West coast harmonica player Brian Brazil talks about Norton Buffalo, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, & Palomino Nightclub

"The Blues is a strong feeling of knowing, but in that knowing you have to do something."

Brian Brazil:Live Wire Blues Power

At age 16, Brian Brazil discovered the blues recordings of Little Walter Jacobs, James Cotton, Paul Butterfield, Charlie Musselwhite and others. After buying his first harmonica, he found he had a natural aptitude for the instrument. He was influenced by Blues, '50s-'70s Rock 'n Roll & '60s R&B artists.

Brian eventually amassed an extensive record collection and gained great historical knowledge of many artists and genres going back as far as the 1930s and '40s. 
The year 1975 proved to be pivotal when Brian met Norton Buffalo, who suggested he listen to Country harp players like Charlie McCoy. His first big break came in 1977 when he joined the house band at the famed Palomino Nightclub in North Hollywood, CA, where he opened shows for or backed up some of the biggest names in Country Music.
Over the years Brian has opened shows for numerous artists including Bo Diddley, Albert Collins, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard and dozens more. He’s shared the stage with talents like Albert King, Albert Lee, Coco Montoya, Don Preston, and others. He’s worked with over a dozen bands, and has added his harmonica expertise to about 20 different recording sessions and videos for bands as well as numerous TV/Film soundtracks. 


Interview by Michael Limnios


Brian, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues & who were your first idols?

When I first heard Albert King’s album “Live Wire Blues Power” in 1966, I was hooked on the Blues. After Albert King I looked for more Blues Artists and found B.B. King, Otis Rush, Albert Collins, Muddy Waters. Little Walter, James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite, Paul Butterfield, Junior Wells gave me the inspiration to play Harmonica in the late 1960s to early 1970s.



What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?

When I was 18 years old, not yet of “legal” age, I used to sneak into night clubs. There were some older musicians who lived and played near me who used to let me sit in and play at night. They were the ones who taught me the skills that I needed to be able play music and get gigs of my own. The first song that I learned was either Walkin’ Blues or Born in Chicago. They were on Paul Butterfield’s first two albums “The Paul Butterfield Blues Band” and East-West.


How/where do you get inspiration for your songs & who were your mentors in songwriting?

My inspirations for songwriting come from my own personal experiences or that of someone I know very well. There are a lot of great songwriters in Blues and Country music for that matter. I don’t think there are influences in my songwriting as much as just living the experience I write about. 



Any of blues standards have any real personal feelings for you & what are some of your favorite? 

There are a whole lot of them and from so many great artists that it’s hard to just name a few. Some are not what you would call standards because they aren’t as well known yet, but they should be. Certain songs on artists’ albums get picked by record companies to be promoted more than others. They become hits and with a little more luck and promotion they become standards. I put my favorite songs in my set lists for shows if I think I can do them well enough. Some of my favorite songs are “Messin’ With The Kid” by Junior Wells and “I’m Ready” by Muddy Waters. 


Do you think that your music comes from the heart, the brain or the soul? 

I think it’s all of the above. They are all part of who you are and one part feels, another interprets the feeling and the last puts it into action and words.


What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?

One of my favorite shows was when a band I worked with in 1977 played for 40,000 people in a Baseball Stadium in Los Angeles (Dodger Stadium).

 


What does the BLUES mean to you & what does Blues offered you?

The Blues is a strong feeling of knowing, but in that knowing you have to do something. It might be to stay in a bad situation, it might be to improve your situation and try to change it. It might be knowing that the situation won’t change and you will have to leave. The Blues is an instinct for self preservation. The Blues makes us think and realize that we have to be stronger than the problems we have if we are going to survive. The Blues has offered me the opportunity to go places and meet people in the USA and Europe playing music while learning about other countries and their cultures.


Of all the people you’ve meeting with, who do you admire the most?

I would have to say I admire those who never give up. The ones that keep on going like B.B. King and Buddy Guy.


Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

I don’t think the best moment has happened yet. I still have a future to look forward to. It can only get better from here. The worst moment was when a band I had built and worked with for two years had to go our separate ways. They had a lot of potential.


