Q&A with Spanish Blues & Roots guitarist Javier Tijuana - Blues n' Roots at the end of the road and beyond

"I think that Blues is essentially American music created by Afro-American descendants by means of expression, solace and escape from terrible conditions of slavery and segregation suffered by the hands of European and North-Americans white people. These conditions have changed in a very good measure and the music as a way of expression It don’t have much relation with those conditions."

Javier Tijuana: Blues Roots Roads

American Roots Music record collector and Blues Music archeologist, guitar player Javier Tijuana started his musical career in 1989 with the band Blues Power (1989-1992).  Since then he has been part and led uncountable bands along the Blues & American Roots Rock territory (El Mero Güero, Los Rockets, Los Swinguers, Un Poco Locos, Desperate 45’s). He has released in digital format several productions:  “A DEGÜELLO – DEAD OR ALIVE 2012” with Desperate 45’s and “TABASCO PARA TUS OÍDOS (Live 2001)” with Un Poco Locos; the 2014 self-produced album “THUNDERBIRD MOTEL” with Los Tijuana Blues (2012-2018) of Voodoo Blues and Border Rock and Roll original compositions. J. Tijuana hosted for three years the only radio program of Blues & Roots Rock in his home town Valencia at RadioKlara 104.4FM: CRAZY BLUES RADIO. He is the founder and president of the VALENCIA BLUES SOCIETY since its creation in december 2012. Live music promotor of many Blues related productions highlighting the I Valencia Blues Festival in 2015 and the II VLCBluesFest in may de 2017.           Javier Tijuana / Photo by Rafael Tanaka Monzó

His debut solo album “BLUES AT THE END OF THE ROAD” (Sedajazz Records, 2019) is a collection of 6 original instrumentals that goes from Link Wray or Albert Collins to Grant Green or Jimmie Vaughan. It opens with “Big Tuna” a laid back shuffle who owes a lot to players like Denny Freeman, Jimmie Vaughan and Anson Funderburgh imagined in a David Lynch setting. The folowing track, “Tuff Bop” is a maniac rockin’ hard bop that mixes Grant Green with SRV. There is room for old-school jazz for hepcats with the feline minor melody “Pussy Cat Blues” drived excelently by a magnetic double bass obligatto, Organ and guitar in unison. “The Crave” gets us into a hypnotic boogaloo sort of Freddie King meets Hendrix, followed by a true toast to Albert Collins, telecasterly titled “Stone Cold”. The set of songs ends with a free jam dialogue between the double bass jazz player Lucho Aguilar and the guitar of Javier ending with a hilarious signature.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues & Roots culture and what does the blues mean to you?

Through the language of the Blues I try to express musically whatever feelings and emotions. Also is a very satisfying source of pleasure from the point of view of a Record collector and researcher of the early 30´s and 40´s American Roots Music.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues & Roots researches and experiments?

I started with the most popular in the late 80´s, Elvis Presley of course since I was 8 or 9, but most popular (considering that they were quite underground at the time, not the Top 40s in the radio) like Stray Cats or Robert Gordon in the Rock and Roll side and The Fabulous Thunderbirds, SRV and Johnny Winter on the blues side. And the fact that I was buying imported guitar magazines gave me more information about these styles and players, I had lucky that many blues masters like Albert Collins, Albert King, SRV were on the cover on many guitar magazines in the late 80´s and early 90´s. Then you begin your research and listen for the first-time people like Magic Sam, Freddie King, Buddy Guy, Howling Wolf or the early recordings of B.B. King. Besides that, to listen the recordings was not very handy, in my city around 1987-90 was really difficult to find Blues albums at the Record Shops, other than general compilations, B.B. King or Clapton albums.

How do you describe your sound and philosophy?              (Photo by Rafael Tanaka Monzó)

I guess I try to replicate the vibe and energy I got when I heard the music or the song in the first place. To get the best tone for the song, the tone sets the mood and the notes and melody dance with you around that mood. I always try to find more freedom to express myself and play what I hear in my mind but I can’t, this is my never ending search and learning experience to get to a point that I can play whatever I hear in  my mind.

I have began to take classes from a Jazz guitarist here in Valencia, who started in the early 70s, I’m always trying to grow as a musician although I have not attended a School of Music in my life. In regards of style, I try to find my own voice, listening and learning from the masters, they are who wrote the book, his tone, his phrasing, and develops my own turnarounds, phrases and everything else, musically speaking.  In terms of sound, licks and vocabulary I guess that all I know comes from people like Albert Collins, B.B. King, T-Bone Walker, Jimmie and Stevie Ray, Anson Funderburgh, Duke Robillard, Albert & Freddie King, Charlie Parker, Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, Barney Kessell and of course, Charlie Christian.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

I met a guy named Freddie Bobiani Dovalina, he was from Houston, TX, when I was 20 years old, I was really into the Blues and was buying all blues records I could afford and playing in a band called Blues Power and he was the best Blues player I have ever seen, I mean person to person. He loved Albert King and instantly we make friends and form a band by the name of Little Fred & The Tijuana Jukes. I was obviously the rhythm guitar player and we make during a year and a half a lot of gigs in the town and we were the hottest band right from the start, at least I felt like this. We even recorded some demos; the next step was to find a Record Company. I went to his rent house one night, after some hours of having fun and talking and everything, then I leave to my house. The next day, he was found dead.

