The Crippled Frogs from France sing the blues, whores, broken hearts, divagation and strong liquors

"The Blues allows you to express all your feelings, sorrow, fears, and happiness."

The Crippled Frogs: C'est Le Blues

The fantasized blues of this improbable trio takes us to an imaginary Juke-Joint wherein cross the ghosts of Robert Johnson, Skip James & other tortured faces of African-American music. Although they come from the Rhône riverside and not from Mississippi, those French frogs sing the blues, whores, broken hearts, divagation and strong liquors. After all, Creedence used to sing about a bayou they had never seen !

These iconoclastic and skinny troubadours attract us into their musical junk where Blues, Folk and Funk melt on an acoustic mode. Unusual musical instruments: resonator guitars, ukuleles, washboard and cajon play in original compositions. Alternately, two voices in two different registers but perfectly matching, share poetical funny and sarcastic lyrics.

This fun, tongue-in-cheek country blues release from The Crippled Frogs comes straight from the banks of the Rhone River in France, not the Mississippi, where the band’s been croaking up a storm for the past five years. The three-piece unit invokes the spirits of Robert Johnson, Skip James and other forebears with this upbeat collection of 13 original tunes, all filled with images of loose women, wanderlust, strong booze, physical labor and oppression.

The Frogs are: Michael Dumaine on resonator guitar and vocals, Julien Garcia on guitar, banjo and ukulele and Piere Carrier on vocals and slide.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was the first time you felt the need to play the blues? How did the blues start revealing its secrets to you?

Michael: When I started to learn to play the guitar, the first thing I asked to my teacher was to play the blues. In my opinion it’s the most beautiful music you can play on a guitar.  What I love in early blues is the fact that there are more rhythms and joy in it, it doesn’t’t sound as melancholic as Chicago blues. I always feel the same thrill when I hear Bessie Smith singing Careless love…

Pierre: I was very young when I started to learn the e-guitar my teacher used to play the blues every time. And I loved his sound So, I early bought a Stratocaster and listen to Steve Ray Vaughn. The Blues allows you to express all your feelings, sorrow, fears, and happiness. I don’t suffer so much but I’m gifted with empathy

Julien: Well, I never needed to play the Blues in particular. I met Michael in a bar; he gave me a flyer for a gig of The Crippled Frogs. At the times the band was just him and his cousin, I listened to their early demos on myspace, I found it so cool I asked them to join the band. It was four years ago. They introduced me to the blues, and I did my own investigation on my side and I listen to it since then.

What has the Blues offered you and how does music help re-discover yourself?

Michael: The blues offered me far more than I could expect, we started playing songs at home, and now there are people in Greece reading my words!!! (lol) It has allowed me to express my feelings in the lyrics, and we meet wonderful people at each concert, we’re even paid for it!!! It has also helped me to cure my shyness.

Pierre: Music offers me to leave the world for a moment. Music is what I do. The blues is an area in which I’m always positive. It makes me feel better.

Julien: This music offered us the opportunity to have a band, tour, meet people, meet friends, and have fun... This four years’ experience taught us a lot about ourselves and what we can do.

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

Michael: Everybody has different experiences, good or bad, sometimes it seems anecdotic and it hurts you for a long time… I’m a little emotive so when I hear good music it moves me, then I try to recreate these feelings when I write my songs, I can’t tell if I’m good or bad, if people feel the emotion I try to put in the music, then it’s ok.

Pierre: I don’t know if I’m a good musician and I’m pretty sure not to be a songwriter. Thank you. Well this is when you turn on the TV or radio and misery breaks your ears so you decide to take your guitar. I never be hacked off I just return that feeling to the audience.

Julien: Every little experience of life, every tiny piece of music, can be developed to make a song or arrange it. But hopefully you don’t need to be poor + blind + lonely + depressed to make good blues music!

How do you describe your sound? Why did you choose that name of band and what characterize the philosophy of Crippled Frogs? 

