Q&A with Chicago-based veteran blues musician Dave Weld, one of the few real innovators in the blues realm of today

"JB Hutto is still popular because his blues were so essential and broken down to a really pure form. You could never get more authentic blues, and he wrote all his tunes, so when you hear JB, you hear his lyrics, his singing, his guitar, his slide and his band."

Dave Weld: Nightwalk Blues On The Slide

Chicago blues is Dave Weld’s lifeblood. From his beginnings mentored by JB Hutto to his decades with Lil Ed Williams and his Blues Imperials, he has taken the blues around the world. Weld and his Imperial Flames have a brand-new album titled “NIGHTWALK,” their third for Chicago’s Delmark Records will be released on May 27th. “NIGHTWALK” deepens the forward-thinking sound and energy of their contemporary blues albums past, weaving an original tapestry of old and new traditions. Moreover, in every single track of this ground-breaking album we can relate to the vibrations of contempo- rary life blowing like a fresh breeze from the depths of a well-rooted sonority. The album was recorded at Joyride Studio, mixed at The Switchyard Studio in Nashville, pro- duced by Tom Hambridge and post-produced at Delmark Records  Riverside  Studio by Elbio Barilari and Julia A. Miller, who was also the album’s mastering engineer. The Imperial Flames are a big, horn-driven band and Weld shares vocal duties with his partner Monica Myhre and his drummer Jeff Taylor. Longtime friend Billy Branch contributes harp on the Hutto original, “Now She’s Gone” as well. Hambridge is Buddy Guy’s longtime drummer and producer and has won two Grammy Awards along with multiple nominations for his work with Guy, Susan Tedeschi, James Cotton, and Kenny Neal.

(Dave Weld / Photo © by Karen Murphy - Courtesy of Chicago Blues News)

A native of Lake Forest, Weld studied history and journalism at New Mexico State University before returning home for the blues life. He initially earned his keep playing with ex-Hound Dog Taylor sidemen Brewer Phillips and Ted Harvey at Sweet Peas, then joining up with several former bandmates of Howlin' Wolf in the house band at the 1815 Club. Weld's affinity for the blues was apparent to those wary, seasoned veterans. An early supporter was Hutto, a highly regarded slide guitarist. Weld's comfort with urban blues was further illustrated when he took on rhythm guitar duties in the fast company of his slide guitar-playing friend Lil Ed Williams in the raw-and-rowdy band they called The Blues Imperials. The acclaimed 1986 album ROUGHHOUSIN' captured their incandescent spirit. Weld was with The Blues Imperials for about ten years before branching off in the late-1980s to lead his own outfit. To date, The Imperial Flames have performed in 26 states, 11 countries, and at about three dozen festivals, among them the Montreal Jazz Festival and, naturally, the Chicago Blues Festival.

Interview by Michael Limnios                     Dave Weld, 2015 Interview @ blues.gr

Special Thanks: Kevin Johnson, Dave Weld, Elbio Barilari & Delmark Records

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

The blues has helped introduced a basic humanity to me, for all cultures, and for the impoverished or marginalized as well. In Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames we have worked with band members from the South Side, the North Side and the West side, and no matter their economic condition, they have poured their heart into their music. Yes, I thought that I could try to do something that would give me the best self-expression, really my way of being the most creative, and productive, and to try and get women as well, of course. But since I began playing, the many experiences we go through as a musician, crossing cultural lines, changes my world view because of the empathy that comes with being a close team. It also gives me respect to be among those, and work with those, that give their lives for blues music!

"Don't take yourself too seriously, and yet, keep working FOR yourself. I really thought I was great for a while when I was young, and now I can see where I could have done better. Now I try more honestly to do better, and take suggestions and not get too discouraged, because there are so many great musicians out there to choose from, I just want to be one of them and to be myself." (Photo: Dave Weld, Chicago Il)

Currently you’ve one more release with Delmark Records. How did that relationship come about?

