Guitarist/songwriter Aynsley Lister talks about Jim Gaines, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Buddy Guy, & British blues

"Music is a release for me, when I play I get lost in it and it’s a very happy place to be!!"

Aynsley Lister: Heart Blues Player

Aynsley has never been an artist to reheat the music of yesteryear. Influenced from an early age by the 60’s RnB era, Lister takes these key elements and mixes them with a more current and melodic lyrical approach.
He is one of very few artists playing blues infused rock with a modern edge -tangible, heartfelt, soul searching and full of fine songwriting; played with passion and vitality. His hard hitting rhythms and guitar work are reminiscent of a young Clapton.

Lister began his career when he signed to Ruf Records in 1998. During his time on the label he worked with producers such as Jim Gaines and Greg Haver and recorded four studio albums, two live albums and two DVD’s. However, if these earlier albums were Lister making his mark as a well respected blues rock artist, it was when he signed to Manhaton Records in June 2008 that he showed he had more commercial appeal to a bigger audience. Earlier in his career it was blues legends such as Buddy Guy, John Mayall and Robert Cray, while more recently he played a sell out tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd. In June 2010, The Tower Sessions was released. Recorded live at the end of a 45 date European tour this album captures Lister and his band in best ever form. Headlining Glastonbury’s Bourbon Street stage and opening for ZZ Top a week later, this was the perfect platform to release what is a document indeed of Aynsley Lister in his best ever form. Now, preparing for his next album, Aynsley is on tour showcasing some of his best songs accompanied with a selection of his new, original material and some classic covers as you've never heard them played before.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I grew up surrounded by blues and roots music, my father is a huge music fan and every day he would play his records. I liked the sound of the guitar playing and as soon as I got my first guitar I tried to re-create what I was hearing. At that time I had no idea whether it was blues, rock or pop – I just liked the sound. First inspirations were Clapton, Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Albert King etc

What was the first gig you ever went to & what were the first songs you learned? What characterizes the sound of Aynsley Lister?

I was invited to play a few songs with a local band in a pub after the leader saw me playing in a school concert – I was 13. I think we played a couple of Chuck Berry numbers! In my playing you can hear all of my influences - I think you can with any player, but each has their own recipe. Although I’m a blues player at heart, my style definitely goes way beyond that into the rockier stuff.

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

I don’t have any bad memories from my career. I’m privileged to be able to do something I love and every day, every show is different. When we did the Lynyrd Skynyrd tour, every single night was amazing – because of the crowds we played to. To get a standing ovation from a crowd of 6000 is something pretty cool!!

How/where do you get inspiration for your songs & who were your mentors in songwriting?

I write about everyday things, life experience, observational stuff etc. My inspiration can come from anywhere – every song is different. I listen to all genres of music so sometimes it could be a pop song with a nice melody that I take and then fashion into something else entirely… sometimes a guitar idea, sometimes a lyrical thing that sparks the inspiration to develop. I’ve always written alone and so I’ve kind of developed in isolation really.

What does the BLUES mean to you & what does Blues offered you? I’ve always loved blues and always will – I love the old records. They have a very ‘real’ sound to them , a lot of soul and passion and I think that is what I want people to hear in my music.

Do you remember anything funny or interesting from the recording hours?

When I recorded Equilibrium, it was ‘tracked’ which basically means each part was recorded separately. The first tracks to get good takes of are always the bass and drums and so everything else is played along as a guide for those guys to get their best performance. Although the guide parts are recorded too, they are always replaced later with better performances etc. Most people (me included!!) get ‘red light fever’ which basically means as soon as you know it’s being recorded you get really tense and are no longer relaxed. Great performances only happen when you are relaxed and not trying too hard. Quite a lot of the guide guitar tracks I played ended up being the one that made it to the final cut! When I played them I was really relaxed because at that point we were trying to get a good bass or drum take, not the guitar!! I did try and replace them but nothing I played was as good as the guide tracks!!!

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

There are so many!!! Very difficult to pick out any specific ones.  Normally a great night is where everything is perfectly in sync – the sound, the audience, the band, the flow. A great gig can be to 5000 people or it can be to 25. The atmosphere in a room can be electric sometimes and that is what makes a night special for me.