Michael: Musically it starts generally with a sort of delta blues riff, and then we try to put something different with the melody or the slide guitar. And then, the genius of Mister Garcia operates (lol), he plays a funky beat on his percussions and that sounds like the crippled frogs. This is a funny name, it sounds good and it’s a kind of joke, French people are known for eating frogs, especially the legs, so we thought of crippled frogs, playing the blues, that’s an experience that would give you the blues I think… The philosophy of the band is to have fun, not to take ourselves seriously, we don’t see ourselves as artists, or trying to revolutionize music, we’re just having a good time; I think that’s the way they did in the Juke Joints.

Pierre: I think the sound of Crippled frog is proper to the songs we sing. It’s a big acoustic original sound. The quaintness of it comes from the singular drum set Julian plays with. And two resophonic guitars. It’s a convenient configuration to play anywhere easily. That’s the philosophy of Crippled Frogs: We want to play acoustic, we want to play loud, sitting on a bale of straw anywhere and every time let fly sorrow.

Julien: Our sound is what differences us from the other bands in the area; we try to mix old influences with modern songwriting and arrangements. We also use unusual instruments like the 8 string-ukulélé or our cajon-based drumkit, and of course, resonator guitars!

Do you remember anything fanny from the recording time and touring?

Michael: Touring can be exhausting but there are always a lot of funny situations, when you’ve driven all day to arrive at a gig, you smell like sweat and your clothes aren’t’t always clean. Once we ate in a castle during a festival at the table of the director, everybody wearing nice suits …but the crippled frogs, I had grease stains on my trousers and our singer was sick. I recently shook hand with the director of a national radio with rust on my jeans. I should feel awkward with it but I like it… wearing rags and being greeted by big bosses…That’ s another thing the blues gave me.

Pierre: All I remember is that we had a good laugh!

Julien: Touring is always fun: we often get lost, we're often late, we often forget something at the gig, we make mistakes playing our songs... that are the Crippled Frogs!

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is?

Michael: In my opinion, that’s because the blues is the base. It’s the start of everything, you can change the rhythms, add some chords but the base is still the blues. It’s always evaluating, I feel a little sad when I see all the bands who play Chicago Blues the way that Muddy Watters did in the 40‘s, 50‘s, because I’m quite sure that if Muddy Watters were making music now he would not play the way they did at the time, he would be in modern stuffs, maybe electro blues… I don’t know if C2C is well known in Greece but to me that’s what the blues is today, and it’s still the blues!!!

Pierre: Because bad music exists.  Maybe

Julien: This music is still alive thanks to all the musicians who play this music and influence other people like us. I hope we will give someone the will to try guitar and learn blues music.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues? What is the best advice ever given you?

Michael: The best advice was from our Producer, he said «keep your jobs» lol, he was right, the more I read about blues pioneers, the more I see that their lives were normal lives, with daytime jobs and the blues at night. Eric Clapton is the only one who got rich with the blues I’m afraid.  We don’t know many bluesmen in fact, we developed our style by trying to emulate the feeling we had when we heard the blues, because we didn’t’t have the technical skills to play it well, but the person who helped me the most is Mike Greene, and he helped me to correct my texts and to improve my English accent.

Pierre: The blues hasn’t revealed its secrets to me. Not yet. What I know I learned from my guitar teacher. The best advice I was given is: “Just make music, to feel good, to share and to breathe.”

Julien: A good advice we were given is “take what you can”. We try to appreciate every moment we have with the band, because we really don't know about the future!

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

Michael: Well, most of the time we run away from the jam sessions, because it’s always embarrassing to be humiliated in public by other musicians (lol). Anyway we had a good time playing with Mat Fromont from Bo’ Weevil, I’m a fan of that man, so playing with him was very nice. We had the pleasure to jam a little with the Mountain Men too, wow, those guys know how to play the blues, and they’ve been very cool with us.

Pierre: We played with several talented bands and good guys, we enjoyed every gig we’ve had and they’re all memorable. Play at Wembley Stadium? I’m in!

Julien: We totally suck at jamming... But every gig is a nice moment, even when we plays in front of kids or in front of the oldest person of the retirement house !!

Do you know why the resophonic and slide is connected to the blues? What are the secrets of?

