Q&A with bluesman Alabama Mike, writes and sings the blues unique and simultaneously steeped in tradition

"I think that the genre (Blues) needs to be embraced, taught and shared in a broader sense, it has to be accepted, supported and respected more by black people here in America first. I think people can be made to understand how this music has been so important in the development of our place culturally in society."

Alabama Mike: The Future of the Blues

Anyone listening to Alabama Mike has a simple choice:  Brace yourself for some raw and sometimes uncomfortable truth, or run the other way. His new album, “Stuff I’ve Been Through”, is loaded with 11 original songs that pit Alabama Mike face-to-face with what he sees in today’s society. The album (release date May 12, 2023 on Little Village) features Alabama Mike (Michael Benjamin) at his most outspoken. It weaves from old-school Southern soul to straight-ahead blues to the earthy street-funk and R&B gleaned from his blue-collar neighborhood of Richmond, Calif., where he has lived for the past 25 years. And, there’s a gospel power to this music that increases its intensity. Produced by Christoffer “Kid” Andersen at Greaseland in San Jose, Calif., the album shows unabashed candor, beginning with the survivor’s tale of the title cut.  Alabama Mike recounts life’s missteps and emerges battered with the knowledge that a higher power pulled him through.                                    (Alabama Mike / Photo © by Nicolas Frey)

This is evidence that Alabama Mike is one of the few blues artists today who writes strong, memorable songs that are simultaneously unique, but steeped in blues tradition. He writes about modern themes, making his music work in a way that’s natural and not contrived.  The songs reflect his personality: unabashed, self-assured and swaggering at times. The music is raw-edged yet reflects the complex and realistic person that is Alabama Mike. There’s a lot of personality here, and that a testament to his skills that he can steer clear of conventional stereotypes. It’s a tricky form of social commentary that few dare tackle. Alabama Mike challenges the listener at every turn to accept him no matter how hard that may be. But his songwriting is so self-assured and compassionate that he wins over listeners just by being himself.

Interview by Michael Limnios    Special Thanks: Alabama Mike & Kevin Johnson 

How has the Blues and Gospel influenced your views of the world? What does the blues mean to you?

I would say that now I can draw from each genre from a different place considering my experiences but yet they are so close in similarity to me in a sense of spirituality. I see them as effective avenues of expression that at some point everyone will make a choice on which road they will travel. The blues is the form of expression I chose or rather the platform from which I can project my views, my  opinion and my reality. Since I am a writer, I would say my creativity is based largely on my reality.

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

I came to the realization that there are not enough artists that come from the places and situations that created this genre of music. So many posers, infiltrators and outside people that are just clogging up the flow. I wrote this record from my own experience, my opinion, my perspective and my voice, not the institution's voice. I know there are people out there who want something different.

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

What changed my music life the most was when I found that people respect who I am and that's all they expect from me. Hate it or love it I am only going to be me when I perform, that's all I got. The most recent major shift in my career has been my opportunity to travel the world and share my music and experience other cultures that really value my music as a form of art.

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

Never let other people tell you whether your work has value or not.

"The blues is the form of expression I chose or rather the platform from which I can project my views, my  opinion and my reality. Since I am a writer, I would say my creativity is based largely on my reality.(Alabama Mike / Photo © by Karo Achten)

Currently you’ve one release with Little Village. How did that relationship come about? Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album Stuff I've Been Through?

I do have a new solo release with Little Village Foundation, and that was all Jim Pugh of LVF and Kid Andersen of Greaseland Recording really urging me to be mindful that at certain times in life you must take advantage of the opportunities presented to you. That meant a lot to me coming from people I respect like Kid and Jim. I had previously recorded several sides with Kid Andersen, Jim Pugh, Derrick Dmar Martin and Jerry Jemmott (The Greaseland Allstars) on my last solo project " Upset The Status Quo '' 2016. I think people would find it interesting that on this project I also chose to record part of the album with the local band I work with based out of Oakland Ca " The Mighty Revelators" Ronnie Smith, AJ Joyce, Lorenzo Hawkins, Bobby Young and Bernard Andersen, they contributed four sides on this project.

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

What I really miss most about the blues of the past is most of the legends have passed on. Yes, you can watch YouTube videos and listen to tons of records, but it doesn't add up to experiencing one day in the presence of someone like BB King, Little Milton, Elmore James or Freddie King. My greatest fear is that the blues genre will be always considered undeserving of recognition and support from the mainstream music sources.

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

I think that the genre needs to be embraced, taught and shared in a broader sense, it has to be accepted, supported and respected more by black people here in America first. I think people can be made to understand how this music has been so important in the development of our place culturally in society.

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

I believe there is an audience for blues at its current state. I think promoters, festivals and institutions should be purposely inclusive of the young gifted artists of color first, but also be inclusive and supportive of all of the youth providing support and opportunities for them to develop musically.

Alabama Mike - Home

(Alabama Mike at Atlantis club in Basel, Switzerland 2022 / Photo © by Nicolas Frey / "Stuff I’ve Been Through" album's cover / Photo © by Karo Achten)

Special Thanks: Kevin Johnson (Proud Papa Promotions & Publicity), Alabama Mike, Little Village Foundation

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