Q&A with Portland based multitalented musician Chad Rupp, hot on the heels, funky, swinging, rockin’, soulful blues

"Music is a universal language and much like it’s sister Mathematics, it is implicitly truthful. It has the ability to cross all barriers and reach all hearts. My hopes are that we use it to communicate more. It’s a powerful way to speak and be heard."

Chad Rupp: Standing At Oregon Crossroads

Based out of Portland, Oregon, a town with a lot of good blues players, they have assembled a great lineup and delivered eleven songs all of which were written or co-written by Rupp. Some of the songs come from their experience at the IBC competition. Hot on the heels of last year’s breakout debut album “Savage’s Life” (2021) comes “The Devil Won’t Get You” (2023), a new collection of 11 brilliantly original songs from Chad Rupp and the Sugar Roots. The Portland, Oregon group features some of the brightest lights of the formidable Oregon blues scene on this album, including BMA winner Jimi Bott on drums and Peter Dammann (Paul Delay) on guitar. Joining on harmonica and vocals on “Blues Men In Black,” a cautionary 420 tale, is Johnny Wheels, whose recent debut album charted on Living Blues and earned accolades from around the world. Another notable guest is Portland stalwart Lloyd Jones, a veteran of the BB King Tour and Delbert McClinton’s Sandy Beaches cruises.      

(Chad Rupp / Photo by Chris Matthews)

The album pays homage to the deep tradition of Portland blues with the song “At The Candlelight Room,” a tribute to an historic fallen Portland venue and the people that made it legendary. Chad Rupp also tips his hat to the international blues community with “The Blues Won’t Get You,” inspired by his 2023 International Blues Challenge adventure, in which he honors those he met along the way. With “The Devil Won’t Get You,” Chad Rupp and the Sugar Roots demonstrate that they have not only genius but staying power, guaranteeing that they will be a powerful presence for years to come. “Raw and authentic Portland style blues,” is the way Chad describes his music.

Interview by Michael Limnios

How has the Blues and Rock music influenced your views of the world? What's the balance in music between technique and soul?

I’d have to say that the Blues have given me everything that I love in music, including Rock. The Blues are a universal conduit that everyone can ride. It brings people together from every tribe because everybody around the world knows the feeling that comes with joy and tragedy. For me the balance between technique and soul lies in flow. That flow is built on technique and empathy. When you become adept at your instrument, it allows you to adapt what you hear or see, however, I believe soul comes from listening and feeling what others are feeling and our innate empathy. Soul comes from joy and suffering, the true inspirations of song. Technique is important, however, in Blues I have found that soul is by far the more weighty component.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

My sound is funky, swinging, rockin’, soulful blues. I get my music philosophy from the late Great Luther Allison “Leave your ego, play the music, love the people.”.

Another credo I live by is “When in doubt, be of service.” My songbook comes from me, my everyday life, my heartbreaks, self realizations and everything from being stuck in traffic to being abducted by Johnny Wheels and trading fours at an alien jam session. My creative drive and inspiration comes from my higher power, my mentors, and the love of my tribe of peoples, but truly from the blues greats of my hometown. I come from the same turf that the Great Paul deLay and the Great Lloyd Jones come from. I sat with Jim Mesi and DK Stewart, and now their bandmates are mine. I love our Portland music scene. My creativity and drive come from it’s rich legacy.                (Photo: Chad Rupp)

"I’d have to say that the Blues have given me everything that I love in music, including Rock. The Blues are a universal conduit that everyone can ride. It brings people together from every tribe because everybody around the world knows the feeling that comes with joy and tragedy. For me the balance between technique and soul lies in flow. That flow is built on technique and empathy."

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

The moment I quit drinking was that moment that most changed my life. Highlight of my life, my daughter becoming a master adulter. Highlights of my career, my appearances at the Waterfront Blues Festival, fun times in Memphis and the release of my last two albums, Savage’s Life and The Devil Won’t Get you.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past?

I miss real deal smoky blues bars with big leg women on tiny dancefloors, pool games, gamblers, hookers and all the hubbub and stink of humanity. I miss a real deal blues band in the corner of the room throwing fire and bartenders that take zero shit. I miss the suits that people used to wear and the cars they drove. Hardly anybody dresses up for their gigs except the best.

What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I have no fears about the blues, it’s an ever flowing spring, but my hopes are that younger generations come to love this music as much as I do and that live music of all varieties are supported in venues. Music, all music is the key to the heart and soul of humanity.

What would you say characterizes Oregon blues scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

Honestly, that’s in the eye and ear of the beholder. Our scene here in Portland has a rich legacy. If you want to know about how our scene came to be and the characters that became my heroes and mentors, go to Amazon Video and rent or buy “Portland Mojo”. It’s literally our history.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?                               (Chad Rupp / Photo by Debra Penk)

Rule #1: Don’t want no drama.

Rule #2: See Rule # 1.

Rule #3: Don’t bite the hand that feeds you.

Rule #4: When in doubt, give the bass player a solo.

Rule #5: Never date a musician.

Rule #6: Never trust a big butt and a smile.

Rule #7: No redheads, hairdressers or chicks named Tiffany.

Rule #8: Don’t bet the pot unless you know you have the winning hand

Rule #9: Always remember that Johnny Wheel’s weed is from somewhere else.

Rule #10: See rule #9.

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

Music is a universal language and much like it’s sister Mathematics, it is implicitly truthful. It has the ability to cross all barriers and reach all hearts. My hopes are that we use it to communicate more. It’s a powerful way to speak and be heard.

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