Q&A with Scott Sharrard (bandleader for the late Gregg Allman) a mission that resumes with his new album “Saving Grace”

"You can’t play Jazz, Rock, R&B, Country, or Folk without being able to play the blues."

Scott Sharrard: Interpreter of the Blues

Scott Sharrard is best known as lead guitarist and bandleader for the late Gregg Allman. But his personal artistic journey – which includes singing, songwriting, producing and arranging – began long before he first teamed up with the rock icon. It’s a mission that resumes with “Saving Grace,” Sharrard’s fifth album (Release Date: eptember 21st) -- and his first since Allman’s death. “Saving Grace,” with the blues at its core, bears a distinctly southern spirit, seamlessly assimilating the sounds of American roots music that Sharrard has long embraced. Sessions took place in Memphis and at the historic FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Half the album employs the Hi Rhythm Section, the other The Swampers of Muscle Shoals. Scott has released previous four solo albums to critical acclaim, and he continues to tour and showcase with his new lineup, Scott Sharrard and The Brickyard Band. Scott also recently formed the CKS Band with fellow Gregg Allman band member and organ player, Bruce Katz, and current Levon Helm Band drummer, Randy Ciarlante.                (Scott Sharrard / Photo by Cristina Arrigoni)

Scott began his career in Wisconsin in the early '90's, spending his teenage years attending Milwaukee's prestigious High School of The Arts by day while spending his nights playing in clubs and touring with local blues legends like Stokes, Willie Higgins, and Harvey Scales, and with such international blues and jazz luminaries as Buddy Miles, Melvin Rhyne, and Clyde Stubblefield.  After rising to the top of the local circuit by the age of 19, Scott moved to New York City with his band, The Chesterfields. They recorded and released albums, toured nationally, and received support and encouragement from people such as Ahmet Ertegun, Russ Titlemen, Rob Thomas and Dr. John. Over the years, Scott has also performed with such artists as: The Allman Brothers, Levon Helm, Amy Helm, Jaimoe's Jasssz Band, Jennifer Johns, Marshall Crenshaw, Kelley Hunt, Katy Pfaffl, Brian Charette, and Jay Collins & The Kings County Band.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Scott, when was your first desire to become involved in music, what does the BLUES mean to you?

The blues is the basis for all the great American music. You can’t play Jazz, Rock, R&B, Country, or Folk without being able to play the blues. It’s the roux in the gumbo and it's made me who I am as a musician no matter what I play.

What characterize Scott Sharrard’s music philosophy, how do you describe Scott’s sound and progress?

I hate "genres" and boundaries in music. That’s for the marketers and bean counters. At the end of the day for me it's all about SOUL. Bach had it, Marvin Gaye had it, Jimi, Miles, Prince, Otis…music is at its best when you can take it ALL in and come out with a singular voice. That’s my goal.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician and songwriter?

Playing, practicing and having great musical mentors. Also learning the music that came before as best as you can….not to mention getting away from music, reading, checking out art, movies and most of all being with my family. It's all inspiring and crucial to having something to say musically.

"The blues is the basis for all the great American music. You can’t play Jazz, Rock, R&B, Country, or Folk without being able to play the blues. It’s the roux in the gumbo and it's made me who I am as a musician no matter what I play." (Photo by Scott Rosenbaum / Scott at Fame Studios with Duane's 57 Goldtop)

What do you think is the main characteristic of your personality that made you a bluesman?

First off I would never call myself a "bluesman" that's reserved for the creators of the genre like Lightnin Hopkins, Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf.  I consider myself an interpreter of the blues and I do my best to incorporate it into my music.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from the Southern Rock Blues & Soul people?

That's a great question because the generation of Rock and Blues icons I was lucky to be around had a lot to say and teach! As a kid in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in the early 1990’s I got some great first-hand knowledge playing on the local blues scene, which included my mentors Stokes and Willie Higgins but also legendary sidemen like Hubert Sumlin, Buddy Miles, Pinetop Perkins and many others who lived locally for brief times or just came to jam. It was a very fertile scene and I was a teenager soaking in the best it had to offer. Of course, I spent almost a decade with Gregg Allman until he passed, and he was always of my favorite vocalists and musicians, regardless of genre. We bonded over the blues. The Blues is the roux in the gumbo and Gregg and I had that belief in common. He used to say things like “nothing matters but the blues”, but of course the beauty of Rock and Roll is that the blues is the heart of it all, but you can stretch in many directions. That's the best of all worlds really, and Gregg reaffirmed that. He also said, “there’s no such thing as Southern Rock, ALL Rock is southern”! He’d usually go on to point out that everyone from Robert Johnson to Elvis Presley was a southerner. I loved that lesson and it’s important for any lover of American music to understand that fact. Genre is just a marketing label at the end of the day. It’s all about Soul. That's what all those guys believed.

