Rev. Shawn Amos tells The blues - and the best rock & roll - burns right through your heart into your soul

"The blues connects me completely to my past, helps me understand my present, and tells me my future."

Reverend Shawn Amos: Further Blues 

Shawn Ellis Amos is an American songwriter, singer, record producer, web personality and founder and CEO of Freshwire, a digital content creation company. Prior to founding Freshwire, Amos was an A&R executive at Rhino Entertainment and vice president of A&R at Shout! Factory, where he produced and recorded multiple Grammy-nominated projects. He produced broadcast, DVD and audio titles for legacy artists ranging from Heart to Quincy Jones, for whom Amos later ran the Listen Up Foundation. When not playing blues clubs, Amos is a regular contributor on Bloomberg West TV, where he is known for his expertise in brand marketing.              Rev. Shawn Amos / Photo by Fred Siegel

In a world of 24/7 media, people and companies are having a difficult time competing and standing out in the marketplace. Amos speaks to the need for content mindfulness and authenticity in the 24/7 real-time race for relevancy. He sits on the board of trustees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum and the board of directors of Didi Hirsch Mental Health Services. The Reverend Shawn Amos’ swampy new album, “Blue Sky,” (on the road April 17th) released under the moniker The Reverend Shawn Amos & The Brotherhood, is a collaboration between the Rev and some old friends: drummer Brady Blade (Buddy & Julie Miller, Indigo Girls), bassist Christopher Thomas (Norah Jones, Macy Gray), and longtime Rev guitarist Chris “Doctor” Roberts.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

The blues connects me completely to my past, helps me understand my present, and tells me my future. I am my best self when I sing the blues. It’s such a deep reminder of how we are all connected.

How do you describe Shawn Amos sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I’m always searching for the sound. I want to remain true to the roots of classic 1950s/early 1960s blues while keeping an eye on the future.

What were the reasons that you started the Soul/Blues/Folk/Rock researches and experiments?

I’ve been a fan and student of the blues since college when I discovered Peter Guralnick’s trilogy of books chronicling black American music from early delta blues to 60’s soul music. I had the honor of compiling definitive career retrospectives for John Lee Hooker, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and other blues musicians. However, I never played blues myself seriously until 2013 when I was invited to sing in Italy. It honestly seemed like no more than a fun getaway but I was truly overwhelmed performing the music and I decide at that moment that I would decide the rest of music-playing life to the blues.

"The most precious memory of making this album is The Brotherhood making these songs their own. We came to the studio with demos but very few arrangements.  The guys all dug deep inside themselves to bring these songs to life. We recorded in Texas Hill Country isolated from everything. It was a real gift to be able to record with no distractions and live these songs 24/7." (Photo by James Freeman)

How has the friends and brotherhood influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The Brotherhood [Brady Blade, Doctor Roberts, Christopher Thomas] have given me the first truly safe musical space I have ever had. And in that space the music has gone further than it ever has previously. And as a result, the connection with our fans has grown deeper.

How do you describe "Blue Sky" music philosophy and songbook? How do you want it to affect people?

The album is my attempt to bridge my past and present. I really wanted to create space to not only write blue songs but also write songs that come from a bit of a folk and Americana tradition. It’s a roots music album with blues sitting at the center. Many of the songs are intentionally impressionistic. I really want listeners to feel welcome to dive into the songs and make them their own. I hope the lyrics and the music provide space for listeners to ascribe their own meaning to them.

Are there any memories from "Blue Sky" studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

The most precious memory of making this album is The Brotherhood making these songs their own. We came to the studio with demos but very few arrangements.  The guys all dug deep inside themselves to bring these songs to life. We recorded in Texas Hill Country isolated from everything. It was a real gift to be able to record with no distractions and live these songs 24/7.

"That's a great question. It's a genre that can only be played effectively by entering a certain state of mind. The blues has to be played with your heart leading the way." (Photo by Fred Siegel)

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

The blues has changed my life. Performing it is the quickest connection I can make to my heart and my spirit. Blues and soul music remind me everyday of the strength, resilience and joy in black culture. The world needs this music to return us to our humanity. We need to share our blues and touch each other's souls. You dig?

Why did you think that the Blues & Rock n’ Roll music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Actually, I wish it had MORE of a devoted following. This is raw, visceral music that demands full emotional involvement. It is not music you can ignore. The blues — and the best rock & roll — burns right through your heart into your soul. It' unbeniable.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in music paths?

Keep your eye on the prize, trust your instincts, cherish your mistakes.

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

That's a great question. It's a genre that can only be played effectively by entering a certain state of mind. The blues has to be played with your heart leading the way.

What do you think is key to a life well lived? Where does your creative drive come from?

As a dear painter friend of mine says, "do what you love and love what you do."

"I’d have musicians be paid what they are worth and be able to make a living. Musicians need to be valued. This work is holy, man. Nothing brings people together like music. It heals hearts and builds bridges. We shouldn’t have to beg to make a buck." (Reverend Shawn Amos / Photo by Thomas_Bown)

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from your experiences at Rhino and Shout! Factory?

Working at both of those labels was a master class in musicology. It taught me so much about my own history. I also formed very dear friendships that have lasted to this day. Plus, it gave me a killer music collection.

How do you describe previous album "The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down" (2018) songbook and sound?

