An Interview with Michael Arlt of B.B & the Blues Shacks: The blues comes from real emotions and transports them

B.B. & The Blues Shacks

They are firmly based on the roots of traditional R´n´B – playing good music that entertains, delivers fun and captivates the listeners. That´s just one of the reasons why they trade as Europe´s best Blues band.

With their mixture of Blues and Soul, the Hildesheim Boys quote those giants like B.B. King, Little Milton, and in the process, they transfer the best of the good old times into the present via their own compositions.

The five professional musicians master their instruments with virtuosity, and the can make the audience truly sense how much feeling there is in the sound of handmade music. The trademark voice of singer Michael Arlt tells us about the great topics like love and joy of life – while the groove of the band truly hypnotizes us. A concert by the B.B.s leaves a great DNA in your mind and soul.

At the age of 13, Andreas Arlt gets his first guitar. Since then, he has flatly refused to ever put it down again. He gets just two guitar lessons, the rest of his tuition is absolutely self-taught. In the course of the years, he investigates the complete spectrum of musical styles, until – during the 1980s – he stumbles upon the order form of his current record label – “Crosscut” – specializing in the Blues. The Hildesheim boy orders a pile of discs and dives deeply into this truly traditional American music. With this move, the guitarist, who is traeded as one oft he best in Europe, has found his direction. He proceeds to infect his brother Michael (vocals and harp) with this particular kind of fever, and in 1989 they start the band B.B. & The Blues Shacks.

Michael Arlt is the voice of the band, and that include the task of spokesman. His lyrics tell you about life. His harmonica supplies extra colour to the band´s sound, with a harp in his mouth he always accelerates up to eleven - while he is always likely to surprise you - and us! If he feels like it, the venue gets cooking. You´ve just GOT to love this man...

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I got into the blues world at the mid of the eighties. I came from typical sixties hippi music like The Doors, Neil Young, Beatle and Stones and so on. Then I started to listen to some rock blues but didn’t liked it too much but I thought this stuff might be interesting and so I looked out for the real deal and found cats like Little Walter, Sonny Boy, Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and so on…….

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

I went to my very first gig at the age of thirteen. It was a german Rock Singer I liked at the time. Today I can’t stand him anymore. The blues changed my way of listening to music. The first song I learned on the harmonica was an “how to play”-introduction I found inside a Vinyl from Charlie Musselwhite.

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

The worst moment was when I had an operation on my front teeth and had to play a gig just one day later. While playing the harp I scratched the scarf and all the blood ran out of my mouth over and through the harp while playing. I was terrible and looked unbelievable – the audience was shocked J

One of the best moments we’ve had happened in Australia this year (2011). We’ve never played there before but were able to rock the house. We started with just a few hundred and ended up with nearly 8000 people dancing and freaking out although they never heard of us before. You can find it and watch on you tube if you like – a very cool audience.

Tell me about the beginning of B.B. & The Blues Shacks. How did you choose the name and where did it start?

It all started in the country side of Germany. Our hometown is called Lamspringe which is a little out in the woods but very nice. My brother was always playing guitar since I’m able to remember. He heard me playing harp and asked me to sit in for a show. After that show we founded the band. that happened in 1989. B.B. is short form just for many things we like and that also starts with B.B. – like B.B. King, Blues + Beer, Bratwurst + Boogie J So the name is a little funny but we didn’t know better at the time.

Of all the many albums the B.B. & The Blues Shacks made, what was your favorites?

Same answer you will get from every musician - the new one. I just got back from Vienna where we recorded the new record. It’s really what we ever wanted to produce. We got very cool horn arrangements. Good additional singers. A lot of harp guitar piano and organ on it. It’s gonna be a cool mixture of Blues Soul with a traditional approach without being always the same you’ve heard hundred times before. I will send a copy when it’s finished.

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

We played a couple of shows in roll together with Alex Schultz together in Ascona Switzerland directly on a stage by the lake. We played every night together with Candye Canes Band and were balling every night on stage and behind. This was too much fun also because we’ve never had to move anything and the place was packed with people every night. Musical wise both bands fitted  together perfectly.

Are there any memories of B.B. & The Blues Shacks which you’d like to share with us?

Another cool memory I’ve got goes out to southern California when we played the Doheny Blues Festival about 50 miles south of Los Angeles. We’ve been up on the stage the weather was beautiful we’ve had thousands of noise making people in front of us right behind them you could see Palm trees and then watch the Pacific Ocean. I will never forget this view.

Why did he think that B.B. & The Blues Shacks continued to generate such a devoted following?

Maybe because we are trying to handle this music very carefully. We’re not bullshitting around with this music even though we’re trying to take it a little further. It’s always played with respect to the people who created the blues.

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

The Blues is my lifestyle. I love him I handle him with care and he takes me all around the world. A give and take thing. And I never thought I’m a great musician ‘cause I know from the masters how good this stuff can be played and I will never reach their level. So the blues also makes me a very grounded person which I like to be.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD musician?

