Q&A with Norway-born guitarist Kid Andersen, one of the best blues musician todays and owner of Greaseland studio

"Blues is a musical language. It’s one that I fell in love with as a young man, and it has defined my life ever since then. Almost every human being in my life is there because of the path my love for blues music led me down."

Kid Andersen: Blues Spirits, Norway Soul

Chris “Kid” Andersen was born in Telemark, Norway in 1980. A blues fan since childhood, Andersen fell in love with the music of Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, Junior Watson, and the Kings (B.B., Albert and Freddie). By the time he was 18, he was backing all the American blues stars who came through Norway, including Homesick James, Nappy Brown and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Andersen released four solo albums before joining blues harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite’s band in 2004, a gig that lasted until he joined Rick Estrin & The Nightcats. Andersen had gained the attention of Norwegian blues guitar teacher, Morten Omlid, who steered him towards traditional blues music. In 2001, at age 21, Andersen moved to the United States, joined blues frontman Terry Hanck's band, and quickly became a figure on the West Coast blues scene. Andersen later played in Charlie Musselwhite's band and got a Blues Music Award (formerly W.C. Handy Award) for best contemporary blues album for Charlie Musselwhite's Delta Hardware. Then, when Little Charlie Baty retired from touring, Andersen took his place as guitarist in the Nightcats, and the new name of Rick Estrin & the Nightcats was formed. Andersen has also done extensive touring with Elvin Bishop on the Red Dog Speaks Tour. He is married to American Idol finalist Lisa Leuschner. They currently reside in San Jose, California where Andersen is CEO of Greaseland Studios. In 2013, Andersen was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the 'Gibson Guitar' category. In 2014, 2015, and 2016 he was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the 'Best Instrumentalist - Guitar' category.

(Chris “Kid” Andersen / Photo © by Juergen Achten)

The Greaseland USA studio run by Kid Andersen and his wife Lisa is a magical place. Kid and Lisa “Little Baby” Andersen will be released their double album “Spirits & Soul” (Release Day: August 2nd, 2024) by Little Village Foundation. This two-CD set includes “Spirits” Kid Andersen’s first solo studio recording while his wife provides harmony to his vocal leads. On the second CD they trade places and Lisa “Little Baby” Anderson becomes the leader. Lisa appeared nationally as a singer on both “American Idol” and “Showtime at the Apollo”. Thirteen songs with Lisa (‘Soul’) and nine songs starring Kid (‘Spirits’) on this double album release. Good thing that they now present work in which they are the stars instead of always helping others shine.

Interview by Michael Limnios          Special Thanks: Kid Andersen & Kevin Johnson

How do you describe Kid Andersen sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I take everything I like, that moves me, and I put it together in my own way. Sort of like deconstruction and reconstruction. I learn and absorb as much as I can of what I like of my musical surroundings, and it comes back out of me. After a while, I believe that is what becomes your original, own sound.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process? What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I have found that the more I learn about the differences between the different kinds of music in the world, the more I see, feel and hear that it is all connected and in some ways, the same.  When I moved to America as a young man, I had the attitude that I knew everything, and that I knew the right and ‘cool’ way to do everything in music, especially in Blues, which has been my musical mother tongue since I started learning to express myself through music. The most important piece of knowledge I eventually obtained, was that I really knew nothing at all. You cannot learn that which you already think you know.

I’ve grown, and I continue to grow, because I strive to keep my mind open and free. When I was in my late teens, early 20s, I went through a period when I explored EVERYTHING that somebody “hipper” told me was good, ANY kind of music, I would dive in without prejudice, and learn and absorb anything I could. First of all was Blues, then jazz, then soul, then country, then every kind of rock’ n roll, then classical music, then the folk music of all parts of the world and so on. It was an enormous growth spurt, and I think everyone should approach all music like that for at least a period of time. It was so enriching and valuable. But on the path to becoming ME, the biggest leap forward was when I started to recognize what music turned me on and got me excited, and which things made me feel like I was doing homework, you don’t have to love everything. Knowing what you DON’T like is as important as knowing what you DO like. Having your own taste, your own opinions, but make sure they ARE your own opinions and tastes, and not just what somebody else told you.

