Interview with guitarist John Weeks - take the blues, ship it to Europe, mix it up, and shake it around with groove

"The simplest solution is often the best solution. The blues is my connection to what really makes me tick."

John Weeks: Groovin' Everywhere

John Weeks was born in France and got a lot of his chops playing the bars and clubs of Paris in the 1990's. John Weeks plays guitar and lives in Denver. The JWB is a new project, but John has been very active in the Denver music scene for a number of years. He plays with the Cedar Avenue Blues Band (which he started with Melanie Owen) and was with the Bluzinators prior to that. He was most recently the guitarist for Papa Juke and still does an occasional show with them (as well as bands such as the Resonatorz, K2B and others). John’s musical experience started in Europe in the early 70’s. The Allman Brothers, Clapton, Hendrix were his early influences, but he soon gravitated more towards the world of the blues. Freddie King was the catalyst; there was no recovery after that revelation.   Photo by Jim Drake/Drake Photography

John was living in Paris in the early 90’s when he decided to abandon outside distractions and concentrate on music. In the mid 90’s his band, TNK averaged over 200 dates per year and was a constant presence in the Paris music scene. When he isn’t performing you can find him at one of the many jams in the Denver area. Take the blues, ship it to Europe, mix it up, shake it around, add killer groove and you get the sound and flavor of the John Weeks Band. Their debut self-titled CD (2014) was based on classic blues lines, but they take it in a slightly different direction. You've got Delta, you've got Chicago, you've got Latin, you've got funk and even a flavor of modern dance groove! In November 20016, John Weeks Band released their new album "Dark Angel". The John Weeks Band is proud and honored to represent the Colorado Blues Society for the 2017 IBC in Memphis.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

I learned that there are a whole bunch of things I don’t know. The more I go along, the more it becomes apparent that I know very little. Also, the simplest solution is often the best solution. The blues is my connection to what really makes me tick.

What were the reasons that you started the Blues and Rock music researches and experiments?

This is what I do. I play. I was introduced to the guitar when I was 13 and I’ve never really stopped. When I have the result has been unhappiness. Playing guitar grabbed my gut from the beginning and it’s never let go. I may do other stuff and have other activities, but music and playing has been one of the constant threads in my life. It started with blues rock, delved more into rock then came back home to the blues. 

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

We all speak the same language. I’ve spent half my life in France, did the journeyman guitarist thing in Paris in the ‘90s, we all spoke the same language as in Colorado, it starts with 1-4-5 and goes from there. So where’s the problem, right? If we can do it others can do it, we are all a lot more alike than we care to admit.

How do you describe John Weeks sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

Driving--driven--quality--modern edge. Give those with whom you are playing room to do what they do best! Play like you mean it, every time----doesn’t matter if there are 7, 70, 700 or 7000 people in a room, always, always give it your all.

Photo by Richard Hawes

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

Very difficult question, all I can say is that it was probably the most difficult ones that were the most important.

“It’s not about the notes you play, it’s about the notes you don’t play”

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio which you’d like to share with us?

Specifically? I’d have to say that one of the most striking things recently is my having shared the stage at a jam with a woman who was 78 years old at the time and who just started playing harp. She was terrified, it was her first time on stage with the instrument, we were very “gentle”, she did great and was in 7th heaven. It was like the doors had opened on a whole new universe. Two years later, she just turned 80, she’s now out at jams pretty much every night of the week and she does it out the pure joy of playing and creating music. How would that have gone had we adopted the superior attitude that some people do? She would have been turned off and would have never come back. We would have never had the pleasure of the company of a person who has become a great friend to many of us in the blues community. Something to think about whenever that attitude of superiority creeps up on us. That’s probably why I’m a jam addict, that’s what it’s all about, sharing music and playing together. Keeps it real.

Make an account of the case of Blues in Denver, CO. what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

The blues in Denver is alive and very well. What is most encouraging is the number of rising young talents in the area. It’s pretty incredible and very inspiring. There are a lot of national act level young players in our town, too many to fully mention here, but these are people that will be keeping the blues alive for many, many years to come. Keep your eyes and ears out for AJ Fullerton, Nic Clark, Austin Young, Austin Johnson, Michaela Rae Knox, Taylor Orr, Andy Sydow and many, many more.  These people are seriously good. And, unfortunately, we have had to come together as a community repeatedly over the last 2 years to assist friends and associates who have become seriously ill. I am always touched by the solidarity that everyone here demonstrates when it comes to assisting those in need.

"Straight from the jazz exodus from the US (due to racial issues) to France in the 20’s, American blues has always had a huge place in France." (John Weeks on stage / Photo by Jim Drake)

What characterize DARK ANGEL sound and philosophy?

Interesting question. It’s a matter of progress. The band has changed completely since our last release (The John Weeks Band-self titled, 2014), so the sound has developed and matured. We have an extremely solid basis in the blues, but the lyrics, melodies and structures on some of these songs definitely branch out into other areas. “Impossible”, for example, is simple but the melody lines and arrangements are closer to Nashville than Memphis. Dan Haynes, who wrote 4 of the songs on “Dark Angel”, has been playing professionally since the mid ‘70’s and brings huge musical diversity to the band. You hear that in “The One” and “What does it take?” We like to explore different avenues.

