Q&A with San Diego based bluesman Chickenbone Slim - explores various interpretations of modern blues and society in the 21st Century

"Any time you write a song, create art, you can speak the truth, you can send a message. I believe if enough of us stand up and say something it will change."

Chickenbone Slim: Real Life's Blues

Chickenbone Slim is a bluesman living in San Diego, CA. He is the guitarist and vocalist for Chickenbone Slim and the Biscuits. CB has been playing by mixing Texas, Chicago and Excelo blues styles with Roots Rock, Swing and Americana, Chickenbone has a unique sound, with a strong catalogue of original music, and is influenced by Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Taylor, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Tomcat Courtney. Chickenbone played bass for many years with several notable San Diego Blues bands including The Mississippi Mudsharks, The Boogiemen, Jinxking, and backing up Tomcat Courtney. In 2010 Chickenbone started playing guitar, taking lessons from Robin Henkel. When he started playing guitar, John Flynn gave him the Name Chickenbone “Because there needs to be a Chickenbone playing the blues!” Starting in 2012, CB started his band. He named it “The Biscuits” because biscuits are his favorite food (with fried chicken, of course!). The band was formed to play at Tasty Truck Tuesdays, and have played there on a weekly basis ever since. This has allowed CB to hone his craft, and subsequently he has started playing in other venues, from festivals (Adams Avenue Street Fair, Gator By The Bay) to clubs such as The Gaslamp Speakeasy, The Riviera, and The Amaya.

(Chickenbone Slim aka Larry Teves / Photo by Nick Abadilla)

Chickenbone (aka Larry Teves) is not sure where he came from, because he was real young when he was born, but he remembers his house had wheels and it was real hot. Chickenbone prefers telecasters, and plays through old amps like his 1946 Gibson BR-1 to get his unique tone. He is heavily influenced by Chicago and Texas Blues masters, as well as local artists like Tomcat Courtney, the Godfather of San Diego Blues. Gritty, soulful and adhering to classic blues norms, with clever lyrics and classic tone, Chickenbone’s third all original album “Sleeper” (2020) explores various interpretations of modern blues and society in the 21st Century. Recorded at the famed Greaseland Studios with Kid Andersen. Featuring guest performances by Laura Chavez (Nicki Hill, Candye Kane) and Joey Harris and Jerry Rainey (Beat Farmers), and backed by top blues musicians. His newest album "Damn Good and Ready" (2023, Vizztone Records) was recorded during the “bomb cyclone” rain in Northern California at Greaseland Studios. Mixed and mastered by the renowned Kid Anderson, features twelve new original songs.          

Interview by Michael Limnios       Special Thanks: Chickenbone Slim & Doug Deutch

How has the Blues and Rock n’ Roll music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Blues is such a great unifier of people. You might not speak the language of the lyrics, but the groove is universal. People of all ages hear blues and relate easily to the music because it is so human, and I really enjoy making that connection with new and old-time blues lovers.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?

Blues is the musical building block all popular American Music is built on. I grew up on Rock and Roll, but what hooked me on blues was the sounds I heard in rock that I really liked. As I learned about music I was drawn to blues and how it was raw, emotional, and pure.

How do you describe Chickenbone Slim sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I try to mix covers with my originals, mostly songs from my major influences. At times, I feel like I am in the 1960’s, playing the blues I love, but putting my own spin and arrangement on the particular songs I love. My goal is to mix up feels and grooves to keep the audience interested, and make it fun to play.

"It’s a journey, not a destination. Music is not an individual art, it is communal. It’s a conversation, not a monologue. You may be the preacher, but it’s best if you have a choir! The people that you work with are more important to the final product than anything you do individually, which is why I love my band! Communication and understanding make great art." (Chickenbone Slim / Photo by Nick Abadilla)

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I started playing bass in my early 20’s, and started singing after a number of years. I am not a naturally talented musician, but I just love making music, particularly blues. So, I have spent years working, taking lessons, practicing, playing in a variety of bands. About 14 years ago I decided to learn guitar, to help with my songwriting and to more easily lead a band. Sure glad I made the effort!

When I have a song, I bring the song to my bandmates, and we arrange it and work out the individual parts collectively. I then try to play it enough times to let it settle in, which can’t always happen just before recording, but every song is different in its process.

Where does your creative drive come from? What do you hope people continue to take away from your music/ songs?

Once you are tuned in, you are driven by the world around you. There are profound truths everywhere, you have to keep your soul open. I feel I have something significant to say, and I have a niche in the intersection of Blues, Roots Rock and Swing that is has not been fully explored. Sometimes, it’s a small story that may not be considered significant, but my job as an artist is to tap into the collective conscience and turn attention to the truth of the song.