Don’t try to fit into a box that somebody else designed for you. Trying to fit into a certain category, and wanting to PROVE myself to others, those are things I did for a long time. They are often part of the process. But over time, lots of time, I could finally see that the ONLY way that you can give something of REAL VALUE to this world, is if you are 100% yourself. What Rick Estrin calls “Not giving a F%$K!”! Every other identity, musical or otherwise, is taken, and somebody is better than you at it. Through music, I have been able to create my own world, almost literally. I am very lucky, and very grateful. I love my life, and it is ALL because of what music has brought to it.

"The best advice I ever heard was “Be really really good at what you do, and don’t be an ass hole. After that, most things tend to work out.”" (Kid Andersen & Rick Estrin on stage / Photo © by Petr Čejka)

Are there any memories from Charlie Musselwhite, Rick Estrin and Elvin Bishop which you’d like to share with us?

Too many to mention... (Laughs)... They are all really good friends of mine, and I love hanging with every one of them.

What does the blues mean to you? What moment changed your music life the most?

Blues is a language, a very specific, subtle and detailed musical language. It was in this language that I first heard music calling out to me directly. It was the first language I learned, and through some incredible circumstances, I had the opportunity to completely immerse myself in it. I had an INCREDIBLE mentor and guide (Morten Omlid RIP) early on in my journey. Most people who come to the blues, come through the back door of Rock, but I was a freak who discovered Rock long long after I had already been immersed in Blues, as played by the true originators, Black artists in the USA. I first heard Stormy Monday by T-Bone Walker, I didn’t hear the Allman Brothers until many years later. When I first heard Led Zeppelin, I immediately recognized all the songs they were trying to steal.

Before I was 20 even, I was in the house band at the Muddy Waters Club in Oslo, and I got to play with, interact with, learn from, and befriend some of these masters, and also make a living doing nothing but playing music. This was my musical awakening and upbringing, so I have tremendous LOVE and also tremendous RESPECT for the Blues. Now, because Blues has also been very influential on other genres of music, SO many musicians feel like the Blues is part of them. Jazz artists play “blues” (and the GREAT jazz artists hold the real Blues in extreme reverence) country artists sing blues, and of course, every rock musician owes a big part of their vocabulary to the blues language.

So, yes, Blues is “popular” and “loved” BUT…. Because basically the entire music world is full of people who think they can “play the blues”, the “Blues” GENRE is being diluted by hordes of people who do not grant this amazing music the reverence it should have. Don’t get me wrong. I love rock ’n ’roll, and tons of “blues rock” too, because as I said before, I long tried to immerse myself in EVERY kind of music. Yes, I am a white, relatively young man, from NORWAY, so while I obviously didn’t come up in the Black American Blues CULTURE… by some strange circumstances, I was still raised up, MUSICALLY, and first learned to speak in the language of Blues. It will forever be what I am, how I identify, at my core.                     (Kid Andersen / Photo © by Michael Mark)

So, I believe I experience listening to Blues different from most.  And there are a LOT, a LOT of people out there who call themselves “blues” but they are imposters. It is probably hard to understand for some, how I can see myself as musically open-minded and free, and living with total disregard to the stifling limitations created by forced ‘genres and “labels”, and at the same time, to most, I will probably sound like the world’s biggest Blues Nazi. Out of thousands, probably MILLIONS of musicians who consider themselves some sort of “Blues Musicians”, only a TINY, almost invisible percentage of them, actually play “blues” in a way that is convincing to me. I am not saying they are bad musicians. I’m not saying that their music is invalid. And I’m not calling them assholes. I’m just saying, when it comes to how I experience, hear, and LOVE the Blues, with all the beauty, subtlety, nuance, complexity and spirits that has made up this musical language and unique art form…. Pretty much ALL these motherfuckers completely miss the mark. They miss the mark because they cannot even SEE the mark. They don’t even know it’s there. And to some degree, it does offend me. It offends me that the art of blues is taken so lightly. It saddens me to know that to 99% of people, me trying to explain what is SO easy for me to hear, will make me look like a crazy person LOL.