It's a collection of freedom songs meant to lift spirits during these troubled times. They are songs to remind us of our commonality. The album is a bit of song cycle covering a range of sonic ground — from an acapella song recorded in a Memphis church to a couple of very raw, minimalist delta blues to some gospel-influent '70s influenced soul.

Are there any memories from "Breaks It Down" studio sessions which you’d like to share?

Oh man, it was just such a thrill to record in these legendary houses of music: FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Royal Studios in Memphis, and Clayborn Temple where so much civil rights history was made. It was really a humbling experience to stand in rooms where Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and Wilson Pickett stood. Also, the players who agreed to step into these tunes were a mind bender. I'm just so grateful that so many people have believed in what I'm wanting to say to people.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

I need to play more jams. I just hosted a Los Angles Blues Society jam this last weekend and it was a major education. So many serious players. My fondest memory was playing live with Solomon Burke in Nashville. I accompanied him on a cover of my song, “Vicious Circle,” alongside Buddy Miller. Solomon still shows me the way.

Are there any memories from recording time which you’d like to share with us?

I gotta say, recording “Tells It” was the most joyful recording experience in my life. We tracked it in one day, all live, no headphones, no edits, no overdubs. It was such a celebration of music and a lesson in trusting your instincts.

"Man, I cry almost everyday listening to music. I’ll hear a song on my car radio and I’ll have to pull over to the side of the road because I’m so overwhelmed. I’m also continually amazed by the generosity of musicians." (Reverend Shawn Amos / Photo by Beth Herzhaft) 

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

It’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking all good music is a thing of the past. That’s a lie. There is so much good music today. So many players doing it for the right reasons. My fear, however, is that the romance of discovering music has been lost a bit. It’s almost too easy to get music. There is so much of it. It’s become commoditized. And of course, the business model has completely fallen apart.

Which is the moment that you change your life most? What´s been the highlights in your life so far?

Oh, that’s far too complicated a question to answer in one sitting. There have been so many moments — wonderful and painful — that have shaped my life. I’m still having moments. I’ve had the privilege off seeing so many masters up close: Quincy Jones, Solomon Burke, Steve Jordan, Don Was, Darlene Love. I’ve been very lucky to learn from them.

Are there any memories from Solomon Burke and Blind Boys of Alabama which you’d like to share with us?

Solomon was the most generous, selfless person I ever met. He recorded one of my songs, allowed me to share the stage with him, and entrusted me with overseeing three of his albums. Most importantly, he let my family into his life in a beautiful way. When my daughter was three years old, she had open heart surgery. Solomon camped out at the hospital with us. He kept us fed, visited my daughter’s bedside, showered her wth gifts. He was just an unbelievable force. I miss him everyday.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from your previous album “Loves You” (2015) sessions?

Man, I’m just so grateful to all of these musicians who believed in me and these songs — especially Mindi (Abair) who really took a leap of faith going down this road with me. Everyone showed up 110%. The whole albums was really a tremendous act of friendship.

"My fear, however, is that the romance of discovering music has been lost a bit. It’s almost too easy to get music. There is so much of it. It’s become commoditized. And of course, the business model has completely fallen apart." (Reverend Shawn Amos / Photo by Fred Siegel

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

Blues is the root of it all. It’s as simple as that. The challenge is keeping it in front if people. When people feel the blues, it’s undeniable. It’s the quickest path to your heart.

In your opinion, what is the biggest revolution which can be realized today? What do you think the major changes will be in near or far future of the world?

Man, I’m a blues singer not a politician or a fortune teller. I can only hope we regain our humanity. I wrote a song on the album called “Brothers’ Keeper.” All my hopes for us are summed up in that lyric. “We gotta lead with our heart/Open our hand from the start/Be our brothers’ keeper.” The change we need to make is to hold each other up instead of tearing each other down.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Quincy Jones once told me to cherish my mistakes. I still remember that — although it’s not easy to do it.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits and industry?

Man, I cry almost everyday listening to music. I’ll hear a song on my car radio and I’ll have to pull over to the side of the road because I’m so overwhelmed. I’m also continually amazed by the generosity of musicians. This blues journey of mine has been filled with so many people who have lent their talent, advice, and connections to me. From Steve Jordan to Jeff Greenberg (owner of The Village Recorder) to Dennis Jones to all the blues stations that have embraced me. I’ve been so touched by the kindness of this community.

"The blues has changed my life. Performing it is the quickest connection I can make to my heart and my spirit. Blues and soul music remind me everyday of the strength, resilience and joy in black culture. The world needs this music to return us to our humanity. We need to share our blues and touch each other's souls. You dig?" (The Reverend Shawn Amos & The Brotherhood / Photo by James Saez)

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Rock n’ Roll and R&B music?

Groove, heart, sincerity. 

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

I’d have musicians be paid what they are worth and be able to make a living. Musicians need to be valued. This work is holy, man. Nothing brings people together like music. It heals hearts and builds bridges. We shouldn’t have to beg to make a buck.

You are on the board of trustees for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Would you tell a little bit about that?

It’s been an honor being on the board. The mission is simple: educate folks about the history and continuing significance of rock and roll music. I’m happy to play a small part.

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

That’s easy. September 22, 1965 Chicago. That was the first day of Junior Wells’ two-day recording session for his ‘Hoodoo Man Blues’ album with Buddy Guy. Just to sit in that room for the day would turn me inside-out.

Shawn Amos - official website

 

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