What do you learn about yourself from music? How do you describe Brian Brazil’s music?

I learned that I had more determination, discipline and concentration to learn than when I was in school. My music is a combination of many different styles, Blues, Country, Texas Swing, Bluegrass, ‘60s Memphis Soul, and Irish Celtic Music. 


What experiences in your life make you a GOOD bluesman? 

I think having seen and heard the Best Bluesmen in person, while they were in their prime, gave me the chance to experience it first hand. Also having the chance to be on stage with many of them has added to my experience. I have learned from it and it has stayed with me for decades. I’ve played continuously learning from as many of the best as I could find.  I have a record collection that I started back in 1964 with all of the greats of The Blues that I can refer to whenever I need to.



Do you remember anything funny or interesting from the recording time?

When I used to play on a 14-piece Television Orchestra in 1976 – 1977 there was a huge cooler right behind the band stand. We had it filled with beer every day. Between me and the violinist we used to drink about 26 beers each a day, during the shows recording shoots. We were on the set for about 12 hours a day filming the show. This went on for 6 months.


You have played (and supporting) with many bluesmen, which are mentioned to be a legend. It must be hard, but which gigs have been the biggest experiences for you?

There are a lot of famous artists that I have opened for and supported in Blues and Country. My favorite was opening for Albert Collins and Bo Diddley in 1973. They were the first really big acts that I had the chance to open for and they were very nice people who put on a great show.



Are there any memories from the late Norton Buffalo, which you’d like to share with us?

I met Norton Buffalo when he came to Los Angeles to get his record deal with Capitol Records in the mid 1970s. After seeing him perform and play it gave me new inspiration to play. I had been playing Harmonica for about 7 or 8 years and I was looking for a new direction to take my playing. When I saw him I knew it was the one I was looking for. He was easy to talk to and gave me a lot of useful information about Harmonicas. I still play the model he recommended back then. 


Do you have any amusing tales to tell from your shows in Palomino Nightclub, CA?

About a year or so after I met Norton Buffalo I practiced fanatically and went to the Palomino one Thursday night when they used to have a talent contest where the winner gets $150.00. I took second place and got $100.00 dollars. I played by myself with no accompaniment. The band liked me so much they hired me. I got the House gig at the Palomino that night! I played there for about a year or so opening for all the biggest touring bands that came through Los Angeles. Sometimes we would be the back up band for single artists that traveled without a band. After a year or so we went out on the road ourselves for three years.


If you go back to the past what things you would do better and what things you would a void to do again?

I certainly would not have gotten married while I was on the road all the time.  I would have concentrated my efforts on getting more recording sessions on Films and Television Shows. They pay much better than clubs.


Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet?

I would like to meet Muddy Waters and Little Walter because there is so much myth and misunderstanding of who they were and what they were trying to accomplish. I’ve had the good fortune to meet B.B. King, Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins and the list goes on. There are many more that I haven’t had the chance to meet.


From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music? 

That’s really hard to say. I never thought of what I learned as secrets. The things I’ve learned from the musicians were the tools that you need in order to communicate musically while you’re playing. Music information is a language that everybody has to have in order to talk to each other. Music is communicating without having to speak if you don’t want to.



Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

Fads are created by Television, Film and Record Companies who are losing ground with their current sales, so they have to come up with new gimmicks every so often to boost slacking sales in their industry. The Blues has never been accepted by the mass media so it tends to be more stable and not influenced by meaningless trendy ideas. My wish for the Blues is for it to continue to grow internationally as it has been doing for the past 15 years.


How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

When I first started playing there weren’t that many bands trying to find gigs or get record deals. The 1950s, 1960s and 1970s were good decades for creative bands of all kinds. Whether it was Blues, Rock, Country, Jazz or whatever, if you were good you could get signed. You could have a record made, then go out on tour and make a living. A lot of bands and single artists could have record deals for many years. Now you’re done in three years or less.

Thankfully the Blues has been largely unaffected by this sort of thing. If you are in the Blues to stay you’ve got a career for good.


Brian Brazil


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