Q&A with talented musicians, Cassie Keenum & Rick Randlett - blues with a side of deep southern soul

"The blues allows us to express those deep and poignant feelings without saying a word. Sometimes you have to talk about the darkness before you can let in the light."

Cassie Keenum & Rick Randlett:

Fresh Old Roots & Blossoms

“Hauntings” (2017) is a project that stems from the collaborations of two talented musicians, Cassie Keenum and Rick Randlett. Cassie Keenum’s voice is the perfect complement to Rick Randlett’s evocative fret work, blues with a side of deep southern soul. Cassie Keenum is blues sing-songwriter in the Gainesville, FL area. Cassie plays as an acoustic duo with Rick Randlett and is currently putting the finishing touches on her first CD. Cassie and Rick were the winners of the 2016 North Central Florida Blues Society’s Blues Challenge and were semi-finalists in the 2017 International Blues Challenge hosted by the Blues Foundation in Memphis, TN. Cassie’s stunning vocals, soulful lyrics and wonderful charisma have been charming audiences in the Gainesville area for the past four years. Cassie is also a guitarist whose original compositions compliment her acoustic talent.  Her strong and powerful vocals have been compared to the strength of Mama Thornton with the soulfulness of Susan Tedeschi. With her poignant lyrics, touching melodies and heartfelt and sincere performances, Cassie knows how to make an event a memorable and special occasion. Her performances appeal to a wide audience. She can seamlessly perform original compositions and favorite blues covers proving that she is a versatile and deeply talented artist.

Rick Randlett first discovered the blues in college in the 70's. Like many of his generation, bands such as Cream, The Yardbirds and early Fleetwood Mac led him back in time to Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and eventually Robert Johnson. A move to Florida in the 80's led to performances with country music artists, and now songs by Hank Williams and Johnny Cash sit comfortably next to songs by Big Bill Broonzy and Rev. Gary Davis in Rick's live shows.  Rick released his first cd in 1999, and his second in 2002. His first acoustic cd, Change Coming On was released in 2012. The cd spent ten weeks in the top ten on the Roots Music Report"s internet blues radio charts. In fact the cd was still in the top fifty fifteen months after release!

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Cassie: I’ve learned it’s ok to share negative emotions as well as positive. In today’s social media world, we so often only see and talk about the good things that are happening in our lives. We see perfect pictures of happy, smiling people and start to wonder if it’s normal to feel less than perfect. The reality is we all have problems and we all feel discontent. The blues allows us to express those deep and poignant feelings without saying a word. Sometimes you have to talk about the darkness before you can let in the light.

How do you describe your sound & songbook and what characterize your music philosophy?

Cassie: My songbook is growing and changing all the time. I’m still new to songwriting and still finding my voice. I take a very different approach to music and songwriting than Rick. Rick is very methodical with his writing. He decides what kind of song he wants to write and then he sits down and makes it happen. I usually approach music and songwriting more by instinct. About half of my songs were written while I’m in that strange half awake – half asleep place, so it’s nice to have a more experienced and methodical writer to bounce ideas off of. I grew up listening to country and bluegrass gospel, so that naturally those influences show up a lot in my work as well. I think that if you’re not a little afraid when you play music that you’re probably playing it too safe and not putting enough of yourself into it.

Rick: My songbook... well, I've been writing songs pretty much all my life. At this point I've recorded five cd's worth. I'd like to think my songs mostly feature intelligent use of lyrics and common chord progressions not always used in common ways. I've always approached songwriting as a craft. I see myself more as a person writing short stories as opposed to songs coming from my emotions.

In some ways, it is easier to write now because I'm so much better at my craft then I was 20-30 years ago. But in another way, it's harder because I don't experience the emotional ups and downs I did when I was younger. A few years ago, I became involved with Taoism and it has transformed my life. I'm in a very good calm place which is nice since I'm not as young as I used to be!

"I’ve learned it’s ok to share negative emotions as well as positive. In today’s social media world, we so often only see and talk about the good things that are happening in our lives. We see perfect pictures of happy, smiling people and start to wonder if it’s normal to feel less than perfect. The reality is we all have problems and we all feel discontent."

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

Cassie: The blues has helped me realize that even though the world is full of very different people, we can all find common ground in music. Music has led me down paths that I never would have taken before and introduced me to some of the coolest people I’ve ever met.

Rick: Since I was there at the beginning of the blues and rock counterculture it has obviously affected my entire life. Anyone who came of age in the '60's has to have a unique view of the world. I think the biggest  thing I learned was that life didn't have to have boundaries. I didn't have to live according  to rules laid down in the past. I think it helped me realize how small the world really was, and to have respect for other cultures.

