Veteran guitarist Bobby Flurie talks about Roy Buchanan, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and The Fish

"The Blues means there is a way to not only tell a story, but also to convey those emotions that can only be achieved with the use of notes."

Bobby Flurie: Music Kaleidoscope 

Bobby Flurie was born in New York City, grew up in the Baltimore Washington D.C. area, and became a guitar fanatic at age 16, playing some of his first gigs in strip clubs. While attending Peabody Conservatory of Music in the late sixties, where he was classically trained, he realized that he really wanted to play rock and roll, and started playing the D.C. club scene. It was about that time that he met legendary guitarist Roy Buchanan, who mentored him and helped him develop his musical imagination.

Soon after, Bobby was heard by a national booking agent, who recruited him to play with Quicksilver Messenger Service, touring major cities throughout the country.

He then relocated to the San Francisco Bay area where he spent 22 years, working with such acts as Country Joe & The Fish, The Chambers Brothers, The Pointer Sisters, Gary Lewis & the Playboys, Big Brother & the Holding Co., Huey Lewis, and many more. He eventually returned to the East Coast to be closer to his family, and remains quite active in the music industry, playing, writing, and recording more music than ever before. His most recent album 'Just For Laughs' released in January 2014.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

From the blues, I have learned that we all have multiple layers of personality hidden beneath our surface. Some of which cannot be defined by words, but rather by tones or notes being played. To me, the Blues means there is a way to not only tell a story, but also to convey those emotions that can only be achieved with the use of notes. Blues mostly tells of pain or sorrow, and though we all suffer in one form or another, the blues lets us know that we are not alone.

How do you describe Bobby Flurie sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I would describe my sound as bluesy rock with a somewhat jazz or Latin feel at points. I tend to write about things that are happening in this era with perhaps a story or message. My musical philosophy is that I pay attention to each instrument and how it interacts with the others, thus forming the total body of work. As I listen I focus briefly on each instrument as they are either supporting the groove or helping set the mood for the instrument or vocalist to tell the story. Music has many facets.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? What was the best and worst moment of your career?

The most interesting period of my life was being discovered in a little niteclub in the Georgetown district of Washington, D.C. by Richard Halem who, (little known to me), was one of the biggest booking agents in the United States and handled all of the biggest groups touring. I was immediately thrust into touring with a heavy flight schedule and a band that was riding the wave of fame. That band was of course "Quicksilver Messenger Service". The best moment of my career was playing a concert with Country Joe & The Fish at the UC Berkeley Greek Theater, where there were a reported 70,000 people, with at least a 1,000 people back stage. That was the most people that I had played in front of at that time. It was glorious. The worst moment was when I got the news that my good friend Tim Hardin ("If I Were a Carpenter") had passed away.

Tim Hardin and I used to sit in together at a well known blues club in San Francisco called "The Saloon" in the North Beach district. At some point a few years later, I had moved to L.A. and was living in West Hollywood. As I was out one night, as luck would have it, I ran into Tim. He told me that he always wanted to record with me and that he had a session the very next day and wanted me to come in and put guitar tracks on his project. The next morning I got a call telling me that Tim had passed away from an overdose. I was so looking forward to making music with him.

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

We have all had the chance to jam many times (too many to count). Some were great and some not so great, but the one that will always be with me is one from a recent experience when I flew out to San Francisco for a couple of gigs with Barry "The Fish" Melton. We played a private party for about 300 people called "The Artisa Gang" (a group of fun loving artists). The stage was set for an all star line up with about 20 performers to sit in from various famous bands from the Woodstock era. You can imagine how great the jam was. The most memorable gigs I have had were, while first being enlisted to The Quicksilver Messenger Service group, I found myself playing at The Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Md. (My home town), and the venue was an ampitheater that I used to sit outside of the fence and watch groups like Cream, Led Zeppelin, Iron Butterfly, Electric Flag, and so many other famous bands). I had the time of my life playing with a famous band in front of all my hometown friends on the very same stage where we all saw so many groups together. It was surely a gig to remember. Another is The West Fest held in Golden Gate Park in October of 2009, produced by Boots Houston. Over 150,000 showed up to see 26 famous groups from the Woodstock era. One great time!

