Q&A with guitarist and singer Larry Fitzgerald a.k.a. Weezil Malone, a veteran blues musician in Michigan area

"The Blues is the seed of music in America. The seed was brought here, planted here, and sprouted here. It grew as jazz, country, rock, rap, R&B. They all came from the same seed and is in every song played, we feel it every time we listen to anything, if we realize it or not."

Weezil Malone: The Rockin'est Little Band

Guitarist and singer Larry Fitzgerald (a.k.a. Weezil Malone) is virtually a blues institution in the Grand Rapids area, having performed and recorded for 44 years. He now surrounds himself with a stellar bunch of players, aka "the Rockin'est little band around" --the Weezil Malone Band.  The band released a new collection of stories, titled Desert Drive-In" (2022), about the ironies of life and the people we cross on our journey. The message is that there is more to all of us than just the image we portray, there’s a moral to find in every story or another layer to discover in one of the characters.

(Photo: Larry Fitzgerald a.k.a. Weezil Malone)

Weezil’s unique style and descriptive yet simple story telling tied together with the solid, creative rhythm section will have you grooving to stories you’ll swear were written with you in mind….

Interview by Michael Limnios

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

To me, Blues music is my base, a tool I can count onto use when the world seems too crazy and  fear for our future looms overwhelmingly over our spirits. I can put on an album, or play my guitar, and find my center. It brings me to a place that I can slow down, reflect on real life situations at a more personal level, breath easier, find my core. Blues lyrics may be personal to the writer but are shared when listened to, becoming a common thread for us all to relate with, reminding us we are not alone. Today especially! The way to beat the division we are experiencing in the country today is to work together. Blues is the tool to use to help do that. Or maybe we are happy, in a good space, and feel like spreading that feeling. I can’t think of a better way to charge my batteries with all the energy needed, make that smile wider, that salutation more hardy\hearty! This is a good question because listening to Blues alone is different from sharing Blues in a group of folks. By myself it’s that tool I mentioned to either ground myself, or just to boost the good I am feeling. With a group of folks it’s a tool to put us on equal ground, sharing life in the moment, creating peace in the midst of craziness, promoting freedom for our souls.      

How do you describe your sound and songbook? What is the story behind "Weezil Malone" name?

Oh man, my sound. First of all I am really happy that I have a “sound”, a voice. How about, energetic emotions slowed down enough to be understood. Honestly, what I sound like today comes from all the music I’ve absorbed throughout my life. I would pick out the things in a song that grabbed me, phrases, licks, hooks, melodies, and store them to bring out at any time I needed them. Duane Eddy, Eric Burton, Peter Green, even the pop tunes we were force fed via the radio. Like it or not, there were redeeming moments to glean from listening. The English players covering American Blues, ironically enough, is what led me to my heroes. I became star struck over the Chicago scene, and then followed their origins to find Delta, western swing, St Louis, Texas, mountain blues….finally realizing that the Blues comes from everywhere and it’s for everyone. There truly is a Blues for everyone, whether you’re playing, listening, or dancing.

The name, Weezil Malone, originated as part of a duet, Rathbone & Malone. Along with friend and sometimes mentor Clayton Powers. We created characters for the logo, Badger Rathbone and Weezil Malone. After that project ran it’s course and we both pursued other outlets the name stuck, it even survived my campaign to change the name, band members arguing they wanted to play in Weezil Malone Band, it was established with a positive image. It started as the King-Sized Blues Band, when I joined it became the King Sized Blues Band w\ Weezil Malone, then Weezil Malone & the King Size Blues Band, Weezil Malone, and finally, as a compromise to be me and not “Weez” and include the members wishes, the Weezil Malone Band. However, I can’t go to the pharmacy or grocery without hearing “Hey Weez!”         (Photo: Weezil Malone)

"To me, Blues music is my base, a tool I can count onto use when the world seems too crazy and  fear for our future looms overwhelmingly over our spirits. I can put on an album, or play my guitar, and find my center. It brings me to a place that I can slow down, reflect on real life situations at a more personal level, breath easier, find my core. Blues lyrics may be personal to the writer but are shared when listened to, becoming a common thread for us all to relate with, reminding us we are not alone."