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

Cassie: My vocal instructor changed my life. I’ve always loved to sing but I had terrible stage fright. I got lucky and found a wonderful vocal instructor who taught me something very important. She told me that if I wanted my audience to have fun that I needed to learn how to let go and have fun first. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and put yourself out there, but it’s changed everything and opened up amazing new doors for me.

Rick: I've never had the opportunity to play with, and learn from the older blues generations. Over the years as I was younger and learning I tried to always play with musicians who were better than me. Despite having a degree in music, my real school was out on the road playing four hours a night 5-6 nights a week. As far as advice I was given, the best advice is still the thing I tell all my students. Be yourself. Having influences is fine, but you have to use your influences to create the artist that is uniquely you.

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

Rick: Musically I can't say I miss much. I believe that any style of music needs to grow and not remain stuck in the past. What I do miss is the amount of places to play. In the middle to late 70's we were all playing 4-6 nights a week. Along with the obvious financial aspect, what it did was create a lot of very good tight bands. You really learn your craft playing together that much.

I guess my hope is that blues will continue to grow, and musicians can bring their own unique influences to the style. As far as fear goes, probably only hoping that blues doesn't become as visually oriented as some other styles of music. Let's keep it about the music, not hairstyles and wardrobe.

"I think the biggest  thing I learned was that life didn't have to have boundaries. I didn't have to live according  to rules laid down in the past. I think it helped me realize how small the world really was, and to have respect for other cultures."

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

Cassie: I’d love to see more blues played on mainstream radio. Most kids grow up thinking they only like popular music because that’s all they’ve ever been exposed to. I didn’t really hear my first real blues song until I was almost 30. Once people are exposed to the blues, it’s so raw and authentic that most people love it.

Rick: It's wishful thinking, but make the music business be about music! I realize we never go backwards, but it would be nice to see talent and musical ability become more important than it currently is.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from HAUNTINGS sessions and Rick Randlett (and Cassie)?

Cassie: I knew I wanted to do something different with the vocals on ‘All Along’. I was trying to explain the kind of sound I was going for to Rick and described it as “old school low fidelity’. Rick was trying to understand what I meant and started rattling off artists from the 50’s. We were getting nowhere, so I pulled up a Christina Aguilera track that had a similar effect to what I was going for. Needless to say, we both got a laugh when we realized that old school meant something completely different to each of us.  Also, Rick had a pair of ancient monitoring headphones that I would use while we were working on the mixes. These things were so old the black covering on the ear foam would come off in tiny pieces every time they were used. I would find tiny black plastic flakes on my face and in my hair for days afterwards each time we did a recording session!

Rick: As far as the "Hauntings" sessions go, this turned into a really long project, and the focus changed many times over the course of working on it. I'm very proud of what we accomplished. I think it fits the genre, but doesn't adhere to a rigid formula. Right now, I'm just enjoying the down time before starting the next one!

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

Cassie: On one hand, it’s an amazing time to be a female artist. Women were very well represented at the IBC, and technology allows us all to connect and support each other from all over the world.  It was strong female singers who first got me interested in the blues. I was listening to the radio one day when Susan Tedeschi came on and started belting out ‘Soul of a Man’. It connected with me so deeply; I literally stopped in my tracks. On the other hand, I feel like women still get significantly less attention by some of the major blues festivals and radio shows. There are so many diverse and amazing female artists out there; I’d like to see them more equally represented.

"It's wishful thinking, but make the music business be about music! I realize we never go backwards, but it would be nice to see talent and musical ability become more important than it currently is."

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

Cassie: The blues have always been a powerful vehicle for social change and protest. Think of the impact Billy Holiday had on the world with ‘Strange Fruit’. She must have been terrified of the retaliation the song could bring but she sang it anyways. That songs aches with humanity and suffering and helped inspire the civil rights movement.

Rick: Not sure there is one. Music has become so fragmented people rarely listen to anything other than the style they prefer. I do think it's important for us as modern blues musicians to acknowledge and respect the culture that this music came out of.

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

Cassie: I’d love to be able to go back and see Eva Cassidy perform. Eva was brave enough to be exactly who she was and refused to be pigeonholed into what others wanted her to be.  In a time when most of the popular female artists were dancing around lip-syncing, Eva was quietly creating beautifully honest music without any fanfare. She stayed focused on the music in a time when the music industry was more interested in selling a look and a stage show.  I’d love to be able to chat with her about being a female artist in the industry.

Rick: Wow, so many historic things you could go back and be a part of... as a musician and a child of the '60's I guess my choice would be to spend a day in Abbey Road studios while the Beatles were working on Sgt. Pepper. For me that would be an amazing experience!

Cassie Keenum - Official website

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