, races, and religions that anyone in the world can emotionally connect with."

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

Recording this new album was my favorite experience in the studio. We all really connected and dove into the creative journey. I can't wait to start recording the next one.

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

I don't think there is anything I really miss, per se. I know some people think that everything has gone too digital and things like that, but one can make the argument that so many people still play instruments and the technology has made it possible for so many people to record music that maybe wouldn't have been able to in the past. Of course, you won't find me at any EDM concerts, lol. My biggest concern for music right now is that all of the mid-level and smaller clubs and festivals will disappear because of the pandemic. It will take years for things to bounce back if they ever really do. In an industry were working musicians rely on playing shows, that's very scary. It is very difficult to make money by selling your music, so the artists and the art are going to suffer.

What would you say characterizes Indianapolis blues scene in comparison to other US local scenes and circuits?

Hard to say - I am not really familiar with many other local scenes. I will say that most people in the Indianapolis scene are very supportive of each other. The Slippery Noodle is the home base or most of us. We are lucky to have such a great club - it really has a family vibe in many ways. Personally, I can't imagine my life without it.

"I would say that my sound is influenced by a wide array of music, but it is all connected by the Blues. No matter how many other types of music I study or play, the Blues still comes through. My soul gets pulled by the gravity of it and it comes through subconsciously. That being said, I still find great satisfaction in exploring music from Bach, to Spanish Guitar, to Jazz and Dixieland, to Jimi Hendrix, to Wu Tang Clan, to Hamilton the musical." (Photo: Jon Strahl)

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

The most important thing I've learned from music is that you must always continue to learn and explore. This is the same no matter what you do in life. You can stay young in heart and mind forever if you live this way.

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

Music is meant to bring people together; I can only hope that our music could do that. Music is the common language.

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

January 1st, 1970 at the Fillmore East in New York City, to hear Jimi Hendrix and the Band of Gypsys perform "Machine Gun" - the solos on that version are my favorite improvised solos on an electric guitar - Jimi was tuned into a frequency from outer space and we are just lucky it was recorded.

Jon Strahl Band - Home

(Photo: Jon Strahl)

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