Interview with Connecticut-based Jay Willie Blues Band: Jay Willie, Bob Callahan, and Bobby T Torello

"The blues is to music like flour is to pizza. You can put whatever layers you want on top but the foundation is still the same."

Jay Willie Blues Band:  Real Not Faking

In 2001 Jay Willie, along with vocalist and guitar player Bob Callahan, formed New England based the Jay Willie Blues Band, with Bobby T Torello on drums. Jay started playing the guitar at the age of 12. His uncle Tony gave Jay some Blues records to listen to, including Muddy Waters, Roy Buchanan, Ry Cooder, BB King, and Johnny Winter, and from that point on all Jay wanted to do was spend hours listening to these records and emulating the guitar parts. Growing up, one of the artists that Jay respected the most for his commitment and understanding of the blues was Johnny Winter.

                                                                                                              Photo by Susan Warner

Bobby T Torello is an incredible drummer who has an extensive musical resume which includes performing, touring and recording with Black Oak Arkansas, Thunderhead, Johnny Winter, Grace Slick, Junior Wells, and a host of others. Bobby has some hilarious and funky stories to tell from his world tours with Johnny Winter. Bob Callahan impress with his overall knowledge of music, and his vocal, guitar, bass guitar and writing abilities. Bob also has shared the stage with some prominent musicians including James Cotton, Matt Murphy, Andy Powell, James Montgomery and others. Dave Polley is an accomplished bassist who plays live venues with the band. After releasing two albums from the band, Tommy Shannon, another Johnny Winter sidekick from the early years and the late Stevie Ray Vaughan, his liked what he heard and ended up playing bass with the band on album The Reel Deal. “New York Minute” was band’s second recording, a combination of original and cover songs which are a mixture of Texas Blues, Rock, and ballads, featured Jason Ricci, and Marlou Zandvliet. The Jay Willie Blues Band is excited to be releasing Rumblin' and Slidin' its third international release and sophomore CD (Release Date: August 12, 2014) for the ZOHO Roots label. Jason Ricci featured on five tracks. 

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Jay: To me the blues is self expression. What I have learned about myself is that there are no boundaries when it comes to music. Through the blues I continue to achieve things that I never expected. Examples of that are playing and recording with some musicians that I have always admired and thought were out of my league with respect to music. Also now having our second international release with a reputable Blues label (Zoho Music) and getting exceptional reviews in many countries is a very rewarding experience. I recently had a person from Austin Texas post on my Facebook site that since he purchased New York Minute it is all that he has listened to in his car. That alone makes it worthwhile.

Bob: The blues is a thing that is greater than any one person who hears it and you feel connected to all these people because of the blues. It means everything. I wouldn’t know how to live without it.

Bobby T: When I was first hired by Johnny Winter he told me I didn’t know how to play the blues and told me I only know how to play in the style of the Allman Brothers. I sat with Johnny in his NY apartment for 2 months every night listening to early blues and it was a great learning experience. I realized the early artists were not only 1-4-5 progressions and progressions would change at different times.  Johnny has an awesome record collection. Blues means what Muddy Waters said, “Blues had a baby and they named it Rock and Roll”.

How do you describe your sound and progress, what characterize the philosophy of Band?

Jay: The sound is Texas Blues Rock. One reason for that is Bobby Torello’s drumming style that I always admired. It is high energy, double bass pedal and has a signature definitive sound. Even Johnny Winter quoted in his biography “Raisin’ Cain” that Bobby is not a blues drummer, but that’s part of what makes our music less mainstream and more interesting. One key factor that keeps us in the blues category is the respect and homage that we pay to the most influential roots artist. This release includes some ballads and tracks by Muddy Waters, Jimmy McCracklin, James B. Oden and a lamentive version of You Hurt Me that was covered by Little Willie John. Jason Ricci did such a moving version of this track that we omitted the lyrics and let his harmonica playing tell the whole story.

Bob: My sound is sweet and nasty at the same time. I never could really sound like anyone else so, I relied a lot on my own feelings and where they would take the music. A band is a very hard thing to keep together. Some bands need a strong leader and in some bands there is a democracy. My philosophy is that the band is probably the most important thing in your life as a vehicle for your musical expression and your progress as a musician. There is always someone to share musical ideas with.

Bobby T: I describe my sound as blues influenced rock and heavy. Our philosophy is we are real not faking it.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues? What is the best advice ever gave you?

Jay: I have listened to many artists that I have learned from including Robert Johnson, B.B. King, Roy Buchanan, Ry Cooder, but I have picked up the most technique from Johnny winter.

Bob: I have a lot of influences and I’ve learned a lot from many different players. When I started playing, I would watch everyone I could and pick up things to play on the guitar anyway I could. The best advice I ever got was KEEP GOING. You never know.

Bobby T: I learned the most about blues form Johnny Winter. Best advice given to me was to stay with your leader because the changes can change any minute since blues is free form. Keep your ears and eyes open.

