Q&A with legendary British blues knight Chris Youlden - savour the vintage, original, pure, and authentic

"Where would I go…On a human level leaving music aside, being interested in archeology, prehistory and all that I think I would rather go back to 40,000 years ago, and see Neanderthal man first, Homo Sapiens and go from there. On a musical level I would like to go back to probably the late forties, early fifties where one of my heroes Muddy Waters was making it."

Chris Youlden: Savour The Vintage

Chris Youlden is best known for his stint as the epochal singer and key songwriter for Savoy Brown, over a quartet of albums which drove them to the high watermark of their success between 1967 and 1970. In 1971, Youlden left the band to pursue a solo career, but after two critically acclaimed solo albums in the mid-seventies with London Records failed to score with any significance, he slipped under the radar and rarely performed or recorded again. Youlden was first introduced to Kim Simmonds when he was recruited by Martin Stone as a last-minute dep for Brice Portius one night, and it was Stone again, in 1979, that encouraged Youlden to return to the stage and join him as lead vocalist in a “house” blues band (The OTs) that was being formed for a Sunday night residency at Dingwalls in London’s Camden Town. The OT’s performed to packed audiences, with a parade of British luminaries sitting in; such as Jo Anne Kelly, Phil May, Dick Taylor, Paul Jones, the Jona Lewie, Wayne Kramer, Lew Lewis and Bill Hurley.

When the residency ended, a re-jig of that lineup evolved into The Slammers with Youlden as the singer for a few dates, and though short lived, they reunited in 1987 for a long weekend recording session at a friend’s studio in Surrey. The sessions yielded an album’s worth of material—including one new original, “I Wanna Stay Alive,” but the tapes got mothballed. Another weekend session took place in 1991 with Geraint Watkins joining on piano and organ, but again, the tapes were archived. Youlden's latest—CLOSING TIME (2018, Last Music) — is the result of those sessions. A 2011 appearance at Glastonbury Festival notwithstanding, Youlden has been largely out of the frame for over two decades since—nonetheless, his art endures. Recent years have seen the re-release of those four seminal Savoy Brown albums (Getting To The Point, A Step Further, Blue Matter, and Raw Sienna), and many covers of Youlden’s songs by artists as diverse as Tommy Castro, Bettye Lavette, Charlie Musselwhite, Mel Tillis, Ricky Scaggs, Jimmy Witherspoon, Foghat, and David Lee Roth, among others.

“I’m completely knocked out about the release of these recordings, especially for all those involved in the album. They may be late…but they’ll never date,” says Youlden. “It’s a piece of history, which still, I think, stands up today. It deserves to be heard.”

Interview by Michael Limnios  Special Thanks: Lisa Best & Katerina Lefkidou

First of all, what do you miss the most nowadays from the music and the feeling of the past?

Chris: Oh, so many things I suppose, but then again it would be with the sort of age that I am…Everybody is influenced in identity by the music of their younger years. But for me it could be any number of things; a definite emotion, rhythm, patterns, feeling, the musical feeling. But again, I would say that’s a sort of subjective thing…

A great singer but also a great song-writer. How would you describe, what characterizes your songbook?

Chris: It can be a number of things. To a certain extent you draw upon your own experiences, you know that? What you think, how you feel and you try to put all of that into a particular song. It might not be autobiographical, if you’d like, but you sort of project some of that into a song. In other cases, it might be just things that I see around me, people, what they do, the attitude they have, experiences they have etc. etc. I start to visualize a certain, human situation; Man breaks up with woman. Goes to a bar, sits down, has a few drinks, stops thinking. That sort of thing.

Skiffle, folk, roots, blues what were the reasons that made the UK during the sixties to be the center of folk, blues research and experiments?

