Q&A with musician/author/songwriter Fred Hostetler, has been a blue spruce in a forest of music sequoias, journeying through blues, folk and the rock era

"Humility and gratitude immediately come to mind. To have commercial success in an endeavor involving music and the arts is nearly impossible without a bit of luck along the way. You do it because you love it; you must do it, but you'll experience massive amounts of disappointment along the way."

Fred Hostetler: The Lotus of The Blues

Fred Hostetler has been a blue spruce in a forest of music sequoias, journeying through blues, folk and the rock era cycling through many aspects of the music business and playing a supporting role to other musicians. He has worked with Jeff Beck, Billy Squier, Graham Parker, Johnny Winters, The Knack, been on stage with Buddy Guy, Mick Taylor, Jeff Healy, and recorded with the Grammy winning producer Jack Douglas. For 9 years he was the manager, rhythm guitarist, and co-writer for the popular southern California blues band Blue By Nature with Karen Lawrence and Rick Dufay formerly of Aerosmith. Transitioning to his move to India he entertained in hospitals and senior centers with 'Fred's Folk and Blues Revival', a solo acoustic set of old-time music, 50's favorites and blues, all filled with plenty of fun, finger-picking, strumming and banter.

After 15 years of voluntary service in an ashram in Tamil Nadu, India, Fred returns to the USA. 'Heart Radio' marks his first solo effort. The eight song CD is a genre-jumping romp of all original tunes, recorded and produced in the spartan seclusion of rural India and an island in the Pacific Northwest. The tracks reflect the threads of his years abroad and in the 'swamplands'. On his latest offering 'Blue Chair Blues' (Mukthiland Records, 2020), Fred Hostetler has created an Acoustic Blues album with his signature guitar and vocal talent. Eight delightfully tasty original songs and his rendition of the Jimmy Reed classic ‘Bright Lights, Big City’.  His is an old-fashioned blues sound, with a wholesome feel, natural textures and melodies that inspire images of a simpler life, good times and warm summer evenings.

Interview by Michael Limnios       Special Thanks: Doug W. Deutsch & Fred Hostetler

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

I grew up in a small all white town in northern Indiana. My first encounter with the blues was through folk music. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, and so many others. My father loved black quartets and spiritual singers. When I was about 6 or 7 years old, he took me to Iowa on the train and we stopped over in Chicago. Dad took me to Maxwell Street. I was like a deer caught in the headlights that day, wide-eyed at the scene I saw. It was the first time I really heard street musicians and 'what was that they were playing'? It was the straight and natural Chicago Blues. I can remember the pawn shop and the man of color right out-front riffing on his guitar. I think Dad put some change in his tip jar. That experience lit the lamp of curiosity in the magic of our diversity. I wrote much more on growing up with the blues at my site (fredsheartradio) in my blog on the song Taming the Wolf.

Rock counterculture, yes, I was a part of it, and it influenced me greatly being a child of the rock era. From politics 'four dead in Ohio', to drug culture 'riding that train high on cocaine', it was an amazing intense era where Bob Dylan, the Beatles, the Stones, the Temptations and extending all the way to the Eagles(forgive me for not naming the hundreds of other contributing artists) wrote and performed songs that impacted all levels of society. Now we have broken down into tribes, each with their own genre who speak to a statistically identified audience. This leads us into times which I never experienced.

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

I like the term Avant Americana. Why, because I see it describing music grounded deeply in the roots of American music from all traditions but being reinvented for today. What a bountiful and rich tradition to be nurtured by! Whether it is just me and my guitar as on my new album Fred's Blue Chair Blues, or the blues rock of Blue By Nature, or the new wave of Karen Lawrence and the Pinz, there is the taproot that goes deep and gives me strength. Even when I recorded India's most famous mantra as the single 'Gayatri Americana' or the song 'Go Inside', a bhajan, I tried to be true to my tradition but to meld it with a non-western form. Finally, as for "the creative drive," it ebbs and flows and needs time to grow, and where it comes from or where it leads I do not know other than to follow."                                                  (Photo: Fred Hostetler)

"I'm a history lover so the time machine idea is too much for my little mind to handle: should I go forward or backward? But I'd love to go right now to my ancestral home, the Emmental Valley in Switzerland or return to India to visit old friends. But a day would not be enough. So, send me back 2,000 years to see what Jesus was like in person, or 2,500 years to meet the Buddha, or back 4,000 years to experience the leelas of Krishna, All are milestones in the expansion of human consciousness and awakening."

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

Best advice: my father always wanted a career in music but became a doctor because it would have been nearly impossible to maintain a family based on the kind of money a musician makes. The uncertainty of the whole experience discouraged him. He told me it would be a very difficult life and to have something I could fall back on. I said to myself, I'm going to do what my father loved but was unable to do.

Meetings that nurture the heart are the most important, because they can alter the trajectory of your journey. For instance when a tour ended in Montreal, I had no idea what I would do when I returned to New York City. A woman who was a friend of the drummer came to my attention. She had a different air about her. There was a depth to her presence. When I asked him about her, he said ‘she has second sight...sort of like a white witch’ and maybe she could help me. The next morning I drove out to her ranch. She was very encouraging and predicted that the day I landed in New York my life would change and everything would work out. She was spot on with her prediction and I was soon to become road manager for the band 1994 who was signed to A&M Records. That story accounted for 20 more years in the music.