This is my third release with Delmark, first "Burning Love", then "Slip into a dream", and now "Nightwalk"!! "Nightwalk is our best album, and it's inception has many roots. First, Monica and I called multi-Grammy winning Tom Hambridge and asked him if he would be interested in producing our album. He said yes, lets do it right now! This was because he is Buddy Guy's drummer and they were playing Buddy's January homestand at Legends! That worked out since Tom was in town and we did three days of recording! It was really great, and Tom helped in so many ways and he played the drums on one cut as well!

Then we won the Windy City Blues Challenge in Chicago and went down to Memphis to compete in the International Blues Challenge! During that week we made it all the way to the top finalists, and we met and talked with Julia Miller and Elbio Barilari, the new owners of the venerable Chicago blues label. They were knocked out with our show! They loved the band, and all our new material!  Especially "Mary Who"!  They encouraged us and we found out we had a lot in common!

We then went back to Chicago and started editing and doing overdubs. This was the height of covid now! We not down to Nashville to the Switchyard Studio and mixed with Tom Hambridge and his engineer Michael St Leon. We then brought it to Julia and Elbio and they loved it, and told us how it could be better, and they helped us to mix it some more, as well as buy original artwork for the cover and they hired Frank Hadley from Downbeat to write the liner note! Now you have the best album of my life!

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album "Nightwalk"?

We had to go down to the studio during the height of Covid, and since it was all a mystery, we sprayed the studio with Lysol every night we worked.

When we went down to Nashville the producer, Tom Hambridge, had to push us out of the snow, so we could drive back to Chicago. We worked so hard every day playing, and working on the lyrics, we were exhausted. But it really helped because we wanted to get to the very essence of each song, what it needed, and the best execution possible, for solos, vocal, and arrangements!! I did not know Billy Branch wanted to come down and play and that was a fun night. Brian Leech was one of the best engineers I ever met, and he put his heart into the project!  Without Brian I do not know what we would have done, he contributed so much!

"The blues has helped introduced a basic humanity to me, for all cultures, and for the impoverished or marginalized as well. In Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames we have worked with band members from the South Side, the North Side and the West side, and no matter their economic condition, they have poured their heart into their music." (JB Hutto & The New Hawks with Dave Weld / Photo © by Emily Goodfader)

How did you hook up with JB Hutto? Why do you think that JB Hutto's Blues continues to generate such a devoted following?

I met JB through Jim O Neal, the founder of Living Blues Magazine! I had contacted Jim previously to do a story on Gatemouth Brown, but when I came to Chicago, Jim gave me the assignment to do a story on JB. It turned out to be the cover story of Living Blues!  At the time I was playing with my second band, The Wolf Pack, headed by Eddie Shaw, and Hubert Sumlin, Chico Chism, Detroit Junior, and "Shorty" Gilbert! But this second band was playing at the 1818 Club, and they were Howin Wolf's band, and they were doing a home stand after he passed.

That broke up after one year of playing and I started going over to JB Hutto's house in Harvey for lessons every week. JB would take me out to the clubs and it was great. Then JB made me play second guitar behind him, so he could practice, and then he made me play lead guitar as well. That is why I wrote the dedication to JB in our new album, and I called it "Don't ever change your ways" because JB told me over and over to never quit, no matter what anyone said or did!! 

Before that, my first band was the Houserockers, Hound dog's band of Ted Harvey and Brewer Phillips. When Hound Dog died of cancer they were playing at Sweet Peas, on the Southside, and I gigged with them every weekend for a long time.  Eventually they ended up with JB Hutto and they toured the East Coast

JB is still popular because his blues were so essential and broken down to a really pure form. You could never get more authentic blues, and he wrote all his tunes, so when you hear JB, you hear his lyrics, his singing, his guitar, his slide and his band. The older I get the more I love JB's music more and more. He always told me, "write yours songs like a full grown man!", and everyone loved his original songs and they still do!!