How do you describe "Saving Grace" sound and songbook? What touched (emotionally) you from Hi Rhythm Section and Muscle Shoals musicians?

Well, this is the record I was trying to make for 20 years. I consciously wanted to baptize my original songs in the South, and I had met all these legendary musicians, Hi Rhythm, The Swampers, Bernard Purdie, Taj Mahal, in my journeys over the last decade or so. Time marches on, and these cats, they are playing so great, but I don’t know how much longer we will be blessed with their talents. So, I made a conscious decision that this record would be a musical homage to these timeless mentors that I was lucky enough to know, and who wanted to take part. I also cut all the lead vocals and rhythm guitar parts live on the floor with these bands to 2-inch tape. The immediacy of the performances and the fidelity were important to me and I think that translates ion the final recording. My co-producers Scott Bomar and Charlie Martinez were also a key part of helping fit all the various elements together. Clearly, this album is a transition for me. I was Gregg Allman's, guitarist, musical director and co-songwriter from 2008 until he passed away in 2017. This will be my fifth solo album, but I never had the opportunity to focus all my attention on my solo work, as being in Gregg's band was a top priority and a great creative outlet. “Saving Grace” is my effort to tip my hat to the greats and to also do the first big turn of the page for myself creatively at the same time.

"I hate "genres" and boundaries in music. That’s for the marketers and bean counters. At the end of the day for me it's all about SOUL. Bach had it, Marvin Gaye had it, Jimi, Miles, Prince, Otis…music is at its best when you can take it ALL in and come out with a singular voice. That’s my goal."

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? Are there any memories which you’d like to share?

As I’ve detailed in my early answers, I've been so fortunate to encounter my heroes over and over throughout my life. I should also mention what a huge impact Levon Helm had on my musical life. My wife and I lived in the Woodstock area in 2010 and 2011 and getting to jam with Levon, open for his band, record with him and hang in his home studio, was life-changing. Gregg Allman and Levon were similar in some ways. They had that pure passion and belief in Rock and Roll and the blues that was undeniable. They were music first guys. There's was no bullshitting. They’d been through it all by then. They just wanted to hang and jam. That was a form of mentorship I’ll never forget. And we had a lot of laughs in the process. There's no doubt though that working with Gregg was the game changer for me all around. From him covering my song “Love Like Kerosene” twice, to leading his 9-piece band, recording two albums and then getting nominated for our co-write on “My only true Friend” for a Grammy. We spent so much time together. And he became a friend and mentor like no other I’ve known. I miss blazing down the highway on the bus with him, listening to Muddy Waters and having a laugh, the man had the most infectious laugh, those were great times.

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

Where do I start with this one? I wasn’t there for the music of the past of course, I was born in 1976. But like most from my generation, we understand that we missed the musical renaissance of a lifetime. And we try our best on its wake to learn, grow, pay homage, and push the boundaries. I’ll also say that the ugly death of the music business and its complete lack of empathy or mentorship now for new artists is part of the problem. Countries like Canada also underwrite their artists at a government level. In America its sink or swing, life or death capitalism all the way. I think Rock and Blues are going the way of Classical and Jazz. It will become a living art for the few. Let the kids have the EDM. You can still go hear an orchestra play Mozart. I think we are heading in the same direction.

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

The greed and petty short money views of most people involved. When music is a community it thrives. It's fragmented now. And it’s become all about the concert dollar and artists have been shut out of any significant advance from royalties and get practically nothing for streaming and physical sales. The corporate labels sold us all down the river for stick options in Spotify, the whole thing is sick. I mean, there's always the art and commerce rub. But look at what Ahmet Ertegun did at Atlantic records in the 60s and 70s. Everybody was at this man’s funeral. He was loved. He created a musical community based on trust. And he did the big work. He believed in art. He was a curator. And he taught his artists to value each other and collaborate regardless of genre, race or religion. With his partner Jerry Wexler, that's truly inspiring stuff. Where are these men now? I don’t know. But I'd sure like to find them.