Chris: It probably came from a variety of sources. On one hand you had the rock n roll mighty fifties, most of which aren’t from this sort of country, had an element of rock-blues and rock n roll and the rest of it was inspired by rhythm and blues. And that was obviously very popular in Britain. Also, from another angle there’s always been a very strong interesting jazz, folk in the twentieth century in Britain. And from there because at the time you had the jazz radios… So, you’ve got certain elements of blues within jazz and folk traditions if you’d like. And that’s how it all got together, I figure around the sixties, yes it sorts of took off.

"Well obviously my hopes are that it will continue. And that it’ll remain interesting to enough people so it survives as a form of music. And I suppose my fears would be probably that it won’t. And the thing that might see that about is modern technology. Because I think to a great extent, what happens musically is a result of technology. In the blues for example obviously we’d never have any of the great blues guitarists if Leon Fender hadn’t produced Fender Guitars guitars and Jimmy Marshall hadn’t produced large amps, so that the guitar would get that particular sound. But you never know perhaps if the younger people would pick up on the blues and do something with it with in an electronic fashion if you’d like."

You have many experiences in the music industry. What have you learned about yourself from the blues people and the blues culture?

Chris: In a musical sense?  I suppose I could start out by saying it had an immediate effect on me. Like when you hear the pieces for the first time, my God what’s that? I was blown away. Perhaps I’ve got the blues, alright. It sorts of touched me, and musically of course, but it really got to me. When I was lucky enough to see some of these people, before me, it had an effect on me because everybody was so good, they all had something. There used to be in my early years a concert agency called Lippmann + Rau. Every year they would put together a series of concerts. And it was great, you had 8 maybe 10 acts and they all played at least three songs. Victoria Spivey, Little Brother Montgomery lining up through to Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters etc. etc. They all had something individual about them. And of course, I have to put Owen Stars in there as well.

It comes to mind the project in Greek Street, and Maxwell Street. As an artist with a very popular name in the US, can you find any differences between Americans and British/European people?

Chris: All the people who would say they’re the blues fans, the blues audience I don’t actually think so. People who really like the blues generally have more in common than any differences they might have. There was a difference when I started out in the sixties. British audiences were much quieter, whereas American audiences were very much more so in your face, they liked something you knew about it. I don’t think that’s the case these days.

What does happiness mean to you?

Chris: That’s a nice question. Many things. One of them would be sitting at sea playing the guitar. It’s about one of the best things I think you could do.

And what was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Chris: As if it were one. (laughing) Let me think. I might say you got me a little bit stunned for a second, I can’t think. I’m desperately trying to think of some sort of old advice or saying, but I can’t think of one. But I’ve obviously been given some good advice over the years.

What are your hopes and what are your fears for the future of the blues?

Chris: Well obviously my hopes are that it will continue. And that it’ll remain interesting to enough people so it survives as a form of music. And I suppose my fears would be probably that it won’t. And the thing that might see that about is modern technology. Because I think to a great extent, what happens musically is a result of technology. In the blues for example obviously we’d never have any of the great blues guitarists if Leon Fender hadn’t produced Fender guitars and Jimmy Marshall hadn’t produced large amps, so that the guitar would get that particular sound. But you never know perhaps if the younger people would pick up on the blues and do something with it with in an electronic fashion if you’d like.

"All the people who would say they’re the blues fans, the blues audience I don’t actually think so. People who really like the blues generally have more in common than any differences they might have. There was a difference when I started out in the sixties. British audiences were much quieter, whereas American audiences were very much more so in your face, they liked something you knew about it. I don’t think that’s the case these days."

Let’s take a trip with a time machine. So where and why would you really want to go?

Chris: What age you mean?  Where would I go…On a human level leaving music aside, being interested in archeology, prehistory and all that I think I would rather go back to 40,000 years ago, and see Neanderthal man first, Homo Sapiens and go from there. On a musical level I would like to go back to probably the late forties, early fifties where one of my heroes Muddy Waters was making it. It would have been good to be around in that period of time and go to a club to see the music as it was being first made. Another time would be 1920s-1930s I’d like to have seen people like Blind Lemon Jefferson or Blind Boy Fuller, I’m a fan of his music.

