An Interview with Italian Bluesman Egidio "Juke" Ingala: Harmonica for me it has been like lightning shot

"The Blues allows me to express my emotions, and I'm always looking for emotions, I suppose that's the real reason have allowed me to become a musician and not only a listener"

Egidio “Juke” Ingala is a dynamic, smooth vocalist and harmonica player with a sophisticated urban style. His harmonica sound has been described as a cross between Little Walter, George Harmonica Smith with a touch of Walter Horton and, you'll agree that his grooves... swing like mad! His sound is extremely powerful, and years of meticulous research have led him to obtain what Californians call "big brass tone", which has been honed by many years of success and touring. A subtle combination of tone, phrasing and attack combined with a strong sense of swing are his trademark. In the finest of West Coast blues harmonica traditions, he has been thrilling audiences with his explosive performances, not only in Italy, but in many European countries as well, where he often plays at large blues festivals, entertaining thousands. Egidio Ingala started playing professionally as a member of the Dirty Hands band in the mid-'90s recording two CDs: "XXX Hot Chili" in '94, "Four Cool Cats" in '96 and some collaborations in studio with Lynwood Slim as guest/producer and Jerry Hall as sound engineer.

In 1997 he left the band to start his own group, and in 1998 Egidio “Juke” Ingala Band were born. They has also toured and performed with some of America's finest blues musicians such Alex Schultz "The Prince Of West Coast Blues Guitar" (formerly with Rod Piazza, William Clarke, Lester Butler and many others). Although Egidio has long been known n as the charismatic front-man for the Dirty Hands, his solo albums are where his talent shows through most clearly. After several successful European tours he released his first solo album "Nite Life Boogie" in 1999, on the prestigious German label Stumble Records, followed by "Drivin & Jivin'" in 2002 for Kayman Records label. Both were recorded with his band and Alex Schultz. In February 2007 “Game’s Over” is out. This album represents the 2nd recording on Kayman Records. Produced together with Alberto Colombo Games Over was recording in the studio trying for a live sound on this; twelve songs including 10 original composition and 2 covers by Pee Wee Crayton and Tiny Grimes. 

His solo albums are solid productions, highly recommended for harp players and fans of Chicago Blues and West Coast Swing. The Egidio “Juke” Ingala Band has been world class unit", and their energetic stage show is always extremely powerful and stimulating.

Interview by Michael Limnios

First I would like to thank you for the opportunity you gave me to do this interview and I am also grateful for your interest in a European musician. 

Egidio, when was your first desire to become involved in the blues, what does the BLUES mean to you?

I think music has always played a primary role in my life. Many of my life choices have been influenced by music. It seems to me to be born with the requirement and the necessity to live with the musical element, not only with the blues. I can say that the blues is the kind of music that is closest to my personality, even though you can only learn the blues day to day. The blues music is just amazing because you never finish to discover it. Everything was done in blues, from the beginning, is a huge container to be discovered, if we only think of as much the blues has influenced all the contemporary music. The blues is the root of almost all the kinds musical, from rock 'n' roll, jazz, R & B, soul, rock, funk etc.. If we think only to the Beatles or Rolling Stone ... without the blues would not have had the success they have had and many others musicians from Hendrix to the Doors. In addition, the blues is always actual, if you listen to an album of Freddy King is still relevant, both for the sounds and for ideas, or some BB King records of the '50s, or Little Walter.
I started to get interested in the blues when I wasn’t very young, I was about 20 and I started playing after a couple of years, so my first approach as a blues musician has been a bit later than when the musicians usually start, but since the beginning I was full of curiosity, I realized that behind the blues was a huge world to explore and I was immediately fascinated. Later I realized that the blues had a huge role in my life because it allowed to express and pull me out what I had inside such emotions, sensations and feelings.


Who were your first idols, what have been some of your musical influences?

The first real idols were Little Walter and George Harmonica Smith, and they still are. It’s like John Coltraine for a jazz musician or Mozart or Chopin for a classical musician. Little Walter was and will forever be the true king of the Chicago blues harmonica, he was able to expand and give new shades to the blues, his harmonica licks were taken and copied by thousands of harp players and every time you listen to his songs you can find always new things and new feelings.

George Smith is rather pure emotion, you can see many moods at the same time, you can’t stay and be indifferent. His licks with the chromatic have left the mark, he was also a reference for many contemporary harmonica players like William Clarke, Rod Piazza, Kim Wilson and many others.

Little Walter and George Smith should be the reference points and the idols for every blues harmonica player however there are many musicians who have influenced me as well as Little Walter and George Smith. I studied a lot on records of Big Walter Horton, Jimmy Reed, but also guitarists like T-Bone Walker, Freddy King, BB King, Pee Wee Crayton, Tiny Grimes. Jazz musicians as Gene Ammons, Lester Young I have always been impressed by their sound that they were able to create with sax, the real cool sound!

