Q&A with Pierre Lacocque of Mississippi Heat, a world-class Chicago Blues Band with freshness and energy

"Blues music is an existential music. It comes from the unfathomable pain that lies within the Afro-American’s experience, the agony of despair behind slavery and racism, as well as the experience of rejection because of the color of one’s skin. It remains that we all have the blues in some form or another. We all are trying to make sense of what it means to be alive. Most of us will experience aloneness, and physical or spiritual suffering."

Pierre Lacocque:

Mississippi Heat, Chicago Feeling

Led by harmonica master and songwriter Pierre Lacocque, Mississippi Heat is a world-class Chicago Blues Band. Their motto is “Traditional Blues With A Unique Sound” as they present fresh yet vintage-based musical ideas. MISSISSIPPI HEAT’s name is a reflection of Pierre’s reverence for Mississippi’s blues culture and music. The band’s conviction is that there is no deeper music than Delta-inspired blues to express what lies in everyone’s soul. They have received world-wide critical acclaim, including from Living Blues Magazine: “MISSISSIPPI HEAT delivers its traditional urban blues with a freshness, energy and competence that makes them a treasure on today’s Chicago scene.” Mississippi Heat is known internationally for their passionate blues delivery. Overseas and national touring have been an integral part of their work for decades. The band has appeared at many world-famous festivals.                          (Pierre Lacocque / Photo by Mike Hoffman)

"Madeleine" (Release Day: April 1st, 2022) is Mississippi Heat’s 13th album. It was recorded and mixed at the Chicago’s prestigious V.S.O.P studios; and mastered by Paul Blakemore (Nashville, TN). It is co-produced by Pierre Lacocque and Grammy and Blues Music Award Win­ner Producer/Engineer Michael Freeman. Freeman was the Blues Foundation’s Chair of the Board of Directors. MADELEINE is Pierre and Michael’s 6th collaborative project. The 12 original songs are written by Pierre Lacocque, with the exception of 2 penned by Michael Dotson (8,11), and 1 by Inetta Visor (12, arranged by Michael Dangeroux). Lurrie Bell, Carl Weathersby, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, NADIMA (background singers who worked with Aretha Franklin, Otis Clay and Stevie Wonder), Marc Franklin’s horn section, Ruben Alvarez and other guests add considerably to the vibrant mix.

Interview by Michael Limnios           Pierre Lacocque, 2016 Interview @ Blues.gr

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music?

As I get older, I look back at my music journey and draw insights into what I have accomplished and what I still want to do. Lyrics come easier with time as I draw images and stories from my experiences on the road. The songs “Silent Too Long”, “Havana En Mi Alma”, and “Uninvited Guest” from the new MADELEINE CD are based on true stories. In fact, many songs I write are based, at least in part, on true facts.

The understanding of what matters in life gets clearer. One such perspective is the meaning of having a family. They stood by me for decades and I appreciate their sacrifice. It is unfortunately a hefty price to pay that you have to travel when you are a professional musician. I have struggled with that fact throughout my career.

Also, appreciating the commitment from my musicians is worth a weigh of gold. I couldn’t reach my creative goals without a team.

What has remained the same about your music-making process?

The only criterion that guides me in the creative process is this: I want to be emotionally moved. It is not worth my time to write lyrics or compose melodies that do not inspire me. The music process HAS to speak to me, both verbally =(lyrics), and non-verbally (music).                                                                              (Photo: Pierre Lacocque)

"I want to keep doing what I love. Professional artists have chosen a life that can have lots of ups and downs associated with it. At the end of the road when we will look back at our career, let’s hope we can say to ourselves that we‘ve had a meaningful life. I believe it will be so in my case."

When did the idea of Mississippi Heat come about?

My brother Michel is the one who came up with the idea 30+ years ago when he saw how inspired I was performing with Jon McDonald, Bob Stroger and Robert Covington. We all agreed with forming a new band. Michel became Mississippi Heat’s first manager and booking agent. A role he held for many years. Those roles began in late 1991, early 1992. Mississippi Heat was a quartet first, led by Robert “Golden Voice” Covington (1941-1996) on drums and lead vocals. Robert was an amazing showman and singer. One of the best I have ever seen and heard. From its beginning, the band had a passion for the post-war 1950’s amplified Chicago Blues sound.

What would you say characterizes Mississippi Heat in comparison to other blues band?

While I do not sing, I do write most of Mississippi Heat’s recording material. Hence our motto: “Chicago Blues With A Unique Sound”.

These songs are influenced by Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Taj Mahal and John Mayall, among numerous others. I enjoy Carlos Santana, Bo Diddley and many of the Big Band’s swing recordings. Frankly, any musical genres that can be presented in a blues format attracts me.

Where does your creative drive come from?

My 94 years old father, an internationally renowned biblical scholar - who passed away in January - had a relentless drive to create. He published over 30 books, and in many different languages. I inherited this gift from him. As no one can “will” being inspired, I regard this as a gift from God that can be taken away from me at any time. So, I feel an urgency to take advantage of this creative drive. As a musician it is among my most prized experience. I would even say that it is my main reason for being a musician. Traveling, meeting new and old fans, and visiting places I have never seen are exciting, yet without feeling inspired and productive, I would not enjoy these “perks”.

"The only criterion that guides me in the creative process is this: I want to be emotionally moved. It is not worth my time to write lyrics or compose melodies that do not inspire me. The music process HAS to speak to me, both verbally =(lyrics), and non-verbally (music)." (Pierre Lacocque & Carl Weathersby of Mississippi Heat, known internationally for their passionate blues delivery/ Photo by Zoran Trtica)

What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?