Michael: Well, probably because of the conception of the guitars, they’re metal body, nearly unbreakable, so the old bluesmen could use them without care. Back in the 20’s Hawaiian music was very popular, so the bluesmen mixed it with their music and the best sounding guitars for slide are the resonators. Try to play slide on a normal acoustic guitar, it sounds like somebodies farting in another room.

Pierre: Created about 1925 by John Dopyera, the first successful resonator guitar was the tricone metal bodied guitar with a body constructed of either wood or metal, usually brass or steel, the resonator is what sets these guitars apart from the crowd. The resonator is an aluminium cone that looks a lot like a stereo speaker cone and is housed in the large body cavity. The resonator guitar is capable of lots of volume and the sound can range from thin and metallic to full bodied and rich and when combined with the slide can have an almost vocal quality. So it’s made to be strong, noisy and expressive! So that’s why the pioneers choose ‘em I think.

Julien: Those guitars are great, every music sounds great on it but those thing can really be a pain in the ass when they start buzzing, or when your pick fall in the hole!!

When we talk about blues, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. Apart from the old cats of blues, do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Michael: As I told you, I’m convinced that the blues still exists, our music is very respectful of the tradition, but we also include modern sounds in it, we try to play funk etc.…  But some bands go further, I think about the John Spencer Blues Explosion. A French band called Scarecrow makes Hip Hop Blues (please listen to that, it’s awesome), and I told you about C2C who makes electro with old sounds. Definitely the blues is not a dead language.

Pierre: I’ don’t really know why but I am convinced that the blues is an eternal music it’s not something commercial which flies away I think it’s secure. Nowadays every style has been visited but some good things can still merge thanks to the blues!

Julien: Yes, the Blues music really evolved and we hope to take part of this evolution and transmission, even at a very small scale. And thanks to our producers “PBOX”, we have the opportunity to record and share our music.

What are the reasons for Robert Johnson, Skip James to become a legendary generation that left it mark through the years until now?

Michael: First, they were brilliant musicians, Robert Johnson was a pure Genius, I think if the blues had the same aura than classical music, Robert Johnson would be considered as Mozart. But these guys were not really famous when they lived, they became legends in the 60’s when Rock stars like Eric Clapton and all the guys of the British blues boom started to talk about them, it was a generation who really enjoyed music and was curious, they searched old recordings and brought the old bluesmen in the spot lights. I’m not sure that my generation has that curiosity…

Pierre: When you know the hard work, the hard life of those men, their history, their talent and bravery so you understand. It remains only tunes and a strange ghostly sound… Thrilling

Julien: They are the representatives of classic Blues, the inventors of the style. But oddly, in the band we do not necessarily listen to their music, we are more inspired by their stories and the mythology around!

What do you miss most nowadays from the Blues of old days?

Michael: I don’t miss anything, we share the best of both, nowadays we have the quality of the early blues repertoire, but we can record it with HD sounds, if we want to know more about an old unknown bluesman, we can read about him on the internet. And we can mix the old music with more recent styles and make something new. And thank god there’s no way to be poisoned by bad whiskey nowadays!!!

Pierre: I don’t miss anything I think we can make very good music with the pioneers’ legacy and all the different music we had the chance to ear until nowadays. And we have the technology

Julien: Nothing! I am very happy not to have to travel illegally in a freight train or to risk my life for a debt of a dollar!

Make an account of the case of the blues in France. Which was the best moment of local blues scene?

Michael: There are many blues bands in France, I wouldn’t’t have thought this before I started to play, and I’m sure there are a lot of bands that I don’t even know, so the blues feels fine. The best moment of the local blues scene I couldn’t tell, let’s hope this will be our next gig!!!

Pierre: There's a good breeding ground for the blues in France. That’s true we met several good bands lately. The best moment of local blues scene was when the crippled frogs were playing! Of course

Julien: There is a good blues scene in France, but it's very underground, it is rare to see a blues band in the mainstream media ... But it is always a pleasure to meet other band doing the same music, we trade contacts for gigs, we give each other advices,...

The Crippled Frogs - official website

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