Q&A with Reverend Freakchild - blues and rock tunes from Muddy, Reed, and the Beatles, along with Grateful Dead

"There is no doubt that Blues music is intertwined with the history of the African American experience and its subverted and simultaneously celebrated arts and culture. And there are cases to be made that the blues are African in origin - as you could take everything from those slaves but you couldn’t take the melodies from their minds."

Reverend Freakchild: Supramundane Blues

In the tradition of such Holy Blues Reverends as Reverend Gary Davis – such is the irreverent Reverend Freakchild. The Rev. primarily performs solo acoustic these days, and sometimes as a duo with the Minister of Bass. The Rev. has also recorded with some amazing musicians: Melvin Seals, Mark Karan, Chris Parker, Hugh Pool, Jay Collins, and G. Love. He has played in many bands in the past touring internationally. The Rev. spent 3 years off-off-off Broadway singing blues and spirituals on Sundays at Tobacco Road, the now defunct NYC hippie hangout replete with drug addicts, hookers and music freaks. The Rev. has also served as a member and featured soloist of the Metro Mass Gospel Choir performing at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Avery Fischer Hall and the Town Hall Theater. The Rev’s music has been featured in many TV programs and commercials, and national radio advertising campaigns. He grew up in Hawaii, holds a degree in philosophy and religion from Northeastern University in Boston and now currently resides in Colorado pursuing a Master of Divinity Degree at Naropa University. He continues to perform and preach proclaiming, “Music is my religion.

For over 20 years Reverend Freakchild has been directing his musical ministry to the legions of fans, who have followed the Grateful Dead and all its offspring with music that is inspired by the jam band forefathers and its members. Upon finding the world in our present crisis, the Reverend decided to cast his net wider and minister to a larger flock of blues and roots seekers. His latest releaseSupramundane Blues (2021), is a collection of 13 gospel favorites and songs inspired by faith and the quest for divine enlightenment that runs the gamut of styles from Delta Blues to funk, soul, modern jam band, rock, and Americana, plus a bonus disc, Psychedelic Trip Hop Mass.

Interview by Michael Limnios        Rev. Freakchild Interview @ blues.gr, 2015

How has Buddha, the Beats and Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journey you’ve taken?

I would’ve loved to have heard Muddy Waters play in Chicago, and then taken Kerouac and him to India, maybe invite Dylan along as well. And when we got back hang with Janis Joplin, the Jefferson Airplane and the Grateful Dead in San Francisco. I'm a sober neo-hippie now, but it would have been great to experience the acid drenched hippie love and music of that ‘innocence to experience’ era of the 60’s. All that art and popular counter culture had a great influence on me. Timothy Leary and Ram Das would have been cool to hang with as well – that Be Here Now book changed my life. Also I would have liked to have spent some time with the Buddha under the bodhi tree after his enlightenment and sung some songs of realization with him.

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?

Well when I was growing up my mother tried to turn me into a classical pianist - she was a concert pianist but my Dad was into Blues and he  played me people like Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker - so as it says in the song - I had the music in me and it had to come out and blues and Rock & Roll was a much more fun and accessible way to do that for me - although I still embrace the elaborate tonal variations presented in classical music that lends itself to me naturally providing a new interpretation of the Blues.

The process of making music for consumption perhaps has evolved and continues to evolve for me - recording music, making albums, dealing with record labels and trying to navigate new digital mediums myself - but the process of music making continues to be a wonderful strange mystery - an always elusive horizon - I find myself singing songs and playing tunes to heal and tell stories - entertaining myself and others - and a continuing meditation of sorts that makes sense of my life - I might have gone crazy long ago if it wasn’t for the art of music making.

How do you want new album "Supramundane Blues" to affect people? Where does your creative drive come from?

The creative drive is a bit of a blessing and a curse - on this last album I took the downtime of the pandemic to revisit this psychedelic Mass I started some 20 years ago - and that music and the other tunes on the double album make some sense of that weekend I was tripping and thought I was Jesus Christ - now I can joke I don’t want that job - it’s too much responsibility - but we all have to take responsibility for our own life and spirituality - and this latest album is part of that journey for me.

"I continue to make sense of with the help of co-creating music with the universe." Photo: Rev. Freakchild at Pigpen of Grateful Dead's grave)

How has the Psychedelic Culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

My psychedelic experiences with drugs and otherwise have shaped me greatly - I think perhaps the world would be a better place if everyone turned on to LSD - although I am sober these days and have been working the program of recovery for going on 15 years - I still play the psychedelic blues!

How do you describe your previous album (The Bodhisattva Blues) songbook? How do you want it to affect people? Where does your creative drive come from?

We invited musicians from the extended Grateful Dead musical family to form the backing band on this release. The Bodhisattva Blues features an all-star cast of supporting musicians, including Melvin Seals, who has played organ and piano with the Jerry Garcia Band for many years, and Mark Karan and Robin Sylvester of RatDog. In addition, Chris Parker (who has played with Bob Dylan and Stuff among others) provides drums for the album, with Jason Hann of String Cheese Incident providing some extra percussion.  Hugh Pool, A.J. Fullerton and Jay Collins also contribute to the album. The track list is made up of Blues and Classic Rock tunes, including Big Boss Man, Little Red Rooster, Friend of the Devil, I Know You Rider, Black Peter, Yer Blues, Imagine, Death Don’t Have No Mercy, And We Bid you Goodnight. 