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

Place: Giant Stadium in the Meadowlands. Frank Marino and Mahogany Rush were the opening act at an all day music festival. I was working then as Mr. Marino's guitar tech. I had his rig set up and his number one guitar, a Gibson SG, in my hands, ready to do the sound check. The stadium was filling up, people pouring in. When I struck the first chord the crowd showed its appreciation and anticipation for the day's event by letting loose a loud roar. I played a couple rhythm riffs, shut down the rig, and left the stage to scattered applause. I always remember that feeling, but I have a hard time describing or defining it.

"I grew up in a small all white town in northern Indiana. My first encounter with the blues was through folk music. Lightnin’ Hopkins, Leadbelly, Mississippi John Hurt, Son House, and so many others. My father loved black quartets and spiritual singers. When I was about 6 or 7 years old, he took me to Iowa on the train and we stopped over in Chicago. Dad took me to Maxwell Street. I was like a deer caught in the headlights that day, wide-eyed at the scene I saw." (Photo: Fred Hostetler, Blue By Nature L.A. area club)

How do you describe and what characterize new album 'Blue Chair Blues' sound, music philosophy and songbook?

This is what I call living room blues. By that I mean stripped down, unplugged, and recorded at home in my living room. Whatever you may think of it, I find it intimate and refreshing during this time of Covid 19 to see artists performing in their kitchen, barn, patio, bedroom, etc. It inspired me to video an hour show for the Facebook page/group Can’t Stop the Blues. It was shown in May 2020 and is still available to view. It is a platform supporting blues music and artists. I was able to make a little money and donate half of it back to organizations supporting unemployed blues musicians. After that I did a playlist on Spotify for artists who have appeared on Can’t Stop the Blues. I never thought much more about it until one September night when a voice woke me up with the words “release your living room recordings as an album.” My first thought after sitting up in bed was…but they’re not good enough…they’re not perfect. The thought came back, “what does it matter…let the audience decide.” So here we are with a really different kind of album made up focused living room recordings.

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

I miss the soul of the early blues. It has been diluted by its own success. Many guitarists are out there playing it and I understand why. It is something that satisfies the soul even when done in a simple way. Often what is missing is that 'seasoned feel'. On the other hand I have heard young musicians play wonderful inspiring stuff. I never had a lesson. Just listened, watched, and learned (but imperfectly). Now YouTube can show the guitarist exactly how a song is played. There are so many learning tools available to musicians, but living life and the experience of living is the fire that brings life to the blues. It is the prime ingredient. "If it's in him, it just got to come out." You can fake it only to a point.

As far as the future goes, I wonder what effect Covid 19 will have on live performances. For instance, will people be satisfied to watch a screen instead of going out to a venue, will virtual reality take the place of live music? I'm very happy with the vibrant growth of the worldwide blues community and with the broadening of the boundaries of 'what is blues music'. On the other hand, the arguing about cultural appropriation leaves me in the limbo of my cultural whiteness. But the truth is that musicians themselves in my day paid little if any attention to it. Making music together is part of the American experience, both in the North and in the South. But we should always remember and honor those on whose shoulders we stand. So thank you to founders of our blues roots.

What touched (emotionally) you from your time in India's ashram and Pacific Ocean's islands?                            (Photo: Fred Hostetler and Hindu priest working out a chanting, India)

Let me start with India. My 17 years in India was a journey of self-discovery after I was asked to leave the band which I had managed, booked, helped produce and engineer, and been the rhythm guitarist and co-writer of 4 albums. I experienced the feel and feelings of Indian music from bhajans to Bollywood. I detached from years of working all kinds of band gigs and listening to western music. I immersed myself in learning a different culture and its music. I went 'inside'. What emerged was a sense of the interconnectedness of everything and how actions can have unknown consequences. Pop trends of the USA passed me by and like Rip Van Winkle, I woke up to a totally changed music and business landscape. There were astonishing changes in the way music was made, recorded, and marketed. CDBaby was pioneering a path for Independent musicians to release, market, and eke out a career. Independent musicians were accounting for an increasingly large share of the industry. It was amazing, and so was the MacBook Pro that my old band mate Eric Troyer said I should buy for recording. After the solitude of ashram life in southern India, an island just north of Seattle in the Pacific Northwest was the perfect spot to re-enter western-style life. The inner life could be nourished there while the outer natural world could provide some solace from the constant use of screens, iPhones, smart TV’s, politics, and the stress of facing the learning curve and coming up to speed in a changed world. Haven't quite succeeded with that, but the burst of creativity I have experienced is gratifying.

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

Humility and gratitude immediately come to mind. To have commercial success in an endeavor involving music and the arts is nearly impossible without a bit of luck along the way. You do it because you love it; you must do it, but you'll experience massive amounts of disappointment along the way.

But if you do it without being attached to the fruits of your work, then disappointment can be kept at arm's length and you'll have a level of satisfaction just from having brought something to life that was not here before; accomplished something creative.

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

Hmm…some songs/music is just for fun, just to help life go by even in troubled times. But I prefer to plant a seed of love somewhere in every song. In a time when they are trying to put musicians in a box, or should I say 'a genre' or something that fits on a certain type of playlist, it would be great to be able to write and perform something that is inclusive and builds unity. Therefore, let love lead.

"I miss the soul of the early blues. It has been diluted by its own success." (Photo: Fred Hostetler)

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

Oh mercy…I'm a history lover so the time machine idea is too much for my little mind to handle: should I go forward or backward? But I'd love to go right now to my ancestral home, the Emmental Valley in Switzerland or return to India to visit old friends. But a day would not be enough. So, send me back 2,000 years to see what Jesus was like in person, or 2,500 years to meet the Buddha, or back 4,000 years to experience the leelas of Krishna, All are milestones in the expansion of human consciousness and awakening.

Fred Hostetler / Heart Radio - Home

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