Interview with Native Americans son and father, Paul & Richard Steward - Twice As Good play the Blues

"All people of the world have a "Blues" music. That rootsy, earthy sound that their people do. In Vietnam, they play a single string instrument called the Dan Bau, that has a Blue crying/singing sound when played."

Twice As Good: Red Blood, Blues Roots

Twice As Good, or their acronym 2XG, is the professional name of the music duo formed by Paul Anthony Steward (Son, born 1984) and Richard James Steward (Father, born 1951) from Elem Indian Colony in Clearlake Oaks, CA on the shores of beautiful Clear Lake. Richard had grown up around music all his life, he learned to play guitar and sing from his Mother, Priscilla. Priscilla had learned music from her cousin Hank Gonzalez. Hank & the Country Classics was a favorite Country music singer of the Indian community around Clear Lake and Northern California. Later on, Hank taught and shared music and performance tips to Paul & Rich, even shared the stage with them in Twice As Good’s early years. Rich grew up admiring Country, Blues & Soul. He shared this music with his youngest Son, Paul.

They had played around with various bands in the beginning, gaining exposure and experience, working with an Indian group from Colusa Reservation called “Red Man Blues” that had broken up but in May 2003 they debuted as "Twice As Good, 2XG" at Terry's Southern BBQ in Santa Rosa, CA. Since then they have been all over the USA, independently released 6 albums, shared the stage with many legends and famous artists, and continue to garner success and praise with Paul leading the band through flashy show tunes, with soulful vocals, screaming guitar, and unbelievable stage presence.

Then back home in California, they were honored by the Bay Area Blues Society at the West Coast Blues Hall of Fame with an award for “Best New Blues Band of 2010” the 1st Native Americans to receive the award. Later in 2010 they continued to garner acclaim and recognition by winning the Last Band Standing Competition at Pala Casino in October. They beat 9 of Southern California's best bands by putting on an awesome show and putting out the Real Deal Blues. Then in November they proudly received the Award "Best Blues Recording 2010" for their album If That's All Right With You, and closed the awards ceremony show in Niagara Falls-NY rockin' the crowd and jamming with award winning actor Wes Studi (star of Geronimo: An American Legend). Onward they continue to spread the sounds of the West Coast Blues with a hint of the Indian Beat.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Richard: The blues has taught me that my troubles are not a curse they are part of life and only temporary. The blues gives me a way to confront adversity and come out smiling.

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

Richard: The music is real you just don’t hear it you feel it. The beat comes from the heart, the rhythm comes from the soul, and the words come from the spirit and the lead guitar come from heaven. Once you feel it you don’t want to let it go.

Paul: Because it's good. Because it is one of the roots of music. No roots no nothing.

"I hope that these people will continue to grow in recognition and listening. I hope that Blues will not be seen as old boring music. But, I do not fear change, as we must always be flexible and welcoming to new artists."

How do you describe Twice As Good sound and what characterize Paul and Richard’s philosophy?

Paul: Twice As Good's sound is the convergence between traditional and contemporary Blues music. My dad taught me the old-time traditional Blues which we both admire very much, and me being younger I have introduced him to modern sounds of my generation such as hip-hop, dance club, the resurgence of the 60s/70s soul sound, pedal-steel gospel, as well as added in flavor of all types of genres. We are Bluesmen first but but we are also musicians/entertainers and love all types of music as well. Even Robert Johnson mixed it up with his repertoire ("From Four 'Til Late" is a country song) and W.C. Handy put a Latin Caribbean beat in the middle of St. Louis Blues.

We believe like Albert Collins said, he wanted to play blues you can dance to. We also believe like B.B. King, he said once in one of his biographies that he wanted to play Blues but he wanted them to be modern. Can't argue with the King.

So dad and I try to make and play the music just like we like it. Dad holds a heavy rhythm; I play my guitar sweet and wild. A little old, a little new, but something you can move to.

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

Richard: Nothing I ever did compares to what I’m doing now, playing music with my son. My best jams and gigs are with him.

Paul: It's always great to play with my dad on stage. We are each other's favorite artists. One of my favorite surprise jams was getting on stage with Robert Randolph & the Family Band in Santa Rosa CA in 2007. He handed me a guitar and we tore into a funky groove with a whole lotta soul and blues.

One of my favorite gigs was the Catfish Blues Festival in Lakeport CA in 2013, we had Freddie Hughes (sang the R&B hit "Send My Baby Back" from 1968) and his son Derek Hughes singing together with Twice As Good backing them up. The two sang beautifully together. I borrow a lot of vocal styling from Freddie Hughes.

"The blues has taught me that my troubles are not a curse they are part of life and only temporary. The blues gives me a way to confront adversity and come out smiling."

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

Paul: I remember playing our song, "Back to Clearlake Oaks" at a show, (the Blue Wing Saloon in Upper Lake CA, sometime in 2011) when it was new and we'd just wrote it recently, and the groove was feeling so good I just wanted to play it all night! Everyone was dancing, even the whole band (Robert Watson on bass, Billy Johnson on drums, that night) had a smile on their face. We had a shuffle beat so strong and up-tempo it could've knocked you out of your chair. When we finished the song, the promoter of the show looked at us and gave me a look which I knew meant "you've got to record that song!"