"Music is a force. It is a universal language and has many genres, such as dialects. As the world gets smaller through communications, music draws itself from the many styles that now reach across the globe, as one genre is modified by the others." (Photo by Kingsley Melton - Harold Aceves, Barry "The Fish" Melton & Bobby Flurie, 2009)

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

The most important meetings during my musical life I would have to say would be Roy Buchanan (the well known Blues guitarist) who captured his audience with the searing sound of his Telecaster and the sweet sound of his that came to be known as "The Cry". Roy took me under his wing and showed some of his tricks as I learned about his approach to the blues. Another is Barry "The Fish" Melton from the band "Country Joe & The Fish", who during the years of playing on the road taught me so many things about being professional in all of your actions while touring and being on stage, and how to maintain a confidence in who you are and what you do. As far as advice goes, Roy Buchanan told me as I asked about some guitar thing replied "You already know how to play it, you just ain't played it yet". That really stuck with me and I have found it's true. The other person that gave very sound advice is Barry "The Fish", as we were driving down a forever highway on tour to the next gig some hundreds of miles away. We were discussing record deals and how they work. I expressed wanting a record deal somehow someway but thought it improbable that I would ever have my own record. Barry advised me by saying "If you want to make a record, then make one yourself I'll walk you through it and I'll be paying you enough for this tour to have the money to make a 45rpm. Let's face it Bob, the record companies are not going to knock at your door and ask you to make a record for them, so do it yourself and see what happens." And that's just what I did.

Are there any memories from Quicksilver Messenger Service which you'd like to share with us?

The most memorable of the times I spent with Quicksilver was the first time I met them. As I flew into New York the day after agreeing with the booking agent to join the band mid-tour, I found myself meeting a very cool bunch of guys that had been doing this for a while and I was very green to the tour world. My first question was what time rehearsal was. The answer was "We don't rehearse". This made me uneasy as I didn't know all of the material, so I walked on cold and learned fast.

Playing with Quicksilver was my first taste of the big time, flying from city to city with limos to and from the gigs. I remember the crowd throwing pills and joints up on stage at our feet while we played the music that they came for. I was living the life of what some may consider a rock star. Life was fast on the road, but back at home (my new home) in San Francisco, life was much slower. The band would gather at the rehearsal studio in San Raphael, Ca. for some jamming from time to time, and we also would sail the San Francisco Bay from time to time on Dino Valenti's schooner. It was a great time of my life that opened many doors.

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

What I miss most about the music of the past is the flow of music during the 60's and 70's as the instruments created a trance-like groove that allowed soloists to take it to a number of different directions. My hopes for the future of music is that we will not forget that through the advancement of high tech sound and recording gear, we will remember that music sets a mood and we must continue to make music pleasing to the ear. My fears for future music are that the creators may not remember that melody is most important to the brain, just as a melody would stick in your head. The words tell the story, but the melody is what catches you.

Which memory from Country Joe & The Fish and Big Brother and the Holding Company makes you smile?

A favorite memory from playing with Country Joe & The Fish goes back to a show in Vancouver, Canada. When we came out on stage, Joe had earlier that day gone to a thrift store and showed up on stage in a Girl Scout Den Mother's outfit. He was stunning. Another time he showed up in red flannel pajamas with the trap door in the seat. One never knew what to expect from Joe. As for Big Brother and the Holding Company, sitting in and playing with those guys was always a gas. The crowds have always loved the music they made. It makes me smile to know that they are just as active in the industry as they ever were, still touring and making music for the many people that come to see these legendary stars.

What were the reasons that made the 60s generation to start the blues/folk/rock searches and experiments?

In the 60's the youth of America were trying to find answers to the things happening in our world. With each generation comes the desire to be different, so they chose music as one way to identify with each other. Kids did not want to listen to the music that their parents listened to, but rather reached out to the Blues for its emotional value, folk music for its stories, Rock for its energy, and the rest is evolution.

"My fears for future music are that the creators may not remember that melody is most important to the brain, just as a melody would stick in your head. The words tell the story, but the melody is what catches you." (Photo by Steve Keyser)

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

I will have to say that I am not wise enough to make that decision, as I feel that music is God's gift to humanity and therefore perfect in its creation and must evolve like everything else, so I wouldn't change a thing and let music take its course.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Rock and continue to Psychedelic and Folk music?

The lines that connect musical styles are based upon the influences from one musician to another. Music is a force. It is a universal language and has many genres, such as dialects. As the world gets smaller through communications, music draws itself from the many styles that now reach across the globe, as one genre is modified by the others.

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

If I had a time machine for a day I think the future would be a cool place to visit, but I'm not sure that I would be ready for what new advancements had taken place, so I would most likely visit the past...back to the days of the classical masters, to see just how one man could create all of the parts for the many instruments of the orchestra, and to see how they found the players needed and the venues, and how they were paid. Without the modern day means of transportation, it must have been a nightmare to try to pull off all of the things necessary to make a gig like that happen. Very interesting times. I'm glad to be in this century and love music just the way it is.

"I would describe my sound as bluesy rock with a somewhat jazz or Latin feel at points. I tend to write about things that are happening in this era with perhaps a story or message. My musical philosophy is that I pay attention to each instrument and how it interacts with the others, thus forming the total body of work." (Photo: Bobby jammin' with local singer, Collin Sweet in Barbados)

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