Q&A with modern blues guitarist/singer Chris Beard, personal connections to the blues were forged with the living blues men

"It's pretty simple...be true to yourself. Figure out what you want, what you are capable of and go for it. You have heard this before, but the adversities along the way will break you or make you stronger, hopefully, the latter."

Chris Beard: Nothin' But A Blues Heart

Chris Beard is a modern blues guitarist and singer like no other. His personal connections to the blues were forged with the living blues men he sat with since childhood. Born in 1957, Beard is the son of blues guitarist, Joe Beard, who grew up on Beale Street in the 1950s. When family friends like Matt “Guitar” Murphy and Buddy Guy stopped by to visit, young Beard became their willing pupil. After years playing clubs in and around Rochester, NY, Chris was offered the opportunity to record. In 1998, he released his debut recording, Barwalkin, on JSP Records. That record earned Beard a W.C. Handy nomination as the Best New Blues Artist. Chris produced his follow-up disc, Born To Play the Blues, in 2001 to the critical acclaim of the blues press and earned Beard the title, ‘Prince of the Blues.’ In 2005, Beard released Live Wire, a stirring combination of live and studio performances for Northern Blues.             (Chris Beard / Photo by DRL-Images)

Beard’s next recording, Who Am I And What I Do, depicts his live story of growing up in a house full of blues and sings of his family commitment to keeping the blues alive. Five years later Beard formed his own label, Destin Records, and released, Eye Of The Witch, with ear catching lines and true-life stories that accurately capture the complications of modern male vulnerabilities and strengths. Beard released his sixth record in 2020. His new debut album on Blue Heart Records, Pass It On Down, released in September 2023. The ten-song collection is a mix of traditional blues and modern R&B produced by the Rochester based artist and his working band; Guitarist Brother Wilson and Marvin Parker on bass, drummer Carlton Campbell, keyboardists John Tucker and Jonathan Curry with special guest appearances from Johnny Rawls, Mary Ellen Haden, Richard Rodolph, Kenny Neal and his band and of course his father Joe Beard.

 

Interview by Michael Limnios     Archive: Chris Beard, 2017 Intewrview @ blues.gr

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?

The hardest obstacle for me as a musician has been to keep a balance between anything that is happening in my personal life while staying true to my commitment to my music, which includes writing songs and then going out on the road and performing, which I love, but it takes time and energy and can easily get in the way of personal wants and desires. When everything is running smoothly is when I sound the best on stage.

What moment changed your music life the most? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

When my 3rd album, Live Wire, was being released, I suffered a stroke. As I recovered from my stroke, I realized that I was concentrating so much on technique, you know...be the fastest blues guitar player in town. But then, while I needed to rehab and develop my guitar playing all over again, I realized that technique and the 'speed bug' is not the whole game—you need to put some love into it, with your technique. I needed to show my love for the blues while I played and not just play fast or strong. Technique is important but you gotta add some soul. That will help develop your style. Show your audience that you are feelin' it!!

"The hardest obstacle for me as a musician has been to keep a balance between anything that is happening in my personal life while staying true to my commitment to my music, which includes writing songs and then going out on the road and performing, which I love, but it takes time and energy and can easily get in the way of personal wants and desires. When everything is running smoothly is when I sound the best on stage." (Cover of “Pass It On Down" album / Joe Beard / Chris Beard, Photo by DRL-Images)

Currently you’ve one release with Blue Heart Records. How did that relationship come about?

I was on the search for a label to help me expose my new record, but several labels did not exactly share my vision of my music. Blue Heart felt more like a partner. Blue Heart allowed me to participate on the decision-making and control my master and publishing, which makes me happy!

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album PASS IT ON DOWN - FEATURING JOE BEARD?

Well, the title of the new album says it all, I guess. I grew up in a house where you could always hear the music of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. As time marched on, my dad introduced me to Buddy Guy, Luther Allison and Matt “Guitar” Murphy. My love of the blues all originated with my dad and his lifestyle and the people that he knew and then I developed my own style.

I will always remember stumbling across Matt “Guitar” Murphy resting at our house, literally sleeping with his arms wrapped around his guitar. I asked him what the hell he was doing... he replied... your guitar needs to become an extension of your body!

Amen. That is true.

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

It's pretty simple...be true to yourself. Figure out what you want, what you are capable of and go for it. You have heard this before, but the adversities along the way will break you or make you stronger, hopefully, the latter.

"When my 3rd album, Live Wire, was being released, I suffered a stroke. As I recovered from my stroke, I realized that I was concentrating so much on technique, you know...be the fastest blues guitar player in town. But then, while I needed to rehab and develop my guitar playing all over again, I realized that technique and the 'speed bug' is not the whole game—you need to put some love into it, with your technique. I needed to show my love for the blues while I played and not just play fast or strong. Technique is important but you gotta add some soul. That will help develop your style. Show your audience that you are feelin' it!!"

(Chris Beard / Photo by Ervin Bates)

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 audience for my dad was the era of straight blues. My contemporaries and audience still have a love of the blues, but it has expanded to what we might call contemporary blues...high profile guitar work, a bit more rockin' blues, more RnB influence. So, I believe that there is still an audience, though the style may change as the years go on.

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