Q&A with drummer Tony Braunagel of Phantom Blues Band, a band with rich and successful musical experiences

"I would only hope for a renaissance of music made by real artists with a new following that would appreciate and fully support the real artistry. I will continue to make music for this purpose."

Phantom Blues Band: Blues Breakfast

For all his considerable musical talents, Taj Mahal has always been shrewd. And smart. In the early 1990s he knew he’d assembled something special in his backing band. He dubbed his secret weapon the Phantom Blues Band. After helping Taj win two Grammys and gain three other nominations, the band members realized they could stand on their own. The Phantom Blues Band began assembling what would become Out Of The Shadows in 2006, an album that stretched the band and won raves at every turn. The Phantom Blues Band - drummer Tony Braunagel, bassist/singer Larry Fulcher, guitarist/singer Johnny Lee Schell, saxophonists Joe Sublett, trumpeter Darrell Leonard, and keyboardist/singer Mike Finnigan – has been a resilient unit. At various times, its members have backed just about every marquis band you can name, but they continued to support Taj when he needed them.         (Photo: The Phantom Blues Band)

"We set the bar high from the start and maintain that level of freedom for giving it our best."

The Phantom Blues Band wasn’t going to let that knock them out. They recruited veteran Jim Pugh on keyboards (Etta James, Robert Cray, Chris Isaak) and immediately set about to produce an album in tribute to the fallen Finnigan. Schell and Fulcher handle most of the vocals on the new album, Blues For Breakfast (Little Village / Release date: June 18, 2022). The band invited two of its long-time musical companions – Bonnie Raitt and Curtis Salgado – to pitch in on the effort. As a tribute to the Finnigan, proceeds from the new CD will be donated to the Mike Finnigan School of Music at the Stiefel Theater in Salina, Kansas. It is surely an honor Finnigan, a native of Kansas, would smile at. The members of the Phantom Blues Band can take plenty of pride from their aggregated musical experiences, but they know this project is something special. Of course, Taj Mahal could have probably told you that they could do this long ago. He believed in them first. Tony Braunagel talks about The Phantom Blues Band, their new album, his career and Little Village Records.

Interview by Michael Limnios              Tony Braunagel, 2018 Interview @ blues.gr

Special Thanks: Tony Braunagel, Little Village & Kevin Johnson (Pround Papa PR)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music?

I’ve traveled the world with several artists, I’ve entertained on several continents. I’ve realized how many cultures are outside of the one I grew up in, and the one I exist in. I’ve grown to know what people, music, art, cuisine are like in so many new ways. This has given me a look into how to play music from other places as well.

What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I’m still playing drums after 57 years from my first professional gig at 15. I started without proper music schooling and instruction. I learned to play by ear as they say, and developed instincts to use when playing on my own through observation and study. I’ve since learned simple skills of reading music, beginner guitar and piano.

I’m still mostly inspired by the music that caught my ear and my heart at that early age. I still get to play a lot of American Rhythm and Blues. I picked up jazz as I grew, as well as some international styles along the way, and my roots as a child early on where from my father’s favorite, Country Music. I guess what has remained the same is how it comes from my heart and the instincts that I’ve developed.

"I don’t think the music industry will automatically adapt to the reality of artists and their creativity. I think the artists have to use their voice to change how this whole thing works. I used the word renaissance in the last paragraph and I think now I evolve into revolution. You make it, you own it, you find a way to sell it, and continue your life as an artist. I believe that’s the recipe for a music life well lived. Be honest to yourself and do what comes from the heart." (Photo: Tony Braunagel)

Currently you’ve new release with Little Village. How did that relationship come about?

I met Jim Pugh probably 20 years ago or more. We knew of each other through the bigger circle, but I also played with Jim on a Boz Scaggs gig for a short spell. We stayed friends and probably played on some recording sessions, until I was asked to join the Robert Cray Band for four years. We toured together, cycled together, wrote and recorded with Robert, and it was a good stretch of closer friendship and music. Jim has played on some albums with artists that I’ve produced and our styles melded together even more over the years. We lost our famously talented singer and keyboard player with the Phantom Blues Band last year to cancer, Mike Finnigan. We as a band asked Jim to join us and he did. We wanted to make an album that was dedicated in some way to Mike. Jim then suggested that we make this album with Little Village Foundation. We are all glad that this was made possible so quickly. It helped us through the grieving process and allowed to get our legs back and make our own footprint.

