Q&A with Blues troubadour Eric Bibb, grounded in the folk and blues tradition with contemporary sensibilities

"Happily, there is good and great music in every era. However, today's popular music often seems less heartfelt than the music I grew up listening to. I pray that the current younger generation will nurture the best of human culture, contribute to it and take us closer to a world of peace and harmony."

Eric Bibb: Blues Storyteller & Philosopher 

‘Live at The Scala Theatre’ (Release date: April 5, 2024/ Stony Plain) is the latest recording from blues troubadour Eric Bibb, which follows 2023’s Grammy-nominated album, Ridin'. Performed in front of a live audience at Stockholm’s Scala Theatre in 2022, the atmosphere captured in these recordings is electric. Live at The Scala Theatre contains a selection of songs cherry-picked from Bibb’s history, infused with the folk and blues tradition with contemporary sensibilities. The performance features an all-star lineup of musicians including Eric's longtime collaborator, musical director and producer Glen Scott on bass, keys, drums and backing vocals; Olle Linder on drums and acoustic bass; Johan Lindström on pedal steel and electric guitar; Christer Lyssarides on electric guitar and mandola; Esbjörn Hazelius on fiddle and cittern; Greger Andersson on harp; Lamine Cissokho on kora and vocals; special guest vocalists Sarah Dawn Finer, Rennie Mirro and Ulrika Bibb, as well as string arrangements by Erik Arvinder and David Davidson, performed by Hanna Helgegren and Sarah Cross on violins, Christopher Öhman on viola and Josef Ahlin on cello.

(Eric Bibb / Photo © by Photo by Leo Ahmed)

With a career now spanning five decades, three Grammy nominations, a multitude of Blues Foundation awards and countless more accolades, Eric Bibb has secured his legacy as a legendary figure in the blues and roots genre. As Eric reflects on his musical journey, gratitude pervades. Evolution is evident in his voice and guitar playing, with his words grounded in truth and fostering a vision of unity in a world filled with divisive rhetoric. Eric Bibb is more than a blues troubadour – he is a storyteller and philosopher. His legacy is not just in the notes he plays or the stages he graces but in the questions he poses and the hope he instills. "Live at The Scala Theatre" is a continuation of the vision that informs Bibbs artistry as a modern-day Blues troubadour. Grounded in the folk and blues tradition with contemporary sensibilities, Bibbs music continues to reflect his thoughts on current world events and his own lived experiences, whilst remaining entertaining, uplifting, inspirational and relevant.

Interview by Michael Limnios

Special Thanks: Eric Bibb, Geraint Jones (G Promo PR) & Mark Pucci Media

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

Good question. Blues in particular and American folk music in general, all of which can be called Americana, was introduced to me by my parents along with their colleagues and friends. Folks who leaned left and supported movements for social justice and peace accordingly, their world view became mine through osmosis. 

Where does your creative drive come from? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?

The creative drive is something within us all to one degree or another. Growing up, my passion for music was encouraged, so my drive for creating music was nurtured in a big way. Being surrounded by creative people, as I was, was so inspiring. To be able to inspire others with my songs is a blessing. As an artist, leaving an audience uplifted, energized and hopeful is as good as it gets.

"For one thing, on gig and recording days, I make sure I do yoga for about an hour. The difference between a yoga day and a non yoga day is palpable. Yoga gives me an extra gear and a heightened sense of self-confidence. I also try to not eat before performing. I sing better when I’m hungry!" (Eric Bibb at Stockholm’s Scala Theatre in 2023, Sweden / Photo © by Leo Ahmed)

Do you have any interesting stories from your live recording at Stockholm’s Scala Theater?

The band we (me and my producer, Glen Scott) put together combined musicians I’ve known for quite a while with new acquaintances. One of the most exciting parts of the show, was performing a few songs backed by a wonderful string quartet. It felt like we were all breathing together and the music almost felt like it was coming from another dimension.

How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

For one thing, on gig and recording days, I make sure I do yoga for about an hour. The difference between a yoga day and a non yoga day is palpable. Yoga gives me an extra gear and a heightened sense of self-confidence. I also try to not eat before performing. I sing better when I’m hungry!

Why do you think that the Blues & Folk music continues to generate such a devoted following in Europe?

In a world where we seem to be gravitating towards the artificial and away from our connection to the natural world, people everywhere are longing for music and art rooted in tradition - because it’s more nutritious for the soul.

What's the balance in music between technique and soul? Why is it important to we preserve and spread Folk and Blues?

If I had to choose, I would go for more soul and less technique instead of the opposite. I’d rather be moved than dazzled. 

Folk music in general and Blues in particular connect us to our history. This connection gives us strength to move forward.                           (Eric Bibb / Photo © by Leo Ahmed)

Over the years, my singing voice has found its way home. Finding one’s authentic voice is, for many singers, a process that can take years. As I see it, it’s all about being comfortable, not putting on airs and not straining. Think of Ray Charles or Nat King Cole! Aside from putting in the playing time, I feel I’ve grown as a performer by realising that it’s not about trying to impress an audience, but communicating in a way that draws them into the music. For me, it’s about being part of a tradition and being grateful for that blessing. What’s been a constant on my journey is my love for music and songwriting."

Do you think there is an audience for Roots music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

Certainly!

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?

Over the years, my singing voice has found its way home. Finding one’s authentic voice is, for many singers, a process that can take years. As I see it, it’s all about being comfortable, not putting on airs and not straining. Think of Ray Charles or Nat King Cole! Aside from putting in the playing time, I feel I’ve grown as a performer by realising that it’s not about trying to impress an audience, but communicating in a way that draws them into the music. For me, it’s about being part of a tradition and being grateful for that blessing. What’s been a constant on my journey is my love for music and songwriting.

What characterize your previous studio album Ridin' music philosophy and songbook? 

As a songwriter, studying African American history has always been a deep well of inspiration. The true stories of my ancestors and their communities are at the heart of many of the songs on my new album - Ridin’. Together with co-writer/producer Glen Scott, we’ve created a concept album focusing on the ongoing task of understanding systemic racism and purging it from our world.

For all its seriousness, Ridin’ is a funky, groovy, hopeful collection of songs that feature stellar guest appearances by Taj Mahal, Jontavious Willis, Russell Malone and Habib Koité. At a time when popular political movements are attempting to delete truth from the historical record, I feel called upon to sing songs that contribute to greater understanding and much-needed unity. The making of Ridin’ has been a labor of love. We hope you’ll enjoy the journey.

"Blues in particular and American folk music in general, all of which can be called Americana, was introduced to me by my parents along with their colleagues and friends. Folks who leaned left and supported movements for social justice and peace accordingly, their world view became mine through osmosis." (Eric Bibb / Photo © by Jan Malmstrom)

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

Happily, there is good and great music in every era. However, today's popular music often seems less heartfelt than the music I grew up listening to. I pray that the current younger generation will nurture the best of human culture, contribute to it and take us closer to a world of peace and harmony.

Are there any memories from the late Leon Bibb, and the Greenwich Village folk scene which you’d like to share with us?

There are so many! Here's one: I'm with my Dad at some benefit concert in a Greenwich Village club and my Dad looks up and says: "There's Woody! Would you like to meet him?" And so it was, at age fifteen, I shook the hand of Woody Guthrie.

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

Authentic blues music encourages listeners to keep it real and tell it like it is.

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

The value of being kind and non-judgemental.

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?

For me, loving music and making music amplifies my appreciation of the Wonder Of It All. Music is a way of knowing the Divine.

Eric Bibb - Home

(Eric Bibb / Photo © by Jan Malmstrom)

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