Q&A with multitalanted Rafe Klein of The Name Droppers, veteran rock ‘n’ rollers with the blues in their hearts

"A lot of songs can be inspired by social or current events. I want music to be something that takes the listener back to a familiar place or person, when they hear that song or music again."

Rafe Klein: Rock n' Blue(s) Diamonds

Veteran rock ‘n’ rollers with the blues in their hearts, The Name Droppers, have toured the world backing blues rock guitar icon, Johnny Winter, and East Coast legend, Charlie Karp, who earned notoriety as a teenager playing guitar with Buddy Miles. The quartet of guitarist Rafe Klein, Hall of Fame drummer Bobby “T” Torello, Grammy-winning bassist Scott Spray and keyboardist Ron Rifkin joined forces in 2019 and released their third album, Blue Diamonds (2023). The collection of muscular tunes comprises seven new originals including a song dedicated to Ukraine along with two beloved blues classics and a bonus live track. The guests on the project included guitarists Al Ferrante and Jay Willie, vocalists Heather Joseph, Simone Brown, Carol Sylvan, and the entire Horizon Music Choir, with Bill Holloman (Chic, Danny Gatton) adding saxophone and original Paul Butterfield Blues Band keyboardist Mark Naftalin sitting in on piano.

(The Name Droppers: Rafe Klein, Bobby “T” Torello, Scott Spray and Ron Rifkin / Photo by Bill Carpenter)

Rafe Klein is a songwriter, and no stranger to the music scene, as he played alongside blues legend Charlie Karp for many years and co-wrote many songs that appeared on Charlie Karp’s last album “Back to You” (Courtesy of Red Parlor Records) and “Love” (Carole Sylvan’s album featuring The Name Droppers). Ron is a keyboard powerhouse and vocalist, film maker, and video producer. Ron has played on numerous sessions, and played along side Charlie Karp for over 30 years. His playing puts him in high demand as a studio session player.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues/Rock music influenced your views of the world? Where does your creative drive come from?

Blues Rock: they say the blues had a baby and it was called “Rock & Roll”.  Makes me think of Muddy Waters meets The Rolling Stones. Johnny Winter is a huge influence on our band, he defines “Blues/Rock”, and he has certainly been an influence on the world. 

How do you describe The Name Droppers music philosophy? What characterize your lyrics/songwriting and songbook?

Drums and bass play a big part. Bobby T and Scott Spray both played with Johnny Winter, but not at the same time. They have been friends for years, and now that they play together, live, and in the studio, they have become almost their own unit. Tight, and powerful rhythm section. The Name Droppers’ music also features piano, organ, and guitar, which is not overbearing, but can be tasty. 

I think the most important, and hardest thing in songwriting is finding a hook.  The hook, which is usually the chorus, but not always. The hook can be musical, but most of the time, lyrical. Like a good use of a well-known cliche, like “Time Is On Your Side” or “Fake It Till Ya Make It”. Once there’s a hook that is cool, and catchy, something to define the song, then we want to have a traditional order of verses/choruses, and usually a bridge. I like to stay true to that concept, or tradition. Lastly, if it’s possible, try to improve the lyrics. One or 2 simple lyric changes can improve the song. Even if it’s just one word, or clever phrase, it make a big difference.

"Blues Rock: they say the blues had a baby and it was called “Rock & Roll”. Makes me think of Muddy Waters meets The Rolling Stones. Johnny Winter is a huge influence on our band, he defines “Blues / Rock”, and he has certainly been an influence on the world." (Rafe Klein / Photo by Judith Byman)

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

My musical journey changed when my mentor Charlie Karp died in March 2019. I wasn’t sure how to continue since the whole band relied on him for most of what we were doing. I was incredibly fortunate to inherit his band, which at the time was Scott Spray (bass), Bobby T Torello, (drums) and Ron Rifkin (piano). Since then, we stuck together. They were willing to keep it going with me, even though the leader, singer, and lead guitarist of the band has passed away. The highlights for me is being able to play up to those guys. It has made me much better of a player. They have stuck it out with me, I’m grateful for that.

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

Not much. I like new stuff; I enjoy pop songs. It is interesting to hear how they produced it years ago, compared to now. Nowadays, the listener will barely hear the whole album. They will listen to just a small clip of your song, and usually on a phone with a tiny speaker with lousy sound. They can’t hear the bass, and get to feel the groove. That’s usually how they make the first impression. When someone buys a movie, do they just watch the last scene? Or just 5 minutes of the middle, and shut it off? When someone buys a book, do they just read chapter 3, and maybe 5 or chapter 6? No, but with music, they select what songs to hear, and usually move on before they have a chance to hear it all, or explore the whole album, or experience the sequence (order of the songs) that the artists spend time on selecting. I wish that can go back to the way it was, when the listener would actually sit and just listen to ab album and take in the whole thing. But with evolving technology, I doubt it ever will.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

A lot of songs can be inspired by social or current events. I want music to be something that takes the listener back to a familiar place or person, when they hear that song or music again.                         (Photo: Rafe Klein, musician, film maker, and video producer)

"I think the most important, and hardest thing in songwriting is finding a hook.  The hook, which is usually the chorus, but not always. The hook can be musical, but most of the time, lyrical." (Photo: Rafe Klein)

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

Watching videos of the band, or listening to recordings of rehearsals of the band, and myself, that I hated. It may be a way I played a riff, or my volume on my guitar, or how I sang flat here or there. When you hear it, and you realize how much you hate what you did, and know what you did wrong. Then, you learn very quickly how to (not ever) do that again! You improve. 

You’re also a music video producer. The relationship between music and other forms of art – such as video art - has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?

Videos are important. Any smart schoolteacher will use a visual aid in their classrooms.  Large companies, and media outlets always use video or footage as a way to get their message across. Music is different. A great song can stand alone. But in many ways, having a good video, that also sounds good, can make a difference. Social Media is flooded with video. The issue is, since it has gotten popular, almost all bands have videos now, so you have to produce a competitive video as well as a competitive song. 

Do you think there is an audience for blues/rock music in its current state? or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans?

There’s an audience for it for sure. It may not live within the younger generation, but, like any genre, blues, rock, or hip hop, or pop, sometimes songs can become hits, and then become mainstream. When that happens, the younger generation will be drawn to it, and won’t be able to ignore it. If it’s really good music, I would like to think it doesn’t matter the genre, and it will appeal to audiences young and old, and future generations, by standing the test of time.

The Name Droppers - Home

(The Name Droppers: Rafe Klein, Bobby “T” Torello, Scott Spray and Ron Rifkin / Photo by Bill Carpenter)

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