Interview with Aussie Isaiah B. Brunt, a new generation bluesman plucked from the book of blues history

"Today it is good to see a lot more Blues musicians are trying to keep with more traditional structures."

Isaiah B. Brunt: Like Old Good Wine

Isaiah B. Brunt has been a top production person and studio owner for a number of years in Australia. He writes, sings and plays: guitar, slide, lap steel, piano and ukulele. His early influences came from hearing his father play the ukulele, blues harp, and lap steel. For decades Isaiah has been a top Aussie production guy and studio owner who's worked with Julio Iglesias and his orchestra, the Goo Goo Dolls and rehearsed Randy Jackson and his band for their Australian touring. Not only has Isaiah been behind the board for globally upper echelon bands, he's been a go-to sideman for bands touring down under like the time he hit the road in Sydney aiding Keanu Reeves band Dog Star. All the while he was working with synthetic and packaged music; Isaiah always knew where his heart lay. The same place it was when he first heard his father strum the Ukulele, blow harmonica and unleash the lap steel.

Isaiah was the 2010 Sydney Blues Society Performer of the Year and some of you may have caught him at last year's IBC. Probably the best dressed cat in Memphis and good enough musically to be one of the very few to be reviewed in the Memphis Daily News. At Brunt’s release, Nursery Rhyme Blues, the traditional roots are still present, and plays acoustic and slide guitar, but also ukulele, piano, bass, harmonica, keys, and percussion. He also incorporates various musicians playing vibraphone, accordion, flute, cello, and sousaphone on assorted tracks. "Great Ocean Blues" was a song with a haunting overtone about the 2009 Tsunami that hit American Samoa. The CD concludes with the studio jam "Where Is Your Man" with Sean Choolburra on Didgeridoo. Isaiah B Brunt travelled to New Orleans from Sydney to record his first purely electric album “Just the Way That It Goes” (2015), demonstrating what happens when he arcs up his favorite 70’s strat and plugs into a wah wah pedal using his trademark slide. Each song evokes a feeling afforded to old fashioned storytelling, leading you on a dreamlike journey inwards. New Zealand-born Journeyman Isaiah B. Brunt released the brand new album ‘A Moment In Time’ (2016), also done in the Crescent City.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Blues are a way for me to express some of the experiences I’ve had in my life it is an emotion I can relate to.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?

I’ve been close to death and had a crucial accident that has help shape my life decisions. I write from the heart and tell stories which are sometimes real life experiences. Years ago I did a film script writing course and made a film for the Aboriginal land Council together with the Lane Cove Council as a historical acknowledgement and reconciliation to both parties.

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

At first I used to listen to music my father loved which was Jazz and big band arrangements, I especially liked to hear guitar in some of the Jazz compositions. I can remember listening to radio shows late at night playing Blues music and loved hearing the story telling of John Lee Hooker, Albert King, John Mayall, Willie Dixon and many other iconic bluesman. This enabled me to understand the introspective experiences of other people.

"Australian Blues has more of a British Blues influence mainly with a Roadhouse feel to it compared to American Blues." (Photo: Isaiah B. Brunt)

How do you describe Isaiah B Brunt sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

I love to create space and time in my songs allowing the voice and instruments to breathe and have a life of their own. I try to tell the story as simple as possible or let my poetic license create something. 

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

Well I think right now is probably the most interesting time at the moment. The worst moment would be when I had a accident and wasn’t sure if I would be able to play the guitar again. Best moment would be opening for the International Blues Foundation show case Concert at the “New Daisy Theater” in Memphis on Beale Street.

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

Meeting talented musicians, producers and sound engineers and being told to treat your music as an art form first and foremost.

Are there any memories from ‘A Moment In Time’ studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There are a few! Like when George Porter Jr on bass and Doug Belote on drums laid down the groove for the first track we recorded, “May I Dance With You” and after the first take George says is that too much! Of course I said that was perfect, as it was with Jeffrey T Watkins on sax and Ian E Smith on Trumpet they would both would look at each other and come up with the horn lines on the run because there was nothing written for the music. The sessions were amazing and really it was a joy and privilege to work with the caliber of musicians on this album. Whenever these guys heard the song for the first time, it was like the vibe you get watching heavy weight champion boxers circling the ring just before going to work with that glint in their eyes.

"From the 1930’s to the early 60’s the early Blues style remained intact, it was around the 70’s & 80’s Rock N’ Rolls influence blurred the line for a while." (Photo: Isaiah B. Brunt)

Are there any memories from New Orleans, studio sessions, and show time which you’d like to share with us?

