Q&A with award-winning songwriter Bert Deivert, forging new ground with his interpretations of vintage blues and roots material on mandolin and guitar

"I want to people to understand that this music didn’t just appear, that it came from life experiences that were both happy and sad and formed cultures that used music as a mode of expression. I also hope that enjoying music of other cultures will open people up to be more understanding of the complex world we live in and the importance of peace and tolerance."

Bert Deivert: The Music of Culture

From playing in the streets of San Francisco in the early 1970’s to recording an award-winning album in Thailand in the 2010’s, American Bert Deivert is forging new ground with his interpretations of vintage blues and roots material on mandolin and guitar. He is one of the few recording blues mandolin artists of today, drawing chiefly on the traditions of Yank Rachell and Carl Martin. His playing and distinctive vocals are easily recognizable and he charms audiences with his stories, backed by expert instrumental skills. His music garners rave reviews in the press all over the world. He is an award-winning songwriter and has toured in 25 countries during his 48 year career. Worked with: Peter Case, Eric Bibb, Wanda Jackson, Memphis Gold, Charlie Musselwhite, Sven Zetterberg, T-Model Ford, Sam Carr, Libby Rae Watson, and Cadillac John Nolden, among others.                                                                                (Photo: Bert Deivert, 2021)

Bert Deivert has captivated audiences with his musicality, humor, and sense of showmanship and history. His repertoire consists of original songs and traditional and modern material in the genres of roots, blues, americana, and folk. Bert recorded a duo album, 13 SAMSEN, with famed Thai blues guitarist Dulyasith Srabua performing material in both Thai and English. He has won two  songwriting awards for Best Instrumental in Thailand  2009 and 2012 with his co-writer Dulyasith Srabua. His new album 'I Ain't Leavin' (2021) was pressed in a limited edition of barely 300 copies. On these ten songs, of which nine are originals and one traditional, Bert is here accompanied only by his legal other half Eva, who is equally adept at violin, and daughter Emmy with backing vocals. Besides the vocals, Bert himself provides a lot of lap steel, acoustic guitar, dobro, charango, bass and mandolin arrangements. Bert still lives in Sweden and tours wherever the blues take him…

Interview by Michael Limnios                Bert Deivert, 2012 interview @ blues.gr

How has the Blues and World (Ethnic) music influenced your views of the world and the journeys youve taken?

Since I've been playing folk music (world) from many countries including Thailand, Sweden, Peru, Ireland, and the US, its influence on me has been enormous. I mean that both personally and musically. Since I was born in the US and grew up there but moved to Sweden when I was 23 years old and have lived there ever since my worldview is quite different than if I had stayed in the US. The reason I travel to different countries to play folk music and to meet musicians is to develop an understanding of different cultures and how their music actually has similar roots as others but have gone off in different directions to a particular sound and feel. Understanding the culture of other countries enriches one's life and makes one realize how alike we are not how different we are. As far as Blues is concerned, I consider it a folk music form and it's held my attention and emotion since I was about 16 years old when I understood its relationship to the rock music that I was playing from the age of 13.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My own description of my sound would probably be quite different than the perceptions of the audience that I meet. I have many sounds, and don't like to be put in a box as a blues musician or folk musician or whatever. The problem with playing different forms of music and trying to make a living on it is that festival and gig promoters want to have a clear-cut view what you are and how they can sell you to the public. Those of us that don't stick to one particular thing become a more problematic issue and therefore probably don't get as many gigs because of it. I confess to marketing myself as a blues musician in most cases since that is where most of my work comes from but in actuality I am a folk musician that loves blues and some jazz too. And I also write songs. My latest album is a convergence of all my influences and my songwriting and although I'm getting reviews in blues magazines it would probably be considered Americana in some circles. What is called Americana today is mostly what we called folk music in the 60s. My songbook is taken from the artists I most admire and at the moment mostly from country blues, old-timey, and my own songs. My music philosophy is always what I tell younger artists that I talk to - do what feels right for you and not what other people think you should do. When you were younger and wanted to try to make it in the music business you try to do what will please audiences. I hate the words “MUSIC BUSINESS”. Music is culture and art. After age 50 or so I did what I loved and didn't care if the audiences didn't like it. I was true to myself and to the music. I was in luck too because people did like it! I think that they recognized something authentic in me then.

