Interview with Mexican blusero José Luis García Fernández, director/editor of must-read “Cultura Blues”

"I hope that the blues will be granted the importance it deserves and, without mass marketing, comes to have a better market position."

José Luis García Fernández:

Cultura Blues - Hecho en México

Mexican José Luis García Fernández is director and editor of internet magazine “Cultura Blues”. For Mexican blues lovers, or bluseros, the Cultura Blues is a must-read source of information about upcoming concerts. In addition features to the regular reviews, interviews and many mores about the blues music. His personal training includes studies in Digital Systems Engineering Computers at the Instituto Politécnico Nacional and Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana. His musical keyboards and composition studies conducted at the Universidad de la Música G. Martell. He's keyboardist, guitarist and songwriter; has been part of the blues bands: La Rambla, Solaris Blue, La Gran Banda de Blues, Los Cerdos Lúdicos and Rhinoceros Blues band.

He has participated in the recording of two albums: Eres Tú Sólo Blues - La Rambla (2009) and Semilla de Blues - Solaris Blue (2010), recorded on a theme for the compilation cd De México a Mississippi. Tributo a B.B. King (La Rambla 2007) participated in two subjects for demo cd Rhinoceros Blues band (2014). He participated in eight live tracks for the cd of the XIV Festival Internacional Aguas-Blues (2010). He participated in two live tracks for the cd Alicia en el País del Blues (La Rambla and Solaris Blue 2014). Several of his songs recorded for these groups have appeared on other CD compilations. 

He is executive producer of the coupled discs: "Nacidos Bajo Un Buen Signo" (2012), with 14 local bands, and "Nacidos Bajo Un Buen Signo 2" (2014), with 15 bands from Mexico. He is a founding member of the Mexican Association of Blues, Blues, Arte Musical A.C., for 5 years was in charge of the website of this civil association (2006-2011). He collaborated with the team of organizers of the Festival Nacional de Blues en Mineral de Pozos, Guanajuato: Pozos-Blues, (as part of La Rambla 2007-2012). It was the former editor of online magazine "Palabra de Blues" (2009-2011), is compiler and author of the book: Palabra de Blues: Antología I posted by Editorial Endora (2010). Creator and co-producer of internet radio program: Palabra de Blues... Al Aire!!! (2009-2010).

Interview by Michael Limnios

How important was music in your life? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

Music has always been a part of my life, but particularly since the early 70s which is when The Beatles’ film "Let It Be" came out; when my love of rock, and a little later, my love of the blues (when I heard John Mayall) began.

In the mid-70s, I joined my first blues-rock band "Super Lazy" playing rhythm guitar. Then I joined another local band – that was about five years of practicing and hardly any concerts. That was my first stage as a musician.

For over 25 years, I have always been in the middle of rock and blues. I gradually acquired a large collection of CDs and videos – all formats – in this period, and I also learned how to play keyboards.

Finally, in late 2005, I dusted off my instruments and went back to studying music and playing. I played keyboards in a band called "La Rambla" (2006-2012), and soon after that, in "Solaris Blue" (2006-2011) which was an alternative project. Currently, I am in another group "The Rhinoceros Bluesband".

Music is a way of being in harmony with the universe. It helps me to be a better person; it is my source of energy, and my inspiration for many of the activities that I am currently involved with.

How started the thought of Cultura Blues? What characterize magazine’s philosophy and mission?

The Cultura Blues project, the digital magazine, started in May 2010 with the publication of the first issue of its predecessor: Palabra de Blues (No. 0), which, as a founder and an active member, in charge of updating and designing the webpage, I suggested should be published on the webpage of the Mexican Blues Association (Asociación Mexicana de Blues A.C.,). I was in charge of directing and editing this project for two years (we published 25 issues). Then after disagreements with the president of the Association and other members, I decided to leave, end the cycle of that magazine and start-up Cultura Blues as an independent project.

Cultura Blues is a comprehensive project aimed at disseminating the Blues genre, the origin of Western popular music. It is mainly published as an electronic journal on its official website of culturablues.com and has been published every first of the month, from May 2011 to date.

The project currently includes organizing concerts with blues bands in the Mexico City and surrounding area and, on special occasions, other parts of Mexico. These events are complemented by workshops, clinics, a film club, exhibitions, conferences, and various other cultural activities.

As part of this promotion, in the areas of dissemination and logistics, Cultura Blues has supported a range of organizations that are conducting blues-rock-jazz events, such as meetings, festivals and presentations, including almost all the musical groups who play blues in Mexico, from beginners starting up, to those who are well-known.

Cultura Blues organised the production of an independent CD anthology, one of the first, with 14 completely original songs by 14 bands from 9 different states in Mexico (this was ‘Born Under A Good Sign. Blues Made in Mexico 2012’).

