Interview with Roser Infiesta Valls, Mrs. Zúmel - she have a wide knowledge and offer on the blues world

"Blues has made me to be a better person, discover hidden feelings and develop some good qualities I have never thought I had."

Roser Infiesta Valls, Mrs. Zúmel: Señora del Blues

Roser Infiesta, together with her husband Vicente Zúmel, have a wide knowledge on the blues world. Since she was a teenager and as the years have been passing by, she has always loved and been involved on different blues fields. She helped in the organization of international blues festivals in Catalonia like Figueres, Valls, Reus or Hospitalet, that brought to play for the first time in Spain musicians like Louisiana Red, Hubert Sumlin, Luther Allison, Koko Taylor, Little Charlie & The Nightcats, Legendary Blues Band, John Hammond, Carey Bell, Albert Collins, or Pinetop Perkins among others.                                 Photo: Roser Blues with her husband Vicente Zúmel

Both Vicente and Roser have also collaborated with some national and international blues magazines, writing articles or sending pictures. From 1985 to 1999 she worked as manager of her husband band ‘Harmonica Zumel Blues Band‘, one of the first Spanish blues bands. She travelled all over Spain for gigs in the most important national blues events and festivals. She was founder and board member of Barcelona Blues Society and, from February 2005 to March 2009, she did secretary and communication with affiliates tasks, as well as organizing blues events and venues with local and international artists like Bob Margolin, Sugar Ray & The Bluetones, Rob Rio, Paul Oscher, Barrelhouse Chuck, Mississippi Heat, Bob Corritore or Dave Specter among others. She has and still collaborates with La Hora del Blues radio show, hosted by Vicente Zúmel, the pioneer Spanish blues radio program (30 years on air and now the eldest blues radio show in Spain), and in La Hora del Blues website. She regularly translates to English blues CD reviews (she has done about 3.000 till now) and they gather a collection of more than 5.500 blues records. She keeps updated La Hora del Blues website with reports, pictures, news and also runs the section Spanish blues gigs calendar that includes all blues gigs in Spain. Since 1983 the playlist is regularly submitted to Living Blues Radio Chart. Information from La Hora del Blues monthly arrive to more than 1.300 international record labels, more than 3.500 blues related people, managers, blues societies, magazines, musicians and fans all over the world, as well as the majority of blues involved people in Spain. La Hora del Blues belongs to The Blues Foundation in Memphis. Roser is a board member of the European Blues Union.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

At first it was my husband Vicente Zúmel (at that time it was my boy friend) who taught me about blues. I remember I didn’t know anything about blues. I loved Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Animals, Kings… but I specially loved music played by black musicians and the curious thing was that without knowing it I already loved blues songs. For example I remember I bought Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction” and also a song called “Little Red Rooster” that I really loved although I did not know it was a blues song. And the same happened with Canned Heat songs and in general all black music that I really loved. It was Vicente who made me discover and love it. I also remember that at that time he made me “blues tests”. He put a record and I had to know who was the artist playing and so on. So gradually I discover the real feeling of the blues.

Blues has made me to be a better person, discover hidden feelings and develop some good qualities I have never thought I had. I have met very interesting people and have done good friends too. Blues has also been my companion along the happy and sad moments in my life.

Now blues means lots of things to me. It has been and still is the music of my whole life. At home we only listen to blues, so blues is a very important part of my life. It has been always with me, in the happy and sad moments, so I could not imagine my life without blues.

Blues fills now my time, not only seeing it live in clubs or festivals but always doing a non-profit work. I have always helped my husband with La Hora del Blues website. There I run a Spanish blues gigs calendar that gathers blues gigs all over Spain. I’m board member of the European Blues Union a non-profit organization which aims to promote blues in Europe. I’m in touch with other blues friends and fans through facebook (roser blues). I have just started to do an Internet radio show “Black Cat Blues”. I report blues festivals and take pictures too. Since a couple of years my husband and I organize once a week live blues shows on a Barcelona museum (Museo Europeo de Arte Moderno, MEAM)… I can say my life is devoted to my husband and blues.

Basically the blues is a “natural” music. I mean it sounds almost the same in records or at live shows. Musicians feel what they play and do it because they really love blues and not for commercial or fashion interests. (Photo: Roser Blues with Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Kenny Smith)

Which was the best and worst moment as manager of Harmonica Zúmel Blues Band?