"That streaming services would pay musicians more and the payment would reflect the reality of the amount of work that has gone into making the music being played. I spent 3 months in my own studio making each of the last two albums, and my hourly wage for what I got in income is equivalent to a few pennies an hour." (Bert Deivert and Eva. Her partner in life and creating his new album)

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

What I previously mentioned about doing what YOU like and not catering to the promoters or audiences. Also, be humble, and when you play with others LISTEN!!!! If you listen carefully anddon’t just try to see when you can take your solo, you will learn a lot. Music is a a conversation existing between musicians and the audience. Everybody appreciates a good listener!

What are your hopes and fears for the future of music? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

I am happy that more musicians can reach audiences because of digital media, but I am also sad that it is not possible to sell albums now as a touring musician unless you are really famous. The audiences nowadays do not buy physical albums, they buy streaming services that pay pennies to musicians. So the income that was necessary to complement gigs has disappeared for low profile musicians. In the 1970’s and 80’s I sold 2000-5000 of each of my albums. I have sold 60 of my latest, my 14th album, and it is the best one I have ever made! I sold just enough to cover the cost of pressing 300 albums, and the rest will mostly go to promotion to get gigs. It used to be that gigs were used to sell albums. Now albums are used to get gigs and not for income. The best advice I ever got was from my good friend and producer Bo Hansson who believed in my music and got me started with my first album in 1978. When I was unsure of myself he said “nobody is better att being Bert Deivert than you.” That made me realize that audiences came to see ME and what I do and not me trying to sound or play like other musicians.

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

That streaming services would pay musicians more and the payment would reflect the reality of the amount of work that has gone into making the music being played. I spent 3 months in my own studio making each of the last two albums, and my hourly wage for what I got in income is equivalent to a few pennies an hour.

"My music philosophy is always what I tell younger artists that I talk to - do what feels right for you and not what other people think you should do. When you were younger and wanted to try to make it in the music business you try to do what will please audiences. I hate the words “MUSIC BUSINESS”. Music is culture and art. After age 50 or so I did what I loved and didn't care if the audiences didn't like it. I was true to myself and to the music. I was in luck too because people did like it! I think that they recognized something authentic in me then." (Photo: Bert Deivert 1973, The Cannery, San Francisco California)

What were the reasons that in the 1960s started the Blues / Folk / Roots researches and experiments?

If you mean why did I start playing that music, well it was because I found out how folk music and blues was related to the popular music and rock that I started singing when I was a kid and then started performing at age 15 at local dances. I wanted to know and learn more. I would look up the names of sonwriters and try to find more about them. That is how I found out about Skip James, when the FRESH CREAM album came out. Then had I’m So Glad” on the album.  So I looked him up at the library. When I started working at my college radio in 1969 I got access to SO many albums and used to play mostly blues on my show. It was a real mix. Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Skip James, The Blues Project, James Cotton, Paul Butterfield, and John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, to name a few.

Are there any memories from Sam Carr and Libby Rae Watson, which youd like to share with us?

Libby Rae is always lots of fun and we had a great time laughing and joking and making music together. There were some many funny moments that I can’t remember them right now! Haha. There was one moment recording with Sam Carr and Bill Abel at Bill’s studio in Mississippi in 2008 that I will never forget. We were doing Special Agent, a Sleepy John Estes tune with mandolin, guitar and drums, recording live. Sam had played with many great musicians and was known as the greatest delta shuffle drummer. The song was a driving country blues, not a shuffle, and after the first take Sam yelled out. “When y’all gonna play some blues? Y’all’s playing country!” I still smile when I think of that.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?

I want to people to understand that this music didn’t just appear, that it came from life experiences that were both happy and sad and formed cultures that used music as a mode of expression. I also hope that enjoying music of other cultures will open people up to be more understanding of the complex world we live in and the importance of peace and tolerance.

"What I previously mentioned about doing what YOU like and not catering to the promoters or audiences. Also, be humble, and when you play with others LISTEN!!!! If you listen carefully anddon’t just try to see when you can take your solo, you will learn a lot. Music is a a conversation existing between musicians and the audience. Everybody appreciates a good listener!" (Photo: Bert Deivert)

Lets take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would like to have my mandolin and hang out and jam at the 1964 Newport Folk Festival on July 24th with Sleepy John, Yank Rachell, and Hammie Nixon! I would love to experience the meeting and playing with these heroes of mine and learn a bit directly from Yank and Sleepy John.

Bert Deivert - Home

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