Fiery pianist - versatile singer Andy Boller talks about his family, Bo Diddley, John Sinclair and BB King

"A bouzouki solo might connect in a scale to a Hendrix solo-- the singing of a field chant or and Irish folk melody might be hidden within a Jazz piece or a Blues song-- they reflect life."

Andy Boller: Bluesabilly JazzyFunk

Andy Boller was born in Springfield, Ohio, USA on March 4. He began playing piano at age 4. Puberty brought on a severe case of rock and roll fever, and he started the first of a long line of bands at age 12. By age 14, he was a regular on the Springfield area teen dance circuit with the Third Half, playing what was then referred to as TOP 40, later in a more "Psychedelic" combo called Crescent Carnival. By 17 he was playing Country music in a C&W bar located in a shopping center...go figure!

Boller first came to prominence in the Detroit area in the late 1970's, playing piano with Steve Newhouse and the Nuke-A-Billies, a raucous honky-tonk country/rock band. In 1980 Boller joined the Urbations in their formative stage, playing keyboards, and singing backup vocals and helping out on arrangements. After the departure of original lead vocalist Dan Mulholland, in 1983, Boller began writing and arranging the bulk of the original material for the band and was the primary lead singer as well as producer of all of their subsequent recordings.

In 1986, released their "Hot Foot" 12" EP under the guidance of their manager John Sinclair. The Urbations spent much of 1985 (before the release of "Hot Foot") and 1986, and on into 1987, touring in the US.  Boller left the Urbations in May, 1987 and in 1988 he began performing with Madcat's "Pressure Cooker", a band which featured internationally known harmonica wizard Peter "Madcat" Ruth. They released an LP "Live at the Pig", and thrilled audiences in the US and Canada. The Cooker simmered down in December, 1989. From early '90 until he left US to live in Europe in May of 1991, Boller performed as a sideman with the John D. Lamb Band.

Andy continues to perform solo, primarily in Europe since. His fiery piano and versatile vocals leave audiences clamoring for more.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How do you describe Andy Boller sound and progress? What characterize your music philosophy?

I think of my playing as Bluesabilly JazzyFunk with soulful vocals… I stretch from Ballads to Rockers but it's all informed by the Blues.

My musical philosophy is that if it pays you to just play music, it can't be all bad -- so whatever music is desired, give it your best shot. In ensembles where you can blend into a crowd it is easier to accept performing music that is not "your cup of tea" however solo, I inevitably bring my Blues informed style along as otherwise it feels off to play as if I was simply a jukebox.

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

The Blues comes from life- it connects to things all folks can relate to-- there are the mechanical / technical aspects that can overwhelm the real source… it is possible to mimic the blues but not really have them in the end musical expression-- but tears, pain, joy, spontaneity all spring out when Jazz & Blues are played well-- frankly I stretch that to ALL forms of music. A bouzouki solo might connect in a scale to a Hendrix solo-- the singing of a field chant or and Irish folk melody might be hidden within a Jazz piece or a Blues song-- they reflect life.

"Blues is a label for music that is heartfelt music from the soul - my life is the Blues." (Photo: Bo Diddley & Andy)

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

WOW--- My life has remained fairly interesting-- survival can be rather consuming- There have been a number of interesting periods so "the most" would be difficult as I have had and continue to have a wonderful ride to be honest-- Life is amazing even when it's sad- in my "CAREER" playing at CBGB's & Tramps in NYC with Wayne Kramer in nightly attendance along with Mick Farren -- or hanging out in Chicago with John Sinclair, Bob Rudnick & Skip Williamson night after night or opening for Mose Allison as Randy Dollar when I was still quite fresh-- playing in C&W bar in Springfield, Ohio when I was only 17, sharing a stage with Bo Diddley on a number of occasions. The list of highs goes on and on-- actually one of the best moments as a piano bar player inspired an entire blog. Lows? Losing 2 regular piano bar jobs within about 3 months because I was too much me (played too much Blues among other complaints although now it seems hilarious)

What are some of the most memorable gigs and jams you've had? Which memory makes you smile? 

They are all memorable in some ways-- Playing the fireworks in downtown Detroit-- opening for B.B. King, playing in the Valley of the Temples (to Goddesses) in Agrigento,  Sicily with Sugar Blue. Some of the most memorable were nightmares at the time (the Urbations opening for Gary Myrick in Grand Rapids would take up a page) but not all funny. They all make me smile. I remember so many of them. Playing with my side project Killer Trout and walking out into the street and stopping traffic while the band kept jamming inside.

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

hmmm …. Meeting certain people or business meetings? The connections I have made did influence the course of my trajectory --- best advice? My Mom who said "wish in one hand and shit in the other one and see which one fills up faster".

"The Blues comes from life- it connects to things all folks can relate to-- there are the mechanical / technical aspects that can overwhelm the real source… it is possible to mimic the blues but not really have them in the end musical expression-- but tears, pain, joy, spontaneity all spring out when Jazz & Blues are played well-- frankly I stretch that to ALL forms of music."

