Q&A with eclectic Texas guitar slinger, Willie J Laws - "the Real Deal" a soulful mixture of American roots music

"The blues to me is a primal spirit of the human emotion."

Willie J Laws: The Real Deal of Truth

Texas guitar slinger, songwriter and vocalist Willie J Laws creates music that is a soulful mixture of South Texas Blues/Funk, classic R&B, Country, Rock & Roll. William James Laws Jr. has over 30 years of performing experience and has traveled the world making music. The influences heard in the music of the Willie J. Laws Band are many and eclectic. There are deep roots in Texas music tradition and uniquely American roots music. Raised in the Gulf Coast of Texas, Willie J. developed his "funky blues" guitar and vocal sound, influenced by Texas Blues and R&B, Tex-Mex Tejano/Conjunto, Louisiana Zydeco, and Country. Fans call him "the Real Deal". His work over the past 30 years includes performing as the house band for The House of Blues in both Las Vegas and New Orleans, and as well as Margaritaville in the "Crescent City". He performs nationally and internationally with the Grammy award-winning Tejano band "Los Texmaniacs".

(Willie J Laws / Photo by Sam Benchemssi)

While living in Texas, Louisiana, Nevada, and California he repeatedly opened for BB King, Etta James, Buddy Guy, Willie Nelson, Hall & Oates, Lynyrd Skynyrd and numerous others. Willie was mentored by, and toured throughout the US with, the late Blues great and Texan, Phillip Walker, which you also hear in Willie's  playing style. Willie now lives in Massachusetts, travels from NH to NYC to Texas and beyond, and plays hardcore, authentic Blues with a twist of Zydeco, R&B and Funk. Self-described as “The Prophet of Funky Texas Blues,” offers an eclectic fusion of the blues with sounds native to the Gulf Coast region, including Zydeco, R&B, a twang of country, a little Tex-Mex Tejano/ Conjunto, and a dollop of funk. On his latest album, Black Maria (2018), Laws dedicated this album to another Texas blues musician, his mentor Phillip Walker. Early in his career, Laws toured with Walker, where he no doubt had many opportunities to perform Walker’s 1959 hit single, “Hello My Darling,” which is included on the album.

Interview by Michael Limnios 

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

My name Is William James Laws Jr. (Willie J Laws) I have learned much about myself through not only performing but listening to the blues. The main thing for me is that I never stop learning about myself. The blues to me is a primal spirit of the human emotion.

How do you describe Willie J Laws sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

The Willie J Laws sound is rooted in Deep Texas roots music add some funk and jazz influenced bass patterns and the influence of various Afro Caribbean centric drum beats tempered with a groove from Motown, Memphis or Muscle Shoals, New Orleans or Houston, Cincinnati or Los Angeles. My sound is traditional African American Music.

How has Blues and Roots music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The lyrics of truth in the music are grounded in reality. I believe that Blues and Roots music can be ways to heal divides. I’ve been a world traveler since the age of 18. My journey’s have been many and every time has been a different experience that opened my heart and mind. Those journey’s can only help my creative process.

"The Willie J Laws sound is rooted in Deep Texas roots music add some funk and jazz influenced bass patterns and the influence of various Afro Caribbean centric drum beats tempered with a groove from Motown, Memphis or Muscle Shoals, New Orleans or Houston, Cincinnati or Los Angeles. My sound is traditional African American Music." (Photo: Willie J Laws)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music?

Wow! When I first started to be serious about music, I could play a little and sing a little but not very well in either playing or singing. I was bitten by the Blues and the venom spread through my body and soul like a Texas Hurricane. I knew that I was not going to stop. In my observation, when people do what they love, and they share that gift they grow in many ways. I sing and play much better now.

What has remained the same about your music-making process?

Sometimes I’ll start with a melody or beat. Sometimes the lyrics come. As I grow so does the process of production, but the basis is always the same.

Where does your creative drive come from? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?

The need to share the gift that I have keeps me doing this but also selfishly serves my need for attention. I hope that people will leave our performances with good vibes and all the protective forces of the universe.

What do you think is key to a well lived music life? Are there any memories from gigs which you’d like to share with us?