"Just hanging out with Gregg and the band on the bus listening to tunes and hearing all the guys share road stories and musical and personal philosophy. Barreling down the highway to the next gig with those guys in the middle of the night after a great show is one of the best places to be!"

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

All art must reflect the counterculture in some way, we are the escape artists from the mundane, sick and ugly realities of life. Traveling as a musician is such a gift. I've been to a lot of beautiful places and met incredible people in this world and communicated through music. I just got back from Japan and I’m all over their culture, the music, food, the art, the people. I can’t tell you how great it feels to be an ambassador of American music by playing it all over the world. We are lucky here for this music, it really changed the world.

Which memory from the road with the Gregg Allman Band makes you smile?

Just hanging out with Gregg and the band on the bus listening to tunes and hearing all the guys share road stories and musical and personal philosophy. Barreling down the highway to the next gig with those guys in the middle of the night after a great show is one of the best places to be!

What advice the late great Gregg Allman given to you?

To play LESS notes. And also watching him every night, how he sings and leads the band. It’s always inspiring.

Why did you think that Gregg Allman, continues to generate such a devoted following?

Gregg's one of the best rock/blues singers of all time. And he drips natural soul and tells a story EVERY time he sings. Not to mention he's a great songwriter and organist. He always delivers.

What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

Practice and memorize every solo and song you can get your hands on!

What the difference and similarity between the BLUES, JAZZ, and ROCK feeling?

If you are playing them right they are all the same!

"I wasn’t there for the music of the past of course, I was born in 1976. But like most from my generation, we understand that we missed the musical renaissance of a lifetime. And we try our best on its wake to learn, grow, pay homage, and push the boundaries." (Gregg & Scott / Photo by Dino Perrucci)

You have played with many musicians, it must be hard, but which gigs have been the biggest experiences for you?

Playing with Gregg obviously, sitting in with the Allman Brothers and playing guitar with Levon Helm on his last gig…all life changing for me, I’ll always be thankful for those opportunities.

Tell me about the beginning of Scott Sharrard & The Brickyard Band. How did you choose the name? How do you characterized the sound of THE CKS BAND?

My band mate Moses Patrou (drummer/singer/songwriter) came up with the name. It's inspired by that Allen Toussaint song "Brickyard Blues". The group is unique because we have Moses playing double drums with Diego Voglino and also singing lead and playing keys at times. Jeff Hanley is my bassist for many years and Ben Stivers is a great keyboard player and B-3 Organ master. This band is really great. The Brickyard Band is really in the mold of those  great collectives loofa the 60's/70's like Traffic, The Meters, Little Feat, Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs etc… Randy and Bruce are musical masters and it's an honor to play with them any time. CKS is a true collective and we try to also honor our bosses, Gregg Allman and the late great Levon Helm, by covering their material and also doing our own. It’s a powerful rock/blues organ trio and Randy and I have a great vocal blend. Those guys just knock my socks off, you've gotta hang on for dear life when they hit the stage!

What is the impact of Southern Rock Blues Soul music on the racial, political, and socio-cultural implications?

These days I would say it has no impact. Like I said earlier, it’s no longer in the cultural Zeitgeist. Rock, Blues and Soul no longer drive the culture, in fact, I would say music does not drive it at all. That's not to say music doesn’t change and enrich people’s lives every single day, it does, but it’s no longer the megaphone. In the 1960’s everyone would wait for an album the way people wait for the new iPhone now. Then they would go to commons house, maybe smoke some weed, and listen over and over to one album and get the message. From Ray Charles to Hendrix, The Beatles, Pink Floyd. These were big statements, and everyone was listening. That's no longer the case. And that's alright. There will always be a segment of the population that needs music for their soul's survival and for the answer. I'll be playing for them, teaching and hanging. Life goes on.

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

Paris in the 1940s. Paul Bowles, Hemingway, Gertrude Stein. What a fantastic era. Right after World War II in Paris. A real wide-open environment. The rent, wine, and food were cheap, and the artists flowed in. Sounds like a ball to me.


Scott Sharrard's official website

(Scott Sharrard / Photo by Cristina Arrigoni)

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