Q&A with Detroit’s Laura Rain and the Caesars transform funky soul and r&b into their own unique vision

"Music brings people together, crosses all barriers, even if they are just tapping their toes to the beat. If they listen to to words and emotion of many of my songs, it goes much deeper. We all have a voice."

Laura Rain & The Caesars:

Walkin' Blues on the Motor City Roads

Detroit’s Laura Rain and the Caesars transform funky soul and r&b into their own unique vision. Inspired by the spirit of classic recordings of a bygone era, Laura Rain creates her own environment of expression with a powerful and soulful voice. Formed in the Motor City in 2012 with her husband George Friend, the pair set off on a creative journey writing and recording their own music. The two garnered many accolades within the music press and radio with their debut release “Electrified" in 2013. Performing with a stripped down lineup of organ, guitar and drums the band developed it’s signature sound, and cultivated a vintage toned energetic foundation. The second release “Closer" (2014) expanded the sound exposing the bands’ love for Memphis soul, juke-joint blues and tough Detroit funk and r&b. Starting in 2014, the band began touring heavily within the U.S. and Canada. Starting in Chicago with regular appearances at the House of Blues and Buddy Guy’s Legends, Laura Rain has stunned audiences with her intensity and powerful voice.

Performing in over 25 states from California to New York, the band has delighted audiences with their dynamic performances. Featured at the Mississippi Valley Blues Fest, Marquette Area Blues Fest, Edmonton Blues Fest, the Legendary Blues Cruise and many other top tier clubs and festivals, Laura Rain and the Caesars continue to grow making new friends and fans along the way. In 2015, the release of the third album “Gold" broadened their audience considerably thanks to substantial Triple A airplay of the single “Work so Hard" (a pounding homage to Motown). “Gold" also propelled Laura Rain onto the national radio charts making the top 50 on Roots Music Report for numerous months, and holding at #1 in the state of Michigan for over a year! 2016 highlights also included a tour of France and winning a prestigious Detroit Music Award for “Outstanding Blues Songwriters." With the upcoming release of the fourth recording “Walk with Me," Laura Rain pushes the envelope of her unique soul music. Channeling inspiration from Detroit’s long history of dance music, funk, blues, soul and r&b, Laura Rain gives modern music a raw, yet sophisticated shot of much needed authenticity and heart.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Soul music & culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Laura: We get to see our beautiful land, road by road, and town by town. It’s like the best Route 66 Tour ever! I am humbled to have performed in France as well. It is amazing to visit another country and perform there. I am always floored when music lovers have driven hours to see our show, and they are so happy to be there and make that effort. When you sit at home and watch TV your view of the world can easily be shaped. People do care, and people still love music, and there are kind, good people doing good things always. We get to experience this first hand, and that is truly a blessing of the music.

George: I have been listening to blues and soul since I was a child through my father’s record collection…Jimmy Reed, BB King, Buddy Guy, Wilson Pickett, Aretha, Ray Charles et al. I was always taken aback at the fire and pure soul in the vocal delivery complimented by the guitar. Growing up listening to the music inspired me to visit Chicago, New Orleans, the Delta, Memphis as HOLY GROUND where the music came from. I’m obsessed with music history and recording/records. Visiting these places where the music was created has always been an inspiring and mysterious quest for knowledge and experience.

How do you describe Laura Rain and the Caesars sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

Laura: Music that’s good for your soul.

(Laura Rain & George Friend / Photo by Ingo Rautenberg)

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

Laura: Meeting George Friend changed my life for the better. I would not have this gift of music to share without him. Other than meeting George, the D.J.’s that play our music around the world are vital to our voice and survival. They give their time selflessly supporting, promoting, and sharing our albums, over and over again. Thank you D.J’s of the world. We love and appreciate you! Our fans share an equal appreciation from us as well. Our existence is sustained by them coming to our shows and supporting our art.Advice: I stopped following advice from others a long time ago.

