An Interview with drummer Rolands Saulietis of Latvian Blues Band: Blues means the world to me

"We’re playing the blues and we don't do anything else since the day we’ve started and I feel that we are really lucky and blessed to be able to do that for the living "

Latvian Blues Band: 100% blues band

The roots of the Latvian Blues Band go back to year 1997, when three young Latvian guys decided to form a band. They started out by listening to different blues masters, such as Elmore James, Robert Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter. While working hard on their blues skills, LBB received first local and international recognition by participating in several music festivals in Latvia and Lithuania.

In the beginning of 2000, Johnny V, a well-known Canadian blues player, came to Riga to record his CD "Blues Party" together with LBB. Johnny V also helped LBB to find their way to Canada, where they participated in several blues and played in different blues clubs. LBB has also had the pleasure to play the opening shows for Joe Cocker, Coco Montoya, and Victor Bailey Group; they have been on tours in Croatia, Greece , Poland, Lithuania (with Keith Dunn), and Spain. In 2005, LBB went to Chicago, where they played at the "Chicago Blues Festival" and several Chicago blues clubs. In 2009 Latvian Blues Band released their first studio album "Unreal", the entire album was produced by Duke Robillard. In Latvia, LBB plays at the Bite’s Blues Club (the only blues club in the Baltics) almost every weekend. So far, LBB has performed with more than 200 blues stars, including Bob Margolin, Carey Bell, John Primer, Phil Guy, Louisiana Red , Duke Robillard, and many more. Latvian Blues Band are: Jānis ‘Bux’ Bukovskis – guitar, vocals, Rolands ‘Rolx’ Saulietis – drums, vocals, Reinis Ozoliņš – bass, Artis Locmelis – sax, organ, piano and Nauris Strezs - trombone

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues & who were your first idols?
Well, Ι didn't really had a desire to be involved in the blues, it just sort of happened. Τhe guys invited me to play with them, that was a great band and a really good opportunity so Ι took it and Ι've been in the band ever since. That’s how Ι started to play the blues. I fell in love with this beautiful music years later and then I started to appreciate it and understand it. In the beginning it was just an opportunity to be in the good band.
At the very beginning I didn't had an idols. When I started to understand and appreciate these music years later I started to have some favorites. The first guy who I fell in love with I believe was Willie Dixon then Albert Collins, Albert King, Muddy Waters....

What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned?
I don't really remember my first gig with the Latvian blues band. Probably it was at some bar in the city.
My first gig ever I think was with my elementary school band. We were playing crappy grunge stuff and a whole gig was pretty much a disaster. When I just started to play I was banging on the chairs along with Nirvana and Metallica records.
First songs we've learned with LBB were standard blues songs like ''Stormy Monday'', ''Everyday I have the blues'', ''Mustang Sally'' and so on....

What does the BLUES mean to you & what does Blues offered you?
Right now blues means the world to me. This is what I do for the living, this is what I love to do, and I’m really happy that this is how my life turned. I would never imagine that I will play the blues but it happened and I’m really glad and thankful that it happened. I’m seeing the whole world and music differently now. And I don't think that I would if not because of the blues.

How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?
I would say it's sort of exchange of energy. I don't look that much at the people when I’m playing. I like to feel them. Feel their energy and excitement and I like to give them the same thing - all my energy, passion, excitement, joy and love to the music. I like to come of the stage and feel like squeezed lemon cause I gave everything that was in me to the audience

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?
Τhe best moments for me is when I’m coming of the stage all wet from the sweat, tired as hell with the feeling inside that I just did the great job. And I’m happy and proud about myself. Those are the best moments of my career, it doesn't matter where are we playing and if we're playing for 2 people or 20.000 people, when you have that feeling inside you after the gig that's the best. Those are the moments I live for, it's indescribable.
The worse moment for me was the year 2005 when the band almost broke up. For about 3 months we were sitting with no job, no money and wondering if we're ever gonna play again.

Tell me about the beginning of Latvian Blues Band. How and where did it start?
The original line up of the band - we all are from the same school. The rest of the guys were little older than me. They already played together and they needed a drummer, so i got invited to play with them and that's how it's started.