Even Roy Milton, Jimmy Liggins, Big Joe Turner, Wynonie Harris have influenced a lot of my musical taste. Thanks to them, now I have a pretty wide and varied knowledge of the black-american music culture.


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

I do not remember the first blues song I learned but definitely was a song by Muddy, maybe "Got my mojo." The first concerts I've played was in Milan with a band which played covers of Jimmy Reed, Muddy, BB King etc.. We were really fans of blues, it was the early '80s and it was not easy to know what was happening beyond the ocean, what was the new trends in blues music, so we just play famous blues covers. Anyway I think it's been the same way for many bands at the begin of their careers.


Which of the people you have worked with do you consider the best, like a friend?

Good question! There are so many musicians with whom I worked that I consider friends and great musicians, both in Europe and the States but perhaps the person with whom I shared more emotions on stage is Alex Schultz. I played with him for 4 years and we shot a lot of clubs and festivals, we recorded 2 CDs together and during that period has resulted in a true friendship and mutual esteem.

Alex was my favorite contemporary guitar player even when he played with Rod Piazza and William Clarke then when I saw the opportunity to collaborate with him it was amazing. Imagine that Alex is back in Europe for this project with me after his partnership with Lester Butler, after the death of Lester decided to do an European experience with a European band and so our cooperation was born.


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

The career of a blues musician is always full of ups and downs, personally are positive the moments in which I have more musical ideas, when I can think for a new songs list, or when I try a new show with new arrangements. All this happens mostly when I have new and different sensation, sometimes also while I'm working with new musicians. There is also to say that now, compared to the 80’s and 90’s there is less interest and excitement around the blues so maybe the best times has been just around that time, where the blues scene seemed rising and growing, at least here in Europe.
Anyway still remember with great pleasure when I made the first tour in Norway and Scandinavia almost 10 years ago or that atmosphere during some blues festivals. I liked the idea of
bringing my way of played blues around Europe and notice so much interest around this. This helped me a lot to go ahead and realize that maybe that was the right way.


How would you describe your contact to people when you are on stage?

I think that relationships with people are very important beyond the music. The most important thing is the respect you have to have for the audience, so when I'm playing on stage I always try to relate with the audience, trying to understand what the people hope to get, trying to create a kind of empathy between me and the audience. During a concert it is important to the mutual exchange of emotions.


Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Excluding the music? I do not know exactly but anyhow I think that there is always a relationship between your state of mind and the results in music. If you're ok your sound is ok and you get the best ideas. The best thing is always to find a sort of peace and serenity and the right emotional balance with people whose are close to you and that you love, so the most interesting and even beautiful moments of life are just when you can reach those moments and those feelings.

Why do you play the BLUES & what does HARP mean to you?

Playing blues is a kind of musical education, but above all it is something that catches you without knowing the real reasons. I think everyone has some natural tendency for a kind of music than others, you can find it in the lovers of classical music, jazz, rock and even of the blues. Every kind of music has its own special ingredients but the most important thing for me is the research on the kind of music you love, where it comes from, how it developed, which influenced it has had. In the Blues music the most important element is to know its history; the blues is culture, tradition. What a blues musician should do is go looking for this culture, looking back and carry on the tradition, at least that's what I try to do. In the blues music everything has already been written, the best things were born in the '50s where there was a real excitement around to all the blackamerican music, so to learn these lessons in the best way we need to study them, understand them and try to propose them, and then developing your own music taste into that genre.

Regarding harmonica... for me it has been like lightning shot. The first time I heard harmonica was with Little Walter in a Muddy’s record and I’ve been impressed, that instrument had something of unique, a scratchy sound, intense, full of emotion. The harmonica for me is certainly something of important, it’s not just a simple musical instrument but the right tool that allows me to get closer to blues, to play the blues. Anyway first of all I put the blues and then the harmonica.


How was your recording hours with your band, do you remember something funny?

Working in studio to recording my CDs has been a great experience, first of all because I have been a sort of producer on it. Surely it has been very important the experience that I have had in studio with the great sound engeneer and producer from Los Angeles Jerry Hall.

In any case I think that the most important thing is the awareness that you are not playing alone, but you are playing with a band; the sense of the band is very important both in studio and live; every member of the band must believe and must feel the thing that is playing, and in the same time is very important the atmosphere among the musicians of the band, then everything will be more easy and amusing. With my actual band the things are going very well, I have a great band with fantastic musicians, from guitar to bass and drums; they are young but excellent musicians, you can hear their real '50s style sound!


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

Maybe the first gigs in the States and the first tour in Scandinavia with my own band where we played in different festivals.