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

When Covid hit, I had just released an album “Sleeper” a month before. It seemed like the world was ending. Turned out, my drummer Marty Dodson (who has recorded on all my albums) was living close to Laura Chavez, and we decided to get together to just jam together (so we didn’t go crazy) with Andrew Crane, my bass player at the time. I had several new songs, we worked up setlist, and started playing on my front porch for the neighbors. It was a bit like being in a garage band as when I was much younger, and the experience became the start of “Serve It To Me Hot”. After decades of playing local shows, mostly in Southern California, we went to Belgium in Spring 2022 (my first trip to Europe!) and performed at The Goezot Festival. I won the “Best Blues/Jazz Recording) at the 2022 San Diego Music Awards for “Serve It To Me Hot". 

"Blues is in our DNA, and when people hear it they are drawn to it. Just like  when I heard real blues the first time, I was hooked, and I had no particular reason why, other than it was real." (Photo: Chickenbone Slim & The Biscuits, featuring Laura Chavez on guitar, Marty Dodson on drums, Justice Guevera on bass)

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

It’s a journey, not a destination. Music is not an individual art, it is communal. It’s a conversation, not a monologue. You may be the preacher, but it’s best if you have a choir! The people that you work with are more important to the final product than anything you do individually, which is why I love my band! Communication and understanding make great art.

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

Technique is the language. Soul is the actual words, the emotion on how you say the words, and the message. Learning the techniques are important, you need the vocabulary, but you have to have something to say. That is the ingredient that makes American music special-we have the right and the responsibility of free speech, of truth telling. Even a lie has some truth, and has a message. Blues is the basis for all modern music. European scales and techniques colliding with Slavery and the subjugation of a race of people is both a tragedy and a triumph. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, and musically in America it is the root. We must never forget or ignore the truth, the beauty and ugliness of Blues is a true reflection of our humanity, more than any other music. As long as people hear the music, it won’t die.

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?

Blues is in our DNA, and when people hear it they are drawn to it. Just like  when I heard real blues the first time, I was hooked, and I had no particular reason why, other than it was real. When I first learned some rock songs on bass, I was drawn to the blue notes, just as I was drawn to the music that seemed so familiar yet alien. I meet all ages of people who are drawn like I am. Often, I feel artists are playing music for themselves, but don’t or at least a potential for young people to become future audiences and fans? I play with a 21 year old bluesman named Justice Guevara, who gets blues better than most old blues musicians. With what I am seeing at the blues jams and our shows, the blues isn’t going anywhere. If it has soul, it will have an audience.

"Blues is the musical building block all popular American Music is built on. I grew up on Rock and Roll, but what hooked me on blues was the sounds I heard in rock that I really liked. As I learned about music I was drawn to blues and how it was raw, emotional, and pure." (Photo: Chickenbone Slim aka Larry Teves)

What is the story behind your nickname “Chickenbone Slim”?

In 2010, I realized that singing, writing and performing blues has hard enough as a bassist (my first instrument) that I needed to make a change. I was starting to take lessons from Robin Henkel, and was playing a loaned Gibson 175. Around then, John Flynn (my friend and blues guitarist)called me up and offered to sell me what turned out to be an old Masco Amplifier that was owned by Tomcat Courtney that I had loaned him the money to buy several years before when we were playing blues in The Boogiemen.

Between that old tube sound and the lessons and lots of practice, in a couple years I was going to blues jams, getting my feet wet, and learning the ropes. There was some confusion as I was often referred to as “Scary” Larry Teves from my years playing bass in the Boogiemen. It was at a jam with John Flynn told me about a party he was at the week before, and how the fictional name “Chickenbone” was used as a joke. I was surprised, and asked, “Isn’t there a Chickenbone somewhere playing blues?” and John said “We looked it up, and so. You should be Chickenbone!” The rest is history.

Why are you a student of Blues?

I was going to a large festival in 1981 called the “US Festival” in Southern CA. I was leaving on a Sunday for the festival the next weekend with my friend Greg Lippetz, and we attended a party in the back yard of his neighbor in Santa Cruz, my hometown. An unnamed blues band played all night, and even after going to the US festival to see all the Rock stars I was still mesmerized by the blues band. When I started playing bass, I was intrigued by old rock and roll, but my juices really got flowing when I was given a cassette with songs by Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Little Walter, and Sonny Boy Williamson. While I love lots of styles of music, I actively listen to old and new blues every day because it speaks to my soul.

How do you describe previous album “Sleeper” (2020) sound, music philosophy and songbook?

Sleeper is meant to be subversive, to twist blues in subtle ways to speak honestly about real life. I was lucky to come into recording with a full songbook with songs to choose from, as well as to have an enormous well of musical talent with friends whom I respect and trust to draw from. To get the right feel for the songs the atmosphere must be spontaneous, relaxed and comfortable. Blues does not respond well to being particular- it’s about great musicians playing what they feel. Working with great people makes great music.                             (Photo: Chickenbone Slim, a bluesman living in San Diego, CA)

"The path of musical growth is far more important than any goals you may have. My greatest joy in playing music is to be in the moment, as all the hard work gets you there but if you aren’t happy why do it? Playing blues has always made me happy, and the more I can explore and create just makes it better. I’ve also learned good original blues songs are hard to come by, so I just keep writing!"

