Interview with NYC guitarist Lee Delray, his sound is a direct result of the melting pot in which he grew up

"I miss a lot of the space. Guitar players nowadays have a tendency, present company included, to play too many notes. Albert King did more with 15 notes than anybody ever could with 50 notes."

Lee Delray: Brand New Blues Code

Lee Delray was born in Florida and raised in N.Y.C., he started playing guitar at age 11 after finding an old flat top in a back corner of his garage. Lee gave up the guitar one year later for the drums after seeing a Krupa/Rich showdown on Johnny Carson's Show, but that didn’t last too long. Lee was captivated by a performance he saw of Alvin Lee & Ten Years After and begged his dad to buy him an electric guitar. But that was not Lee’s earliest influence to perform. Delray remembers his dad taking him to see Pete Seeger perform when he was about 7 years old. After spending his youth playing in bands ranging in styles from Rock-N- Roll to Punk, from Oldies to Country, Lee discovered the Blues. Or rather, the Blues discovered him via an old Muddy Waters Record given to him by a longtime friend and fellow musician Duke Lee. Delray notes his main influences in the Blues as Albert King, B.B. King, Albert Collins, Jimmie Vaughan, Luther Allison, Jimmy Reed, Hound Dog Taylor, Eric Clapton, and Freddie King. Since forming his own band in 1998 Lee has played with or shared the bill with some of the finest musicians in the world of Blues as Johnny Winter, Phil Guy, Tom Holland, Eric Sardinas, Popa Chubby, Johnny Charles, Lucky Peterson, Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Hubert Sumlin, and James Cotton.

Lee’s album “570-BLUES” is getting airplay in over 15 countries and over 40 US states, and rapidly building a worldwide fan base. He has also been compared to more modern artists like Tommy Castro, Chris Cain, and Bryan Lee. In 2016 Delray won the IBC challenge again and will represent the 2nd Story Blues Alliance in Memphis in January of 2017. Although he loves to listen to and play “Traditional” style Blues Lee Delray is not just a recycler… He is an innovator who is not afraid to push the limits of the Blues. Lee Delray’s latest release “Brand New Man” (2016). Lee Delray is the first to intertwine Blues and Hip Hop on the same record. Lee brought on Rapper Young Chizz and Deejay Nogood on the track “First String Man” to do some things on a Blues tune that have never been done before. Also in 2016 Delray had the honor of being asked to join the bill at B.B. Kings NYC for a sold out show with Grammy award winning guitarist Paul Nelson and great Blues artist Joe Louis Walker.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Photos by Curtis J. Quinn and Brian Lemburg  / All rights reserved

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

I was playing a lot of rock and roll that had very strong influences from Chuck Berry, Alvin Lee, and Jimi Hendrix. Amusical friend, Duke Lee, played me a Muddy Waters record, and told me that this is where all the stuff that I was listening to came from. That was 1990, and I've been hooked on the blues ever since.

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

To me the blue is a way of life. I know that is a cliché answer, but the blues has always been a part of my life. It encompasses everything I do. To me, the blues means everything that I am, that I was, and that I ever will be. It's been my pain, my suffering, my anger, my happiness, my joy, and most of all, my madness all wrapped into one. I can equate the feeling to Robert Johnson's song "Hellhound on my Trail". The blues is something I could never get away from. The blues is something I lived before I even knew what the blues was. The blues was never something I just wanted to do because it was cool or I liked the music. It was more of a religious experience, for lack of a better term, a calling. I didn't really know what I was listening to, but I knew I had to dedicate the rest of my life to it.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?

Without being overly specific, let's just say I've traveled down many roads... I have lived life in many different parts of the country, and at times, with no place to call home. Other times, with somebody telling me what place I had to call home. I have lived, I have laughed. I have known love in many different forms, and I have met with death on its most personal level.

"The blues was never something I just wanted to do because it was cool or I liked the music. It was more of a religious experience, for lack of a better term, a calling. I didn't really know what I was listening to, but I knew I had to dedicate the rest of my life to it." (Photo by Brian Lemburg)

How do you describe Lee Delray sound and progress, what characterize your music philosophy?

My sound is a direct result of the melting pot in which I grew up, that being New York City. I was exposed to a lot of different kinds of music growing up, and as a young man I played in any genre band that would let me play. Back then all I could really do was hear in my head the things I was trying to play. Nowadays, I can mostly PLAY the things that I'm hearing in my head.

Which is the most interesting period in your life? Which was the best and worst moment of your career?

I find the period I am in now to be the most interesting, especially since the release of "570-BLUES" and all the cool stuff that has happened over the past year. I've met a lot of great people in the industry, locally, regionally, and nationally. I love the current line up that I am playing with right now. I've been working without a permanent bass player since the untimely death of bassist Gil Cruz two years ago. Along with drummer Papa John Mole, who is still with me, Gil was one of the original members of the Bill Perry Blues Band. Gil was an amazing talent and human being. Gil Cruz on bass and Papa John Mole on drums have been referred to as "the" rhythm section and the pocket from Hell. Bassist Bill Coleman joining the band was like a breath of fresh air. I had been working with some very good players around the tri-state area and things were more or less off the cuff at the live shows. I mean they had the material and everything, but from a demographics standpoint, rehearsals were just about non-existent. It was more or less like hiring a hitman to whack somebody. You give them the information, the location, and how much the job pays, and hope for the best. It will be nice to work more as a band now. I was really excited in the 30th International Blues Challenge in Memphis, TN. The best moment of my career was headlining a major blues festival with Johnny Winter and hanging out with him on his bus. The worst moment of my career was getting stabbed in the face and stomach multiple times on the way into a gig.

