Q&A with veteran musician Eduard Jimmy Matesic, one of the most prominent Croatian blues guitarists

"Blues is a cure for racism. Folk music give you a sense of global citizenship although it is considered usually a local thing."

Eduard Jimmy Matešić: Music Passion Key

One of the most prominent Croatian blues guitarists. Matešić has been professionally involved in music since 1970, when he recorded his musical beginnings in his native Zadar, where he played with local ensembles. After arriving in Zagreb, he played in the group Peta rijeka, as a backing band for Darko Domjan, then in the group Izazov and as a studio musician in the backing bands of the most famous names in the pop and rock scene. In 1982, together with Dražen Vrdoljak and his colleague Davor Rodik, he founded the group "Plava trava zaborava" , which still operates today with somewhat less activity.

(Eduard Jimmy Matešić / Photo by Boris Kaiser)

Apart from "Plave trave" and other groups (Rhythm & Blues Resistance, Hopeless romantic, Jimmy Matesic blues band), Jimmy performs alone and collaborates with many musicians, including Joško Banov, Josip Cvitanović and Toni Eterović, in whose orchestras he performs at festivals, concerts and TV shows.

Interview by Michael Limnios

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues & Folk music and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

I found out early, when I was 15 and listening to Jimi Hendrix record that somebody brought from The USA what I really wanted to do. I couldn’t tell what it was at that time but later on I discovered that it had a strong roots in blues. After that time a whole new world opened to me. All the great names from Robert Johnson to Muddy Waters and so on. The music was not so complicated to play technically but it had heart and soul and most of all passion. Passion is the key word to understanding the blues. Playing the blues is not about being depressed or feeling bad per se.  It is the passion.

How do you describe Eduard Jimmy Matešić sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

My problem may be that I listen and I like everything, every style and different types of music and it may be heard in what I try to do. Although lately I play acoustic guitar most of the time so the music seem to be quieter a less aggressive than it used to be when it was electric. Couple years ago I recorded an album just acoustic guitar and the voice and these days I’m making one more in the same fashion. Keeping things simple.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

Oh, memories, there are so many. I’ve been doing the same thing, playing music since 1970. So it would be really hard to extract funny or interesting moments in a few words. But just one, maybe: I used to change guitars a lot. I would find a guitar (at that time all electric) and keep it for a couple of weeks and get bored with it and look for another one. One time I wanted to buy a Gibson jazz guitar, a big one, I think it was L5 and the strings were very heavy. I changed the strings a put a light gage, .09 D’Addario I think. The guitar had a wood bridge. We played a fast, swinging boogie-woogie and I hit ad bent third string starting a solo but nothing could be heard except a squeaky sound of strings hitting the pickup. The bridge disappeared, it was gone. It fell of when I picked the first note. A guy from the audience came to the stage and said: Is this yours?

"My problem may be that I listen and I like everything, every style and different types of music and it may be heard in what I try to do. Although lately I play acoustic guitar most of the time so the music seem to be quieter a less aggressive than it used to be when it was electric. Couple years ago I recorded an album just acoustic guitar and the voice and these days I’m making one more in the same fashion. Keeping things simple." (Eduard Jimmy Matešić / Photo by Tomislav Valent)

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

I’m aware that the popular music was business and still is. But somehow it’s more business than in the past. I like to think that in sixties and seventies the music seemed to be much more creative. So many new styles were invented. I also think that the music can be fresh and new and interesting today. Good thing is that anybody can do music and everybody can hear it. Internet did it. On the other hand, there is too much information. How can you listen to everything today. I had a feeling that in seventies you could have heard everything there was. I hope that common interest in music doesn’t die. Or get less.    

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

It may sound naïve but the only thing I would change is that the musicians have a better treatment of society.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Croatia. Which is the most interesting period in local blues scene?

Blues was never a big part of the music world in Croatia. But it was always there. Also, I think that is getting bigger because there are some young and capable guys who really do it seriously. My generation did it more like a hobby, something you do for fun exclusively, not as a main thing.

What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues from United States and UK to Croatia and Balkan area?

There is a Blues forces organization and it has connections with the similar ones in all western countries so the blues will live.

"Blues was never a big part of the music world in Croatia. But it was always there. Also, I think that is getting bigger because there are some young and capable guys who really do it seriously. My generation did it more like a hobby, something you do for fun exclusively, not as a main thing." (Eduard Jimmy Matešić with his band, Belgrade Hotel in Zadar, Croatia / Photo by Duško Babić)

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the local music circuits?

I can’t say what made me laugh lately. There are some things that touched me deeply. I heard a saxophone solo on the radio, played but my dear friend, an excellent player who passed away a year ago. The solo was a burning heartfelt moment that really got to me.

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of local Croatian folk music and traditional forms?

There are similarities between the blues and every type of folk music in all the countries in the western world.

 The form in the blues lyrics of the 12 bar blues usually is a sentence than the same sentence again and the third line is a conclusion. The same thing occurs in Slavonian ‘bećarac’ tipe of song or a ballad from a region near Hungary called Međimurje. The only thing that is never heard is ‘blue tones’. You don’t find that in any kind of folk music except in the blues.  

What is the impact of Blues and Folk music to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Blues is a cure for racism. Folk music give you a sense of global citizenship although it is considered usually a local thing.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

I would like to go and listen to Robert Johnson recording and making a history for us all.

(Eduard Jimmy Matešić / Photo by Željko Malagurski)

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