Are there any memories from John Sinclair and Peter "Madcat" Ruth which you’d like to share with us?

When Madcat played on my Face the Light Alone CD, he came in-- we had not even seen one another for a year or 2 as I had moved to Europe after he quit the band/ breaking it up - in any event, the song "Gimme Some Water" was one he had NEVER heard before-- my philosophy has always been ROLL TAPE--- anyway, the CD has the only take we made as it was perfect the very first time we played it-- we stopped and started together in sync-- I think I almost make Peter uncomfortable at our ability to sync as readily as we do as we are opposites in many ways-- some folks would think I was a bit on the degenerate side as I like to drink, smoke, coffee, party -- stay out late -- whatever -- anyway, Peter is very devoted to his meditational lifestyle-- so it IS funny-- but we sure make great music together. 

As for John Sinclair-- where do I begin-- all the tales about the man and with everyone and his brother offering up their story- All I can say is a reporter asked me what John did as our manager, after all the man managed the Urbations for 5 years, for heaven's sakes and he seems to barely mention it these days preferring to revel in his "GLORY DAYS". I joked and said "he rattles his gourds and says 'it's gonna happen, it's gonna happen' " -- but as a working man/ actual planner/ business / Career advancing MANAGER uh, you could ask the other guys, I love John. We sure smoked a lot and heck, it was  BIG FUN to have him as literally a means of giving the finger to the entire 80's. Unfortunately giving a finger to the 80's as a marketing strategy didn't really fall into favor until the 80's were over.  I would suggest that the REAL TOP 100 80's bands all played in bars and neither you nor I could name more than 25 of them. That said there's a video of the Urbations at CBGB's on YouTube that captures us fried but giving our all to do a show, there were some lows and highs in the show but overall the band plays its ass off. I have so many tapes- perhaps had we been focussed on one kick ass clean set rather than 4 sets a night in college bars across the Midwest-- regardless, we are remembered fondly, Sinclair was large part of all that we did and it was a glorious time in my life. But holy crap was it hard and had I not had a terrific woman helping me out the last 5 years or so of my time in the band, I could not have done it as easily.

"In ensembles where you can blend into a crowd it is easier to accept performing music that is not "your cup of tea" however solo, I inevitably bring my Blues informed style along as otherwise it feels off to play as if I was simply a jukebox." (Photo: John Sinclair & Andy)

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

VOLUME!!!! I miss VOLUME. I fear that Music is becoming less connected to the human body as the means to make music is more a mental process mastering the same tool for every sound. I believe that playing a guitar uses other parts of the brain than blowing a saxophone or a harmonica-- they ALL express the musical ideas but how one gets it out of one's mound of meat, the flesh & bones of life are getting shortchanged in the new electronic digitized, sampled sound digitally created sounds played on strictly keyboard and not even an acoustic piano - playing Acoustic Piano, as a stubborn fool, I will likely end up a museum piece or playing in Old People's Homes--Many bars don't even wish to pay maintenance/upkeep of an acoustic piano and go digital piano as well.

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

A mass resurgence in acoustic music.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Jazz and Country music? 

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Jazz and Country music? The need to express emotions and the power of all types of music to give that to people is eternally encoded in our DNA --- as listeners, as performers, as instrument builders-- I have a hard time translating that to electronic music but that's only because I prefer acoustic music. Playing and performing in piano bars has taught me to never underestimate the power the song has over the listener and if someone loves a song, however you play it, if you DELIVER the song, make the song breathe and live, you WILL touch the other person- and as a player you may not even like the song as a song but ALL music is a device for communication. I happen to prefer the Blues/Jazz scales but try to play it simplified for a hillbilly mind that would also feel good in Jamaica, i.e. so that I like it!

"I fear that Music is becoming less connected to the human body as the means to make music is more a mental process mastering the same tool for every sound."

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

THIS IS A TOUGH QUESTION -- I think playing music that is truly indigenous to your life -- in some ways it is why a band like Kraftwerk could only have come from Europe or why Allman Brothers Band could only have come from the USA--- the thing I notice about European Blues/Boogie etc players, they are in some ways better imitators because they seem more into recreating the same thing consistently whereas many American players are different overtime they get up to play-- at least that's my gut sense-- but I could be full of crap -- Some European Blues players are awesome-- and I should say I EXCLUDE U.K. from the European assessment for the simple reason that they seem to "get it" ergo some of it may be language however some of it is that US seems more connected to England/ Scotland/ Ireland all along, i.e. the Founding Fathers were all from British stock.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits? 

A bad video on Facebook of a girl tweaking and falling down - and music circuit, touched me? A woman crying at the piano after while I played one of my originals that she asked me to play about 2 weeks ago - she then told me how beautiful the song was…

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

My Father was playing Leroy Carr records when I was little- I heard Jazz & Blues from infancy - Blues is a label for music that is heartfelt music from the soul - my life is the Blues.

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

Making love with one of the women that truly was in love with me and loved me on a day where once twice three times was still not enough love and it seemed to last forever but shucks, do I have to pick just one?   

Andy Boller - official website

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