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

Jay: The best moment of my career in music was being recognized and signed by a label with worldwide distribution and promotion. Fortunately I can’t think of a worst moment but I am sure that will be when I am aged and arthritis sets in.

Bob: My best moment was when I got on stage with the James Cotton Blues Band. I had a band at the time that played with them a lot so James kind of knew us. It was terrific! The worst moment was playing a show with Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes. We opened and we couldn’t get the sound right. The manager came to the edge of the stage in a panic. He didn’t know what he wanted us to do but, he wanted to do something. I just remember him saying I was too loud and I said “My amp is off”

Bobby T: Best moment was my drum solo in 1981 at Madison Square Garden and I got a standing ovation. The worst was playing a concert in Syracuse NY and Johnny wanted to discuss the blues with the audience before playing. The audience wanted to hear music and Johnny got upset and walked off the stage. This caused a riot and some people got hurt and equipment was trashed. The news headlines said we were too high to play but that was not the case.

Are there any memories from the road and recording with the band, which you’d like to share with us?

Jay: My son is in a group home for disabilities and we play a local summer Festival in Norwalk, CT. that he and his roomates attend. It is the highlight of the event how they interact, dance and just love life and music.

The most interesting thing with recording is when we had the honor of recording with Tommy Shannon and we recorded all the tracks with only guitars and drums. We then sent the tracks through a FTP site to a studio in Austin where Tommy layed down the bass tracks. There were skeptics that thought the rhythm would suffer but it didn’t. Technology has come a long way.

Bob: I would not want to implicate anyone here. These guys are a lot of fun to be around and it makes you look forward to playing.

Bobby T: When we recorded our first album without the bass and Tommy Shannon did his bass tracks in Austin and it came out great. This was the first time Tommy and I ever recorded together even though we shared the stage many times with Johnny and Stevie.

Do you think that the new album Rumblin' and Slidin' (2014) is as to the band's style started out all these years ago or has this changed?

Jay: I think the style is similar as far as Raw Texas Blues Rock, but we keep it fresh with some incongruous elements that make it difficult to define.

Are there any memories from Grace Slick, Junior Wells, Black Oak Arkansas, and Stevie Ray Vaughan which you’d like to share with us?

Bobby T: Stevie Ray Vaughan would open for us whenever we played in Texas before he was a big star and he was a great humble guy. I have fond memories of Ruby Star from Black Oak Arkansas and she had a pet goat that would knock on my door in the middle of the night when we were neighbors in Arkanas.

Grace slick told me I reminded her of herself when she was abusing drugs and alcohol. I am proud to say those days are gone.

I was at the Checkerboard in Chicago and sat in with Junior Wells. I played two songs and left the stage. Junior was screaming in the mic where’s that white MFer. I thought he was mad but he wanted me to play more.

Are there any memories from Johnny Winter which you’d like to share with us?

Jay: There are many. I always smiled when I saw that Firebird reverse headstock coming out from behind the stage before a show. I always liked it when his brother Edgar would join Johnny. I think they are both extremely talented and together it was always a great experience.

Bob: Every time I hear Johnny playing with Muddy Waters it makes me smile.

Bobby T: With Johnny Winter there are so many great memories that there is not enough paper to write on. One memorable moment was when I was his target for bow and arrow practice. We were at the Circle Kay Ranch in Bogalusa, La and we were up all night and target practicing with bow and arrows. Johnny’s eyesight was poor and wanted a target so I told him since you can’t see I will run around and be your target. It was about 7:00 am and he never hit me.

                                                                               Jay Willie & Bobby T with Johnny Winter

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

Jay: The best Jam for me was the first time I played with Bobby T and his band Electric Circus at a gig. He liked playing together and suggested that we consider doing more projects. My most memorable gig with this band is when we played a club that was out in a rural wooded area. Bobby T brought his stage drums so we all had to adjust to his volume. As the night progressed so did the energy and volume until the police came. They shut us down because the neighbors couldn’t sleep. I think the closest neighbors were 1/2 mile away. Since then we invested in a small vintage Ludwig set for smaller venues but Bobby prefers the cannons.

Bob: I’ve played in so many jams I couldn’t single one out except maybe when Lester Chambers was learning how to play blues harp. That was always a good jam.

Bobby T: Best jam was with Albert Collins at Park Place in Chicago, because he and Johnny together were amazing.

Most memorable gig was in Germany at The Rockpalast live on TV for 30,000,000 people. The most nervous I ever was when Muddy Waters was on the side of the stage watching me at a show we did.

Are there any memories from James Cotton, Matt Murphy, and Andy Powell which you’d like to share with us?

Bob: James Cotton was talking about meeting Elvis and how Elvis loved the blues. They talked for awhile about the music. That surprised me. I would have never put those two people together. Matt Murphy would seldom hang out with the rest of the guys. After a gig, he would go lift weights. He had some big arms. Andy Powell was trying to get a new Wishbone Ash band started. We invited him to play with us a few times. He told us he got on this tour with other guitar stars in Europe. He left the United States with Lesley West from Mountain. While they waiting in the New York subway, they realised they were going to go in the wrong direction on the wrong train. They started running for the right train when Lesley fell down and broke his nose. He had to play the tour with a big bandage on his nose.

