Q&A with Louisiana harmonica master Grant Dermody, devotion to the blues naturally leads him in different directions

"I miss the musicians that moved me deeply. Some I knew, and some I never met. I hope musicians continue to think that making great albums is important, as is knowing how to connect with a live audience. I hope those art forms never die."

Grant Dermody: Behind The (Blues) Sun

Singer, songwriter, and acclaimed harmonica player Grant Dermody's devotion to the blues naturally leads him in different directions. While his last album, Digging in John's Backyard, found him collaborating with guitarist Frank Fotusky on a set of songs that paid tribute to John Jackson, a foremost practitioner and proponent of Piedmont blues, his upcoming effort, Behind the Sun (Release date: October 21, 2022), finds him returning to electric blues with a full band and the inspiration and influence of Louisiana, the place where it was recorded. The title references a Muddy Waters song while capturing the sentiment and sincerity that shine through in each of its 15 tracks. Powell is a four-time Grammy Award winner and widely recognized as one of the most skilled musicians operating in today's traditional realms, a multi-talented instrumentalist adept at guitar, banjo, fiddle, and piano. Zeno's credits span hundreds of albums, including recordings by Sonny Boy Williams, Irma Thomas, Solomon Burke, and others that span styles ranging from soul to zydeco.                            (Photo: Grant Dermody)

Of its fifteen songs, nine are original compositions, including four by Dermody, three by Powell, one by Powell, Zeno, and Dt. Julien is a traditional tune adapted by Dermody and covers courtesy of Muddy Walters, Rick Estrin, Jimmy Reed, Kim Wilson, and Otis Rush. For the past 15 years, Dermody has played and recorded with some of the best in the business, such as blues legends Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Lowery, Big Joe Duskin, John Jackson, and John Dee Holeman. The swamps of Louisiana, the wide open skies of Montana — all that’s deep and sweet and awe-inspiring about Americana and its musical roots — reside there. There’s simply nothing like the growling grace that emanates from Grant Dermody' Behind the Sun.

Interview by Michael Limnios         Special Thanks: Pati deVries / devious planet

How has the Blues and Roots music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Roots music in general and the Blues in particular are often about the deepest parts of the human condition, love, loss, connection with Spirit, hard times and redemption. I am very interested in how the music of various cultures speaks, sings, and plays all of these. I bring my own story with me when I travel, and I learn the stories of my fellow beings on the planet.

What touched (emotionally) you from the sound of harmonica? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

I loved the sound of the harmonica the first time I heard it, on a Jimmy Reed album in a record store. It stopped me in my tracks and turned me around. It was deep and honest and told the story of the song in a way I hadn't heard before. When I heard James Cotton and Sonny Terry play it live, I was completely hooked. They both had that huge, open sound that I wanted to be able to get. The harmonica can get whatever emotion you have, if you're willing to go there with it. You need to have some facility with the instrument. You need to be able to play what you hear. But digging deep, soaring high, and telling the truth, all while serving the song, is much more important than licks or chops. Getting the right feel often leads to the technique taking care of itself.

"Music is a spiritual path. There are many spiritual lessons in music. I have to serve the genre and the song, and the moments contained in each. I'm a work in progress. I won't ever get all of it, learn all of it, be able to play all of it, but I'll never stop trying and I wouldn't trade the ride for anything." (Grant Dermody / Photo by Marco Prozzo)

'Behind the Sun' is an album with influences by Louisiana. Why do you think that Louisiana music continues to generate such a devoted following?

The culture in Louisiana is all about the music. It's in the water, the air, the land, and the soul of the people. When it's played, people get that, on whatever level, and it's something that draws you in. That's why you have people al over the world who are inspired to learn how to play the music.

Are there any memories from Honeyboy Edwards, Big Joe Duskin, and John Jackson which you’d like to share with us?

I spent the most time with John (Jackson). There are just a lot of beautiful moments; playing music, sharing a meal or a story or just some time, with John, and his manager and my good friend Trish Byerly. Just being in the pleasure of each other's company was a profound joy. I loved John dearly and respected him. He was a true friend and mentor who absolutely believed in me. I cannot fully say how much that means to me still.

Big Joe Duskin - I got to play with when we were both teaching at the Country Blues Workshop in Port Townsend, Washington. He was a powerhouse on the piano, and it was an absolute blast playing with him. One gig we played the whole night in the key of Bb. Joe could play in other keys, but for some reason that night was all about Bb.

I was fortunate enough to play with Honeyboy (Edwards) a few times. The last time was on a Blues Cruise. It was his last gig of the cruise, and he was very tired. We all were, but Honeyboy was in his 90's. He arrived on stage in a wheelchair and had to be helped to his seat. I was playing with him that gig along with an excellent guitarist and drummer. Honeyboy didn't play straight twelve bar or eight bar forms. He changed chords when it felt right. So you follow him when you play with him. You do NOT show him where the form is. That's hugely disrespectful. We all, playing with him that day, understood and could do this. So, Honeyboy started to play, and we were right with him. He started to feel it and sang and played with more and more power. He straightened up in his chair and leaned into it. It was infectious! All of us on stage and in the audience were right with him. At the end of the set, he sprang out of his seat and walked off stage with us, leaving the wheelchair behind. Somewhere there's a picture of Honeyboy in the green room with his arms around us. His smile could have lit up the whole ship.

"Roots music in general and the Blues in particular are often about the deepest parts of the human condition, love, loss, connection with Spirit, hard times and redemption. I am very interested in how the music of various cultures speaks, sings, and plays all of these. I bring my own story with me when I travel, and I learn the stories of my fellow beings on the planet." (Grant Dermody / Photo by Marco Prozzo)

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

I miss the musicians that moved me deeply. Some I knew, and some I never met. I hope musicians continue to think that making great albums is important, as is knowing how to connect with a live audience. I hope those art forms never die.

How do you want the music to affect people?

I want music to tell the truth and affect people accordingly.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Music is a spiritual path. There are many spiritual lessons in music. I have to serve the genre and the song, and the moments contained in each. I'm a work in progress. I won't ever get all of it, learn all of it, be able to play all of it, but I'll never stop trying and I wouldn't trade the ride for anything.

John Coltrane said "My music is the spiritual expression of what I am...". How do you understand the spirit, music, and the meaning of life?

Charley Parker said "If you don't live it, it won't come out your horn." Music has a spirit, each genre has a spirit, the song has a spirit, the instrument has a spirit, as does the voice, the other musicians, their instruments, the audience and the collective that's receiving all of it. Music is a way to tell the story and connect with the spirit of the Universe, and the beings that live here. It brings people together, heals, strengthens, and raises consciousness. This is the path I've found that has heart and is connected with the Divine. And this is one way to say that this is what life means.

Grant Dermody - Home

(Grant Dermody / Photo by Marco Prozzo)

Views: 65

Comments are closed for this blog post

social media

Members

© 2023   Created by Michael Limnios Blues Network.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service