Where did you pick up your harmonica style? Three words to describe your sound & your progress?

Like for most of the blues harmonica players the real school has been the Chicago Blues. So, as I said before, I was shocked when I heard Little Walter the first time, that was my first step towards the blues harp. Another important and decisive musician for me is George Harmonica Smith. I feel in tune with his way to playing, with his interpretation of the blues, his licks are captivating as well as his tone.

In my way of playing is very present the West Coast school, where the Chicago style is contaminated by influences swing, jump and boogie. I like to use the harmonica with the idea of a horn section and in this thing George Smith has been a real pioneer, anyway much of the sound presents on the tunes is based on that kind of blues and R&B made famous in the '50s by artists such Roy Milton, Jimmy Liggins, T.Bone Walke etc.


Are there any songs that you've written where the lyrics are very personal for you?

In all my songs there is always something related to facts or emotions actually lived but they are also common to most of us.

What do you think is the main characteristic of you personality that made you a bluesman?

The music, on the whole, for me is life, and the blues plays one of the most important part. The blues is Chuck Berry but even Charlie Parker. The blues allows me to express my emotions, and I'm always looking for emotions, I suppose that's the real reason have allowed me to become a musician and not only a listener.


Who are some of your favorite blues musician of today? What was the last record you bought?

I like to follow the European blues scene; actually in Europe there are really different realities that I feel closer to me and to my musical world. I think here in Europe there are many more fans of blues than we think. With regard to the record I lately bought ... well, I don’t listen to only blues, I follow also jazz or even the old R&B so my last disc is a collection of unreleased songs of the '50s R&B and some Stax recordings.


What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the blues craft?

As I told you the blues is tradition and culture, my suggestion is looking back from the origin of the blues, listen to all the different styles of blues trying to “study” all those musicians of that period… then playing what you really feel.

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

The blues is not only a kind or a form of music, the blues is the root of many styles of music, that’s because the blues will be always with us. Where there is rock, swing, boogie, r&r, R&B, funky, jazz, hip hop and rap there is always the soul of the blues inside.


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

Listening and listening to all the blues pioneers from Robert Johnson to Freddy King, from Little Walter to Willian Clarke.


Do you have any amusing tales to tell from your work with Alex Schultz?

Not many things... we worked together for 4 years, recorded 2 CDs, traveled to almost every country in Europe and we shared many things together. I think it was a good relationship for both, there's always been a mutual respect. Now we are friends and personally I got wonderful memories about that period.


Are there any memories from Dirty Hands, which you’d like to share with us?

Got great memories .... and not just me. The fans of the Dirty Hands were everywhere in Italy and not only. Imagine that in the late '80s early '90s the Italian blues scene was fairly flat, the bands were a little too much superficial and approximate, almost every band played the same covers; otherwise with the Dirty Hands there was often a work of research on the various styles of blues by offering a varied repertoire which came from rock’n’roll to the Chicago style, from the Texas to the New Orleans sound, so people started to appreciate this "new" way to propose even for the way how we get on stage. It has been an interesting experience that gave me great satisfactions.

We were the first Italian blues band to play abroad and in '93 after our first CD "XXX Hot Chili" we made a series of dates in Europe playing in various festivals. I’m very proud of this, the experience with Dirty Hands had for sure influenced all I did after and what I’m still doing now.


Make an account for current realities of the case of the blues in Italy.

What mistake of Italian blues scene you want to correct?

In Italy there are many great blues musicians who are recognized, although not so in Europe. For years in Italy musicians proposed a kind of blues that was far from the reality, there were only bands which did all the same things, playing in the same way, a little rough, but now I can see that different musicians make the leap.
In Italy maybe there is not a real blues scene, a blues tradition or associations or organizations that works to promote this music. Everyone works too much only for himself, maybe it’s fault of our mentality. It’s a little strange… in Italy there are really many blues fans, but very few of them participate in concerts or feel to support it.

Maybe the biggest problem we have in Italy is that we don’t invest very much for culture in general. This is a very particular and sensitive issue that would require much more time but until we don’t realize and understand that the music is culture and a society without culture remains poor… the things will get worse and hard for the blues.

In Italy we have also a propensity to overestimate the Americans but not enough the bands we have at home. There are a lot of promoters and organizers whose don’t know the musicians but they do play them just because they are Americans, while there are really great bands in Italy that are struggling to find space to play. Moreover the media does not help at all to change this trend.


Do you believes it has the possibility of someone musician to live only with the blues in your country?

Sure, there are some musicians whose living playing the blues, including myself, but not many. Surely this forces you to be often in tour, travelling a lot and also doing collaborations with American artists whose are definitely easier to propose.

Egidio "Juke" Ingala's website

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