Blues music is an existential music. It comes from the unfathomable pain that lies within the Afro-American’s experience, the agony of despair behind slavery and racism, as well as the experience of rejection because of the color of one’s skin.

It remains that we all have the blues in some form or another. We all are trying to make sense of what it means to be alive. Most of us will experience aloneness, and physical or spiritual suffering. As Albert King often said during his shows, already as babies we have the blues. The Afro-American genius is its insight into the human condition. In all its aspects. Both lyrically AND non-verbally. B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone”, Little Walter “Blue & Lonesome”, and Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble” are but a few examples.

I am hoping that fans will be able to feel “at home” and understood while listening to Mississippi Heat. We are all in this life together. Sometimes, as with the instrumental “Madeleine”, no words are needed. I hope the listener will hear what I feel in this song. Which is no different from what anyone else would be feeling sad after losing a dear one. In this case, the loss of my maternal grandmother. I may express the grieving in my own way, but the message will hopefully go beyond my own story.

How do you describe "Madeleine" sound and songbook?

This is hands down the best sound mix and mastering Mississippi Heat has done in a long time. Not to say that I was not happy with previous recordings, but working with Michael Freeman as my co-producer added joy to this project. This is our 6th project in a series of 13 albums. He understands me well and knows how to motivate the band.  Having a group like we had on the last outing was stimulating. I rehearsed with them both individually and as a band. I worked with keyboardist Christopher “Hambone” Cameron to lay the pre-production songs on his Pro-tool program. The tempo, keys, and structure were set before the band rehearsals. These songs were used as a starting point. At that stage we often change, improve and add to the said Pro-tools songs.

When working on an album, I always try to offer a variety of lyrical topics and musical grooves. I make sure the recording will be varied and vibrant. I choose my guest musicians well. Carl Weathersby, Lurrie Bell, Giles Corey, Kenny Smith and others like Hambone, Johnny Iguana and Ruben Alvarez are example of that thought. Besides being friends since the 1990’s, I know I can count on their contributions. We recorded 18 songs for Madeleine. Only 12 made it on the final CD. These 12 belonged with each other. Some others were inspiring on their own merit but did not help improve the album. That is why I always record more songs than we need to be able to weed out those that may not fit a particular CD.

"While I do not sing, I do write most of MH’s recording material. Hence our motto: “Chicago Blues With A Unique Sound”. These songs are influenced by Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Taj Mahal and John Mayall, among numerous others. I enjoy Carlos Santana, Bo Diddley and many of the Big Band’s swing recordings. Frankly, any musical genres that can be presented in a blues format attracts me." (Photo: Led by Pierre Lacocque, Mississippi Heat is a world-class Chicago Blues Band)

Do you have any interesting stories about the making of the new album?

Yes. Two stories. The first pertains to ”Havana En Mi Alma”. It was written and composed for my wife Victoria (AKA “Vickie”), who was born in Havana, Cuba. She came to the USA as a refugee.

I had the pleasure of visiting her country with her in December of 2016. An unforgettable experience. I loved the people and saw how hard they were working to make ends meet. Struggling … but always welcoming. I was moved by their determination to survive.

I have dedicated Latin-Blues style of songs in past recordings to Vickie, but this time around I used a Reggae (in a blues format). Reggae music oozes hope in spite of the experienced despair. That is what I meant to convey on “Havana.” As the trumpet is often used in Cuban music, we hired Marc Franklin to provide a trumpet solo. It is one of the CD’s highlights!  

The other story is about the instrumental and title track “Madeleine”. As I said above, it is dedicated to the memory of my maternal grandmother, Emma Magdalena [“Madeleine” or “Mamy”] Van der Linden. Our record company - “Van der Linden Recordings” - bears her maiden name; and my BMI publishing company is the name of the village where my grandparents lived in Belgium: Ransart (i.e., “Ransart Music.”). For numerous generations my ancestors on my mother side hail from Ransart and nearby towns in Wallonia. Mamy was of Flemish descent, but born in Gilly, near Ransart.

I cried when I hear the final Madeleine track mix. I cried, but I was also happy with the rendition of the song. We perform “Madeleine” practically every night and it always triggers deep emotions in me. It is a continuous homage to our “Mamy.”

"I am hoping that fans will be able to feel “at home” and understood while listening to Mississippi Heat. We are all in this life together. Sometimes, as with the instrumental “Madeleine”, no words are needed. I hope the listener will hear what I feel in this song. Which is no different from what anyone else would be feeling sad after losing a dear one. In this case, the loss of my maternal grandmother. I may express the grieving in my own way, but the message will hopefully go beyond my own story." (Photo: Pierre Lacocque of Mississippi Heat - Chicago Blues with a unique sound)

Artists and labels will have to adapt to the new changes. What are your predictions for the music industry?

Things are moving fast. There are financial challenges and fierce competition among labels. CDs do no sell as easily as in the past. Even on the road, CD sales are affected negatively as fewer people now own CD players! The digital industry is taking over, giving prospective buyers the luxury of choosing which song(s) they want to download. And that affects the labels’ and artists’ overall revenue.

How do you think the music industry will adapt to it?

By being choosy as to who they will sign. Lesser known and “second tier” musicians will likely be the most affected. The financial risks to releasing an album are high. The return financial guarantees are lower than ever. Because of these facts, recording companies will offer less money down to musicians.  

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

I want to keep doing what I love. Professional artists have chosen a life that can have lots of ups and downs associated with it. At the end of the road when we will look back at our career, let’s hope we can say to ourselves that we‘ve had a meaningful life. I believe it will be so in my case.

Mississippi Heat - Home

(Pierre Lacocque / Photo by Christoph Huber)

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