What is the best advice has given you?

I haven’t have much guidance. In fact, I think most musicians are very jealous of whatever they think they know and I have not know many generous musicians in the knowledge sense. But in any case, I think that unless you have not learnt something by yourself, no matter how long it takes or how hard has been, will never be truly yours. The best advices are simply acts of love, these are the ones that teach you something.

"Through the language of the Blues I try to express musically whatever feelings and emotions. Also is a very satisfying source of pleasure from the point of view of a Record collector and researcher of the early 30´s and 40´s American Roots Music." (Photo: Javier Tijuana)

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

Probably the most impressive show that I have attended was Albert Collins in Madrid in the 90s. The Fabulous Thunderbirds after Jimmie Vaughan left the band, with Duke Robillard and Kid Bangham was another extraordinary experience. I consider Kim Wilson and Jimmie Vaughan my father figures musically speaking, I have a picture of me with Kim and Duke Robillard at the backstage of that show. To meet and talk with Anson Funderburgh in Cazorla and Jimmie at C’Boys in Austin last summer was a gift for me. Regarding a show of mine, I share the bill with Bernard Allison, and he invited me to join his band in a couple of numbers and it was a true act of love, I thank him and he said something like: “This is what it is all about”. He was talking about giving and sharing, that is what I was talking in the last question, Bernard is beyond great, as a musician and as person.

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

The sound is the thing I appreciate more of the music from back in the day. You just can´t deliver the sound of the old recordings. Everything is too brilliant and modern now. I don´t have no fears or hopes for the music, the music can take care of itself, comes from a place that is away from us and at the same time so inside of us, it will always be there with the human kind, music is life and life is music. Now and then appears somebody who opens a new road, like Johnny Dodds, Louis Amstrong, Django Reinhardt, Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian, T-Bone Walker, B. B. King, Stevie Ray…at the moment the most interesting and inspiring musicians for me are Marc Ribot, Nels Cline, Diego García, Chris Duarte and always Jimmie Vaughan.

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

I can only talk of the most interesting in Valencia, when I began playing in bands in the late 80s until 1993 or so, because we had some bands playing the Blues, we were young in our 20´s and we thought we were the coolest playing the best music, and the people of our age came to our gigs so the Blues was cool at that time, at least for us. That was just before it came Grunge music with Nirvana and all of that in the middle 90´s. Nowadays I think we live in some resurgence of the interest on the Blues and at least I have organized the 1st and 2nd Blues Festival of Valencia and spreading our love and respect for the music and some other events about the Blues and there are some bands playing traditional and contemporary blues that make things look pretty cool in Valencia. I have released a new instrumental album of originals “BLUES AT THE END OF THE ROAD” released with Sedajazz Records and I am quite satisfied with it.

"I don´t have no fears or hopes for the music, the music can take care of itself, comes from a place that is away from us and at the same time so inside of us, it will always be there with the human kind, music is life and life is music." (Photo: Javier Tijuana)

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Flamenco and other Spanish folk music forms?

The first players used the G tuning believing that it came form Spanish musical influences but the real thing is that when guitars began to be mass produced, they were distributed at the end of the century by mail order with learning books. They included versions of a song called “Spanish Fandango”, a written piece of music that along with another called “Sebastopol” became the starting point for thousand of rural players who purchased cheap acoustic guitars. “Spanish Fandango” was a song written by a man by the name of Henry Worrall who in his sheet called for the guitar strings to be tuned to an open G chord. By the 1930s, the song was part of the Country repertoire and played by Western Swing bands. The Blues players in Mississippi like Charley Patton, Ishman Bracey or Son House played a lot with open G and A tunings and called the tuning “Spanish Tuning”. On the other hand the Spanish and Mexican influence along the States of Louisiana and Texas incorporated melodies from the Spanish popular music. I think the Spanish influence was more strong and evident in Texas music like Conjunto, Norteño and Tex-Mex than in Mississippi or Chicago Blues.

What is the impact of Blues and Roots music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

We don´t have that cultural and racial issues in Spain. We have some others issues to care about. Anyway, I think that Blues is essentially American music created by Afro-American descendants by means of expression, solace and escape from terrible conditions of slavery and segregation suffered by the hands of European and North-Americans white people. These conditions have changed in a very good measure and the music as a way of expression It don’t have much relation with those conditions.

Javier Tijuana / Photo by Rafael Tanaka Monzó

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

I would love to hang around Sam Phillips´ Studio and Beale Street in Memphis in 1954, and watch and listen Charlie Parker, Dizzy and Monk in 1946 at 52 Street in New York City.

It would be terrific to take a look when urban blues was in his heyday and Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters where the Kings in Chicago, watch John Brim or Elmore James, these people at the top of their game.

Particularly I would love to watch Blind Lemon Jefferson singing and playing the Blues in the streets of Deep Ellum in Texas in the late 20´s or watch how they recorded those legendary 78´s of Tommy Johnson, Charlie Patton or Son House at Paramount in Wisconsin.

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