Generally speaking I do not remember bad moments at all. Perhaps our very first gigs, because we were very nervous. Or perhaps some arguments with club owners or managers about gig fees. But the most things I can remember are good moments. We enjoyed so much playing around Spain, going to small clubs to play where you can feel the audience reactions… Perhaps one of the most exciting moments was when we backed John Mayall in front or more than 5.000 people. This was unbelievable. I also remember that, at the end of the 80’s and the beginning of the 90’s., we were booked to play every year at the blues night that takes place at Terrassa Jazz Festival. First played the American artists and then at late night session played the Harmonica Zúmel Blues Band. As the American musicians were relaxed after their gig, they usually came on stage and jammed with us, so we had the pleasure to share stage with Memphis Slim, Champion Jack Dupree, Luther Allison, Carl Weathersby, Tyson Bell, Hezekiah Early, John Primer… One feeling I really loved of our live gigs was to arrive to a club to play. It was desert, in silence, there only were a bar tender and the sound man. The stage was cold and empty and we started to fill it with our gear. Gradually the lights turned on and that cold stage began to look full, warm and lively. After sound check we went out of the lonely silent club to eat somewhere… and when we came back all had changed… that cold lonely club was warm and crowded with people who wanted to enjoy our music. They began to clap their hands and dance when we started to play. It was great to see such an enormous change.

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

Basically the blues is a “natural” music. I mean it sounds almost the same in records or at live shows. Musicians feel what they play and do it because they really love blues and not for commercial or fashion interests. Followers can feel the musicians and themselves share the same passion for the blues and musicians are not distant “stars” but they are their colleagues.

Besides blues is a popular music that came from humble people and their stories reflect normal daily life, so audiences can identify themselves in the songs lyrics.

Finally I think that, as blues is music for memories, fans know they have to support it. So when they go to live shows they know that musicians and audiences share the same passion for the blues and this is a unique feeling other musical genres do not have.

There are very good technical musicians around Europe but many times they mix blues and rock. (Photo: Roser Blues and John Mayall)

What are the best jams you ever saw? Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?

There was a legendary club in Barcelona “La Cova del Drac” where we used to run a weekly blues jam session. In was always crowded and many local musicians came to play with us. There was a good atmosphere and I lived there some amazing moments. After Vicente retired from live music and while we were board members of Barcelona Blues Society (in fact we were among the founders too) we organized and coordinated a weekly jam session that every week changed the leading musicians. These jams became a meeting point for all local blues musicians and blues lovers and I really enjoyed them because I saw that both musicians and general people enjoyed them too. I lived there many unforgettable moments.

What are some of the most memorable concerts you've collaborated? Which memory makes you smile?

Uff! Difficult to say, because I’ve been always so happy to collaborate in bringing bluesmen to play. I have a special feeling when I remember Louisiana Red. He was a nice person and he always explained incredible stories. I remember once we bought him to play together with Hubert Sumlin. The day before to the gig we were at the hotel and Red was playing with his acoustic guitar and explaining a lot of incredible stories. Finally we went to rest and Hubert said he wanted to rest to be relaxed for the gig on the following day. When we came back the next day I asked Sumlin if he had slept well. He told me he did not sleep at all because Red came to his room and was playing guitar all night long asking him to play with him.

Also I have great memories of the years we collaborated with Hospitalet City Council and we were able to book artists like Koko Taylor, John Mayall, Muddy Waters Tribute (with Big Daddy Kinsey, Pinetop Perkins –he was celebrating his 80 anniversary, he was in great spirits, talking, laughing and did an excellent performing-, Jimmy Rogers, Calvin Jones & Willie “Big Eyes” Smith)… or Sugar Ray & The Bluetones (in fact we were close friends with the late Jeffrey Ward, Mudcat Ward’s younger brother. I also remember when we bought piano player Rob Rio to play. He is a very nice person. One of my favorite songs was “The Reefer Smoker”, a song coming from Champion Jack Dupree, rob did an amazing version. I mentioned him how much I loved this sing and he said he would dedicate it to me and he did it!!

Besides blues is a popular music that came from humble people and their stories reflect normal daily life, so audiences can identify themselves in the songs lyrics. (Photo: Roser Blues with Hubert Sumlin and Louisiana Red)

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? Do you have any amusing tales to tell us?