Many years have passed without a new album and the last one includes sessions from ’87 and ’91. How come you don’t have something new recorded?

Chris: Well it was just the way the whole thing occurred. The Diners getting it together at Mountain Mills Poor Riley the producer and engineer, bass player thought he could do something with them, the acceptable sound. And in particular they were both enthusiastic about the one original song that we did do. So it was just the desire mainly on their part and I was like let’s put these things out and of course they contacted me and the other people involved and asked if they would be interested and that’s the way it happened .He had the types he wanted and again he realized there might be something there he had the types he wanted and he wanted to book them in his label and it all went from there so to speak.

What is the impact of your generation, blues-rock music on the sociocultural implications?

Chris: I think it was probably part of a wider change, which had in fact been taking place in Britain ever since probably the 1940’s, certainly the 1950’s. Politically in the 1940’s you had a labor party, who implemented lots of measures like the national healthcare service and various other things. But there was a feeling that, I’ve been told this by my father and people of his generation, there was a feeling after all the things that everybody went through in World War II, that they could never get back to the way they were in the 1930’s. So, there was that sociopolitical change in general, there was a movement if you’d like against the classes as it was. The upper class had a disregard at everything. It wouldn’t be like that any longer. Let’s not be differential to authority that sort of thing. No more accepting what they say and doing what we’re told. And I think that thing went through to people’s attitudes and of course young people grew up with that and I think that was probably reflected in the music they liked, rock and roll, blues, whatever it may be.

"It can be a number of things. To a certain extent you draw upon your own experiences, you know that? What you think, how you feel and you try to put all of that into a particular song. It might not be autobiographical, if you’d like, but you sort of project some of that into a song. In other cases, it might be just things that I see around me, people, what they do, the attitude they have, experiences they have etc. etc. I start to visualize a certain, human situation; Man breaks up with woman. Goes to a bar, sits down, has a few drinks, stops thinking. That sort of thing."

What were the highlights in your life and in your career but also what has been your worst time in your career?

Chris: (laughing) That is a difficult one again. I would say I can’t think of one particular thing. For me the highlight is when I began to be accepted and was to be successful. Because when you start off in music there are any number of people that are going to tell you you’re rubbish. So when you start becoming more accepted that’s the highlight. The worst, I’ve got so many to choose from (laughing). Well, I’d pick something humorous it just occurred to me, don’t suppose that it was the worse highlight of my career but I remember one time in the Savoy Band period, we were playing a small club somewhere in Long Island in the USA and it would seem to be going well and the band the next number coming up was instrumental, so I got off the stage I went to the bar and had a beer. I was sitting at the bar drinking a beer and some people start tittering out from the audience and I thought well that’s unusual, because they seemed to be enjoying after all.. And then all of a sudden I heard a lot of noise and things being thrown against the wall and a street gang, a local street gang By this time the first set of the two we had just did had gone. And the leader of the gang came up to me and like a Hollywood star he said something like, you sneak around now, we want to hear some music. Eventually we got out of it, God knows how. I think I got some people down to the agency who helped us out. It was actually really something out of a Hollywood film.

In all of your old photos and in your last album cover you’re smoking! You smoke a lot!

Chris: Yes, I do smoke a lot, mostly cigars.

Have you ever met Alexis Korner? Because he was a Greek guy.

Chris: Yes, I did actually sit in with him in my early days and funny enough I sat in with him this would be about 1965 that sort of range in a club called "Les Cousins" which was a folk club, they also had blues stuff like that. And he was down there with a band at the time and I sat in with him. There we go Greek Street, he’s Greek and now I’m being interviewed by a Greek person.

 

Views: 78

Comments are closed for this blog post

social media

Members

© 2018   Created by Michael Limnios Blues Network.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service