Irish singer Mary Stokes & American harmonicist Brian Palm talks about the Blues masters and legends

"The entire emotional range is available through Blues; of course the depths of despair, but joy and humor are expressed in blues, all that is essentially human."

Mary Stokes Band: Baile Átha Cliath Blues

From Dublin Ireland, Mary Stokes is one of the finest singers of her generation. In an illustrious career spanning two decades, Mary and her band have amassed a dedicated following of fans worldwide. Mary’s unique, passionate voice and energetic performances have established The Mary Stokes Band as one of the most exciting and dynamic blues bands playing on the world stage today. The Mary Stokes Band is: Mary Stokes (vocals) Brian Palm (harmonica) Steve Tierney (bass) Lee Boylan (drums) and Andrea Rodo (guitar). Mary’s highly successful debut CD “Ten Years on the Road” (1997) was released to great critical and popular acclaims and continues to sell well. The Mary Stokes Band’s live CD “Clouds In My Heart” (2000) received excellent reviews and also remains in demand. “Rockaway Blvd.” was released in 2007. Mary’s acoustic CD “Hometown Blues” (2009) mixes traditional Irish instruments with country blues.

In 2010 The Mary Stokes Band launched their album “The Bells Have Tolled” which was recorded in response to the demand from Mary’s fans for a new release. The live recording eloquently captures the dynamic musical energy and deeply felt emotion for which Mary Stokes and her band are widely known. Mary Stokes has been the recipient of several Arts Council of Ireland awards, receiving the council’s “New Music Production” bursary in 2008. She has been included in the Irish Music Hall of Fame, is a member of the Irish Music Rights Organisation and Recorded Irish Artists and Performers.

Brian Palm was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1957; he attended the National College of Art and Design, Dublin, graduating with honors in 1981. He has shown his work at numerous solo and group exhibitions including the Royal Hibernian Academy's Annual Exhibitions, Eigse, Galway Arts Festivals, Iontas and Cork Arts Society Exhibitions. Brian has also been the recipient of several Arts Council of Ireland awards as well as residencies at the Tyrone Guthrie Centre, Annamaghkerrig and the Cill Railaig Project in Kerry. His work is featured in numerous public and private collections both in Ireland and abroad. The Mary Stokes Band’s international work continues with recent appearances in U.S. and Europe.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

Mary: Blues Music has an honesty of emotion that I identify with and admire. By singing blues songs I have found how to express deep and passionate feelings, and to share those intense emotions with the musicians and the audience, and to realize that such feelings are universal, part of the human condition. The entire emotional range is available through Blues; of course the depths of despair, but joy and humor are expressed in blues, all that is essentially human. Having always sung in lots of styles, I identify best with blues, I am at home with the blues.

Brian: For me, playing blues music is about self expression, while at the same time being part of a creative group endeavor. I enjoy being part of a band, and while performing, I often rest musically just to listen to Mary and the other musicians. One of the pleasures of playing harmonica is that you can phrase in and out while others have to hold the beat steady and keep the rhythm going! As such, I have learned that expressing feelings, moods, ideas and attitudes through my instrument is very important to me. But of equal importance is the appreciation of others doing so as well. Playing blues music is akin to speaking in another entire language, one which I not only comprehend and am particularly drawn to, but one which I care enough about to have taught myself to speak and interpret. With a band it becomes a dialogue within the group, as well as with the audience at the same time. There can be some deep, complex communication going on. Blues is an art form, and as an artist, playing blues harmonica suits my temperament.  

Photo: The Mary Stokes Band

How do you describe Mary Stokes band’s sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

Mary: As stated above, I am most affected by music that has honesty and power at its core. Regardless of the genre, I admire and can be transported by music that evokes emotion, and I also appreciate energetic music, so these would be qualities that I strive for and which influence the songs that my partner Brian and I choose to play.

