Q&A with Jim Roberts, routed in the deep south and midwest where Americana and Blues define the landscape

For me “Blues” is about the human life experience set to music. In that sense, all musicians who play from the heart and soul are playing "the blues."

Jim Roberts: On The Highway from Detroit City to Mississippi and Beyond

Jim Roberts and The Resonants have arrived on the musical scene. Their sound is firmly routed in the deep south and midwest where Americana / Roots, Rock and Blues punctuated by slide guitar define the landscape. The music has strong southern themes that tell a story and Roberts Slide Guitar work adds fire and finesse to the mix. Roberts also writes and performs on 3-string Cigar Box Guitar, which at times gives the music a primitive and haunting sound. Jim Roberts and The Resonants, formerly known as the Jack Roberts Harvey Band, they now bring that familiar southern rock sound back to listeners, but this time with a different name. With down to earth songwriting, vocals and slide work laid over a solid rhythm section, Jim Roberts bring you further on down that Blues/Roots highway on a new adventure.         (Jim Roberts / Photo by Madeline Besson)

Singer-Songwriter, Slide Guitarist Jim Roberts returns after a two year hiatus with his third album release, “A Month of Sundays” (2019).  Along with LA studio musicians The Resonants, he takes us once more down the Blues-Rock-Americana highway from Detroit City south to Mississippi. These days, Jim Roberts divides his time between the vibrant pulse of Los Angeles and the peaceful French countryside. His music encompasses both contemporary urban blues - complete with horn section (“Skeeters”) and acoustic Cigar Box Guitar blues such as “What Her Evil Do.” Also included is the beautiful ballad; “Made A Promise,” (co-written by Jim and bassist Rick Hollander.) Rick has been a major contributor to this project, co-writing half the songs. In addition to his considerable Bass Guitar skills, he also plays Mandolin and Banjolele on two tunes. Returning Resonant Grant Cihlar, is again along for the ride. Contributing a second slide guitar part on a song he co-wrote with Jim; “Miss Detroit City 1963.” Rounding out The Resonants rhythm section are Drummer Mike Harvey (Jack Roberts Harvey Band) and Michael Leasure (Walter Trout, Philip Sayce) who joins in on five tracks.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the blues music and what does the blues mean to you?

When I started playing guitar as a teenager, it was mostly about learning licks from cool blues/rock guitar players and wanting to play like them. I had little understanding of where the blues came from or what it actually meant…just a lot of adrenaline. I had no sense of any history then. I am much older now and have had my share of life experiences, from the joyous to the tragic. For me “Blues” is about the human life experience set to music. In that sense, all musicians who play from the heart and soul are playing "the blues."

How do you describe Jim Roberts & The Resonants sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

Although I was born in Chicago and raised in the Midwest, I have always had the greatest respect for music that came from the South. I believe in telling a story when I write a song and the South is filled with stories that speak to me. In Jim Roberts and The Resonants previous album “Beneath The Blood Moon”, I have tried to capture that Southern Rock/Blues sound that was popular in the 1970’s. I hope that it will “Resonate” with listeners!

Where does your creative drive come from? Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre or it’s a state of mind?

For me, any creative drive simply comes from the sheer love of music and all of life’s experiences (from joyful to tragic.) The influences and stories of friends and musicians, also help to shape what I do. My studio is a laboratory of sorts. Ideas are cultivated there - just like a painter, colors are added to a musical canvas and songs are created and developed. It’s a process which drives me to leave my personal musical legacy in sound. Regarding “The Blues,” as a genre - I understand the need for people to put music into easy to categorize boxes. But I like to combine different musical elements. I play the Blues, but I’m not a Blues purist in any sense. History aside, for me the blues is more of a state of mind.                   (Jim Roberts / Photo by Madeline Besson)

"It was the marriage of Black African music and European music brought together over time...played by countless musicians and passed on generation to generation that has brought us to where we are now. It’s all connected. I believe too much emphasis is placed on categorizing and labeling everything. Good music is just good music and I like it all. Musicians bring their individual personalities and creativity into the mix and that gives us the diversity in music that we label: folk, rock, blues, etc."

What would you say characterizes "A Month of Sundays" new album in comparison to other previous two albums?

There’s more collaboration going on. My musical partner, Rick Hollander has co-written half of the songs on the new album and his contributions bring interesting elements to the table. Rick is a stringed multi-instrumentalist and a masterful bass guitarist. I like to say that he brings a certain urban sophistication to my rural influences. My good friend Grant Cihlar has also contributed to this project. He co-wrote Miss Motor City 1963 on which he also played slide guitar.

Are there any memories from "A Month of Sundays" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Just having all the musicians dropping by to add their parts in my little home studio was memorable. It got a little crowded sometimes! Bringing together all the musicians, creative elements, songwriting, recording, mixing and doing most of it myself. There was a time when I was afraid my computer skills would not be up to the task. It’s been a bit of a learning curve, but I must say that I enjoyed the engineering part immensely and I’m proud of the end results.

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

Playing the blues has allowed me to connect with music lovers all over the world. I am currently in France promoting the new CD. Music is indeed the universal language.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Roots, Blues, Rock and Americana from Detroit City to Mississippi?