What´s been the highlights in your music life and career so far?

One moment I will never forget for as long as I live is when I first saw Paul Oscher perform. It was maybe 2002, at an empty theatre in North Hollywood, a big show (which sadly flopped) with several national blues acts (including Little Charlie & The Nightcats, and this was also the day I met Rick Estrin). Prior to seeing Paul Oscher, I had never seen a white person do what he did. I had of course seen many white people play blues, and some really well, with amazing instrumental prowess and all that stuff, and I thought that that was about as ‘real’ as we could do it.

It was a big dark room. Paul went on stage, by himself, with his guitar, and harp on a rack, and started his performance. I hardly knew anything about him, but I vaguely remembered that a Norwegian band I knew had told me that they had briefly toured Norway with him, and that he was terrible, that he didn’t play well, and that he was a complete mess, and difficult to work with. So, my expectations were very low, and I was thinking that this could be awkward, since it looked like he was going to play his whole show for not much more than one person, me, a big, fat, half-drunk Norwegian fresh off the boat.

He launched into his old boss Muddy Waters’ “Sad Sad Day” and he instantly transformed the room, and reality, and me. Let me go back 10 years for a second, to when I heard my first Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers and Howling Wolf LPs in my basement in Norway, I would put those LPs on, and the magic of those records would transport me to a different, unknown and mystical place. Now, hear me, Norway is a great place to live!  My childhood was a good one, but I had always felt stifled there…nice, but TOO nice. TOO safe. Dull and predictable. First world problems all around. As a child, I lived mostly in my head, where I could dream and fantasize, and residual 1000-year-old Viking blood was still coursing through my veins, filling me with a wanderlust that my surroundings could never satiate.

(Photo: Kid Andersen with the late Morten Omlid, who steered him towards traditional blues music)

Upon hearing that music, it took me there. Where, I didn’t know, but it was somewhere else. There were ghosts coming out of the speakers, and the sounds sparked dark, mysterious and incredibly exciting images in my mind. THOSE experiences I had by myself, in my room, with those records, THAT is why I am a record producer today. I want the listener to have THAT kind of experience, where they can truly “get into” a record and lose themselves and make their surroundings fade away. Elvin Bishop and I talk about this often. I knew we were kindred spirits when he said to me “The records people make today…they have no MYSTERY…”

Back to Paul Oscher in the empty theatre... Now I had never thought that the kind of magic I experienced with Muddy’s music years before, was something that I would ever witness in real life, certainly not in 2003, and damn sure not by a white guy… But there he was, doing THAT right in front of me. I can only describe the experience as psychedelic… When Paul struck a note with the slide, he was not only controlling the sounds of his guitar and amp…  he was manipulating the molecules in the air around us. I could hear them. He didn’t need a band. And he didn’t try to “compensate” by playing more notes or tricky comping parts. Hell, he played LESS, he left huge amounts of SPACE, and when he did, what you heard was the very electricity surrounding us in the darkness, and I honestly felt the room being filled with ancient spirits. Years later, my Nightcat brother Lorenzo Farrell told me he was also in the room that night, and he can back me up when I say that Paul Oscher truly had us spellbound.

What are you doing to keep your music relevant today, to develop it and present it to the new generation?