We have always endeavored to go beyond what could be considered ‘Blues Classics’, and searched for less well known sources of songs – an example would be our reworking of a ‘field holler’ as documented by Alan Lomax as part of his ‘Blues In the Mississippi Night’, which we perform as ‘Mattie Won’t Write’. This song would be very characteristic of qualities in Blues singing that I value; It has one simple line ‘Well, I wonder, what’s the matter, Mattie won’t write’. For me, that simple line expresses something that I think every person has thought at some time. The thought could be a lover’s, a son’s, a wife’s or a parent’s.  It is simple but absolutely fundamental and, as such is devastating.

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

Mary: Without any question meeting John Lee Hooker was my most significant experience with a Blues Master. We had opened up for John Lee in the National Stadium, and we got to know the guys in his band pretty well; Kenny Baker on sax and a fellow named Jim on bass, and some of the other players. We went out on the town together in Dublin, jamming after the show. About a year later we were in the USA, and we went to see John Lee in “The Toads Place”, a venue in New Haven, Connecticut. We spotted Jim watching the warm up band, and he led us past long lines of fans quietly lined up hoping to get their classic John Lee Hooker albums autographed. John Lee greeted us warmly, and he remembered us from Dublin. He had played for over two hours that night in Dublin, much to the amazement of his band. While we talked, John Lee paused the conversation for a moment to demand that two “freaks”, who were helping themselves to his bar, were removed from his dressing room. Later, when a female sax player began to tune up behind him, he politely asked her to “go do that someplace else, not in my ear”. We had a good long chat with him, and he tuned and retuned his guitar as we spoke. When the band’s second guitar player arrived with a guitar tuner, he brought John Lee’s guitar “into tune”. As soon as he left, John Lee glanced our way with a ‘you understand this’ expression, and immediately began to retune his instrument to suit his very particular sound and style. We said our goodbyes and shook hands. His large hand was very soft, but full of thunder.

We have been fortunate to meet so many extraordinary Blues artists. I really enjoyed meeting Fats Domino, B.B. King, Taj Mahal, Bo Diddley and Hubert Sumlin (photo), and every one of the artists that we have met and played music with, but John Lee Hooker’s music and presence was so important to me and I recall sitting and talking with him thinking that this was just amazing!

We performed at the prestigious ‘Bishopstock Blues Festival’ in the UK several years ago and my friend Taj Mahal and I spent an afternoon chatting in the kitchen of the palace. Taj is generous and good fun, and his interest in the origins of the blues and the connection between traditional forms of music, notably African, and blues has been a great influence on our thinking. He encouraged us to mix Irish instruments and feel with blues, resulting in our acoustic CD “Hometown Blues”, which includes tin whistle, bodhran, harpsichord, bouzouki, djembe etc. For many years we have been the opening act for all of his shows here in Dublin.

The night before we met Taj at Bishopstock, we had been at a party and had met Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn. We had seen them play in Ireland at Slane Castle, backing Neil Young with Booker T. Jones on organ and Jim Keltner on drums. We told them what a great gig it had been, and they were as enthusiastic about it as we were. During that afternoon in the kitchen with Taj, Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn walked in, followed by Booker T Jones. I asked Taj if they knew each other – they had never actually met before, so I ended up in the almost surreal situation of introducing four legendary artists to each other! They reminisced on the past with Taj Mahal telling how he so admired Booker T’s band that in the sixties he had taken his own band out of their rehearsals to go hear Booker T and the MGs at a gig that was happening locally, “to show them how it should be done”.  While Taj and Booker T spoke together, I found myself casually chatting about our trip through the American South with the extremely gentlemanly Steve Cropper (whose sublime Guitar playing on Green Onions is an all time favorite of mine). The ‘Family of Blues’ was very close that day.