Are there any memories from gigs with Buddy Guy & John Mayall, which you’d like to share with us?

I think playing alongside those guys is just such an honour. When you grow up listening to those guys, watching them on videos, learning from them and idolizing them, getting to actually share a stage with them later in life is amazing! It can be quite a surreal experience! The first time I played with Buddy Guy, I watched some of his show from the audience and it was THE most amazing display of showmanship I’d ever seen! Oh, and he was LOUD… being on stage with his guitar turned up full in every single stage monitor was breathtakingly ear shattering!!

Do you have any amusing tales to tell from your tour with Lynyrd Skynyrd?

Those guys were the nicest people I’ve ever toured with. Each night of the tour was playing to around 6000 people and you would expect a band like that to have an ego – but they didn’t. We all dined together, they watched our show and we watched theirs! As for the audience, they went crazy for us from the first note!!

And would you like to tell your best memory about Jim Gaines

I think working with Jim was another one of those slightly surreal experiences to start with. I was a Stevie Ray nut when I was younger and so to work with the guy who produced his biggest selling album was really quite something special. He told me lots of stories about Stevie - how they made the album and so on. Of course you can read all that kind of stuff in books but to hear it from the guy who was actually there coordinating the whole thing was incredible. He was very complimentary towards me which really meant a lot coming from him.

Which memory from Robert Cray makes you smile?

Behaving like a crazed fan and asking him to sign my guitar!!

Which of the people you have worked with do you consider the biggest experiences for you, and why? From whom have you have learned the most secrets about blues music?

I think I have taken bits from everyone out there, not just the blues guys. You take the bits that jump out at you and that bit will be different for each individual. You make your own cocktail of what you’ve learnt from each player. I don’t think I’ve ever concentrated on one player alone, I never wanted to sound like a clone.

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

I still love to listen to Freddie King - I never get bored of hearing his guitar playing and singing too. I still love the old records I grew up learning from – Peter Green, Mick Taylor, Martin Barre, Eric Clapton. Recently I’ve been really digging some old Ray Charles stuff. Last record I bought was Chris Brown (pop RnB singer)… which just goes to show how eclectic my taste for music goes!!

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES

It has and always will be around… mainly because it’s the basis for many different genres of music. Blues is very expressive. All different kinds of music are connected. It’s very hard to categorize styles because there are overlaps and each style can cross into another very very easily.  Music will always evolve as will the blues but there will always be certain key elements in the music that say ‘blues’ or ‘soul’ or whatever. My music is heavily influenced by blues but it is not limited by the constraints of that particular genre.

From the musical point of view, is there any difference between ‘60s Brit Blues & the modern Brit blues?

I think things go full circle. I think a lot of people now are trying to sound just like the guys from the 60’s. Everything has gone very retro. I think sometimes when things progress, people realize the original way was better! There will always be different interpretations of contemporary blues, some artists want to move forward and other’s want to re-create elements from the height of the blues boom. Certainly any guitarist out there now is using the same equipment that was used in the 60’s…. big loud Fender amps, Marshalls…. Les Paul and Strats etc!! There just isn’t anything that sounds better to most!

Alive or dead, who is the one person that you’d like to meet face to face if they were alive, and talk to over lunch?


Do you think that only real blues is something gloomy, played by old grey-haired men with harps and battered guitars in some smokey, dark and little shabby clubs?

No, not at all! Blues is a form of expression. As long as it comes from the heart and it has soul and passion within it then it’s the real deal. There is a stigma that you have to be black, have lived a terrible life etc but that’s not true. Everybody has a soul, emotion etc and as long as that is communicated through the music then that’s good for me!

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

That I have my own identity as an artist and that they connect with my music and playing. As a guitarist I definitely go for the ‘less is more’ approach and when someone connects with that and they can interpret the emotion I put into every single note, then that makes me happy.

What do you learn about yourself from music? How do you describe your philosophy about the music?

Music is a release for me, when I play I get lost in it and it’s a very happy place to be!! 

Aynsley Lister - Official Website

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