As I mentioned earlier, this was also the day I met Rick Estrin. Later that night, I was telling Rick all about the impact Paul’s performance had had on me. What Rick then said, is really at the core of what I am talking about - “What Paul Oscher has….most people don’t even know it EXISTS…” So…while the last thing I want to be perceived as, is an elitist “blues snob” who thinks himself superior to ANYONE (believe me, I don’t…)… There are artists out there, proudly flaunting the “Blues” badge, but their major “blues” references are folks like Slash and John Mayer and their musical vision lies closer to Bon Jovi than to Lightnin’ Hopkins… And I am not willing to pretend like that’s not lame. And regardless of how skilled an instrumentalist they are, or how incredible of a singer they are…

It does not change the fact that to MY ears, they are not truly speaking in the blues language. Folks will defend this with trite rhetoric like “the Blues will die if it doesn’t evolve and change! Gotta keep the blues alive!” But you cannot “save” something, if you’re oblivious to its mere existence. However, to me, the future of the Blues looks brighter than it ever has, with new talents like DK Harrell, Harrell ‘Young Rell’ Davenport and Jontavious Willis popping up.

"With the representation “Blues music” currently has, I would say it has little to no impact. The few that are saying something, they are not being heard." (Blues musician & producer Kid Andersen and his wife Lisa Leuschner Andersen run The Greaseland studio, San Jose California / Photo © by Rachael Myrow)

You’ve one more release with Lisa Andersen. Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new double album “Spirits & Soul”? How did the idea of Greaseland Studio come about?

Lisa, besides being my wife, is a singer who has a gift that I can only describe as ‘“supernatural”! She has such a powerful and seemingly effortless connection to the emotional power hidden in every song she sings, that sometimes, the only explanation I can find is that she was sent to this planet to bring healing and relief for souls that are heavy from caring too much pain. That might sound overly grandiose, but I have felt it, I have seen it, and you can hear it on her CD “Soul”. Our release “Spirits and Soul” is a double CD, with two front covers. One is me (Spirits) and the other hers. But of course, we are on each other’s songs, and though the 2 albums are different in many ways, they both belong to the Greaseland universe, in which we live. As I touched upon earlier, I do not adhere to the concept of artists fitting into a certain set of parameters, in order to be relevant in a certain “market”.

Artists, if they are true to their hearts and their art, should never repress or deny sides of themselves, just to fit into a particular niche. I have ingested so many different musical influences in my life, there are so many ways of musical expression that move me, that when I set forth to create something that is unique to me, MY music, I have absolutely no boundaries. This goes for Lisa as well, and she has definitely been influential in me tossing aside the shackles of having to be ONE “genre” or another. So, I would by no means call our albums “Blues records”, and I will reject any ONE label that tells you exactly what to expect from us. If you love the Blues, it’s there, in spades. The elements traditionally associated with “Blues” are certainly a bit more prevalent on my half, but what each CD represents is who WE are, not what crowd we try to fit in with. I personally think it’s strange when I meet artists who have or have had multiple careers, in different genres of music, and they somehow aim to keep the different sides of their musical tastes away from each other. When I listen to an artist’s work, I want to feel like I am getting to know the person. If an artist makes a strictly Jump Blues album, and I then discover that the same artist also has a Death Metal band… And a Disco group...I have to think that by fighting so hard to keep the different sides of their personality separate, I am not getting a complete picture of the artist, from ANY of those projects… And maybe that artist is letting a stupid “genre purity” ideal keep them from turning into a REAL interesting artist who takes ALL of this to create a new thing that is 100% unique to them…                                        (Kid and Lisa Andersen / Photo © by Bob Hakins)