Brian: When I first came to Dublin, I met some acoustic guitar players who taught me a lot about playing with other musicians as a duo or trio. By trial and error I discovered that with most instruments you can play in various different keys, but that the harmonica is limited in that regard. There is a system required in order to play harmonica with others, and that system had to be mastered. I learned that the mathematical precision of music should be respected, that time keeping is essential, even if you decide to play with it, you must be able to listen to and keep accurate time. Playing out of tune can be painful, even though so many of the great blues recordings sail very close to the edge of being out of tune, and sometimes out of time.  However, for the most part I found that precise tuning was absolutely crucial, and that by memorizing the mathematical permutations of keys and their various positional modulations regarding the harmonica, I could unlock the mystery of how to jam.  With the help of these guitarists I discovered how to play not just harmonica, but to play music. After that, it was up to me to improve by practice and through experience. I went busking quite a bit, and during the long hours playing on the street I honed my craft and learned my instrument. Busking taught me about reaching and holding an audience; if you can perform on the street, you can perform anywhere. It was at this point of my musical development that I first met Mary Stokes, a meeting which was to transform my life.

Are there any memories from Hubert Sumlin, Carey Bell and Louisiana Red, which you’d like to share with us?

Mary: I am very pleased and proud to have worked with Hubert, Carey and Louisiana Red (photo) several times. Earlier in our career we worked with Carey Bell over several years, and we became friends. I have great memories of Carey Bell and Louisiana Red who both were seemed to be really pleased and excited to play with The Mary Stokes Band because they could hear the genuine love and understanding of the music, and we played in empathy with them.

The opportunity to meet and then sing with Hubert Sumlin was incredible. Of course, Howlin’ Wolf is one of my favorite Blues artists and has been a huge influence on me. The sound of Wolf is not just his brilliant vocalizing but the guitar playing of Hubert Sumlin. When Hubert came to tour in Ireland, Brian and I went to his gigs, we met Hubert and he invited me to sing with him. When I sang ‘Smokestack Lightnin’, it was electric. We later heard that it was the first time that Hubert had played Smokestack with anyone since Wolf had died. I was very privileged and we performed that and several more songs together throughout his tour.

Are there any memories from John Lee Hooker and BB King which you’d like to share with us?

Brian: Well, yes! It was many years ago that I first met B.B. King. We were opening up for him in the National Stadium, Dublin, and after the gig I was packing up my gear in our dressing room when there was a knock on the door and B.B. King (photo) walked in and said “Where’s the boy who played that harmonica? It sounded really good!” We had done a very high energy gig and I was holding my sweat soaked T-shirt, socks and underpants crumpled up in a wet ball. B.B. stepped towards me holding out his hand for me to shake, but the smile disappeared from his face when he felt my wet, clammy hand and he noticed the soaked bundle I still held under my arm.  With a laugh he wiped his hand on his immaculate three piece suit and complimented us all on a fine performance. We opened up for him the following night too, and were in his dressing room when Bono, the Edge, Larry, Adam and Paul McGuinness came in to discuss their idea for a song called “When Love Comes To Town”, and  to invite B.B. to join them in a bluesy film they were working on called “Rattle and Hum”. We met B.B. on several occasions after that, and we always laughed about my sweaty socks!

I met John Lee at the same time as Mary, and she has described our time with him already. One thing I clearly remember is our discussion of the music scene in Detroit in 1948, when he had his first million selling record with “Boogie Chillun’’. As we spoke, John Lee’s guitarist piped up with: “Hey John Lee, I’ve never heard of that song, could we do it?” John Lee just looked at me and kept talking. I asked him about an album I have of his recorded in New York with New York session heads. Pretty Purdie is on drums and there is harmonica on a few tracks by someone called Hele Rosenthal. John Lee’s eyes lit up and he snapped his fingers for a pen. He told me to write down the details of the album, saying: “that sounds like another one I never got paid for!”.

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

Mary: In the past I think that it was more possible to have a spirit of enterprise with music and although the Internet has opened amazing opportunity - our interview, for example – music has become a very corporate business, and is significantly more difficult for the ‘working musician’ to live by their music. Mind you, that has always been a struggle for Blues artists.