What characterize your new album “Brand New Man” philosophy?

Looking back over the past ten years or so, and the many life changing events that have taken place for me, I quite honestly thought to myself many times, "I don't know how I am going to get through this. One thing has remained a constant... my music.  Sometimes it has been the only thing that has allowed me to make it through another day. All these emotions have to come out one way or another, and my release has been my music. Brand New Man, for me, was a way to transform. A way to take all the negative and turn it into something positive. The album is dedicated to my father, who passed away earlier this year.

"I'd like to see American Roots Music back in the mainstream like it once was, without corporate major label influence." (Lee Delray from “Brand New Man” album's cover, 2016 / Photo by Curtis J. Quinn)

What has made you laugh and what touched (emotionally) you from studio sessions?

One of the most important songs to me on this record is "Yesterday's Tears", which I wrote almost ten years ago, after a messy divorce, with my two youngest daughters in mind.  This song was originally intended to be on 570-BLUES, but I wasn't emotionally ready to release it yet. I had recorded the track about a year prior with a different rhythm section than the other 9 tracks. The session files got corrupted, and I thought all the songs were gone. So I re-recorded the album, but never re-recorded yesterday's tears. I wound up not loving one of the trackson the new recordings, and needed another tune, but had no time to record another.  I was looking through the harddrive for something else, and came across a back-up copy for "Yesterday's Tears" only.

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

I think every time you meet somebody in the industry it is an important meeting. I try to learn something from everybody that I run into musically. Even if I don't agree with it, or necessarily like it, at least I've learned it. I was once told "Be true to yourself, and the rest will follow".

From the musical point of view what are the differences between the local blues scenes around the States?

It seems that different places you go, different areas have their different things that they do. Like for instance, you go to Poughkeepsie, NY, say... Those guys out there are very clean players. Mostly just a guitar and a chord right into the amp. A lot of them play with a very traditional West Coast type of sound. Then you go over the bridge to the Hudson Valley, and you find players that use more pedals, overdrives, delays, etc. You know, more of a Blues Rock sound with a funky flavor. Then you go out to New Jersey, and you don't find a lot of pedals out there either, but they are playing with more of that raw Chicago sound. More straight 1, 4, 5 shuffle feels through cranked up tweed style amps and such. What I have noticed is that it boils down to usually at some point there was a local player, sometimes a local player that went national, that everybody had looked up to that kinda set the tone for that area.

Make an account of the case of the blues in New York. How do you describe NYC blues scene?

Most of the clubs are gone, but the music is still there.  The cats that have always been there playin' are still there making music.  There's also a lot of new stuff coming out of New York as well that is getting a lot of international exposure.

"My sound is a direct result of the melting pot in which I grew up, that being New York City. I was exposed to a lot of different kinds of music growing up, and as a young man I played in any genre band that would let me play." (Photo by Curtis J. Quinn)

What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?

There are lots of memorable gigs, but the two that stand out the most for me was headlining a major Blues festival on a Friday night, with Johnny Winter headlining Saturday. Just seeing my name and photo on the bill next to his was very surreal. I also opened for James Cotton. What more can you say about Mr. Cotton. He was the man who played with the man who invented electricity.

Are there any memories from the late great Johnny Winter and James Cotton which you’d like to share with us?

It was an absolute honor to headline a festival with blues legend Johnny Winter. I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity to spend some time with him before he passed. What's to say about James Cotton that hasn't already been said... to be invited on in support of such a musical innovator and icon was truly amazing.

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

Because it's really only one of the music forms that hasn't been defiled by corporate America.

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

I'd like to see American Roots Music back in the mainstream like it once was, without corporate major label influence.

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

I miss a lot of the space. Guitar players nowadays have a tendency, present company included, to play too many notes. Albert King did more with 15 notes than anybody ever could with 50 notes.                                                       (Lee Delray / Photo by Curtis J. Quinn)

"I think the Blues serves as a common ground where people from all different races, creeds, and religious backgrounds can all meet at the crossroads, without judgement and in harmony."

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

The line that connects it is the one that's always been there. Every American music form is rooted in the Blues. So at some point it has to surface in one way or another.

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

I think the Blues serves as a common ground where people from all different races, creeds, and religious backgrounds can all meet at the crossroads, without judgement and in harmony.

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better blues musician?

It's hard to leave behind the pain and suffering of your past. Being able to draw on my hard times and my pains is an outlet and release of the negative emotions, which turns them into a positive reaction.

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

I would have liked to spend the day at that final Buddy Holly show, February 3, 1959. The day the music died. Buddy was an incredible influence on me throughout my life. I would love to go back that day and just shake his hand and thank him for all he's done for music.

Lee Delray - official website

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