In May 2014, as part of the celebration of Cultura Blues’s third anniversary, we are publishing the second album: ‘Born Under a Good Sign 2. Traditional and Contemporary Blues made in Mexico’; this includes 15 projects from 5 different states in Mexico, bringing together musicians with extensive experience, and artists who are new on the national scene.

 

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

Various things in recent years: for example, that dreams can come true; that its character, born of communities of slaves and the needy, is of great value, and this is because, even though it is at the roots of contemporary popular music, it is still distanced from marketing. And that pleases me, I prefer quality to quantity. I'd far rather do what I like than I am told to like.

The blues means to me ... well, everything, now. It has become a substantial part of my life. No day goes by without my listening to the blues. No day goes by without my doing something related to the magazine, the dissemination of blues, or playing something on my guitars or keyboards.

Perhaps the mission of this part of my life is just that ... to preserve the blues.

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

Because I believe that every day, at the same time, in many parts of the world, there are people who are interested in discovering the roots of rock or contemporary popular music in general. There are people listening to blues on the radio, television or film and they like it. Or even, like me, I'm sure there are people around the world who do all sorts of things to preserve the blues.

"Music is a way of being in harmony with the universe. It helps me to be a better person; it is my source of energy, and my inspiration for many of the activities that I am currently involved with."

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

What I miss most are the legends, the creators of the blues, the idols. Although there are nowadays really amazing musicians and new performers, there hasn’t been anyone – so far – who has picked up the baton and given contemporary blues a new direction.

I hope that soon someone will come along who is on a par with those legends.

I hope that the blues will be granted the importance it deserves and, without mass marketing, comes to have a better market position.

I do not fear for the future of the blues. There will always be some lunatic out there who stands up for the blues, in spite of the vast amount of worthless popular music that the music business and show business floods us with.

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

They say that the blues did not appear in Mexico until the late 60s, after the flowering of rock and roll, and the revival in England; yet, while many of us agreed that we liked it, we listened to it, we did not really know that it was blues, we still thought it was rock and roll.

In the late seventies, to be exact, in May 1978, BB King did his first ever concert in Mexico (a concert that has a special place in my memory because I managed to work my way backstage and got his autograph on my ticket). A little later, in October that year there was the first ever Blues Festival, thanks to the invaluable efforts of my good friend Raul De la Rosa. There were legends like John Lee Hooker and his Coast To Coast Blues Band, Willie Dixon and Chicago Blues Allstars, the Jimmy Rogers Blues Band with "Big" Walter Horton, among others, Sunnyland Slim and the young Billy Branch. This was the seed that started the taste for the blues in Mexico. Later on, there were sequels to this festival: the second was in 1979 with the presentation of Blind John Davis, Willie Dixon and Chicago Blues All Stars, Muddy Waters and his Blues Band, the Son Seals Blues Band, Koko Taylor and her Blues Machine, and others. In 1980, at the third, there was Carey and Lurrie Bell, Eddie Clearwater, Willie Dixon and Lightnin 'Hopkins, among others.

The fourth – the 1982 one – had to be cancelled, so acts like "Big" Joe Williams, "Magic" Slim, Larry Davis, "Queen" Sylvia Embry, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Larry Davis and Betsy Pecanins (Mexican musicians were included for the first time) did not perform. The fifth, in 1983, was called the “Jazz and Blues Festival” and was attended by Taj Mahal, Son Seals and Lonnie Brooks, "Blind" John Davis, Juan José Calatayud, Norma Valdez and Nan Redi, "Papa" John Creach, Margie Bermejo and Betsy Pecanins. In 1984, the sixth had "Papa" John Creach, Betsy Pecanins, Real de Catorce and Guillermo Briseño.

The modest 7th festival (1988), featured: the "Big" Pete Pearson Blues Band, Real de Catorce and Betsy Pecanins. The 9th was a huge affair with the participation of Charlie Musselwhite, Freddie Robinson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Real de Catorce, Betsy Pecanins and Javier Batiz. It was another 10 years before the ninth took place, but before that happened, there was a massive event: the Mexico City Jazz & Blues Festival in 1992, an unforgettable night featuring: BB King, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. The second edition of this event, later in 1992, featured: BB King, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Robert Cray and Robben Ford. The 9th Festival, which was held in 1998, had Sista Monica, Maurice Vaughn, Eddie Shaw & Wolf Gang, Shirley Johnson & Gospel Supremes.

The tenth festival took place in 2006 and starred: Jaime Lopez, Super Chikan & Fighting Cocks, the Otis Taylor Band, Billy Branch & the Sons Of The Blues, Betsy Pecanins and Cecilia Toussaint, Zora Young, Shirley Johnson, Peaches Staten with the Dave Specter band, the John Lee Hooker Jr. Band, Dave Specter and The Siegel-Schwall Band with Marcy Levy, Claudia Ostos and Dalia Negra, Señoritas De Aviñón, Sociedad Acústica, Charro y Moon Howlers and Vieja Estación.