Brian: I am well aware that there were always tensions and rivalries between various blues musicians in the past, the feuds between Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter are the stuff of legend, as was the bad blood between Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. However, the frequent cross jamming and the use of the same sidemen when recording and performing in the 1950’s still intrigues me. I love to read and hear about the lore concerning the various recording studios and famous blues bars and juke joints, and how some of the most classic sides were recorded almost by accident. The era of Chess Records and the many other independent labels which existed at the time is rich in blues history and folklore. I am still amused by stories of sessions like the one when Chuck Berry was refused permission to record a new tune he had written called “Ida Red” because the name was too “negro sounding”. Chuck noticed some mascara left behind from the last session by either Etta James or Koko Taylor, and suggested the name of the girl in the song be changed to “Maybeline”, and history was made. So I guess I miss the communion between blues players which once existed not only in the States but here in Ireland as well. It seems now that players are more protective about their turf, and that the genuine “jam session” has been relegated to the past.

I also like the now long defunct idea of the “cutting contest”, where a musician could challenge another to a musical duel, live on stage. I have only ever been seriously challenged to one, by the blues guitarist Sherman Robertson. We were backing him in a pub called Whelan’s in Dublin. The Mary Stokes Band opened the show, and performed a blistering set. When it came time to back Sherman, he announced over the microphone that he did not need or want my harmonica. This was greeted by a chorus of boos from the audience, which he thought I had orchestrated to undermine him, which was not true in the slightest. He called me up to the stage for an old time cutting contest to prove who was boss. We battled it out, verse by verse, solo by solo, and I was holding my own until he really went for it and began to pluck the strings with his teeth, Hendrix style, then tossed the solo back to me. I put the harmonica up to my nose and played it through my nostril, Sonnyboy Williamson style. Sherman froze in disbelief and missed his solo break. I jumped off the stage up onto a table full of drinks as the crowd went wild and declared me the winner. I don’t remember much of the rest of the gig after that!

Photo: The Mary Stokes Band & Buddy Guy

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

Brian: I would love to hear musicians perform blues music without the need for earplugs. The volume issue keeps rearing its ugly head as players protect their hearing through the wearing of ear plugs, which makes them play louder and louder, and a cycle develops where those not wearing them must compete for volume with those who do. It puts the players in a band on a different footing from the start. I would also like, in a perfect world, to wake to find that music promoters have lost their ever-present greed, and that blues musicians generally get paid properly for a change.

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

Mary: Blues Music has featured on the Irish music scene since the 1960s, brilliant Blues musicians like Rory Gallagher (who Brian and I were lucky enough to know and be friends with) played Blues with some of the same instincts of power and passion that I feel. Of course the scene has changed. During our career, because of Brian’s prodigious energy and ability in promotion as well as performing onstage playing Harp, we have had remarkable successes. I have met Van Morrison several times, and the influences that we share include John Lee Hooker. Over a period of time during the ‘90s many Blues artists were touring in Europe and we had the chance to play with so many Blues greats. That was a very exciting time for Blues in Ireland. However, because we have always tried to have an original blues sound, our audience has always been very mixed.  Many times people have said ‘Is this Blues? If it is then I love it!’ We have toured throughout the USA and Europe, bringing what I hope is something uniquely Irish to the blues.

Brian: Since the 1960’s in Ireland, each generation has spawned its share of blues bands, and I imagine that each one feels their time was significant; I am no different in this regarding my own musical career.

But I am interested in the history of blues music in Ireland, and I have kept my ears open. My brother in law Dermot Stokes played piano and sang in a famous Irish blues band called “Blues House” in the 1960’s with the guitarist Ed Deane, who still performs now. Irish blues fans still talk about “Blues House” with great respect. There was also another band called “The Creatures” with Peter Adler on harp, son of the famous harmonicist Larry Adler. The blues pianist Jim Daley from the North of Ireland was an exponent of the Skiffle craze here, and of course there was blues guitarist Gary Moore, also from the North. Van Morrison’s early band “Them” was very influential, and although not a blues band, Thin Lizzy was a source of great pride and confidence for Irish musicians.