"I have learned that by helping others, you can help yourself, because if you did not have the strength, you could not help anyone. By helping people, you get the strength to help yourself! " (Photo: Dave Weld on stage with Ted Harvey on drums and Brewer Philips on guitar, Chicago Il)

What would you say characterizes Chicago blues scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

There is more of it and it connects more deeply with the migration of blacks coming from the delta, to get jobs in Chicago. Remember "Sweet Home Chicago" by Robert Johnson?  Well, it was really true! Except now the musicians can all do a little pop and rock and most of the old juke joints on the South and West Side have died away. But the tradition still exist here and everyone knows the blues in Chicago!

What are your hopes and fears for the future of the Blues? What touched you from THE BLUES IN THE SCHOOLS PROGRAM?

Those kids are so sweet, and playing for them is like being the Beatles! They all rush the stage, they sing along, they clap in time, and they just have so much enthusiasm to sing the blues. Of course, they would like many kinds of music that would come in and entertain, but that is where the Crossroads Blues Society, and Steve Jones comes in. These blues societies are our life blood, and they really care about the future, so they raise money to provide these really enthusiastic kids with good blues in person!

Record companies like Delmark are our lifeblood!! Delmark will be celebrating 75 years this October and we are going to do a concert for, and with all the Delmark artists! Without Delmark there would be a giant hole in the blues world!

I really, really hope there is a blues revival, like in the 60"s when I first found the blues! That was of course because the Rolling Stones and Clapton, and many more from UK showed us our own music. BUT when the Blues Brothers came out it was great, and we got many more gigs, and when Stevie Ray came out he helped us too and we go a lot of interest, and gigs, in the blues! Bob Koester always told me that the best way to preserve the blues is to write good songs that are a hit and live on, Like "The thrill is gone" which made the pop charts! Bob said that is why Trad jazz died, because they kept doing the same old songs.                  (Photo: Dave Weld & Monica Myhre, Chicago IL 2016)

"There is more of it and it connects more deeply with the migration of blacks coming from the delta, to get jobs in Chicago. Remember "Sweet Home Chicago" by Robert Johnson?  Well, it was really true! Except now the musicians can all do a little pop and rock and most of the old juke joints on the South and West Side have died away. But the tradition still exist here and everyone knows the blues in Chicago!"

Are there any memories from Otis Rush, Hubert Sumlin, and Detroit Junior which you’d like to share with us?

I was playing at the legendary 1815 club, with the Wolf Pack, and Otis Rush came up on stage and the first thing he said was, he pointed to me and said, "hey, your third string is out of tune!, I 'm sorry but play so much music, it bothers me!"  I tuned that string up pronto! Hubert gave me advice too, but he would not teach me, because he said, "those young boys, Earth Wind and Fire, I taught them guitar, and they wouldn't even let me on stage, said there is this old man who wants to play" So he said he quit teaching. Lucky I could turn to JB Hutto for lessons! Detroit was a fun guy, and he was short with a contagious smile. We loved his hit, he always did "If I hadn't got high"! It was a funny and yet soulful song about all the hardships he caused himself by drinking too much! He worked very hard!

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

Don't take yourself too seriously, and yet, keep working FOR yourself. I really thought I was great for a while when I was young, and now I can see where I could have done better. Now I try more honestly to do better, and take suggestions and not get too discouraged, because there are so many great musicians out there to choose from, I just want to be one of them and to be myself. I was taught by JB Hutto and by Bob Koester of Delmark to write my original songs, and now I see I should have learned more cover tunes. But in the long run it is all the same because your cover tunes show your own personal arraignments, just the way your original do, because you still have your own style. I just want to get the best at my own style, and be me, and help the other band members to be themselves, especially Monica Myhre, who saved my life, and Jeff Taylor, because it would be my highest goal to be as the best they can be! I have learned that by helping others, you can help yourself, because if you did not have the strength, you could not help anyone. By helping people, you get the strength to help yourself! Thank you and God Bless you all.

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(Photo: Dave Weld, Chicago Il)

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