Q&A with veteran British bluesman Mick Pini - lives, breathes, plays, and sings the blues with genuine passion

"Blues is a feeling not a historic artefact. Part of its development (and it’s the same in jazz), was that musicians became more proficient on their instruments, to the point of being virtuoso's."

Mick Pini: The Best Kept Blues Secret

If you’re lucky enough to catch veteran British bluesman Mick Pini live you are guaranteed the real deal; no pedals, no effects, just a (rare) 54 Strat (stroked) played by a bluesmeister. Oh - and how he makes it plead, bleed, sing, scream, cry – and smoke! With a life time in music you’ll hear echoes and influences from the whole tradition of the blues in Mick’s playing. His uncompromising adherence to a genuine belief in his music has never been deflected. Those distinctive raw, attacking riffs and phrases, often reminiscent of such legendary names as Freddie King, Albert Collins or T-Bone Walker hit you with aggression not unlike a ton of bricks, then in a moment, he’ll melt your heart with a sweeping phrase of pure beauty. These are the hallmarks of Mick Pini: to encounter him live is a joy not to be missed - it’s a blues master class! Mick started playing guitar as a young boy back in 1960. Since then he’s paid his dues in pubs, clubs, festivals, concert halls - hell, even busking on the streets. Over a lifetime he’s worked with all sorts: Doctor Ross, Professor Longhair, Rich Grech, Mojo Buford, Louisiana Red, Dick Heckstall-Smith, Chris Farlowe, Mike Vernon, BB King, Luther Allison – and more than a few others.                                   (Mick Pini / Photos by Horst Petri)

Currently based in Germany, Mick has worked with Roy Estrada (Little Feat) and Jimmy Carl Black (Frank Zappa). His last three albums are the acoustic CD “Highfield Boy” (2017), EP "Best Kept Secret" (recorded April 2017 in the UK), and the 14-tracks album “Into The Distance” (August 2019), recorded between summer 2017 and spring 2019 in South Germany. Mick Pini's new collaboration with the Croatian Blues musician Boris Zamba, was a single titled “I am a bluesman” (2024).

Interview by Michael Limnios                           Archive: Mick Pini, 2019 Interview

Why do you think that the British Blues Scene continues to generate such a devoted following, since the 1960?

I think the main reason is a historic lineage that continues to evolve. Historically the two British Blues Booms changed music forever in the States. On the one hand they made American music fans aware of their black musical (blues) heritage and also it gave American club bands license to play their own music. So you had for example, The Byrds,  instead of just playing covers of surf music covers, they forged their own folk rock, which was a result of blues influences, and the first British Blues boom in particular. The Rollin Stones drew on rhythm and blues and Chicago blues influences and molded them into something exciting and original.

Significantly they also credited where their influences came from and brought some of the Chicago blues artist on tour with them. Since then, every few years there’s a lull and then it starts all over again.  By the time I finally got signed up in 1989, I was part of a new blues scene, but a bit like old wine in new bottles. My producer Mike Vernon was an important part of the development British blues John Mayall, Fleetwood Mac, Clapton, Peter Green, etc., and I’d been playing pro for over 20 years before getting signed up.

The main difference was that the music had evolved. By the time of recording “Wildman Pini” there was a new generation of bands like The Hoax, Blues N’ Trouble, Big Town Playboys, The Blues Band, Nine Below Zero, Connie Lush’s Blues Shouter, Ruthless Blues, Norman Beaker, Otis Grand etc. So I think British blues continues to survive because in its widest sense it continues to be a catalyst for new music. I’ve found myself doing the same thing by working with producer Craig Marshall (aka Audio 54), who has brought in loops and samples alongside my guitar playing.          (Mick Pini / Photo by Robert Hansenne)

"I think the main reason is a historic lineage that continues to evolve. Historically the two British Blues Booms changed music forever in the States. On the one hand they made American music fans aware of their black musical (blues) heritage and also it gave American club bands license to play their own music."

What's the balance in blues music between technique and soul? Why is it important to preserve and spread the blues?

I think the answer to that question is dependent on whether you write songs or you are an interpreter of songs, or an instrumentalist. Blues is a feeling not a historic artefact. Part of its development (and it’s the same in jazz), was that musicians became more proficient on their instruments, to the point of being virtuoso's. This in itself means you explore your feelings in a new way, whether through intensity or tonal qualities (think of Miles Davis in jazz and Ronnie Earl in the blues). Then again if you are a singer and if you write your own material, the chances are you are going to have a more soulful approach.

It might not be important to preserve the blues as a genre, because as long as songs and music continue to illuminate that feeling that we call the blues, it will always be with us. Of course having an appreciation of where the music comes from is very important, but it shouldn’t lead to drawing boundaries round musical innovation.

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?

A number of things really, but mainly finding people with the commitment and ability to approach music professionally and with passion. I’ve still got some great musician friends in Leicester where I come from, but it was very difficult trying to keep a blues band together when you have a bass player who wanted to be in David Bowie’s band, or a drummer who was into heavy metal etc. Also it helps when you get signed up, and work with a proper label, producer and get promo. Back then there wasn’t anything remotely like being an independent artist with your own label.

Are there any memories from the late great Louisiana Red, which you’d like to share with us?