Finally, the eleventh took place in 2007: the Siegel-Schwall Band with the Philharmonic Orchestra of the State of Puebla, Serpiente Elástica, México Blues All Stars, Marcy Levy with the Siegel-Schwall Band, La Gran Banda de Blues, where I took part myself, playing keyboards, Guitar Shorty, Sacbé, Peaches Staten, Sharon Lewis & Kate Davis with The Dave Specter Band, Ana Popovic, Bill Morganfield and The Hoochie Coochie Boys Band as well as Canned Heat with Javier Batiz.

It’s difficult to talk about the national blues scene, because over time very few bands and musicians have been professional or have dedicated themselves entirely to blues music. Outstanding acts from those years have been, as I said earlier, people like Javier Batiz and Betsy Pecanins. Real de Catorce have arguably been the most successful, although in truth, they played a fusion of blues with rock, boogie, pop and jazz, releasing 10 albums in their first stage; but in the second, just one double album, with a line-up including only one of the founders, the leader of the band, José Cruz, composer, singer, guitarist and harmonica player.

Real de Catorce and Follaje are the bands that have lasted from the 80s up to now. Most groups of the older groups throughout the country were founded in the late 90s. The majority began more recently. These include: Radio Blues, La Dalia Negra, Las Señoritas de Aviñón, La Rambla (where I played for 6 years), Fonzeca-Caja de Pandora Project, La Blues Band, Monroy Blues, JC Cortés Band, Estación Monrovia, Blues Demons, Rhinoceros Bluesband (my current band); among many others across the country. In just the last 18 years, there have sprung up blues festivals with these blues bands, representing blues made in Mexico and some international artists, the most prominent being Aguas-Blues, held in the city of Aguascalientes, the National Blues Reunion in Mexico City, the International Jazz and Blues Festival in Zacatecas, the Pozos Blues Festival in Guanajuato, and more recently, the Blues and Jazz Festival in Salvatierra, Guanajuato, among others.

There are very few places where the blues is played in Mexican cities. In the capital, the club par excellence is the Blues Club Ruta 61, founded 10 years ago, which has hosted most of the Mexican groups and some international blues figures, mainly from Chicago.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of blues U.S. and UK to Mexico?

The blues of the United States and the United Kingdom have been by far the most important in the history of blues in Mexico, probably making up 99% of the blues that is listened to. The remaining 1% is by bands from Argentina and Chile in South America, and some from Spain. Blues from other countries is almost unknown.

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

The work we have been doing with Cultura Blues has both made me laugh and feel deeply satisfied: the publication of the magazine, which recently won a grant from the National Fund for Culture and the Arts (FONCA), and support for and organization of events involving over 50 bands on the local scene. Another thing has been organizing two albums (Born Under A Good Sign. Blues Made in Mexico and Born Under A Good Sign 2. Traditional and Contemporary Blues Made in Mexico), bringing together songs from 28 different bands in the country.

What has changed and touched me emotionally as regards the local scene is that, in recent years, I have seen the growth of fans, presentations, the number of bands and the interest of the public and young people, to the point that they are forming bands.

This means that our work here is already bearing fruit.

If you could change one thing in the local blues scene and become a reality, what would it be?

There are a number of things that I would like to change. First, I would like the blues circuit to become more and more professional, respecting the individual style that each band chooses, I’d like more people to go to the concerts, have more albums produced, and I’d like us to have more attention and support from government agencies.

I would like our music to reach more children and young people so that they can see that there are other musical alternatives, not just the purely commercial and popular material imposed by the media.

"I miss most are the legends, the creators of the blues, the idols."

Is there some memory of festivals, interviews and collaborations that would like to share with us?

Of course I'd love to share this information with you – I think the best place to go is to previous issues of the magazine, which you can find in site Culture Blues.

And also, if you wish, you can get the complete collection plus 25 back issues of our predecessor magazine Palabra de Blues as PDF files.

What is the best advice you have ever given to you? And what advice would you give to musicians of Mexican blues?

One of the pieces advice most frequently given on the blues circuit is to listen to and pure traditional blues – always and all the time, and that will help you to play and make good blues.

However, the advice I have given, and would still give blues musicians, is to be open to a greater knowledge of music, not just traditional blues, but also contemporary blues, and - as well - to listen to all kinds of music, that will make the best blues musicians in every way: as, if they've heard all sorts of music, and still love blues more than anything else, it means that it is your most genuine taste, interpretation and way of playing.

Suppose we take a trip in a time machine, where - and why - you really would like to go for a whole day?

It's a very difficult question to answer, but well, it would be three places:

1 In the past I would like to go back to something personal, one of true blues: back to when I was 5 to see how my life was with my mother, because three days after I turned 6 years old, she passed away and I cannot remember her voice or the way she looked.

2 In the future, there would be two scenarios:

a. As a musician, playing with my band somewhere in Europe.

b. As a spectator, at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival.

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