Which artists have you worked with & which of the people you have worked with do you consider the best friend?
We’ve played with more than 250 blues artists from all over the world. Some of them have been in Latvia more than once and we've developed a friendship with them. Sharon Lewis, Frank Bang, Toronzo cannon, Duke Robillard, Grana Louise, Johnny V... I’m sorry if I forgot to mention someone. If I have to name one, I’d say it's Giles Corey. He played in our club 6 or 7 times I guess. When we went to Chicago we stayed at his house and he showed us around, took us to all the clubs. We had lots of fun together.

Are there any memories from US experience, which you’d like to share with us?
The whole trip was amazing. Being there for the first felt like I was a kid in the candy store....
It was really cool to see all the artists we've backed up at our club in Latvia there in their environment, to see the clubs there and compare them to our club. The highlight of the trip was of course our appearance at the world famous Chicago blues festival. That was something I’ll never forget. A lot of our American friends came to see the end of our show Sharon Lewis, John Primer and Frankie lee got up on the stage and we did 2 or 3 last songs together. That was awesome.

I wonder if you could tell me a few things about your experience in Canada. Do you have any amusing tales to tell of your gigs and recording with Johnny V?
I wasn't in the band yet when they recorded an album with Johnny; Joined the band right after the album was recorded.
Our trip to Canada was the first big thing we did and it was double special for me. Other guys already played together for a little while and they were familiar with the blues music and stuff, I didn't know a thing about the blues (I was 15 back then), didn’t even know how to play a shuffle. I joined the band at the end of the May and in July we had to go tour το Canada. I think we did pretty well and a whole trip was pure fun. Got to play and jam and see some great concerts.

How do you characterize the LBB, what is the band’s philosophy?
Never give up and we never did. We’ve always been about the hard work and discipline and unconditional love for the music on the top of it all. Important aspect to me is that it has always been about the band not the individual. We have always been a band. We were not the kind of guys who were running around from project to project just to earn more money and then LBB is something that we just occasionally do - no. it's either you are in the band 100% with your heart and soul or you can go and I think, that kind of thinking helped us to survive and become who we are now.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?
There aren’t one or a few persons. We’ve learned something from all the guys we've played with little bit from one, little bit from other...and then you take all the little pieces and tape them together and you got yourself a blues encyclopedia.

How did you first meet Duke Robillard, what advice has given, & which memory from him makes you smile?
The whole fact that we've met him, we had a chance to play with him and he produced our album makes us smile, makes us incredibly happy and proud. We first met Duke when he came to play at our club. We’ve backed him up and that's how it all started.

Are there any memories” of all these “blues cats” (more than 200 blues stars) which you’d like to share with us?
There are tons of memories. We had some great times with these guys and a lot of laughs but these are the kind of memories that are not for an interviews… so I’m gonna keep them to myself.

You have played with many bluesmen, which are mentioned to be a legend. It must be hard, but would you try to give top 3, which gigs have been the biggest experiences for you? And why?
It’s pretty much impossible to give top 3 causes again, each and every gig that we've played with those cats have been a huge experience. Maybe the one of the most important was the first time we've backed up guys from USA when Phil Guy, Gloria Thompson Rogers and Vernon Rogers came to Latvia to play at the club opening. we didn't really had a lot of time to rehearse so we just ran through the songs and then - bam, you have to go on stage and play with the Buddy Guy's brother. The club is packed. Your hands are shaking, you're doing something like that for the first time and you don't know what that hell is gonna happen. then Phil comes out on the stage and goes - 1,2,3 play the blues...and you're thinking - ok, what tha *uck am I supposed to do now??? Cause he doesn't give you a key or the groove or anything, it's just - 1, 2, 3 play the blues... but we survived and that was a tremendous experience. It’s kind of like when you don't know how to swim, someone takes you in the boat to the middle of the deepest lake, throws you out and says - swim motha *ucker!!!

What is the difference between a musician living and working in the U.S. and one in Latvian?
I would say it's a lack of places to play at you got tons of clubs and fests in USA, we got 1 blues club and 1 blues fest in Latvia.
There are other clubs too and sometimes they have good music and good bands but most of the time it's just complete crap.

Do you believe it has the possibility of someone musician to live only with the blues in your country?
We are living example of that. We’re playing the blues and we don't do anything else since the day we’ve started and I feel that we are really lucky and blessed to be able to do that for the living and to be able to support our families. I can't complain about anything. I feel really blessed and I am definitely living the dream.

Latvian Blues Band

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