Since I am nine years old I am a diabetic and have to take insulin injections. I jumped of the devils fork twice. I was near death a few times in my life. So there’s no time to waste not in my private life and of course not on stage. As long as there are people in the audience that like to listen to the blues and show so I’m on their side and play as good as I possibly can. Doesn’t matter if it’s five five hundred or five thousand people. I just want to have fun on stage because for me that’s what life is all about. I don’t want to go up to heaven thinking to myself I could have given a little more or maybe missed something.


Which of historical blues personalities would you like to meet?

I would have loved to take lesson from sonny Boy Williamson – he is one of my favorites.

And I really would have like to hear T-Bone Walker in person. His tone always thrills me.

When did you last laughing in gigs and why?

We always laugh on our shows. Especially my brother and me like experiential dancers right in front of us. Especially in Germany they really make us laugh.

Which artists have you worked with & which of the people you have worked with do you consider the best friend?

We have a lot of real good friends here in Germany but you may think of international blues artists so I would consider R.J. Mischo as one of our best friends. He’s also a very grounded person always very friendly and a harmonica genius. I call him “my friend”.

Why do you play HARP?

Cheap instrument quit easy to learn

Where did you pick up your harp style? In which songs can someone hear the best of your harp work?

I also learned a lot of Kim Wilson harp style and you may find some of his stuff in mine.

But my preferences change from time to time and sometimes I also like to play chromatic stuff – so at the time I would say listen to Autumn sunset where I like my chromatic harmonica solo – a little.

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

Not from real persons ‘cause I was always too shy to ask them. Imagine Kim Wilson is talking after every show to all those harmonica freaks - for hours maybe. He maybe doesn’t like to do this anymore and I never wanted to stay in line and do so.  So I went to a lot of concerts just to listen and remember and then tried at home. I found out secrets by myself. Maybe I missed a few.

Who are your favorite blues artists, both old and new? What was the last record you bought?

One of my all time favorites is the Hollywood Fats Band. Besides all the heroes from the old days. The last record I bought is a soul record by Spencer Wiggins which is absolute amazing. This guy can sing.


Which musician have you ever wanted to be? Three words to describe your sound & your progress

Sam Cooke – has the most beautiful voice I have ever heard. But if possible I don’t want to end up like he did. Blues / Soul / Not-boring

How was your relationship with the other local blues bands?

In the beginning  we’ve had a lot of competition but the business was and is getting harder and we all learned that everyone can win if we work and help each other. I like it much more this way. The only thing I still don’t like is if musicians just using the blues and play it in a terrible way without any respect.

When it all began for the blues in Germany? Which is the most interesting period in Germany blues scene and why? 

Blues in Germany has a long tradition. We’ve had the American Folk and Blues Festival in the sixties. the organizers were germans and you could find Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Sonny Terry, Hubert Sumlin, Otis Spann, Walter Horton on the german television. But I was too young than. In the eighties we’ve still had a lot of blues festivals but they’re all gone by now. At the time things don’t get better for the blues. thanks god we’re still busy.

What characterizes the sound of local blues scene? Who is considered the "godfather" of the blues in Germany?

I wouldn’t consider anybody the godfather of the german blues scene. Some think they are which makes the others laugh. I would say: “go listen to the real deal and don’t copy a copy”

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

because it’s not a fake music. The blues comes from real emotions and transports them. It’s real singing (without any computer specialties), real guitar, piano and harmonica playing or whatever. It’s just real music.

How do you see the future of blues music? Give one wish for the BLUES

The blues will always be there. They’re playing it all over the world in very good quality. It became a worldwide music art. You even have the Himalaya Blues Festival. So it will always be there and it will always fascinate other people. Today’s music industries tries their best to eliminate blues music. They are hiding it from the radio, television and magazines. So it will just reach you when you look out for it but it really gives a lot back to you.  One wish for the blues would be that more people find out how good it is and how much more quality it has then the shit they make us listen to on the radio every day.


What would you had given to William Clark?

I’ve been to one of his last concerts and I don’t know if anyone was able to help him. I would have like to give him the certainty that he is one of the greatest harmonica players of our days.

What would you ask Little Walker?

If I could borrow his amplifier.

When you get back home, what do you play besides the blues when you’re kicking back at home or just to have fun?

I really like to listen to Soul music. This is very close to the Blues. It has a gospel approach and touches me deep inside. You have amazing singers like Al Green, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, James Carr, and so on…

How did you begin playing music and when did you know you would do this for a living?

I bought a harmonica because it was cheap when I was seventeen. I saw it on live concert and thought I could try without spending much money. We are able to make a living out of playing blues since the mid of the nineties. Just a dream that came true.

What are your plans for the future?

We want to play more in different countries and find gigs in exotic places. I like it also if it’s a little strange.

Do you have a message for the Greek fans?

I hopefully will meet a lot of them if we ever got the chance to come down to Greece again. Then we’ll have a ball – before, during and after the show.

and one last question I would like to put a song next to each name.

Liam Watson: Seven Nation Army

Andreas Arlt: My love for you will never die

Dennis Koeckstadt: Rock awhile

Bernhard Egger: Go on fool

Henning Hauerken: Shipwrecked

Michael Arlt: Lay it down

B.B. & The Blues Shacks Website


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