The local Dublin blues scene was led by Red Peters and his Floating Dublin Blues Band during the 1960’s and into the 1970’s and 1980’s when I would often jam with him. By then his band included Jimmy Faulkner on guitar, James Delaney on piano and Declan MacNeilis on bass. Usually Eamon Murray was on harp, but if he was absent, I would sit in. They were a great band and custom made for ball busting harp. I also regularly jammed with The Business down in Slattery’s of Capel Street, with Pat Farrell and Don Baker. Bree Haris, Maggie Cody and Mary Stokes would often guest as vocalists, and the sessions were intense. I became a member of the Gripewater Blues Band in 1983 and we played all over Ireland. By 1987 I was performing in The Mary Stokes Band, and that has been an entire history in itself! We were soon performing an average of five or six nights each week. For a period of years, it was almost seven nights a week for months at a time. When we were backing B.B. King for example, his band was amazed to learn that we had played 310 gigs that year, while they had played only 300!

I had the pleasure of performing with Rory Gallagher in Dublin in a club called the Waterfront. I was in a sort of Gypsy folk band and we were doing a normal gig, but everyone was nervous because Van Morrison was in the audience. Suddenly Rory got up and played a stormer of a blues, which relaxed everyone. My performance was responsible for my being invited to record a track with Rory and an Irish uileann piper named Davy Spillane. The track is called Litton Lane, from the album “Out of the Air”. Things like that happened a lot in those days. I used to get up and jam with many different bands, often after we had finished our own shows or on a rare night off. I loved to jam and would guest with blues bands, rock bands, punk bands, country bands, Cajun bands, rockabilly bands…I loved it all.

During the Country Music Sessions held in Dublin’s Point Depot, I would always go back to Bloom’s Hotel to hang out with the country stars. I met Emmy Lou Harris, Lyle Lovett, John Prine and Rosie Flores. One night I was in the hotel bar with Joe Ely and he took out his guitar and said: “Let’s jam, what we will play?” I said, “Well, you’re a Texan, how about some Lightnin’ Hopkins?” We began to play Lightnin’ songs we both knew, both of us singing and laughing through them. Next thing I knew Flaco Himinez had started on the accordion, with Oscar Tellez playing a big Mexican acoustic. Cowboy Jack Clement played rhythm guitar with Jesse Ed Davis playing fills. It was an absolutely great night. Around that time The Mary Stokes Band began to perform internationally, and I drifted away from the local scene for the next ten years or so.

Photo: The Mary Stokes Band

What are the lines that connect the Blues from US and UK to Ireland? From the musical point of view are there any similarities between: blues and Irish traditional music?

Mary: While the Blues is an American art form, it is rooted in Africa, with singing, instruments, drumming and indigenous sounds brought to the ‘New World’. It evolved in the USA, creating what has been described as ‘Rhythm and Blues’. Given the multicultural nature of the USA, and recognizing that the Irish in the USA had such a strong music tradition, I feel that there are lots of instances of musical connections throughout the evolution of all American Popular music. Of course in the ‘60s the Rolling Stones and the ‘British Blues explosion’ brought blues to the Irish audience too and the Irish blues, rock and music scene continues to be influenced by that today.

I sing traditional Irish songs and I think that the qualities of, and commitment to, honesty and emotion that I feel in my interpretations of Blues is exactly the same as in the Irish lament, for example. Irish songs also share other qualities with blues singing – in song ‘types’ for example, the Irish tradition of story telling is very much the same as in Blues; the ‘work song’ or blues chant/ field holler have the same function; with the celebratory ‘dance’ music being vital for both cultures.

Which memories from Lefty Dizz, Bo Diddley, Honeyboy Edwards, and Yank Rachel makes you smile?

Mary: I have very fond memories of Lefty Dizz and his ‘trickery’ – the memory of Lefty swinging his Guitar out by the neck has always brought a smile to my face. He would hold a chord then casually toss the guitar out towards the crowd so the chord moaned and then shrieked, then he would catch the guitar and dampen it. He made the guitar talk and beg, and cry like that. Then he would prop it on a stool and interview it.

