Interview with Hungarian blues trio of Mojo Workings - A refreshing viewing in the old good days of Blues

"It's the feelings what people always find in blues time after time. It's so colorful that it's inexhaustible; there is always a novelty in it."

Mojo Workings: The Art of Blues

Mojo Workings is a blues roots trio from Hungary. After about a year playing together occasionally, Mojo Workings finally formed in 2011. Members coming with three different musical taste and background resulted a peculiar sound of the trio combining traditional blues, country, pop and beat. With part-singing and introducing specific instruments like didley-bow, stompbox, harmonetta, bass harmonica in some of the songs, the guys try to push the limits of a regular trio and make their sound even more varicolored.

Their first album "Back in The Day" released in December, 2012. It contains original songs as well as Peter Green, Paul Butterfield and Woody Guthrie covers. The Mojo Workings are: Horváth János on acoustic guitar, stompbox, vocal; Honfi Imre on electric guitar, diddley-bow, vocal; and Szabó Tamás on harmonicas, harmonetta, bass harmonica, vocal.

László says “By the time I get there, acquaintanceship awaits, and they’re waiting for the music to start. Before we begin, a quick visit to the counter for a barley pop, joy chugging. Sick and tired of this day, let me take a seat near the three blues doers, somewhere near… in the middle of the second row. Got my good session beer and the guys start playing, suddenly the music brings cheekiness to this intimate mood, life as a whole, being, being awake, everyone loves it, I look around and immediately think to myself hey, this is a great place to pick up on some hynas.” 

Horváth János, Honfi Imre and Szabó Tamás talks about the Blues, Alexis Korner, and local scene.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Honfi: As a child I was mainly listening to beat music (Beatles, Creedence). Then I met the blues through their music and later only I listened to the blues legends (Robert Johnson, Johnny Winter, Freddy King). The better I discovered the blues the stronger I had the feeling this was the real music with its puritanism and freedom.

Horváth: The wide varied emotions were what I found in the blues, that's what took me by in blues music. Most of the times a tight sustained note on the guitar or just the groove without any solos have more feelings than a fast, technically brilliant solo. My first met with blues was Eric Clapton's Unplugged album. Then he made me discover his heroes who I listen to since then, Freddie King became one of my favorite.

Szabó: As a child I first started to learn classical piano then I started playing trombone as a teenager but it didn't go too well. Then I started to play harmonica and I meet the blues through learning about the instrument. My biggest heroes were Paul Butterfield and Sonny Boy Williamson, I really liked their sound. I also listened to other music like Led Zeppelin or Deep Purple but I always liked the songs I could discover the blues in. It's a feeling inside which I can't really describe. It's just there.

How do you describe your sound and what characterize Mojo Workings philosophy? What is the story behind the name of band?

Honfi: I like simple guitar sounds. Most of the time I plug my Gibson ES135 straight to my Fender Supersonic amp. Sometimes I experiment with some pedals but finally I always go back to straight-to-the-amp way. The sound is mostly up to you and the way you play on your instrument anyway.

Mojo Workings philosophy? Three roads towards the same direction. This means both of us came from different musical worlds and listening to different music. We even have different playing styles and this makes our music exciting and unusual. Folk styled harmonica playing can suit our soundscape just as much as guitar scales used in pop or beat music.

Horváth: Well, it's just a play on words made of "Work" and "Kings". And of course there is the famous Muddy Waters song "Got My Mojo Working" in it, tough it's originally an Ann Cole song. Also, it's very important for us to achieve time by time something magical, mojo happening on the stage when we play and "mojo" in our name refers to this.  I'd like to have as natural acoustic guitar sound as possible. It’s really difficult on stage and research never ends I like to play simple things, simple grooves on the guitar because the most important is the atmosphere I'd like to create. Also, I learnt classical guitar for 10 years which affected my playing.

Szabó: There's no serious philosophy, we got together and we make music together. The most important is that the team works well from the personal point of view.  Lately I have been playing mostly acoustic and so, I also do in this band. I use many different harmonicas from harmonetta through bass harmonica to blues harp. 

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

Honfi: Blues is an universal genre such as Hungarian folk music. Of course blues is built on different harmonies but these genres are changing only a little by adopting some themes of other genres. As Willie Dixon said "The blues are the roots, everything else is the fruits."

Horváth: It's the feelings what people always find in blues time after time. It's so colorful that it's inexhaustible; there is always a novelty in it.

Are there any memories from recording and show time which you’d like to share with us?

Honfi: We played at the Puistoblues festival in Finland this summer on one of the main stages in front of around 1500 people. That was a pretty great moment :) Also we had a great jam session during the closing party with members of Curtis Salgado Band.