Prior to recording this album, I had had several conversations about music and the Blues with Mark Karan (who has played with many members of the Grateful Dead). The idea was to do an album that revisited the Blues with a hippie esthetic. Kind of like the Grateful Dead did when they were a Blues band lead by the formidable Pigpen. So there are several tunes on the album like Big Boss Man that we brought back from the Dead’s version to the original version – like doing the intro and the harmonica solo on that tune more like Jimmy Reed – and then letting Mark and Melvin stretch out for a couple choruses after that like a jam band would. Then the album’s ultimate intention became using these blues tunes to provide a significant sonic milestone on the journey to release negative karma and actualize transcendent wisdom. So the overall motivation is an aspiration that the music and the creative endeavor of this album be of benefit to all sentient being, by becoming aware of their suffering through the beautiful music of the blues, and perhaps being of some help on their path to enlightenment!

What moment changed your life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

I’m not sure there’s one particular moment - but many moments over the years culminate in a spiritual journey that I continue to make sense of with the help of co-creating music with the universe.

"Well when I was growing up my mother tried to turn me into a classical pianist - she was a concert pianist but my Dad was into Blues and he  played me people like Bo Diddley and John Lee Hooker - so as it says in the song - I had the music in me and it had to come out and blues and Rock & Roll was a much more fun and accessible way to do that for me - although I still embrace the elaborate tonal variations presented in classical music that lends itself to me naturally providing a new interpretation of the Blues."

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

I was playing a gig once and I played this tune that I often play at the end of the night - but I played it at the end of the first set that night for some reason - and this fellow came up to me at the set break and said - I’ve been singing that song since the last time I heard ya here about a year ago - he shared that his son had died of a drug overdose about a week before he had come and heard me play and had heard me play this song - It’s gonna be alright by Rev Gary Davis - it had been a great comfort to him and I thought that’s what music is about - using my skill and artistry to convey the essence of the healing power of music!

In your opinion, what is the biggest revolution which can be realized today?

It’s kinda like in that movie the Graduate - when that dude tells Dustin Hoffman he’s got just one word for him - in that movie he says ‘plastics’ - but I think the new paradigm - the new one word would be - DIGITAL - the computers are taking over man - the world is getting smaller and the aliens will be here soon - that’s why the human element is so important and precious.

What do you think the major changes will be in near or far future of the world?

The Digital revolution has made the world perhaps more egalitarian - and that’s good and bad - cuz there’s no filter for the crazies and the sane important info has trouble rising above all the chatter - but which is what? And then there are those that take advantage of those technologies - ransom ware and misinformation - so just remember to look for the owners of the means of production and those that might benefit from all the confusion with an all-mighty dollar - money ain’t evil it’s the love of it and the greed that makes people crazy - so let’s remember to love one another and take care of each other with loving kindness - compassion - sympathetic joy and equanimity!

"I try to see myself in the musical tradition of reverential Bluesmen like blind Reverend Gary Davis. (Reverend Freakchild / Photo by Evan Fairbanks)

What touched (emotionally) you from Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Beatles, and Grateful Dead songs?

We put a cool spin and fresh perspective on some classic blues and rock tunes that I love from Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, and the Beatles, along with a few Grateful Dead favorites on this latest album. The theory behind The Bodhisattva Blues is that I play the psychedelic country blues, and practice and study the Dharma (Buddhism). There’s so much about the sources of sorrow, joy and human suffering in both.

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

I’ve been very fortunate to work with some amazing musicians over the years. One of them, Hugh Pool, I consider my Blues guru. He helped produce this latest album, The Bodhisattva Blues, and we recorded many of the basic tracks at his studio in Williamsburg Brooklyn, Excello, with myself and the amazing legendary drummer Chris Parker. Hugh also lent his master (NY Blues Society) artist skills of harmonica, lap steel and singing to the album. I think this is like the fourth or fifth album we’ve done together and he always pushes me to be a better musician and adds to my artistic vision. He has given me many pieces of great advise over the years but the one that has stuck with me the most is, “Open your eyes and ears and ya might just learn something.”

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

Well a dream would be to have a Rev record go gold or platinum and maybe even win a Grammy, and then be able to continue to tour the world with my music in a grand style.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Colorado. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

There’s actually a pretty cool Blues scene here in Colorado. We worked with Hazel Miller a few Rev albums ago. She added amazing vocals to the single “Dial It In!” – she’s a local legend.  And for this latest release we had the pleasure of featuring a few Colorado Bluesman. Scott ‘Shack’ Hackler tickles the ivories on our version of the classic Little Red Rooster. And A.J. Fullerton, a young up and coming Bluesman plays some amazing slide guitar on our version of I Know You Rider. Also we were able to invite Paul Soderman, a Blues singer who’s been on the scene for years in Colorado, to help sing the bridge on Black Peter, and he helped to lend some spiritual gravitas to the project.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?                                   (Reverend Freakchild / Photo by Sal Tufano)

I try to see myself in the musical tradition of reverential Bluesmen like blind Reverend Gary Davis. We did a version of his tune Death Don’t Have No Mercy on this latest album with Jay Collins (who’s played with Greg Allman and Little Feat) playing Bansuri Flute. Although my reverential leanings are of the more psychedelically induced variety, I appreciate singing some of those beautiful spirituals. The wisdom of simple songs, writing or learning them, singing them and getting in touch with others and ourselves through this art form continues to be a blessing. 

"Also I would have liked to have spent some time with the Buddha under the bodhi tree after his enlightenment and sung some songs of realization with him."

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

I love Blues music and I'm a student of Blues but I am by no means an ethnomusicologist. There is no doubt that Blues music is intertwined with the history of the African American experience and its subverted and simultaneously celebrated arts and culture. And there are cases to be made that the blues are African in origin - as you could take everything from those slaves but you couldn’t take the melodies from their minds. There is an evolution of Blues music as it mixes with Native American rhythms, European influences and other music from around the world, but like Robert Johnson sang, “The Blues ain’t nothing but a low down shake and chill, if ya ain’t never had ‘em I hope you never will.”

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