Which memories from Fats Domino, Johnny Copeland, Otis Rush and John Campbell makes you smile?

Brian: When we played with Fats Domino (photo) the second time, we played the National Stadium again, and also toured with him up to Belfast to play the Ulster Hall. On the last night, we all went back to the Burlington hotel where he and his band were staying. We socialized in the bar until well after two a.m. There was a whole gang of enthusiastic Rockabillies we knew hanging around outside, and Fats let us invite them in to join us. They were wearing brothel creepers and drapecoats, with huge quiffs. The girls were all done up in 1950’s dresses with big hairdos and red lipstick. Fats Domino, wearing a nautical sea captain’s hat, posed for endless photos and signed dozens of autographs, genuinely pleased by the 50’s spectacle. Late in the proceedings, he said good night to all and asked me to walk him to his room. As we crossed the lobby, we passed a grand piano, which was closed and covered with a fabric covering. Fats Domino hesitated for a split second and I saw his eye flicker to the instrument. In a flash I had the cover off and opened up the keyboard. As the first notes of “Blueberry Hill” filled the empty lobby, someone else slid a bench beneath him and another deftly opened up the lid of the piano. We all sang in unison as he played five or six of his famous songs, then he abruptly stopped with tears rolling down his face. He raised his voice and said: “I’ve been singing those songs to people for more than forty years, but that’s the first time anyone has ever sung them to me”. He made his exit and warmly hugged everyone, I walked him to his room and that was the last time we saw him.

Years later, as the disaster unfolded in New Orleans, we heard on the news that Fats Domino was missing, presumed drowned. We saw his house, filmed from above, completely submerged under water. As it turned out, he was in the Hell that was the Superdome with everybody else; a genuine living American icon patiently waiting for the storm to end and the water to subside.

I first heard Johnny Copeland live in the Olympia Theatre in Dublin. Mary and I have performed in the Olympia many times, and we were regulars there, and we met Johnny only briefly after his show. What  stood out to me most about his performance that night was that he played a high powered, no nonsense blues gig that really kicked, and he seemed to be enjoying himself for every second of it. At one point he broke a guitar string during a solo, got a new one out while still soloing, threaded it and wound it, then instantly tuned up the string as part of the solo, then continued playing. 

The following year we were heading over to Holland to do a three week tour. By chance we met Albert Collins and his band in the airport at Amsterdam. They were laughing because everybody had been coming up to him, asking him if he was Buddy Guy. I was glad that I knew who he was before I spoke to him. As it turned it, one of our gigs on the tour was playing support to Johnny Copeland in the famous “Milky Way Bar”, Amsterdam. Our guitarist was an Irish player named Martin Hutchinson, and the band also included Nico Helingers on Bass and Ronald Orr on drums, a very formidable line up. Martin was a bit nervous playing guitar, knowing that Johnny could hear him from the dressing room. While we were playing our set, I spotted Jeff Beck sitting in the front row. Between songs, I pointed him out to Martin, who nearly fainted. He had been nervous earlier, now he was in bits!

After we finished playing, Mary and I were invited to join Johnny Copeland (photo) and his band in their dressing room. They were watching African wildlife videos which Johnny had gotten when he performed in Africa. He was very proud of having played there, and he encouraged us to try to get to West Africa ourselves. He very animatedly imitated some of the tribesmen he had met, much to the delight of his band mates, who fell around the place laughing. African lions roared from the video which was up full volume, the air in the dressing room was hot and thick with smoke, his band were in uncontrollable fits of laughter as he told them how he preferred the company of wild animals to them any day, and that they should watch and learn from the big cats, who were natural born killers and could teach them something…we found ourselves in fits of laughter too and we drifted back to our own band in our own dressing room.  Before he went on stage, Johnny dropped by to wish us well, and we took some photos with him, and wished him good luck.