I have had the opportunity to meet great musicians and excellent blues lovers over the years. Perhaps the best man I ever met was the late Jeffrey Ward (Mudcat Ward’s little brother). He often came to Spain and we became close friends. He was a good generous man. He invited us to visit for the first time the USA and we had unforgettable moments there going to clubs where we saw The Roomful of Blues, Sugar Ray & the Bluetones, Ronnie Earl, Johnny Sansone…. Bruce Iglauer is another of our elder blues friends. We began to write us letters at the beginning of the 80’. We were the first Spanish people he knew and he has always been very kind to us. Finally we met in Spain and last year I had the opportunity to greet him at the KBA Awards when we received our KBA Award. Marino Grandi from Il Blues magazine in Italy and now his son Davide have always been good friends too. Of course Jay Sieleman and Priscilla Hernández, also good friends and very kind people, Rolf Schubert, Jim O’Neal, Jim McGrath, Frank Roszak, Betsie Brown, Monte Adkison who for a long time does interviews for La Hora del Blues, all my colleagues of the EBU board and EBU members. And of course musicians like Billy Branch (I remember dinning with him at an American restaurant in Barcelona and talking about blues). When we went to Chicago we went to Rosa’s club the special day of Mama Rosa’s anniversary. Billy was there and he invited Vicente to share stage with him). Also I have good memories of Jimmy Johnson, Luther Allison, Bob Corritore, Rob Rio, Barrelhouse Chuck, Pierre Lacocque, Louisiana Red, Kenny Smith… I also remember many years ago, one night BB King was playing on a big stadium in Barcelona. At the end of the show we went to the backstage to give him some presents and magazines but security staff said we could not go in. Fortunately BB saw us from the door and said “Come in”. We were able to talk with him and he was a really kind friendly person. More recently I was on La Hora del Blues stand at the European Blues Union Blues Market and a man came and asked about how was blues in Spain. I was answering him and I noticed someone called him Mr. Jeremy Spencer. I asked him “Are you Jeremy Spencer from the legendary Fleetwood Mac?”. He said yes. I told him my husband and I have always loved his guitar playing and singing. I also told him I discovered blues with one of his legendary records “Blues, Jam & Chess”… Unbelievable!! I was talking with one of my blues heroes. We started a good friendship and we are in touch from time to time.

Yes, there still is some real blues but every time is more difficult to find. There are some young musicians who still keep real blues alive. (Photo: Roser Blues and Jay Sieleman)

Make an account of the case of the blues in Spain. How has the local blues scene changed over the years?

When we began to play blues, it was a kind of music totally unknown in Spain. People did not know it and they believed it was part of jazz music. There were only two or three bands which played blues all over Spain. There were no blues festivals and some jazz festivals included a blues night into their line-up.  Now things have changed a lot. There are plenty of good blues musicians around, there are small blues festivals all over Spain and also there are two very big blues festivals. Musicians can be in contact with fans through social net (internet, facebook, twitter…) and easily contact with clubs and festivals around to make their music known. Unfortunately, there is still a lack of live music clubs, so it is difficult for a musician to earn his life only playing blues, so many of them have to teach or do other activities.

You are also on the Board of EBU, what are the differences between the local scenes in around the Europe?

I think musicians work is more respected all over Europe than in Spain. Countries like France, Italy, UK or Germany have a long tradition in popular music and people recognize more the talent of an artist. Here in Spain popular music is not taken into account by local authorities or big media… On the other hand Spanish audiences are warm ones who love and feel the music but at the same time they are not so much respectful with musicians work while in the northern countries they are cooler people but respect more the musicians work.

What's been their experience from the European scene? Do you believe in the existence of real blues nowadays?         Photo: Roser Blues and Kenny Neal

There are very good technical musicians around Europe but many times they mix blues and rock. For example many European guitar players have discovered blues from rock musicians like Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Gary Moore…. so they have not learnt by copying the great masters like Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, Jimmy Rogers, Elmore James, Buddy Guy, Freddie King or Albert Collins. Most of them play rock blues instead of real blues. In United States they still are young blues musicians who have been able to learn directly from the sources and for me this is a great difference, because American musicians can easily get the “real touch”.