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you? Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Meeting people and getting advice or just discussing music and working it was done at gigs, jam sessions, & rehearsals. Billy Rider and I were shootin the breeze one night and I brought up some insecurities I was experiencing. He listened but changed the the subject when I finished. We drove around town doing chores, hitting the guitar shop, ending up at Berta’s (Roberta Bradley’s Gypsy) weekly jam session. Billy and I got a spot together and took turns on vocals trading his harmonica licks with my guitar licks, getting a laid back crowd to wake up and get loud. On the way home he replied to my insecurity’s issues from earlier. “How did that feel?” he asked.” “So good!” I replied, “we got to play, we woke a sleeping crowd, and we played pretty damn good!” “We got to play,” Billy replied “YOU woke up the people, you directed to music and talked with the audience. That was you, you did that. You are real, ACCEPT IT”. You open up to people, let them in, and share with them. The message, ACCEPT YOURSELF, is what I took from that pep talk, great advice, so Thank you, Billy Rider! Peer acceptance was always a goal, I’m not sure if that’s good or not, but I sought it. I opened for John Primer at Billy’s, THE Blues Club at the time, and when he shook my hand after our set he said, “I love the Blues, all I listen to is Blues, all I play is Blues. Tonight, you played me some real Blues. Thank you.” Probably no big deal to a lot of people, but to hear one of my heroes give me recognition like that was, still is, so uplifting and appreciated sincerely.

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

There was a simplicity of the instruments, especially guitar, that’s missing today. The lightning fast, technique driven guitar has become the “frontman”, representative of the Blues. But the Blues is not guitar playing. There are Lyrics, a vocalist, a bass player, a drummer, a sax or a Mississippi sax player and each member is as necessary as the next. It took the whole unit together, yet each player demanded their own respect. I’m not sure if a modern listener loving Joe B, Ana Popovich, Eric Gales, etc. can appreciate the simplicity that is our foundation. Thank God we have Charlie Musselwhite, John Primer, Bob Margolin, Ric Estrin, and others who stay true to the group foundation, holding to the simplicity of each to make a whole. Not saying the modern players don’t have my appreciation, I’ve seen Joe B a couple of times, really want to see Eric Gales, another monster player I really want to see.               (Photo: Larry Fitzgerald a.k.a. Weezil Malone)

"The English players covering American Blues, ironically enough, is what led me to my heroes. I became star struck over the Chicago scene, and then followed their origins to find Delta, western swing, St Louis, Texas, mountain blues….finally realizing that the Blues comes from everywhere and it’s for everyone. There truly is a Blues for everyone, whether you’re playing, listening, or dancing." (Photo: Larry Fitzgerald a.k.a. Weezil Malone)

What's the balance in music between technique and soul? How do you want the music to affect people?

Some players are all technique, some are all feel. The special ones are a combination of both, creating strong dynamics. One of my favorites of these is Warren Haynes, Dickie Betts, and Duane Allman were there too. Yes, I do like the Allman Brothers and just realized the thread combining these three as I wrote it. All three played with both. Jeff Beck and David Gilmour played with such emotion and fluidity, and could play some bursts, but there emotions were so strong! For myself, I want to put my sorrow, my joy, my humor, my failures and wisdom on display for all hear and feel and be able to say, “Me too!” Listen, share, and enjoy the Blues.

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?

The Blues is the seed of music in America. The seed was brought here, planted here, and sprouted here. It grew as jazz, country, rock, rap, R&B. They all came from the same seed and is in every song played, we feel it every time we listen to anything, if we realize it or not.

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

STAY TRUE TO YOURSELF! Let YOU develop. The audience can tell if you’re trying to be anything else and that won’t let you connect and share the real. Lonnie Brooks was playing at , I think it was his 60th birthday, at Billy’s. While talking about things to do positive to the journey he told me, “Just keep doing what you’re doing because you love it. Not for the money, not the worship, but because you love doing it.” Best advice I’ve gotten in 40 years of lovin’ it!

Weezil Malone Band - Home

(Photo: Larry Fitzgerald a.k.a. Weezil Malone)

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