For me, it’s all about the songs and the vocals. Listen to Stacey Turpenoff and you will understand. Listen to some of the harmonies.  That’s what people listen to and that is what people hear first. Write good authentic songs. Arrange them well. Layer all that over tight dynamic rhythms and you will get a result that people will remember.  Robert Fiorino and Stephen Whitfield are some of the best around when it comes to laying down a groove. Look, every good band these days probably has excellent players, but it’s the cohesion and the connection that make the difference. People hear that and pick up on it. Also, last note—this album is pretty close to live studio. It’s authentic and organic with pretty minimal engineering, so when you hear us play it live it sounds pretty much exactly like the CD. That was important to us.

What has made you laugh from studio sessions?

Ha! Good one. I don’t know about laugh, but I had a huge grin on my face many, many times from this last project. For example, Stacey was battling a cold during the final takes, we’re juggling stuff a little bit, trying to do the easier numbers first so that she didn’t blow out her voice—you should have seen it, inhalers, throat spray, throat lozenges, various different teas, you name it, the studio looked like an intensive care unit at one point—she deserves a medal for that effort, by the way, she was a real trooper. That was not easy. Anyway, it’s getting later, she’s doing the vocals on “The One”, we’re all in the control room and she all of a sudden comes out with this run that just floors us all. I had never heard her do it like that, it was just incredible. THAT was the take, it can be found right after the lead break and it still gets me every time I hear it. There were other moments, but that was a pretty good example of what one calls “a good moment”. Made me laugh and smile at the same time.

"Play like you mean it, every time----doesn’t matter if there are 7, 70, 700 or 7000 people in a room, always, always give it your all." (John Weeks Band / Photo by Jim Drake)

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

I don’t know if I miss anything, really. The ideas and principles remain the same, personalities and dates change, but the essence is the same. I get the same rush from playing now as I did when I was 16. I get the same feeling of oneness when everything clicks in a band and we have a “moment”. That’s what it’s all about, for me at least. I have no fears and I have no worries. There are young people today who are just as passionate about Sonny Boy Williamson, Junior Wells, Freddie King, not to mention Stevie Ray, Hendrix (the greatest blues guitarist ever--period) as I was about my idols in my youth. The passion continues and it always will.

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

Maybe structure it so it could be just a tiny bit easier for good musicians to make an adequate living. 

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from US & UK to France?

Its not a line, it’s a superhighway. Straight from the jazz exodus from the US (due to racial issues) to France in the 20’s, American blues has always had a huge place in France. In the 90’s Luther Allison played at little bars and clubs in Paris as did many, many others. I listened to a lot of excellent players in Paris at that time and played the same scene. It was thriving.

What are the differences between European and American scene? 

Ha! You probably know better than me, I haven’t played in Europe since the late 90’s. I have friends that tour on a regular basis in Germany and France, though; they do well, so I imagine things haven’t changed a lot. I know that opportunities for authentic American players exist now as they did then. Same rules apply here as there--once you get out of your home base you become a name--sometimes the more miles the bigger the name...

"The blues in Denver is alive and very well. What is most encouraging is the number of rising young talents in the area. It’s pretty incredible and very inspiring." (Photo by Jim Drake)

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

As mentioned before, the act of playing grounds me emotionally. If I get too full of myself my playing suffers. It’s a great reality check! With respect to your question, I guess the last thing that got through to me is when a woman came up to me after a show and told me that one of my songs had hit her so hard that she was brought to tears, in that I had described her current situation precisely--I guess that’s what the blues is--Tommy Castro said recently that his songs are snippets of little episodes of his life--I think that describes it pretty well. We are all human beings, a lot of us go through the same stuff, putting it to words and music makes the burden somewhat more tolerable, I guess. Laugh?  I do it all the time. This is a hoot! I get to act like a 13 year old, play music like there’s no tomorrow and people enjoy it! I’m 57 years old and relieved of the burden of trying to figure out what to do when I grow up. What more can you ask for?

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

These are tough and difficult times. Blues music and culture can lead by example. Let me explain--the weekend immediately after our election the Colorado Blues Society had an awards event. This was a community wide event, and we all came together without overt mention of current events. Given the nature of the discourse these days that is a pretty amazing thing. There were more than likely divergent opinions in the room, but the reason for our being there was to celebrate music and honor our own. We managed to put it aside for the good of all. If it can be done there it can probably be done elsewhere, but it takes a little goodwill and some awareness of and respect for others. If that message can get out I’d call that a positive impact. Beyond that, I can’t answer your question.  I just try to keep my side of the street clean.

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

God, so many choices! I’m a total music gear head, got a couple of older guitars and amps, maybe go back to the late 50’s, early to mid sixties, wander around South side Chicago (or any other place where blues is played), just take in the sound, vibe and tone of that period. What a trip that would be! Hey, would I be allowed to throw a guitar in that time machine for the return trip? If so please sign me up!

John Weeks Band - Home

Jonh Weeks on guitar & vocals, Stacey Turpenoff on vocals, Andras “AC” Csapo on keyboards, harmonica & vocals, Curtis Hawkins on bass and Tim “Chooch” Molinario on drums (Photo by Jim Drake)

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