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album Blues For Breakfast?

We asked a couple of longtime friends to join us. First off, Johnny Lee Schell, our guitarist, and one of the lead singers and I, had played with Bonnie Raitt back in the 80’s and early 90’s. Johnny Lee Schell also used to tour with her as a duo, as well as the full band that I was in. Bonnie and he developed a special dynamic of singing together long ago, as well as a close friendship. I’m lucky to say that she and I are still very good friends as well as Mike Finnigan played in her band for several years, so it’s easy to say that we are all family. Johnny asked her to sing a special duet on the album and they sound so great together, it turned out perfect.

We also invited our good friend and brother in arms Curtis Salgado to guest with us. The Phantom Blues Band over the years made three award winning albums with Curtis at our home studio Ultratone, owned and operated by Johnny Lee, that I produced. The closeness had developed for years. Curtis also wrote some great songs with Mike Finnigan, one of which won Song of the Year at the Blues Music Awards. So, it was an easy step to take to ask Curtis to join us. We are thrilled to have them both be our guests.

"Music is full of personalities, many of which are driven to find that thing in their quest that makes them special. Along the way you have human exchange on all sorts of levels, sometimes in harmony and sometimes with difficulty. It’s easy to let yourself get wrapped up in the good times and hard to deal with those trying times with egos and attitudes. I guess the lesson is, you try to remember why you are gathered together to make these wonderful noises that you have worked your whole life to learn how to express." (Photo: The Phantom Blues Band)

Why do you think that The Phantom Blues Band continues to generate such a devoted following?

I would think that the early years of recording with Taj Mahal, winning Grammy’s and getting at least nominated for all those albums was a good start. Then you take the energy and musical depth of Taj with a bunch of great musicians on the road and perform it night after night, you create a glow that something is going on with this combination of performers. We set the bar high from the start and maintain that level of freedom for giving it our best.

Are there any specific memories or highlights of your career that you would like to tell us about?!

Asking about specific memories really limits this answer. I’ve had so many great life changing experiences from traveling to Iran in the 70’s to play for the royal family, entertaining the troops in Iraq twice during that war, to being on stage and in the studio with some of the greats especially in the Blues genre. Performing on stage with BB King, Buddy Guy, Jimmie Reed, Lightnin’ Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, Charles Brown, Pop Staples, Dr. John, Little Milton, Ike Turner, recording with BB, Otis Rush, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, and of course all of the years with Taj. It’s difficult to narrow it down. All I can say is “What A Life”.

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

Music is full of personalities, many of which are driven to find that thing in their quest that makes them special. Along the way you have human exchange on all sorts of levels, sometimes in harmony and sometimes with difficulty. It’s easy to let yourself get wrapped up in the good times and hard to deal with those trying times with egos and attitudes. I guess the lesson is, you try to remember why you are gathered together to make these wonderful noises that you have worked your whole life to learn how to express.

"I would think that the early years of recording with Taj Mahal, winning Grammy’s and getting at least nominated for all those albums was a good start. Then you take the energy and musical depth of Taj with a bunch of great musicians on the road and perform it night after night, you create a glow that something is going on with this combination of performers. We set the bar high from the start and maintain that level of freedom for giving it our best." (Photo: Tony Braunagel)

Artists and labels will have to adapt to the new changes. What are your predictions for the music industry?

It's very difficult to predict what will happen with the music industry, at least on the corporate end. It’s become completely inflated to a point that ownership is important, but can you get it out there in front of the audience that will appreciate you and support you. The invading factors in technology have enabled the public to get the music almost for free, and the platform that artists profited from are controlled by these forces. They block you in to thinking that they are the only way for your exposure and pay minimal fractions of the worth of the content.

I would only hope for a renaissance of music made by real artists with a new following that would appreciate and fully support the real artistry. I will continue to make music for this purpose.

How do you think the music industry will adapt to it? What do you think is key to a music life well lived?

I don’t think the music industry will automatically adapt to the reality of artists and their creativity. I think the artists have to use their voice to change how this whole thing works. I used the word renaissance in the last paragraph and I think now I evolve into revolution. You make it, you own it, you find a way to sell it, and continue your life as an artist. I believe that’s the recipe for a music life well lived. Be honest to yourself and do what comes from the heart.

The Phantom Blues Band - Home

(Photo: The Phantom Blues Band)

Views: 116

Comments are closed for this blog post

social media

Members

© 2022   Created by Michael Limnios Blues Network.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service