"The most important lessons I have learned in my life are humility and perseverance. I have loved the Blues all my life, I enjoy playing it and I enjoy listening to it. I love to see live blues and I go to as many events and festivals as I can every chance I get, for me the greatest source of learning is watching other players perform, from that you often learn what to do, and what not to do."
Mingo Balaguer: Harmonica Blues Blaster
Sevillian musician Mingo Balaguer, more than 30 years on stage and 17 albums released, endorse his experience as a harmonica player and blues singer, not only in his country, but also beyond of borders. He was a member of the legendary «Caledonia Blues Band» for ten years, during which time he performed with outstanding musicians such as Hubert Sumlin, Johnny Winter, Charlie Musselwhite and Magic Slim, among others. After his experience in bands like «Caledonia Blues Band», «Blues Machine» and «Blues Blasters», Mingo Balaguer made the decision to lead a quartet called «Mingo The Blues Intruders». Mingo Balaguer has currently released 17 CDs throughout his musical career and has had the privilege of playing with international musicians such as Charlie Musselwhite, Carey Bell, Gary Primich, Sugar Ray Norcia, Kenny Neal, R.J. Mischo, Bruce Ewan, Miguel Rios, Raimundo Amador, Bobby Radcliff, Charlie Sayles, Paul Lamb, Jerry Portnoy, Sherman Robertson, Otis Grand and Lurrie Bell among others.
(Harmonica player and blues singer, Mingo Balaguer / Photo © by Jose Montaño)
Mingo Balaguer has been working for many years as a freelance musician, alongside the most prestigious blues musicians on the national and international scene, which has allowed him to have the opportunity to play in blues festivals an events in many countries. Mingo says: “Another of the studio sessions I am most proud of, is the recording of the album "Blues What Am" of one of the new projects I am involved in, called "Cat Squirrel". This project is led by the great British producer Mike Vernon, who along with guitarist Kid Carlos have been the authors of the vast majority of the songs on the album” The band is composed by Mike Vernon on vocals, Kid Carlos on guitar, Oriol Fontanals on bass, Pascual Monge on drums and Mingo Balaguer on harmonica. Cat Squirrel’s debut album “Blues What Am”, released in October 2023.
How do you describe your sound and music philosophy? What touched you from the sound of harmonica?
I particularly started playing the harmonica when I was 11 years old, it was a tremolo harmonica, specifically a Seductora harmonica (Hohner), and from the first moment I heard the sound of the harmonica I was attracted in a very special way and I don't know why, but I sensed that I was capable of playing that instrument. At that time, I didn't know the blues at all, I played popular tunes of my time. The first blues recordings that fell into my hands were by British artists, so I discovered John Mayall and it was the first blues harmonica player that I started to take seriously and to collect all his albums, then when I discovered a little later musicians like Sonny Boy Williamson and James Cotton I was totally impressed, that was another world for me.
I was especially impressed by two records that fell into my hands and that I kept listening to, "Live at the Craw-Daddy Club" by Sonny Boy Williamson & The Yardbirds and Can't Get No Grindin' by Muddy Waters, with James Cotton on harmonica, it was later when I discovered Little Walter. These three harmonica players meant a lot to me and marked me deeply.
Sonny Boy Williamson II, for his ability to transmit just with his harmonica and voice with that energetic rhythm and simplicity at the same time, James Cotton for his great strength, dynamism and expressiveness and Little Walter for his elegant and subtle style of playing the harmonica and his peculiar phrases and sounds, which were totally different from any harmonica player of that time. I think my style is rather classical, quite influenced by the three harmonica players mentioned above, I love Chicago electric blues, jump-blues and west coast blues.
"Well, honestly what I miss the most is that many of the greats of the Blues are no longer with us, but they have created a school. I think you have to be optimistic, there are great blues performers today that fortunately we can still enjoy and I think that this will never end. There will always be festivals, halls and clubs where you can listen to good blues." (Mingo Balaguer, 2022 / Photo © by Fernando Moreno)
How has the Blues influenced your views of the world? What does the blues mean to you?
The blues has had a very positive influence on me, and thanks to this music I have met countless people around the world, whether musicians or simply lovers of this type of music, with whom I continue to maintain an unbreakable friendship, has been undoubtedly a common bond with great people.
Undoubtedly the blues is for me something special, a kind of music that hooked me deeply when I was just 14 or 15 years old and has always been present in my life, I have always liked all music in general, or at least almost all, but always with a preference for jazz and roots music, the blues modifies my mood towards positive and happy feelings and sometimes melancholic and sad. The blues makes you experience something special and difficult to explain, but once it catches you, you can't live without it.
Why do you think that the Blues music continues to generate such a devoted following in Spain?
It is difficult to answer that question, but it is true that the Blues has many followers in Spain, and more and more. In our country there are many blues festivals and every year new initiatives are born. The only thing I can think of is that it may be due to the similarity that exists in some way between Blues and "flamenco", which has its origin in Andalusia and dates back to the 18th century, it was root music, originally performed as a form of lament expressed by the Moorish and Gypsy people, as persecuted, nomadic and marginal ethnic groups. The similarity that exists between that “quejío” in flamenco, which is a heartrending howl expressed with “Ay”, interpreted by that persecuted marginal people, and the “blues”, which is nothing more than a song of complaint and lament, or slave camp screams, produced by a depressed mood, is undeniable.
Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?
