Q&A with Chicago's most vibrant musician Keith Scott, has been a part of the Chicago blues scene since 1981

"The balance between technique and soul is an important component of the blues. You have to have technique to execute the performance and you have to have soul for the music to be felt. So, in a strange way you only want to get so proficient on your instrument. Too much technique will take away from the music. Soul comes from experience and the more you have the more soulful your sound will be."

Keith Scott: The Man & His Heavy Blues

Keith Scott is one of Chicago's most vibrant musicians. For the past 25 plus years he's built his reputation as a sizzling blues guitarist, dynamic performer, noteworthy songwriter and bandleader. Keith has toured the U.S. and Europe both with his band and blues great Jimmy Dawkins. Singer, guitarist and songwriter Keith Scott has been a part of the Chicago blues scene since 1981. In addition to working with Johnny Littlejohn, Hubert Sumlin, Eddie Taylor and Hip Linkchain, Scott traveled the world as part of a distinguished lineup of the Jimmy Dawkins Blues Band in the 1980s and 90s. Remarkably versatile, Chicago-based blues/rock guitarist Keith Scott has been working his way methodically up through the blues' ranks since his parents bought him his first guitar at age 14 and his young ears heard Muddy Waters in 1980. Born in White Plains, N.Y., Scott was first exposed to the music of Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and Grand Funk Railroad.

(Photo: Keith Scott has been a part of the Chicago blues scene since 1981)

With this sonic baptism, a mind-set and foundation were established for him to explore the realm of blues inhabited by the creme de la creme of Chicago musicians such as Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Jimmy Reed and others in that pantheon. Little did Scott know, however, that he would go on in just a few years to actually play with many of the greats of post-war Chicago blues. As concerts with Dawkins became more sporadic in the 1990s and Scott's reputation as a reliable, controlled and soulful guitar-slinger grew, Scott ventured out on his own, performing a loud and funky brand of music he perfected, labeled and plays to this day called "heavy blues." Keith's CD "World Blues Society" (2022) has garnished some great reviews.

Interview by Michael Limnios                   Keith Scott, 2019 interview @ blues.gr

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?

As an Artist I have always tried to focus on my sound and presentation of my performance. When I first moved to Chicago, I would listen to all the great players and try to absorb their tones and chord structures. When I first started out I tried too hard to come out front and it was a great help to put that aside and listen for a change. I still have to analyze my performances and make sure I don't overplay and pick the right material. This has helped with my writing as well. I  always try to keep my song structure simple but meaningful.

Why do you think that Chicago Blues Scene continues to generate such a devoted following?

The Chicago Blues scene is so rich in history that it will always be a draw for audiences. When it comes to the Blues Chicago is it as far as I'm concerned. It is straight no-nonsense music steeped in feeling. You just can't ignore it. Luckily, we have a lot of players here like John Primer and Larry McCray that understand this. It’s actually amazing how it keeps on going and I can still work in the Blues business.

"Life can be extremely difficult to navigate, and I feel artists can tap into a higher spirit with their craft. There are definitely times when music can save you and I am sure that helps people that are looking for an escape through what you do as an artist. So, it's very important to keep a good attitude with your performance." (Photo: Keith Scott with Larry McCray and Tab Benoit at House of Blues, Chicago) 

What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better blues musician?

3Well for sure the hardest obstacle has been just telling people over the years that I'm a blues musician and of course just being a musician. I spent years being corrected on my timing and my knowledge of certain standards. I just heard that Luther Jr. Johnson passed, and he was all over me about my rhythm. In the end we became friends, and he hired me to play. So, the lesson is just stick with it and the music will take shape. It actually took me 30 years to play Trouble No More" correctly. Dave Myers from The original Little Walter Band told me it was a 13 bar blues which helped but I still struggled!!!

How do you want the Blues music to affect people? Why was the Blues never a part of the pop/popular music?

I want the Blues to reach people of all ages. The goal is to make them forget about their daily lives and embrace the rhythm of the moment. The best secret of Blues music in my opinion is that it never becomes too mainstream. That will take away the essence of the music. The reason I think it won't be mainstream because although it appears easy to perform it is in fact very difficult to play correctly. I feel it has to be earned and not that many people will make the effort. Also if everybody gets really good then I will be out of work !! So, I like it just outside the mainstream!

The Blues will have to adapt to the new changes. What are your predictions for the music industry? How do you think the artists will adapt to it?

I feel blues has already adapted into the music industry. People are using the music more and more in commercials ,films etc.

Even some rappers will sample blues licks. The history is too great to ignore. I was recently hanging out with one of the Founders of the Beach Boys (Bruce Johnston) and he was telling me how much he liked Freddy King's San Jose. The music is there and still being discovered which is why I'm glad I stuck with it.

"The Chicago Blues scene is so rich in history that it will always be a draw for audiences. When it comes to the Blues Chicago is it as far as I'm concerned. It is straight no-nonsense music steeped in feeling. You just can't ignore it. Luckily, we have a lot of players here like John Primer and Larry McCray that understand this. It’s actually amazing how it keeps on going and I can still work in the Blues business." (Photo: Keith Scott with Reverand B. Jones at Salmon Arm Roots & Blues Festival)

What's the balance in music between technique and soul? What do you think is key to a music life well lived?

That's an interesting question. The balance between technique and soul is an important component of the blues. You have to have technique to execute the performance and you have to have soul for the music to be felt. So, in a strange way you only want to get so proficient on your instrument. Too much technique will take away from the music. Soul comes from experience and the more you have the more soulful your sound will be. Of course, this is a great excuse for not working so hard and trying to enjoy my life outside of music. So, my motto would be play hard but take a nice break and in my case go fishing like Howling Wolf, Little Smokey Smothers and Snooky Pryor did.

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?

Well I agree with Coltrane that music is an extension of yourself and of your soul. Life can be extremely difficult to navigate, and I feel artists can tap into a higher spirit with their craft. There are definitely times when music can save you and I am sure that helps people that are looking for an escape through what you do as an artist. So, it's very important to keep a good attitude with your performance.

You've traveled a lot in Europe... What would you say characterizes European blues scene in comparison to US scenes and circuits?

There is no doubt that the European audiences are more appreciative... I had such an awesome time at the Black Stairs Blues fest in Enniscorthy, Ireland recently. It just seems that people of all ages support you. Even though you’re not a household name people treat you like royalty. I first experienced this with Jimmy Dawkins. We would be playing a small bar in Chicago and then go to Europe and play at a Castle or a Stadium. It was just amazing. Sometimes at The House of Blues in Chicago we have a European audience, and the place is electric. Actually, Canadian audiences are extremely supportive of the Blues and the arts in general. We will catch up back home eventually!!!I call slugging it out in the states!

Keith Scott - Home

(Photo: Keith Scott on stage in Hermans Upstairs Lounge, Victoria, B.C. Canada)

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