The Key to a life of music well lived is to keep living. Stay away from the hard drugs, too much alcohol and the ego shit. Always be on time, in tune and looking professional. Always do your best to deliver your product and be kind to everyone you meet. I would love to share some stories, but we would have to do another segment of the interview. I’ve learned so many valuable life lessons from some of the greatest African American Bluesmen and Women that were on this planet. My greatest lessons came from touring with the late Phillip Walker who took me under his wing when I was in my late 20’s. He was called the Gentleman of the Blues. Not only that, most people did not know that Phillip could not read or write very well but he was a master mechanic. I remember going coast to coast in the US in his tour van. Her name was Miss Lula B. with 500’000 miles on the engine. She was a real Bluesmobile.      (Photo: Willie J Laws & Phillip Walker)

"Good music with powerful messages can cause powerful reactions in people that bring us together, and bring about real changes. I hope someday that people will re-learn basic music appreciation. In the United States it was a curriculum in public schools. I wish that music could affect people in a way that will bring about peace. Good music is peaceful, thoughtful, insightful but most of LOVE."

Why did you think that the American roots & Texas music continues to generate such a devoted following?

American roots music and Texas music in particular will always have in my opinion, legions of fans  because these genres of music are pure and simple and most of the time it is the truth.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? Are there any memories which you’d like to share?

Everyone I have ever met throughout my musical journey has always led me to where I am now. So, every meeting has had some amount of importance…and to continue with the next question I have had opportunities to meet and share stages with people that have influenced who I am as an artist. I could tell stories but I have never been able to tell a short story.

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

I miss the music from the old days because it could swing make you dance make you cry it could address all of the social-economic issues of the day. To me most of the music I hear now that the industry puts out is all drinking, partying, crying and whimpy emotional bullshit. I am old school I want to invoke free thought and an awareness of current events that affect the entire human race.

My fears for the future outweigh my hopes if you keep in mind the state of our world today. I fear that I won’t see the day when there is true peace freedom equality and justice for all of us on this earth.

"Everyone I have ever met throughout my musical journey has always led me to where I am now. So, every meeting has had some amount of importance…and to continue with the next question I have had opportunities to meet and share stages with people that have influenced who I am as an artist.  I could tell stories but I have never been able to tell a short story." (Willie J Laws / Photo by Sam Benchemssi)

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

What has touched me the most about playing here in New England is how much the people really enjoy our shows and they have opened themselves up to our groove. I was not born in the North East United States I moved from San Antonio to Boston almost 10 years ago and the first 2 years I was hardly performing. Now we have been nominated to receive a NEMA (New England music award).

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul/Rock n’ Roll and continue to Country and Zydeco?

The lines that connect all forms of American music are Life, Love, money, freedom and the Pursuit of all things that makes who we are. It is where we come from, where we are, and where we are going in all aspects of daily life.

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

That everybody stops making music in their bedrooms. That the industry goes back to the formula that really worked which was spending the money it takes to develop real artists instead of one hit mindless soulless trash. Did you ever notice how most of what we hear in pop radio every singer sounds the same. I loved Amy Winehouse and really love Adele. It seems to me that I hear many female artists who try to sing in their style’s instead of being allowed to develop their own identities. The same with bands. If I could change anything I would like to be able to articulate to accountants in numbers, that artist development is essential to the future of the industry.

"The lyrics of truth in the music are grounded in reality. I believe that Blues and Roots music can be ways to heal divides. I’ve been a world traveler since the age of 18. My journey’s have been many and every time has been a different experience that opened my heart and mind. Those journey’s can only help my creative process." (Photo: Willie J Laws on stage)

What is the impact of music on the racial and socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Good music with powerful messages can cause powerful reactions in people that bring us together, and bring about real changes. I hope someday that people will re-learn basic music appreciation. In the United States it was a curriculum in public schools. I wish that music could affect people in a way that will bring about peace. Good music is peaceful, thoughtful, insightful but most of LOVE.

Artists and labels will have to adapt to the new changes. What are your predictions for the music industry?

That is easy. Go back to basics, listen to the old ones, they are the mentors now. Go back to the formula that built the industry. That formula is as old as the pyramids. I believe the new can adapt to the old. Have ears like Clive Davis, Clarence Avant, Berry Gordy, those guys are the music men.

How do you think the music industry will adapt to it?

I am not sure that it can or ever will. Maybe in Euro Disney this world might exist. But we must continue to try to make the industry adapt to us. It is called Music Business.

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

If I could take a trip back in time for one day I would like to go to the Stax records show that was done in Los Angeles in the early seventies.

Willie J Laws - official website

(Willie J Laws / Photo by Sam Benchemssi / All rights reserved)

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