Q&A with German musician Bad Temper Joe, one of Europe's finest blues and roots artists, songwriters and guitarists

"Blues is a very direct and raw music. Something that kicks you in the guts. It shoots you right in the heart. It makes you lose your mind. But it still makes you feel good and lets you know you're not alone. We all have the blues. It's only human. When the groove hits you, it makes you forget your troubles, takes you to another world. That's blues to me, and maybe that's why people still like it."

Bad Temper Joe: Nothin' But The Blues

If you seek some of Europe's finest blues and roots artists, songwriters and guitarists, look no further than Germany's Bad Temper Joe. While honoring the old bluesmen from the Mississippi Delta, Bad Temper Joe brings the blues into the 21st Century – and does so with excellent songwriting, a powerful performance, and staying true to the tradition. With songs as raw as they are haunting, the grumpy blues bard has gained attention in the blues scene over the last few years, receiving numerous nominations for blues awards and winning the German Blues Challenge in 2022. But the German has also already been making waves in the international blues scene, and was the only European Act to reach the finals of the 2020 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee.

(Bad Temper Joe / Photo © by Nico Dreier)

Bad Temper Joe's new album, Glitter & Blues (Release Day: February 24, 2023), marks a milestone in his music. The record is shaped by Bad Temper Joe's matured composing. In the album he intensively explores the traditions of blues, country and folk music in the twelve, mostly soft-rhythmic, tracks. While the album shows off Bad Temper Joe’s unique style and one-of-a-kind sound, it remains true to the genre. The blues exudes its charm best when played the way BTJ celebrates it on Glitter & Blues: simple, honest, with a twinkle in his eyes. Finally, Bad Temper Joe shows what possibilities the blues form offers – and what power and intensity they contain – with the title track “Glitter & Blues,” which is characterized by his quiet, deep vocals, and the dourly-humorous “If These Walls Could Talk.” Bad Temper Joe will be the German participation at the European Blues Challenge, Chorzów in Poland (June 1-3, 2023).

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

If it wasn't for the blues, I probably never would have taken the path I'm on now. The blues is the driving force. The music that inspires me the most, and it's definitely one of the most important things in my life. And like any other music, it connects people. But when you talk about blues music, you have to remember where the music comes from. Which circumstances gave birth to this music. Honoring the roots is what I'm talking about. I try to do my best when I write and play my blues songs. I don't know if I could have made it so far without the blues. But fortunately, I never have to think about what would have happened without it.

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

The music I play is based on rural blues. But I'm not afraid to turn to country or folk as well. I like the variety. Big Bill Broonzy wasn't a pure blues musician either. I can write songs anytime, anywhere. Sometimes I think of a melody when I'm in the supermarket. Sometimes it's a good first line for a song. I don't know where it comes from. Most of the time, I just write when the mood strikes me. I don't have a routine – I know some songwriters do. When an album is done, I usually take time off from writing. Then it's time to play the songs live on stage. Now and then it seems like writing brand-new songs. That keeps me in motion all the time. If I ever get tired of that? I don't feel like I'm going to get tired of it anytime soon.

"If it wasn't for the blues, I probably never would have taken the path I'm on now. The blues is the driving force. The music that inspires me the most, and it's definitely one of the most important things in my life. And like any other music, it connects people. But when you talk about blues music, you have to remember where the music comes from." (Bad Temper Joe / Photo © by Nico Dreier)

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

Well, I don't know. Blues is a very direct and raw music. Something that kicks you in the guts. It shoots you right in the heart. It makes you lose your mind. But it still makes you feel good and lets you know you're not alone. We all have the blues. It's only human. When the groove hits you, it makes you forget your troubles, takes you to another world. That's blues to me, and maybe that's why people still like it.

What would you say characterizes German blues scene in comparison to other European scenes?

Everywhere I've been, I've had the same feeling. The musicians are welcoming, the audience enjoys it. We are all connected in many ways through this style of music. There are so many different forms of blues music. I can't say if any style of blues is typical of a particular European scene. People know different artists, different songs. But the bottom line is that it always feels the same. There are many great acts all across Europe, who keep the flame burning, but add something new to the blues, too. Check out Michael van Merwyk, Greyhound George, Kai Strauss or The Bluesanovas from Germany. Vanja Sky lives in Germany, but has Croatian roots, I think. Stef Rosen from Italy, Tim Lothar from Denmark, Robbert Duijf from The Netherlands, the late Tiny Legs Tim from Belgium, Sir Oliver Mally from Austria, The Washboard Resonators and Martin Harley from England, The Wacky Jugs from France. Just to mention a few artists. There are definitely many more. The blues is in good hands in Europe.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

It may sound hypocritical, but every concert has the possibility to become something special – and it probably is. I enjoy being on stage or recording in the studio. Big stages or small bars: It's something special every time. However, I definitely remember my performance at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis – but wait... even more so my gig at the Kings Palace Café on Beale Street. The latter might be one of my most favorite shows I've ever played. Playing my songs in the homeland of the blues is something I will be forever grateful for.

"I miss the music and songs that tell a story. Of course, you can still find such songs today. There is a lot of good music. But most of the time you don't hear it on the big radio stations. Maybe that's a good thing, so you can tell a good song from a bad one. However, I would definitely like to see people take the time to listen to music more consciously more often." (Bad Temper Joe / Photo © by Nico Dreier)

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

Can I miss something I've never experienced in person? Of course, it would be wonderful to see personalities like Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf, Lightnin' Hopkins or Big Joe Williams in a local bar every night. But we live in a different time. The blues has changed, too. Songs like “Terraplane Blues,” “Cross Road Blues,” “Electric Man,” “Long Distance Call” or “Hobo Blues” can't be written in our time. Of course, many blues songs are timeless – that's what makes them so special. But still they could not be written in today's time, no matter if in Europe or in the USA. As I mentioned earlier, there are some musicians who are dedicated to the old blues. But the wonderful thing about it is that they give it something new. They give it their own flavor. That's what the blues has always been about, and hopefully that's how it will stay with us. In all its facets. I know that most people of my age don't listen to the blues. Well, they don't do it on purpose. It's mostly the music only their parents or even grandparents listen to. But if they come across a band that's deeply rooted in the blues, they'll like it. There's a great band, GA-20, who have a record called “Try It, You Might Like It.” That's exactly what it's like. Young people should try it and listen. They will like it.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

Most of today's popular music, the music on the radio, in TV shows or movies, is easy-listening music. It's like a parody of the real world. I miss the music and songs that tell a story. Of course, you can still find such songs today. There is a lot of good music. But most of the time you don't hear it on the big radio stations. Maybe that's a good thing, so you can tell a good song from a bad one. However, I would definitely like to see people take the time to listen to music more consciously more often. Listen to a complete album in one go. Whether on vinyl, CD or streamed. Take 30 to 60 minutes and listen to the complete album. Go to concerts and listen to the music. Don't go there to meet up with old friends and talk loudly in front of the stage. Listen to the music.

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

It's all hard work, no matter how easy it looks in retrospect or to outsiders. But enjoy the music and what you do. It's not for everybody. I think that's what I have learned.

Bad Temper Joe - Home

(Bad Temper Joe / Photo © by Nico Dreier)

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