Of course, this is just my logic, and I understand that there are commercial and marketing considerations that factor in. I personally want nothing to do with any such considerations, but I don’t fault or judge those who do. But I would like to inspire all artists to be as much of an original as they can possibly be.  If you think about it, The Beatles “White Album’ for instance… It has a surf rock song…a foray into Ska/Reggae… A heavy metal song… Avant-garde noise art numbers… A country song… blues numbers… do you think the Beatles were worried about “genre” ? Nobody can dispute their success, both creative and in sales… The Blues is at the bottom of everything I do. Musically, that is where I came from and will always return to. I won’t call my current album a ‘blues album” per se. And you will never hear me call myself a “bluesman’. I have far too much reverence for the greats of that world to include myself with them. What I am interested in, and that I think we have created with these albums… is the communication of a wide range of genuine emotions, and windows into different new musical landscapes where the listener can exit their world and join ours, just like I would exit MY world and escape into the sounds of Muddy Waters when I was younger. Mystery, adventure, deeply felt pain and deeply felt joy, songs that make you cry and songs that make you laugh and dance. Sometimes all at once. That’s what these albums are about for us. Spirits and Soul. Greaseland, our own little universe, is in those discs. And we’d be honored if you joined us there.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Everyone I have met and played with has been an important acquaintance. Some more than other, as it turns out, but you never know which ones are going to be most meaningful and lasting relationships, so I try and think of them all as important. The best advice I ever heard was “Be really really good at what you do, and don’t be an ass hole. After that, most things tend to work out.”

What do you learn about yourself from the blues music and people? 

Blues is a musical language. It’s one that I fell in love with as a young man, and it has defined my life ever since then. Almost every human being in my life is there because of the path my love for blues music led me down. I don’t separate music, work and life. So therefore, the answer is everything I know and have is because of music, and because of Blues music.

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

I would make Talent Equal Success.

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

With the representation “Blues music” currently has, I would say it has little to no impact. The few that are saying something, they are not being heard.

"I take everything I like, that moves me, and I put it together in my own way. Sort of like deconstruction and reconstruction. I learn and absorb as much as I can of what I like of my musical surroundings, and it comes back out of me. After a while, I believe that is what becomes your original, own sound." (Photo: Kid and Lisa Andersen released their double album “Spirits and Soul” by Little Village Foundation)

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

Blues has been pretty much ruined. If I heard “blues radio” today, I would NEVER be interested in Blues. Blues was pretty much hacked by mostly well intentioned white people in the 60s. It gave Blues a popularity boost, but as white people became the new blues musicians, so many of the most important things about the music disappeared. The church sound, the deep spiritual and dramatic sound disappeared. it was not part of white culture. The mystery and aura of the great classic blues recordings disappeared. The DANGER disappeared, and the element of the unknown that turned me on when I first heard it, it’s not there for me in most newer blues recordings. The VOICE as the lead instrument disappeared, and now there’s too much focus on the guitar heroes and all that bullshit.

Nowadays it is even worse. The whole genre has been overrun by artists who don’t even have a relationship with where the music came from. They are posers. they call what they do “Blues” but it is not. They just couldn’t make it in any other music “scene”. And the audience is letting it happen. they think it is “keeping the blues alive” or “evolving”. It is not, it is killing the music, and it is devolving.  Selling a ‘Big Mc’ and calling it “fine Italian food” is NOT saving Italian food, no matter how popular it is. I don’t know whose fault it is, the artists or the audiences, or just the fact that the whole music business is going down the toilet. It is not good. I don’t fault anyone for liking what they like. if you like something I think is shit, that doesn’t mean I think you’re a bad person. But what has happened to music, and yo the name “blues” in general is very saddening and infuriating to me.  But there are some great new talent coming out. People will ALWAYS find and fall in love with the real blues. That’s what will keep it alive forever.

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

There was a lot happening in Norwegian blues in the late 90s, early 2000's many bands, popularity was good, people came out to support music. And there are some really great talented and creative musicians in that scene. But, with VERY few exceptions, blues from Norway is not the real thing. it’s an assimilation. And some of it is cool, but blues came from the US, born out of the experience of black people over here. I will never have the same experience. But it was important to me to live here and become part of the culture, and to see and feel the culture, not as a tourist. But for my life. You are not going to develop the same understanding of the blues if you just study it from afar.

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

You shouldn’t use time machines. I might mess something up so that I’m never born.

(Kid Andersen / Photo © by Rachel Kumar)

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