Are there any memories from the “Sleeper” sessions in famed Greaseland Studios which you you’d like to share with us?

The biggest excitement when recording at Greaseland occurred late on the first day. Between recording track 6 and 7 Chickenbone got violently ill. Turned out to be a case of food poisoning (only CB got sick from bad meat loaf) and though Kid Andersen’s lawn did finally recover from the episode, CB’s voice was pretty destroyed. Turned out to be a blessing, because the raspy voice was perfect for the song “Helpless”. Recording with Kid is both comfortable and exciting, because he brings out your best when you work with him. We were able to record the vocals a month later.

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

The path of musical growth is far more important than any goals you may have. My greatest joy in playing music is to be in the moment, as all the hard work gets you there but if you aren’t happy why do it? Playing blues has always made me happy, and the more I can explore and create just makes it better. I’ve also learned good original blues songs are hard to come by, so I just keep writing!

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre and artistic movement or do you think it’s a state of mind?

It’s a state of mind. I play Blues because I love it. It really makes little sense for a white boy to fall in love with black music history in America and how Blues is the most originally American music style, but Chickenbone is hooked. While of course I want to be paid, I feel like that has to be secondary to the art. So, when I call myself a Blues Man, I realize that label can come with a negative impression, particularly as the music can be mischaracterized as “simple” or “primitive”. I assure you; it is not. This is limiting to the acceptance of Blues as a serious art form. People that doesn’t understand blues listen to the music based on the assumption that the lyrical intent is somehow deficient or irrelevant. Blues has always been subtle, with hidden meanings and codes, if you pay attention. Chickenbone is here to tell you, blues is the most honest, truthful and real music there is, and the fact that it makes you move your butt is just the icing on the cake!

"I try to mix covers with my originals, mostly songs from my major influences. At times, I feel like I am in the 1960’s, playing the blues I love, but putting my own spin and arrangement on the particular songs I love. My goal is to mix up feels and grooves to keep the audience interested, and make it fun to play." (Chickenbone Slim / Photo by Nick Abadilla)

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

For the last several years collaborating and playing with “Big” Jon Atkinson has been inspirational and rewarding. His knowledge and talent as a bluesman is unbelievable. He blows harp with the authority and taste I find critical to my recordings. Watch out for Jon he’s the next big thing.

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

Recording “Hemi Dodge” for the new CD live (vocals were overdubbed later) I was playing bass and watching Kid Andersen play his solo. We wrapped and everyone left the room and I sat there and just buzzed for over a minute. I was 6 feet away from a moment of genius...I still get chills thinking about it.

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

So many artists I wished I had seen. Freddy King, Hound Dog, Muddy, Howlin’ Wolf. I was lucky to see several greats, but by no means all of them. I’ve been around enough to know there are many traditional blues musicians who do it right, but I worry about the trend to where what we call “Classic Rock” will morph into blues. Call it Rocking Blues if you must, but not Blues.

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

I would like to see blues respected for what it is, a distinct and important art form. And more pay for blues musicians.

"Blues is such a great unifier of people. You might not speak the language of the lyrics, but the groove is universal. People of all ages hear blues and relate easily to the music because it is so human, and I really enjoy making that connection with new and old-time blues lovers." (Photo: Chickenbone Slim,has been playing by mixing Texas, Chicago and Excelo blues styles with Roots Rock, Swing and Americana, Chickenbone has a unique sound, with a strong catalogue of original music, and is influenced by Muddy Waters, Hound Dog Taylor, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and Tomcat Courtney)

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

For me, when Tomcat Courtney hooked up with Henry Ford in the 60’s that was the start, and Tom is still playing today. We have always had a good scene, with a range of styles, and lots of touring musicians like living here. I think we are underrated, as who expects blues from sunny San Diego, right? With the Paladins, Candy Kane, and The Beat Farmers and The Forbidden Pigs our roots rock credentials are solid.

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

I was leaving to play gig last winter, and badly smashed my middle finger on my left, fretting hand in my front door as I left. That did not make me laugh. But, I show up at the gig, and Troy Sandow sees my finger and says “You’ll just have to play extra ignorant tonight!” That still cracks me up.

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

Any time you write a song, create art, you can speak the truth, you can send a message. I believe if enough of us stand up and say something it will change.

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

Robert Johnson, either recording session. To see and hear that recording live would be unbelievable. Or, to meet Marylyn Monroe before she became famous, but who wouldn’t?

Chickenbone Slim - Home

(Photo: Chickenbone Slim aka Larry Teves)

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