One of the most important experiences for me has been to have had the opportunity to open and play with the great Charlie Musselwhite, that happened in Seville in 1992, when the university of my city hired the band I was in at the time (Caledonia Blues Band) to open for him at a festival and also serve as his backing band. Charlie Musselwhite was in my home rehearsing with all of us, I have never seen anyone with so much humility in all my life. It was definitely an experience I will never forget.
"Well, obviously the music must always be well made, and technique is very important, but for me in blues, the soul and the specific knowledge of the language of this music plays a much more important role than technique." (Photo: Mingo Balaguer & Charlie Musselwhite, two masters of blues harmonica)
Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?
I have too many good memories and fantastic experiences in the last 36 years that I have been dedicated to music, I will try to remember some of the best ones.
Opening for Johnny Winter in Seville in 1993 was fantastic, it was also a lot of fun opening for Magic Slim & The Teardrops in Granada in the same year, especially when we finished and went out for tapas and drinks all over Granada with John Primer and the rest of the band, John was a lot of fun, we had a great time.
A unique experience was playing at Buddy Guy's Legend club, with my band "Caledonia Blues Band" in 1994, a couple of days before I met the great Jimmy Johnson who was playing at a club in Chicago, and what was my surprise when after talking to him that our band would play two days later at Buddy Guy's Legend, he came to see our show.
Jimmy Johnson is another one of the most wonderful and humble people I have ever met in my life.
Another great memory was opening for the great Otis Rush in 1995 for two consecutive days, at the blues festival in Cerdanyola Del Valles (Barcelona) and in Palma De Mallorca at the Rebel'95 festival.
At the end of the Otis Rush concert in Palma de Mallorca, we stayed in the theater doing jams with his musicians, I remember that in a conversation with the great David Maxwell who was on keyboards, I told him that I had a bootleg video recording of him as a young man, playing with Freddie King in Texas, which I bought from a fan in England. He begged me to make a copy and send it to him as he had never seen it, and so I did.
It was without a doubt one of the best concerts I have ever seen in my life.
One of the most beautiful experiences I remember was also having the opportunity to see my admired Carey Bell, during a cycle of music in my city, which lasted a few days. Not only did I have the opportunity to interview him for a blues magazine in my country, but when he found out that I was a harmonica player, he invited me to play in two of his shows with him, one of the best experiences of my life.
(Photo: Mingo Balaguer with Carey Bell and Stephen Jacobs at the Seville Jazz Festival in 1997)
Regarding the studio sessions, there are two of them in my life, that I remember with great affection, the first one was the recording of my work "BLUESHADOW", made on 8,9 and 13 of 2020 in Sputnik Studios in Seville, in this work I composed all the songs (except one cover), during the confinement of the pandemic.
It was something I wanted to do for a long time and I could never, so I took advantage of the forced confinement to compose, and then I called my musician friends with whom I usually played, we met a day before the recording to rehearse the songs, and when we got into the studio everything flowed perfectly, it is one of the works of which I am most proud.
The musicians in this work are Pablo Sanpa (Madrid) and Kid Carlos (Seville) on guitars, Oriol Fontanals (Catalonia) on double bass, Paul San Martín (San Sebastian) on piano, Guillaume Destarac (Paris) on drums, Alain Sancho (Bilbao) on saxophone in a couple of tracks and myself on vocals and harmonica.
Another of the studio sessions I am most proud of, is the recording of the album "Blues What Am" of one of the new projects I am involved in, called "Cat Squirrel".
This project is led by the great British producer Mike Vernon, who along with guitarist Kid Carlos have been the authors of the vast majority of the songs on the album, this work has also been recorded at Sputnik Studios in Seville, in May 2022.
The band is composed by Mike Vernon on vocals, Kid Carlos (Seville) on guitar, Oriol Fontanals (Catalonia) on bass, Pascual Monge (Madrid) on drums and myself on harmonica.
The result in my humble opinion has been fantastic, everything has flowed and worked in the studio with an amazing naturalness, and we have had a lot of fun recording this album. Needless to say, that the production of this work by the great Mike Vernon has been brilliant.
"The blues has had a very positive influence on me, and thanks to this music I have met countless people around the world, whether musicians or simply lovers of this type of music, with whom I continue to maintain an unbreakable friendship, has been undoubtedly a common bond with great people." (Cat Squirrel: Mingo Balaguer with British producer Mike Vernon & Kid Carlos / Photo © by Fernando Moreno)
What's the balance in music between technique and soul? What is the role of Blues in today’s society?
Well, obviously the music must always be well made, and technique is very important, but for me in blues, the soul and the specific knowledge of the language of this music plays a much more important role than technique.
Particularly when I'm on stage playing, I prefer to be surrounded by fellow musicians who know the language of this music well and who play it with soul, than by professional musicians who are technically perfect, but who don't know or are not really interested in the language of this music.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
Well, honestly what I miss the most is that many of the greats of the Blues are no longer with us, but they have created a school. I think you have to be optimistic, there are great blues performers today that fortunately we can still enjoy and I think that this will never end. There will always be festivals, halls and clubs where you can listen to good blues.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
The most important lessons I have learned in my life are humility and perseverance. I have loved the Blues all my life, I enjoy playing it and I enjoy listening to it. I love to see live blues and I go to as many events and festivals as I can every chance I get, for me the greatest source of learning is watching other players perform, from that you often learn what to do, and what not to do.
What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
The best advice I have ever been given in my life was given to me by my mother, she was very supportive of my music from a young age, she told me, if you like what you do go for it, enjoy it and always try to do your best.
(Sevillian harmonica player and blues singer, Mingo Balaguer / Photo © by Fernando Moreno)
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