Americana seems to be the category that best encompasses Blues, Roots and Rock music together. It all began with Blues singers from the delta playing on solo acoustic guitars and ended up in the amplified Rock bands of the 1970’s. Growing up in the Mid-West, I was influenced by it all. You can hopefully hear it in the following songs from the album: “Miss Motor City 1963” (a real rocker co-written by Grant Cihlar and myself) and “What Her Evil do,” an acoustic Mississippi Delta type tune with Cigar Box Guitar, Mandolin and Harmonica are two examples…thus the reference from Detroit City down to Mississippi.

"When I started playing guitar as a teenager, it was mostly about learning licks from cool blues/rock guitar players and wanting to play like them. I had little understanding of where the blues came from or what it actually meant…just a lot of adrenaline. I had no sense of any history then. I am much older now and have had my share of life experiences, from the joyous to the tragic."

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

Well I would have to say that my father had the greatest influence on me becoming a musician. He had been a professional accordion player in Chicago back in the 30’s and 40’s. When I was growing up, he was always playing music and singing around the house. He would entertain folks who came over to visit and was always the life of the party. My mom also sang (although not professionally,) so I grew up surrounded by lots of music. However, my Dad was a child of The Depression and he wanted me to have a better life. So when I saw the Beatles as a teenager on The Ed Sullivan Show, I (like so many other red blooded teenagers) wanted to play the guitar. I don’t think my Dad really wanted me to pursue a music career. He knew how tough it was to be on that road. He tried to get me to pursue other possibilities over the years. As the saying goes: Don’t quit your day job!"

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

I fell off the back of the stage once, but let’s not go there!

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

Everything is a snapshot in time. I love listening to the old blues records. When Charley Patton, Son House, Muddy Waters, etc were learning their chops and playing in the South, they were taking the music they had heard from other musicians and recreating it...making it their own. The same is happening today. However, we must be careful. We need to step back from technology and get back to playing music made by people, not machines. I am an optimist by nature. If creative real musicians keep making music from their heart and soul, and that emotion is conveyed over whatever the latest technology is, then I think we will be OK.

"That music truly is the universal language. Life is precious and short...be as happy as you can be. Smile and share the music. Spread the love and follow your heart. Prepare to succeed… Don’t let anyone dissuade you from following your dreams." (Jim Roberts / Photo by Ciro Hurtado)

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

I miss browsing in Record and CD stores. Boy, I could spend hours there...Bring back Tower Records!

Make an account of the case of the blues in L.A. What characterize the sound and philosophy of local circuits?

West Coast Jump Blues, Rockabilly stuff, Chicago sounds are a few examples. But you can find all types of Blues in Los Angeles. There are lots of great players with crowds of people and traffic everywhere. It’s exciting and intoxicating, but easy to get distracted. There are a lot of “pay for play” venues (especially in Hollywood.) I would argue that today’s LA is not necessarily the best city to play “live” music in. Los Angelenos have so many options of what to do at any given time, that it’s hard to get their attention. This is of course my opinion only. I have lived in LA for over forty years now and discovered I’m basically a country boy at heart. I think Memphis or Nashville would be better choices for musicians looking to play live music. That being said, there is a small dedicated and growing Blues community in Los Angeles. Music is alive and well at many of the jam sessions and gigs in the city.

What touched (emotionally) you from your tour in France? What are the differences European and US scene?

The Auvergne region in France is now my second home and I love it there. French audiences in particular and European audiences in general are most appreciative and treat American musicians with enthusiasm and respect. The language is a struggle for me, but a smile can go a long way! It’s a musical adventure there: the food, the wine, the history, village life, the peace and solitude of the countryside. It’s exactly where I want to be at this time in my life.

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

That music truly is the universal language. Life is precious and short...be as happy as you can be. Smile and share the music. Spread the love and follow your heart. Prepare to succeed…Don’t let anyone dissuade you from following your dreams. Cliche I know, but absolutely true. Don’t let “A Month of Sundays” pass you by.

"Music is indeed the universal language." (Jim Roberts / Photo by Madeline Besson)

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Southern Music from Blues, Soul and Rock Jam to Country and Folk?

It was the marriage of Black African music and European music brought together over time...played by countless musicians and passed on generation to generation that has brought us to where we are now. It’s all connected. I believe too much emphasis is placed on categorizing and labeling everything. Good music is just good music and I like it all. Musicians bring their individual personalities and creativity into the mix and that gives us the diversity in music that we label: folk, rock, blues, etc.

What touched (emotionally) you from the Resophonic and box-guitar sound? What are the secrets of slide?

The sound of glass (or metal) over steel strings has a vocal quality that I just love. Vibrato and pitch can be manipulated to sound more like the human voice. The resonator guitar has a sweet hollow sound that I really like and of course slide on the electric guitar can scream at you. The 3-string Cigar Box Guitar I play slide on is a primitive instrument. Simple in construction, but possessing a haunting sound that captures the imagination. As far as the secrets of slide…damping is very important. Damping is when you drag your index and middle fingers of your slide hand over the strings behind the slide. That helps to minimize overtones and makes what you play sound cleaner. Of course, pitch and vibrato are ever important and it takes time to get your notes sounding clean and accurate. Most people pick up a slide, run it across the strings a few times and give up. It takes a long time to develop good slide technique. Don’t give up!

What is the impact of Blues and Rock n’ Roll music on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Wow…that sounds like politics! I don’t try to influence anyone to think like me… too many arguments and disagreements these days. I’m gonna stay away from that one!

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

Musically...How about the Allman Bros at the Fillmore East when Duane was tearer it up on slide or Muddy Waters in his prime in Chicago. I could definitely spend a whole day there. Tell "Doctor Who" to drop by and pick me up!

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