George: Living in Los Angeles was a fantastic experience learning from Janiva Magness, Rick Holmstrom, Stephen Hodges, Steve Mugalian…they taught me valuable lessons in creativity, simplicity and being yourself. Also, living in Detroit has been a constant inspiration learning from the older musicians and studying the music I love. I once took a class from John Sinclair (many years ago) called “The History of Rock & Roll” at Wayne State University here in Detroit. He brought all of my record listening into focus and enlightened me to the vast history of 20th century music. The best advice I’ve gathered anywhere has been to “be yourself and everything will be ok”…it has served me well.

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

Laura: One of the best highlights of my career so far is when Buddy Guy got on stage and sang with me at his club in Chicago last year. That was a lifelong dream come true!

George: I have a lot of fond memories meeting musicians I have admired. I have been fortunate through my work with Robert Gordon, Janiva Magness to meet all sorts of great players and perform with them. I once played a gig with Bill Bateman and John Bazz from the Blasters as my rhythm section…we played for about 10 drunks in the bar, but it meant the world to me to get the chance to do a whole gig with them.

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

Laura: Real instruments, melodies, and thoughtful composition. I hope people get off the couch and support the arts, physically and financially. I hope the arts will not be forgotten in education. It is vital for humanity.

George: Well I miss doing a lot of gigs. 20 years ago I played 5 nights a week average, now it’s down to 2-3 nights. I also really miss record stores and buying music before hearing it. Music is more accessible now but with that comes a feeling of having everything at your fingertips. Both live and recorded music have suffered because of the saturation and apathy of the listeners. It takes work as a fan to seek out new and interesting music. The record companies seem to take very few chances on new artists.

"Detroit has a very deep and long history of jazz, blues, gospel, r&b, funk, and soul. The blues permeated every one of those styles and inspired all the great rock&roll from the area as well. Detroit was one of America’s premier black cities of the 20th century due to the migration from the south." (Laura Rain & George Friend / Photos by Ingo Rautenberg)

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

George: I would love to see originality and true expression come back into the blues world…more innovators and less imitators. I see the greats of the past as each unique and creating their own style because they had to stand out on their own. Seems like they were laser focused on being original! I would love to see audiences respond to that first instead of just following what others tell them is good.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Motor City. What are the lines that connect the legacy of Motor City music from funk, blues, soul and r&b to jazz and beyond?

Laura: We are a rustbelt city. Many a musician had come up from the south to work on the automotive assembly line to provide for their families. Detroit was a bustling town, now finally in it’s rebirth. This, mixed with the pulsating rhythms of machines, factories, trains, and the working man, made up the elements of our unique sound. Simply said, it’s in the water!

George: Detroit has a very deep and long history of jazz, blues, gospel, r&b, funk, and soul. The blues permeated every one of those styles and inspired all the great rock&roll from the area as well. Detroit was one of America’s premier black cities of the 20th century due to the migration from the south. With that came all of the music and deep expression within it. Because of this, Detroit has always been a hotbed for soulful, honest hard-hitting music. The history of singers making their way here in particular is astounding…Aretha, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Mitch Ryder to name a few. Even George Clinton’s psychedelic funk centered on the voice and expression. People have something to say here, in a big way. It’s always been reinforced by a musical language that people around the globe can relate to.

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in music?

Laura: I Think women are an innumerable force in the blues music scene. I don’t see barriers, I see opportunities. When you acknowledge any limitations imposed by others, you limit yourself.

"Real instruments, melodies, and thoughtful composition. I hope people get off the couch and support the arts, physically and financially. I hope the arts will not be forgotten in education. It is vital for humanity." (Laura & George / Photo by Marty Rickard, 2013)

What touched (emotionally) you from Allen Ginsberg? Are there any memories which you’d like to share?

George: In 1983 in my hometown of Marquette Michigan I was asked by a friend to play guitar with Allen Ginsberg. Allen would travel doing his readings at colleges and he sometimes requested a guitarist so he could perform his music. We performed a variety of his songs but I most remember playing “Father Death Blues”, William Blake’s “Tyger”, “Birdbrain” and “Put Down Yer Cigarette Rag”. His album FIRST BLUES had recently come out so these were the songs we drew from. I recall having to learn them in a day, and have no recollection of how I played but we got over.