Yes!! Louisiana Red was a very funny guy, meaning I had great fun backing him a few times and getting to know him and his wife. He would go into 13 bar 15 bar blues and you really had to keep your eyes on him for the chords and changes. He could change it anytime in a song and I used to smile to myself.

"It might not be important to preserve the blues as a genre, because as long as songs and music continue to illuminate that feeling that we call the blues, it will always be with us. Of course having an appreciation of where the music comes from is very important, but it shouldn’t lead to drawing boundaries round musical innovation." (Mick Pini & Chris Farlowe / Photo by Richard Feilen)

What has made you laugh from the late bluesman Mojo Buford and British legendary singer Chris Farlowe?

Chris Farlowe had a hell of a voice, but didn’t seem to know the best key for his voice until I went down the scale of the guitar and reached C, and then he said; “that’s it!” I was surprised that when he sang 'Stormy Monday', he busked the words, but it was a real honour having him on the album.

It was the same with Mojo Buford when my band backed him at Banbury Blues Club in 1989. I got the songs from his record company on tape two weeks before the gig, so the band could rehearse them. That night in Banbury the club was packed and we arrived a bit earlier to sort the running times and set up. I met Mojo and his agent who brought him over to UK. As I walked in to the dressing room at about 7 o’clock, near to playing time, I said thank you to his man John (the agent who sent me the tape) and told him we had  learned Mojo’s songs. Then John mentioned this to Mojo, about how we had learned his songs. Mojo turned around and said: “I don’t do them songs”. So you can imagine how the night was going to be. We wondered what Mojo was going to play. After our band played our set, I then introduced Mojo to the crowd From then on, none of my band had a clue as to what we were going to play, it was all ad libbed. Lucky enough I had a some competent guys in the band like Paul Martinez on bass Alan Hardman drums and Pete Bayliss on keyboards and myself.  

When the moment of truth arrived, Mojo hit the stage, looked at me and said: “in the key of C. “So I let him start with his harmonica on a slow blues which we all picked up very quick and moved into the mood of the number. despite not knowing what it was. After we finished that number he announced ‘Deep Sea Diver’. We didn’t know the key, but Paul Martinez guessed A minor with a few change. It was quite a steady number and the band got a little more into it. Mojo was doing quite a long show, but we (the band) worked as a team and by the last number he told the crowd he really enjoyed my band backing him. You can imagine the relief at the end, but it turned out to be a great night and I think the fact we played two encores spoke volumes. In fact a great night was had by one and all... that’s the blues, people!

What is the story behind nickname: “Wildman” and the studio sessions of album “Mick ‘Wildman’ Pini”, 1989?

I think my “Wildman” nick name might have come from Mike Vernon and the fact I wore a beret. In fact I’m quite the opposite, though when I’m in the middle of a solo you might not want to get in the way (laughs).       (Mick "Wildman" Pini / Photo by Dave Peabody)

"Art and Literature. Art was my first love and I was always drawing when I was young and I always got on with art teachers who encouraged me to go into it. I really loved Turner, the Impressionists, early painters and 19th century painters. By 1963 I heard Bob Dylan who made a big impression on me."

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 the biggest problem is access to mainstream media, or the lack of coverage for all roots music, blues, folk, jazz, etc. As I said earlier blues is about shared feelings, something that doesn’t figure much in contemporary media. ’d like to think that new generations of kids have the same enquiring minds that we had, to find out where the music came from, or the ideas etc. Given access to the internet, there’s no real reason why a new generation of kids can’t pick up the baton, but the music has to be relevant to them. When you think of Hip Hop for example, Taj Mahal said it was the “new blues” and in a way he’s right. It’s a new generation molding the blues to their own experience. The thing that will define any new approach is whether the media go for it. Back in the 80’s blues was used to reinforce stereotypes, through the Blues Brothers film, and adverts selling beer and jeans by using blues imagery and music etc. But more generally, blues has had a very hard time.

 Life is more than just music, is there any other field that has influence on your life and music

Art and Literature. Art was my first love and I was always drawing when I was young and I always got on with art teachers who encouraged me to go into it. I really loved Turner, the Impressionists, early painters and 19th century painters. By 1963 I heard Bob Dylan who made a big impression on me. His songs and words were so profound. No one was writing like Dylan. Then there was John Lee Hooker a true blues master and I loved reading Camus, William Blake poetry and all the great Beat writers like Steinbeck. Then in 1963 The Rolling Stones came along and in 1965 The Yardbirds and by 1966 John  Mayall's Bluesbreakers. The big turning point for me in the blues was in 1973 when I saw Freddie King with his American Band at The Marquee in Wardour Street. I was thinking of packing it all in and then seeing that gig made me change my mind. He was totally unbelievable and completely open to many different influences.

Then I got further into the blues with people like B.B. King Albert King and Luther Allison, while Peter Green was also a very inspirational player, I thought his phrasing was beautiful. I also got to meet Peter a few times between1967 to 1977. I think generally speaking, by 1966 there was a lot more going on for young people. Musically speaking that would include the blues (both American and British Blues Boom’s) and the psychedelic stuff coming from the West Coast such as Quicksilver Messenger Service, and people like Frank Zappa, Janis Joplin and Captain Beefheart. Everything seemed to shift from black and white to full colour, especially the blues!

Mick Pini - Home

(Mick Pini / Photo by Horst Petri)

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