There is a magic about being in New Orleans around the music, the creative process really pulled together for me working with the local guys. I imagined a certain sound that I was hearing before I went there and found my own sound developing another layer. Recording Keanu Reeves band and seeing them struggle at first to get any good takes then telling them to just see it as a jam to have fun then watch them take off from there.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Australia. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

The Australian Blues scene began being popular around the late 60’s early 70’s with bands such as Chain establishing themselves as a dominant force with guitarist Dave Hole being a original member going on to sign later with Alligator Records. Right now seems to be an interesting time with younger bands and solo artists setting a new standard in keeping the Blues alive.

From the musical point of view what are the differences between Aussie and American blues scene?

Australian Blues has more of a British Blues influence mainly with a Roadhouse feel to it compared to American Blues.

What is the relationship between: Poetry & Lyrics? What touched (emotionally) you from the Blues poetry and lyrics?

For me it is the personal story of some one’s life, the experiences they had and the joys or the challenges one deals with in their own way. Making music for me is writing a story supported by a melody or visa versa.

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

Just playing and jamming Blues with people when I was younger, Blues music has a great opportunity to thrive even more with the internet and the various platforms available to promote Blues music nowadays.

"People can really relate to the simplicity and honesty of the Blues."

You are also known as the best dressed cat in blues. How important was the style to old days of bluesmen?

I like to keep with the classic Blues style of the olden times when people dressed up and presented themselves even if they were performing on the street. Robert Johnson and many others were reported to always be well presented in suits and stylize attire.

What is your BLUES DREAM? Happiness is…

To have a Blues channel on national TV playing video’s documentaries, hosting guests and show casing artists.

Which memories from Randy Jackson makes you smile?

When Randy Jackson was in the studio I had to set up a PA system in the tour room with a CD player for them. While they were setting up I went out of the room to get some more microphones. When I was coming back I thought they were playing a CD in the room because it sounded amazing and when I looked in it was Randy and his band.

How started the thought of didgeridoo to blues? What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had?

I’ve been fortunate enough to jam with a couple of very talented didgeridoo players such as Sean Choolburra who recorded on my EP and William Barton a classical didgeridoo player and composer who jammed with me at a live gig he also performs with International orchestras.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of prewar Blues? Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

From the 1930’s to the early 60’s the early Blues style remained intact, it was around the 70’s & 80’s Rock N’ Rolls influence blurred the line for a while. Today it is good to see a lot more Blues musicians are trying to keep with more traditional structures.

"Blues are a way for me to express some of the experiences I’ve had in my life it is an emotion I can relate to." (Photo: New Zealand-born Isaiah B. Brunt released the album ‘A Moment In Time’)

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better blues musician?

Being isolated from the rest of the world meaning America and Europe being the furthest continents, you can’t just go out and say I think it would be nice to like go for a drive and play in the US or Europe today. I am in a cottage industry here so when it comes to the blues and doing all the managing, promoting, production and gig arrangements as an independent artist it is definitely a challenge. Having had to do it all from Australia also means I’ve had to reach out to people on other continents which has meant learning about where everyone else is in the world is as far as the style and standard of music goes. This has made me more determined to make my own music at as high a quality as I can get it and still enjoy producing what I love to do most. As a song writer and performer when I get people contacting me from other parts of the world to say my music has really connected with them in a certain way, as well a hearing people say they’ve had similar experiences after a live performance means a lot!

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

I feel blues music is universal in making a connection between emotion and the human spirit.

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

Probably back to the 1930’s to see some of the classic’s doing their thing, notably Robert Johnson, Big Joe Williams and Mississippi John Hurt. Also, back to the American Folk Blues Festival 1962 Manchester England to see some of the all time American Blues greats and also some of the most influential musicians that attended the concerts at that time.

"I feel blues music is universal in making a connection between emotion and the human spirit."

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

To reinvigorate the blues like re-branding it to put it on par with the current popular genres of music.

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from your trip in NOLA?

Being around my cousin Annie’s family and seeing the chilli boiled shrimp being made before as part of the celebration in a huge warehouse with a bar and large TV screens to kick off the NFL season with the NOLA Saints playing Seattle. Annie’s husband Dean a Cajun born and raised showed me around down near the bayou and told me some of the history of the place and what happened to them when they lost their house in Hurricane Katrina and how they rebuild and survived.

Why did you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following?

I believe it one of the roots of modern day music and it’s early influences can still be felt today. People can really relate to the simplicity and honesty of the Blues.

Is it easier to write and play the blues as you get older?

For me I find it easier to write because I have stories to relate about my life and the music just arrives whenever I’m listening.

Isaiah B Brunt - official website


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