In fact, he enjoyed having me so much that we corresponded for a couple years and I was later asked to do three shows in the San Francisco Bay Area, in 1985 I believe. This was a life changing event for me as I met Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Michael McClure and a lot of other interesting people. Allen was very generous and loaded me up with poetry books at City Lights that he thought I should read…Rimbaud, Corso, and of course his own books. I know all the shows were recorded and most likely exist in his archive (at Stanford?). I knew it was a special moment for me and cherished every second. I still have great memories of his friendship and his confidence in me. Getting to play his music was a gift I’ll never forget.

When Allen and I played the First Unitarian Universalist Church in ’85 it was our first of three shows. Right before we went on he asked me to go outside the stage door. He pulled out a joint and we smoked down just the two of us. I was a little nervous how this might effect my performance but I figured it’s Allen…now is the time to turn on! Hahaha. The stage manager opened the door and said “ok they’re ready for you” and on we went. As we were approaching the stage manager added “there is some hot cider onstage for the two of you”. I walked onstage and immediately kicked over the cider first thing much to the audiences laughter. What an entrance! The show was a success.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from Gregory Corso? Are there any memories which you’d like to share?

George: I met him in 1984-85 when I was performing with Allen Ginsberg in San Francisco. I was fortunate enough to play guitar with Allen a number of times and Gregory approached me after the show gesturing wildly about how much he loved my blues playing. I can still hardly believe it as I was 18 or 19 years old! He seemed to be a real character and invited me to drink with him at his favorite San Francisco tavern near Clement St…years later I saw Delbert McClinton perform at that bar. I went once looking for Corso but never found him…the bartender thought I was nuts just asking if he had been in there!

"I Think women are an innumerable force in the blues music scene. I don’t see barriers, I see opportunities. When you acknowledge any limitations imposed by others, you limit yourself." (Laura Rain & George Friend / Photo by Ingo Rautenberg)

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

Laura: I am glad to have a creative outlet, and also a positive message at this tumultuous time in our society. I wrote the lyrics to “Walk with Me” on the day of the Women’s March in Washington D.C back in January. I have a strong vision for it’s potential. Art and creation make a statement that is imprinted forever. Music brings people together, crosses all barriers, even if they are just tapping their toes to the beat. If they listen to to words and emotion of many of my songs, it goes much deeper. We all have a voice.

George: I’m certain I can’t give you the best insights here, though I know that every culture makes music their own. Blues and Soul music is real human expression happening in real time. My own writing is inspired by all of the great artists that came before, but I really try to create my own music and sound. It’s gotten easier for me with Laura as she is unique and has always done her own thing, not too much of an imitator. She is a stand out, and expresses herself with real emotion. Here in Detroit this is natural as it relates to our surroundings. All of the great music has inspired legions of artists in every conceivable genre and culture because this particular type of musical expression thrives here, and expands it’s inner core through production and evolution. I know the music here is A LOT different than Austin, Los Angeles, NYC, Seattle, San Francisco etc because of it’s growth off the main vein of the blues.

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

Laura: I would like to be in a major midwestern rustbelt city maybe Detroit, Chicago, St.Louis, or even Pittsburgh. Let’s say 1968 or so. I want to feel what it’s like to be in a thriving economy where men of all stature can work hard and make a good living for their families. Where people can buy houses and cars without being in financial bondage. I also would like to interact with the people of this time and ponder the consciousness of others comparatively today.

George: I would love to go back to Chicago in the mid-50s and sit in the control room at Chess records to see Muddy, Wolf, Chuck Berry or Bo Diddley cut some tracks. I could say the same for Sam Phillip’s at Sun in Memphis. Both of those places really captured something special that influenced and inspired me to be who I am. Just to hear the music in the room and see how they approached everything would be amazing.

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(Photo: Laura Rain & The Caesars)

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