From the musical point of view (like a drummer) what are the difference and similarity between Rock and Blues?

Bobby T: Difference is rock is more structured and the similarity is there would be no rock without blues.

"The blues is a thing that is greater than any one person who hears it and you feel connected to all these people because of the blues. It means everything. I wouldn’t know how to live without it."

Do you know why the slide guitar is connected to the blues? What are the secrets of slide?

Jay: I can’t say that I know why but I have my opinion. The early blues musicians were playing guitars that were cheap and sometimes homemade and strings and tuning were not consistent. I think the slide gave players an alternative why to hit different notes and get a varied sound similar to the Hawaiin slide style. The early artists used different items including pocket knives, pipes and Mississippi Fred McDowell used a beef bone.

What I find to be the most usefull when playing slide is using open tunings. I sometimes play in E, A but usually G. It is easier to bar and get a full chord. I can play in standard tuning but it gives less options for finger style.

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

Jay: To me the blues is to music like flour is to pizza. You can put whatever layers you want on top but the foundation is still the same. My wish for blues is that the artists that work their ass off touring and sharing their talent can make a decent living doing so.

Bob: The blues is always with us because it is a part of who we are as people. Most music has some blues in it, even if it’s not called blues. I wish the blues many more babies.

Bobby T: It will always be with us because it is the foundation of rock music. My wish is that it lives forever and it will.

When we talk about blues, we usually refer to memories and moments of the past. Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?

Jay: I believe there is real blues nowadays if you mean in life. These are tough times for many financially, people fighting wars , and a lot of sadness. I think there will be a brighter future and we can look back again. 

Bob: I sure do. I think the problem today is some people don’t want to let the past go. So, they say that the blues today is supposed to sound like the blues of the past to be real. I think the blues is a living, breathing thing that can bring Eric Clapton, Robert Johnson, Keb Mo’, Johnny Winter, Jay Willie and a ton of other people to the same place. It has that much power. Why would you try to restrict that?

"Stay in College. Focus and be true to the music you love and do it to best of your ability."

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

Jay: I miss the fact that there is little mainstream music that has any sustainability. My hope for the future is that young musicians continue to recognize and appreciate the blend of early influences that made great music what it is today. I think artists like The Black Keys, Vintage Trouble and Rival Sons to name a few are good examples of a positive future.

Bobby T: I miss music from the 70”s scene. There is still some good music being made as proof with this record (Rumblin and Slidin) but I don’t like the new hip music, it sucks.

Bob: In the past, when you heard something, you could almost tell who was doing the music. The new hit stuff out today sounds too similar, as if the same people are behind all the music you hear on the radio. You don't hear much except for something that sounds like the last hit they played. It's sad that the things you get to hear are not as experimental as they used to be.

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

Jay: The sound system in my car and free satellite radio.  There is such diversity in music, I don’t think I would change anything.

Bobby T: The business part.

Bob: If I could change something it would probably be--autotune.

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

Bobby T: Stay in College. Focus and be true to the music you love and do it to best of your ability.

What is the line that connects the legacy of Bukka White, Elmore James with Duane, Winter and continue your generation and beyond?

Jay: All great slide players but to me it’s about the rhythms and good taste.

Photo by Susan Warner

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

Jay: Our drummer Bobby T always makes me laugh. His track (Rotten Person) on the Rumblin And Slidin release is an example of his demeanor and outgoing personality. What touched me the most was the recent passing of Johnny Winter and reading the heartfelt FB post by his brother Edgar. Johnny has been such a great influence to so many including myself. I’m glad that he was getting so much deserved recognition in recent years and I am sure that his legacy will live on.

Bobby T: Modern music makes me laugh. Johnny’s passing has been very emotional for me.

Bob: Playing with Bobby T. always make me laugh. He'll say something like "Start the song; I'm all over it like a cheap suit". I can get emotional when someone sings a great ballad blues or not. If they can let you hear the emotion they feel in the song, it's very moving.

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

Jay: As it relates to music I think it would have been great to have been at the 1969 Woodstock Festival. Probably one day would be long enough and it would be the day that Johnny, Edgar, Tommy Shannon, and Uncle John Turner performed.

Bobby T: Back on tour with Johnny and tell him not to tip his wine glass so far on the learjet takeoff. It doesn’t go straight up like the space shuttle.

Bob: I really like the time I'm in now but, if I had to go to another time, I would go to the future when we. As a people decide to stop fighting and killing each other and we would be more focused on saving lives and curing diseases. Of course, I'm assuming that's the path we would take if we had the chance. I want to stay positive. I could hang the whole day and look at the progress we've made.

The Jay Willie Blues Band - ZOHO music

Views: 1526

Comments are closed for this blog post

social media


© 2022   Created by Michael Limnios Blues Network.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service