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

Paul: We've had the honor to know and work with the great harmonica man Charlie Musselwhite. He's shared some great stories with us about his experiences, he said just keep doing what we do and keep growing.

Which memory from George Thorogood, Taj Mahal, Tower of Power, and Booker T. Jones makes you smile?

Richard: I guess I’ll have to say seeing them perform live on stage makes me smile.

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

Richard: I miss the pure real sounds that came from the instruments and talents of the artists. I hope artists return to this style but I fear more distortion and computer generated sounds will dominate music of the future.

Paul: I miss the people and their unique styles. I miss Magic Slim, Albert Collins, Luther Allison, Freddie King, Albert King, Big Joe Turner, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker Sr., Bobby Bland, Koko Taylor, Howlin' Wolf, and many more.

I hope that these people will continue to grow in recognition and listening. I hope that Blues will not be seen as old boring music. But, I do not fear change, as we must always be flexible and welcoming to new artists. If I don't give them a chance, why should I expect anyone to give us a chance?

Are there any memories from Charlie Musselwhite, Norton Buffalo and Super Chikan which you’d like to share with us?

Richard: Charlie Musselwhite is by far the most down to earth friendly and encouraging professional artists I have had the pleasure to meet. He has many great stories, especially in his early days when he knew Elvis Presley. Super Chikan is pure entertainment and a family guy. I saw him with his daughter playing drums. Norton I only knew as a great harmonica player who I had a chance to share the stage with.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with Soul and continue to Rock and Country music?

Richard: Besides great lyrics about hard times and fast women I believe a strong connection to gospel music is found in the music and artists in all genres.

Paul: Blues, Country, Gospel, and Marching/Fanfare/Ceremonial music were the roots of pop music at the beginning of the 1900's in America. Out of the three styles grew Jazz. Out of Jazz came Rhythm & Blues and Rock & Roll; from R&B came Soul. From Rock & Roll came Rock.

Trumpet man Buddy Bolden was playing his trumpet all Bluesy and gritty to Marching/Fanfare music when we created Jazz. Louis Jordan was playing Bluesy Jazz Swings with funny lyrics when he created Rhythm & Blues. Ike Turner was playing a Blues shuffle with a distorted guitar when we created his version Rock & Roll. Fats Domino and Little Richard were pounding the piano with Blues riffs when they created their version of Rock & Roll. Soul music was Gospel with Blues and Rhythm & Blues in it like what Wilson Pickett was doing.

How is a Native American to play the blues in USA? What's the message of Blues in the world civilization?

Richard: With passion, energy and excitement of Twice As Good in honor of the great blues men and women who came before us and are still with us today. Like Paul sings in his song, “The Blues is my Companion”. I truly believe that because anybody anywhere in the world can pick up an acoustic and make sweet Blues music. You don’t need an amplifier, electricity or sound effects just tap your feet and strum a great blues beat, like I did in my early days.

How is a Native American to play the blues in USA? What's the message of Blues in the world civilization?

Paul: My dad and I are modern living Native Americans. We know and experienced our traditional culture but we are modern. I've read an essay that claims or theorizes that the Native American traditional music and dances influenced the African American slaves that had been brought to America. If you listen to African music, the beats are complex and the tempo is slower to allow more variation. But the Native American pow-wow beat, among other notable sounds, is a fast driving steady 4-beat. Just like a modern bass-drum pounding out dance beats now, or like a Blues Boogie (Hound Dog Taylor's "Take Five"). So the Native American chants, shouts, and big drum pulse rhythm could have influenced the African-American people's development of the fast gospel songs such as "Have You Tried Jesus" - Calvin Cooke, or Boogie Woogie Blues.

Even of my father and I, our tribe does traditional ceremonial music in a round house built into the ground, dancing around a fire, that our people have been singing and dancing for hundreds of years. Where one of the singers stand is a hollow-wooden platform that he pounds a steady 4-beat on with a thick wooden pole. It is our bass drum. Some of the songs they sing are fast tempos just like a Blues Boogie, and I feel that energy of our Round House music when dad and I perform our songs like "I Love My Babe" or "Shake Your Money Maker" by Elmore James, or "Shake Your Hips" by Slim Harpo.

All people of the world have a "Blues" music. That rootsy, earthy sound that their people do. In Vietnam, they play a single string instrument called the Dan Bau, that has a Blue crying/singing sound when played. So on for other peoples and places. And everyone feels the blues, the emotion. For dad and I, the Blues has been empowerment. For us to take a music that has meant so much to us, perform it, and have it give us back joy and value, we have risen up and the Blues has healed us. For all people we sing, we shout out the Blues, we take away the sorrow, and bring joy.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine for the next 24 hours, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

Richard: I would like to take my son and go back to the Apollo Theater in its great days when you could see great blues legends like Muddy Waters, Albert Collins and B.B. King and many more great performers do their thing on stage on the same day.

Paul: I'd say, let's go to our tribal round house so you can see and hear what I'm talking about, because our tribe believes we cannot record or take the music out of the round house, that would bring a bad spirit. Then I would take you to a Magic Slim concert, and then a B.B. King concert and then you would know where Twice As Good is coming from. And we'll stop and eat some fried catfish on the way.

Twice As Good - official website

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