Yes, there still is some real blues but every time is more difficult to find. There are some young musicians who still keep real blues alive. Think about Homemade Jamz Blues Band, Marquise Knox, Little G. Weevil, Peter Struijk, the late Sean Costello, BB & the Blues Shacks

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

Most actual artists are really very technical musicians but most of them have not the “real” feeling. They try to put as much notes as possible in a minute of music. I miss the intense feeling, the silences, the economical but at the same time deep feeling of artists like Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Muddy Waters, BB King, Otis Spann, Freddie King… These artists were able to move me only with a single note or by singing a verse. Now it usually happens to me when I hear “actual rock blues” that I feel bored after listening to two or three songs. Everything seems equal to me and there is nothing new to be discovered or find that deep feeling that moves me. But this is a very personal opinion.

Young people approach to the music on a different way than our generation did. For us music was a universal language that young people around the world could share. It did not matter where you were living; you shared the same feelings and music. No matter if you came from Australia, UK, USA, France or Spain, all of us shared the same feelings expressed through the music. Now music is not so important for young people. It has become a consumption material to use and throw one more thing among the great leisure options young people can choose for their spare time. No more feeling, protest, creativity or serious work in popular music nowadays.

Anyway let me feel optimistic and think good music will never die as a way to express emotional feelings.

When we began to play blues, it was a kind of music totally unknown in Spain. People did not know it and they believed it was part of jazz music. (Photo: Roser Blues, Priscilla Hernández, Jay Sieleman, Vicente Zumel at Cazorla 2010)

What are the lines that connect the legacy of American Blues with the European Blues fans and musicians?

On a global world we are living now, we are much more connected than before. We have immediate access to information, so real blues fans can easily know about the legacy of American Blues. We have hundreds of videos, written material, music… that make things easy, so connections can be easily established. The question is if European blues fans and musicians are really interested in knowing the sources or they prefer only look for a more actual rocky oriented sound or actual musicians. I think there is a lack of interest about the legendary names that forged and developed blues, as young people had in the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the European scene?

I will not say laugh but it makes me happy to see there are many people all over Europe who still love blues and work to keep the blues alive. It touches me to know how people in so distant countries like Russia, Armenia, Greece, Hungary or Poland with not much blues tradition like in France, UK or Germany, do a big effort to promote and develop blues. Also the European Blues Challenge, we organize every year, emotionally touches me a lot. Besides going to a different European country every year and see blues scene there, it gives me the opportunity to see and know musicians from all over Europe with completely different sensibilities and background but all them feeling and loving blues music.

I have met very interesting people and have done good friends too. Blues has also been my companion along the happy and sad moments in my life. (Photo: Roser Blues and Bob Stroger, 2010)

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

A difficult question this one. I would have loved to be in so many places for a whole day!!! It would have been great to be in Chicago one day in the fifties or sixties and see Muddy Waters playing on a Southside club, see the real blues club atmosphere in those days or also walk around Maxwell Street. But I would have also loved to be at Beale Street during the 50’s, or in a southern plantation one evening on a back porch house, drinking and listening to Sam Chatmon, Lightnin’ Hopkins, JB Lenoir… or talking with Robert Johnson and walking with him in the country until we find that legendary crossroads… or listening to Memphis Minnie, Ma Rainey, Sippie Wallace or Victoria Spivey stories… But also I would have loved to be at Cotton Club or in those sophisticated night clubs listening to Louis Jordan, Roosevelt Sykes, Joe Turner or Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson and why not? to be in San Francisco at the end of the 60 listening to Canned Heat, Janis Joplin, Stevie Ray Vaughan, or going to New Orleans to listen to James Booker, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino or Toots Washington…  I would need to do a trip with a time machine once a week!!

What from your memorabilia and books, records, magazines, photos etc. would you put in a "time capsule"?

Another difficult question. ha, ha… Hard to choose. Undoubtedly I will put B.B. King and his song “The Thrill Is Gone”. I will also include one of my favorite blues songs “Help Me” by Magic Slim or Billy Branch. Muddy Waters, of course. Perhaps Buddy Guy & Junior Wells and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, Otis Spann, Memphis Slim, The Aces, Louis Jordan… Books… “The Story of the Blues” by Paul Oliver, “Blues Who’s Who” by Sheldon Harris and the one about black music anniversary events my husband is now preparing. Magazines… of course “Living Blues” but also an issue of our best Spanish blues magazine “Solo Blues” unfortunately disappeared. Some old pictures too and perhaps some of my blues musicians pictures I have taken during the last years with so much love and respect.

Photo: Roser Blues and Rick Estrin

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