Horváth: I participated on a seminar called Mix With The Masters in a studio in South-France this summer held by the 22 time Grammy-winning recording and mixing engineer Al Schmitt. He is famous from his natural, airy sounding records. Then, when we made a video clip covering Alexis Korner's song Sunrise in the summer, I mixed and mastered the audio. It was a challenge because we recorded the song in our rehearsal space as the most important was to have the best atmosphere. After mixing I sent the result to Al who commented it was a very natural sounding mix which I was very proud of.

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

Horváth: I think people will always listen to music. However, music listening habits are completely changed. Now we listen to mp3s or listening music through youtube or in the car, we don't sit down to put on an LP as in the early days. It's a real challenge for a band today to make people interest in your music. You can upload your music to countless places but nobody will find it unless you find a way to direct people to these places. My only fear for the future of music is that at some point real instruments will disappear.

Szabó: I think there's much more "shine" in blues nowadays than what the genre would require. It's a simple music; you don't always have to do something special. There are a lot of technically brilliant musician but very often they rape the genre. I listened to a lot of traditional blues and they always sang, played guitar or harmonica simply. I don't like today's trendy blues harmonica players who play with technics different from blues style.

Do you know why the sound of harmonica is connected to the blues? What are the secrets of?

Szabó: It's interesting, because there are other genres played on harmonica such as jazz or classical music yet everybody connects the instrument to the blues. The blues existed much earlier than the harmonica. Then an instrument developed further by the Germans suddenly got America. In Europe, it's been used in kraut music. There's no secret. The instrument has an intimate sound which people love. This is the only musical instrument without transposal, namely, the sound is directly made by the mouth and the tongue.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Hungary. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Honfi: There are a few clubs in Hungary where you can play blues. Mostly, the trendy musical genres predominate. The most interesting period is the Gastroblues Festival in every summer which we could also play at this summer.

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

Honfi: American blues is mostly instinctive while European blues is rather edited, "well-set". Blues directions closer to rock or rock-blues are more predominated in Hungary.

Horváth: I believe the well known blues musicians come from the US or UK which is understandable as its their folk-music and thus an elemental part of their culture. We, Hungarians have different roots. The real challenge for us is to get in to the international rotation even though.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Alexis Korner and continue to Skiffle and Joe Strummer?

Honfi: Honesty and simplicity.

Szabó: Alexis Korner was really important for me. I collected a lot of his records from Cyril Davis to his last era. He was a hero for a plenty of well known musicians. I would like to realize my own oeuvre similar to his. We made a video clip in this summer covering "Sunrise" which was one of his most beautiful songs from the content point of view. 

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

Honfi: Blues lives if there's agent for it. I can't have the same feelings with my pretty happy childhood as somebody with hard lines.

Horváth: You can't really hear blues music in the radio today but the blues lives in the pubs. This is how blues existed most of the time.

Szabó: Yes, I do believe. Maybe it's underground and invisible as it was in the '60s but it's the genre's flavor. I watch a Peg Leg Sam video and I can see him playing in a local food store for the customers. We don't play in supermarkets because it doesn't suit there. Blues always was and has to be about intimacy. 

You are also photographer, director with many projects like “Good Morning Mr. Blues” etc. Tell me about that?

Szabó: It's just a hobby for me but I like photography very much. Once I was about to deal with fine arts. The basic concept of "Good Morning Mr. Blues" was to make an album the way that Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson records made in the '50s, '60s, without any cut, editing or mixing. I thought I found those musicians in Hungary who were thinking the way I did, Long Tall Sonny and Rhythm Sophie. I think really great atmosphere takes were born almost without any mixing and with analogue recording techniques.  The album was also released in mono.

What experiences in your life have triggered your ideas most frequently? 

Szabó: You can't live off of playing only blues in Hungary, so, we are forced upon knowing a wider music scale. Most of the times ideas are coming from things happened in recent past. I tried myself in a lot of genres from electronic-classical music to folk but I always return back to the blues, that’s where I really feel myself home. 

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

Honfi: To 2113 in Mississippi delta to see if the blues still lives.

Horváth: I would go back to the club in London in the 60's when Eric Clapton could see Jimi Hendrix jamming with BB King.

Szabó: 2014. I played with a lot of well known blues musicians, Champion Jack Duprre, Big Jay McNeely, Otis Grand, Louisiana Red, Larry Garner, Wince Weber, Tim Lothar, etc. They are all authentic performers. I still keep in touch with the members of Blues Wire, especially with Elias Zaikos. I played with them many times around 15 years ago even in Greece. He is a fantastic performer and a conscious musician. I hope I can play again in Greece soon!

Mojo Working - official website

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