Q&A with Maryland-based drummer/singer “Big Joe” Maher, had the privilege to perform with many greats musicians

"My hope is that the younger generation will push forward this wonderful form of music and keep it going well into the future and keep the Blues alive."

Big Joe Maher: Let The Rockin' Roll

Joe Maher aka "Big Joe" started out his music career in his Maryland high school jazz band "The Starliners.” Musician greats like Clark Terry, Urbie Green, Mudell Lowe & James Moody often sat in with the band as guest performers and they were an inspiration to him. His father listened to Louis Jordon and blues & jazz at home so this was an influence on his musical style as well. He started his own roots blues record collection during that time in the 60’s when most of his friends were just into the rock-n-roll. After high school he went immediately on the road with his own jazz/blues trio. His mission then started to become an accomplished singer/drummer. Over time he shared the stage, opened up for or backed up music Legends: Willie Dixon, Johnny Adams, Floyd Dixon, Delbert McClinton, Johnnie Johnson, Mick Fleetwood, Jimmy McCracklin, Jimmy Rogers, Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Witherspoon, Bullmoose Jackson, James "Thunderbird" Davis, Nappy Brown, Jimmy T99 Nelson, Bobby Parker, Otis Rush and Earl King.                                     (Big Joe Maher / Photo by Beth Harrison)

In the late 80's after managing and performing with the 9 piece swing band "The Uptown Rhythm Kings," and after a few years as drummer with the Tom Principato Band, Joe formed his own 5 piece jump blues group "Big Joe & The Dynaflows."  In between touring and local performances with the Dynaflows, in the mid-90's Joe accepted the role as Music Coordinator for Mick Fleetwood's niteclub in Alexandria, VA "Fleetwoods." His knowledge of the local and national blues & jazz scene helped him land the position which had the nightclub consistently filled with top notch talent. The Dynaflows release "I'm Still Swingin" on Severn Records, received the Washington Area Music Association (WAMA) "Best Blues Recording" in 1998. WAMA also voted Big Joe "Male Blues Vocalist of the Year" both in 2005 and 2009. Other Dynaflow releases include "All Night Long" and "You Can't Keep a Big Man Down" on the Severn label; "Layin' in the Alley" on New Orleans based Black Top Records, which received the (WAMA) "Best Blues Recording" 1994; "Good Rockin' Daddy" on the Powerhouse label & "Cool Dynaflow" on a European label, and "Rockhouse Party" (2019) by Severn Records.

 

Interview by Michael Limnios                   Archive: Big Joe Maher, 2019 interview

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?

I started out in music as a drummer in my high school jazz band in Maryland. Having the opportunity to play with some jazz greats like Clarke Terry, Urbie Green and Mundel Lowe while touring with the band. Later on in my career when I began to crossover to playing more blues, I had the opportunity to play with some the great blues players like Otis Rush, Floyd Dixon, Pinetop Perkins, Jimmie McCracklin to name a few.  Having grown musically with these experiences, they were an inspiration to keep me plugging away on the road with my own jump blues style group Big Joe & The Dynaflows. I also spent prior years before my own group as the drummer with the Uptown Rhythm Kings and the Tom Principato Band from the Washington DC area.

During these years I made recordings on the labels of Powerhouse, Blacktop, Severn Records and several others. Some of the recordings with the Dynaflows went on to win a Washington Area Music Award. I also appeared as a guest drummer on many other established artists recordings, i.e. Nappy Brown, Bob Margolin, Mark Wenner and most recently Delbert McClinton. His record Tall, Dark and Handsome went onto win a Grammy in 2020.

What has continued to remain the same with my music is that I continue to play with my heart and soul and give it my all at the live shows to entertain the blues community.

What moment changed your music life the most? What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?

Being able to play and share the stage with all the great artists in Blues and Jazz that I had the fortunate opportunity to have, changed my life musically forever. In the learning the many stories of their lives as musicians and their experiences were both bitter and sweet. Having a Grammy sitting on top of the piano in my living room is a current highlight in my life to say the least.

"The Blues and music scene in Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia has always been strong. Not just in Blues but in Jazz as well. With Roberta Flack, Sonny Stitt and Duke Ellington being from here. I would say that there are also many other locations in the US that have pushed forward with great music and the Blues has thrived like in New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis & Kansas City to mention a few. Washington and Baltimore both have large blues societies that encourage the fans to come out to their live blues shows on a monthly basis." (Veteran drummer/singer Joe Maher aka "Big Joe" Maher / Photo by Alan Grossman)

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

I believe technique and soul make the groove and this is very important. Playing and singing from your heart and soul is also very key so the music transcends into the story you are conveying.

The key to a music life well lived I believe is knowing you have made a difference in peoples lives with enriching them with not only the music well played but the stories behind the music as well. I am a bit of a storyteller at my live performances with history of the songs and artists told.

From the musical and feeling point of view is there any difference between a old and great bluesmen and young?

As a lot of the older artists pass on, we hope that there are many young artists that will pick up on what came before them musically. It appears that there are some that are doing just that. One example of a young artist who feels and plays the blues from his soul and has a great handle on the old style of blues is Yates McKendree from Franklin, TN. I had the pleasure to play on his debut recording “Buchanan Street.” There is a lot of promise with this young man for sure.

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?

I think in the current state that Blues would be very popular. With a lot of things lately to keep them down and the Blues is uplifting. Blues is life stories like Country music. Speaking of good times and bad times, having money or no money, meeting a new girlfriend and losing them. There is a potential for new artist to be entranced with the music and want to be part of it.                               (Big Joe Maher / Photo by Robert Howe )

"Being able to play and share the stage with all the great artists in Blues and Jazz that I had the fortunate opportunity to have, changed my life musically forever. In the learning the many stories of their lives as musicians and their experiences were both bitter and sweet. Having a Grammy sitting on top of the piano in my living room is a current highlight in my life to say the least."

Why do you think that Maryland Blues Scene continues to generate such a devoted following? What would you say characterizes Maryland Blues/R&B blues scene in comparison to other local US scenes?

The Blues and music scene in Maryland, Washington DC and Virginia has always been strong. Not just in Blues but in Jazz as well. With Roberta Flack, Sonny Stitt and Duke Ellington being from here. I would say that there are also many other locations in the US that have pushed forward with great music and the Blues has thrived like in New Orleans, Chicago, St. Louis & Kansas City to mention a few. Washington and Baltimore both have large blues societies that encourage the fans to come out to their live blues shows on a monthly basis.

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

An important and great lesson that I have learned is how closely knit the music community is here. Its like extended family. When a musician or their family gets sick or hurt, the musicians have always quickly banned together to do a benefit concert for them to help with their expenses. When I broke my back in 2001 they did this for me and it helped tremendously with my loss of work and income during recovery. I have participated in many for my fellow musicians as well.

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?

I remember that John Coltrane said this. I think that the spirit of music and meaning of life, Blues plays an important factor. Whether its Pop, Rock, Country, Swing etc., Blues is a foundation that is built into most every style of music. Of course the spirituality of Gospel music has always played in too, and overall I think that Blues again is a foundation of the spirit of music as it tells life stories from real human feelings which most can relate. My hope is that the younger generation will push forward this wonderful form of music and keep it going well into the future and keep the Blues alive.

Big Joe Maher - Home

(Big Joe Maher / Photo by Linda Parker)

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