You have asked about Otis Rush and John Campbell, but it is getting late now and I’m driving to County Mayo in the morning, so I’ll take a break here. Perhaps in another interview I'll can tell you a few tales about meeting them, and Bo Diddley, and Hubert Sumlin, and Honeyboy Edwards, and Yank Rachel, and Byther Smith, and Champion Jack Dupree, and Lazy Lester, and Snooky Prior, etc…

What does to be a female artist in a “Man’s World” as James Brown says? What is the status of women in Blues?

Mary: While recognizing the challenges faced by women throughout the world I have always chosen to consider myself to be equal to men. I grew up the youngest of a large family with 5 older brothers and two sisters. The fight for equality for women certainly existed but my upbringing assumed equality, and I expect to be treated and to treat everyone (including men!!) with equal respect. Nonetheless, I realize that that is MY point of view, and that it is not necessarily reciprocated all the time nor is it true for all societies, but in performing blues I have had the pleasure of holding the respect of all kinds of people – in audiences all over the world playing for bikers to bankers, politicians to travelers. I have sung for all nationalities, with a very favorite memory of singing with protesting Native Americans in the east coast of the USA and in a Native American bar in New Mexico. We have performed in countless bars and halls, outdoors on flatbed trucks and in every instance people respond with respect to music that is truthful and that sings to their own experience.

Photo: Mary Stokes & Bo Diddley

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

Brian: I have greatly enjoyed being asked to perform the harmonica parts with a Led Zepplin tribute band called “Whole Lotta Zepp” (Dublin). We are a musical collective dedicated to recreating the classic Led Zepplin albums, keeping as close to the originals as possible. I play “When the Levee Breaks” and “Bring it On Home”. “Levee” displays the electric, distorted style, “Bring it” is acoustic Sonny Boy Williamson style. It makes me laugh with pleasure, and the gigs are packed to the rafters. They are an excellent bunch of musicians. I have also been made to laugh by my renewed musical collaboration with the sound artist STANO. I have been recording with him quite a bit lately, and he makes me push my musical boundaries. He has created a spoken word piece from a story I told about being out on the Laguna Souix reservation in New Mexico, and that should definitely be worth a laugh! I often get a laugh jamming with Mick Pyro and the Blues Executive in the Leeson Lounge on Monday nights. Pat Farrell and James Delaney are in the band, with Noel Bridgeman on drums and John Querney on bass. I jam there about once a month, and I always enjoy it. I recently jammed with Colm Querney and Micheal Buckley in Whelan’s, then walked down to the Globe and jammed with Foxy Murphy and Simon Farrell of the Pavement Kings. Most recently I was emotionally touched by music as I filmed Mary Stokes singing last night with our friend Bill Whelan and his Old Time Americana Band down in the Cobblestone Pub in Dublin. Mary sang Portland Town by Derrol Adams and it was so powerful in light of the recent ravages of war in the world that it really caught me in the throat.

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

Mary: I think one day would be very short… It would be great to have the opportunity to see Howlin’ Wolf perform, Muddy Waters, to hear Little Walter…

Brian: Hmmmm…musically speaking , I would go back in time and retrieve the three sessions of tape we recorded with Carey Bell and the one we recorded with Carey and Laurie Bell together. They were fantastic sessions which were mysteriously “lost” and have never resurfaced. I would go back and ensure that I never let them out of my sight once the sessions were completed. I would also go back to the day when Fats Domino’s eight piece New Orleans brass section (including Lee Allen and Herb Hardesty) stayed in their hotel room in Dublin on their day off rehearsing the parts to record on top of our versions of Fats’ “Blue Monday” and Billie Holiday’s “Fine and Mellow”, which we had recently recorded on Crow Street. At the last minute the studio took a more lucrative “lock-in” booking from an upcoming young rock band, and would not open the door to us, even to allow us to retrieve the tapes and take them somewhere else. I would most definitely change that unhappy musical memory, by bringing a sledgehammer with me!

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