The Omar Dykes Interview- The Return Of The Wolf
Sometimes, it is just destiny. Careers of artists such as Omar Kent Dykes, cross paths with legends of the blues such as Howlin' Wolf - destiny. When the Texan Bluesman (although born in Mississippi) decided to use his formidable voice, together with his great ability as guitarist to create an album solely dedicated to The Wolf, the results were astonishingly brilliant. Released in 2013, Runnin' With The Wolf is perhaps one of the best blues album released worldwide last year and www.Bluebirdreviews.com is very proud to have Omar talking about the making of this album and his career overall.
Gio - Omar, how are you? Thank you for being with us today and congratulations on your phenomenal record.
Omar - Thank you Gio, I am glad to be here with you.
Gio - Omar, you have been planning to do a record about Howlin' Wolf for a long time. For a great fan like you, how laborious has it been, choosing the track list that ended up on the album?
Omar - It was real difficult to choose the tracks because I wanted to record all Howlin' Wolf tracks! There's not a Howlin' Wolf track I don't like. But I was able to choose some of my favorite tracks and some obscure ones and some of the Howlin' Wolf hits too, you know. At first, I wanted to stay away from the hits because that's what everybody has done, "Wang Dang Doodle," "Little Red Rooster" but then I went: "You know what? It's too much fun not to do!" So I made my versions anyway, you know..
Gio - You certainly made a great job about it -
Omar - Thank you, every time I play "Little Red Rooster" I get a big grin on my face! So I decided not to stay away from the hits that everybody knows. And he has got some obscure ones which are quite well known too and you had to include too Willie Dixon in there, which wrote some of the great best Howlin' Wolf hits.
Gio - I liked it very much, on this record, the fact you gave to all the tracks your distinctive Howlers' Texas blues treatment; has the recording process been a straight forward one, or did some tracks take longer than others?
Omar - You know, we pretty well knocked the whole album out in one or two takes; everybody on the record loves Howlin' Wolf, so it was like I didn't have to force anybody to play and the same with the studio guys too. Everybody on the record, you know, my friends, they all love Howlin' Wolf, so there was no problem and it was easy to do. I just had to play in my way.
Gio- Which is always the best one?
Omar - Well, we were listening to Howlin Wolf and, you know, we didn't want to go too far off track. You've heard albums where they do a tribute and you would have some reggae bands play a Howlin' Wolf song and I didn't want to do anything like that, but to keep everything in the same ball park and put my slant to it.
Gio - How did you come up with the brilliant idea to make a Western Swing-ish version of the closing track of the album, "Wang Dang Doodle," a song that ironically Wolf did not exactly love and one of my favorites of the album?
Omar - Well, you know, I am a Mississippi born originally then I moved to Texas in 1976, but I grew up in Mississippi. We were only allowed to listen to blues and rock'n'roll, but I was a big rockabilly fan, so I had to put a little rockabilly western slant to it - because it comes natural to me. If I do a blues song by Jimmy Reed or Howlin' Wolf, anybody, I always put a rockabilly slant because rockabilly has a little touch of that western swing.
Gio - It really sounded great!
Omar - Thank you, I appreciate it. "Wang Dang Doodle" was so much fun, one of The Wolf's signature tracks. You know, I heard that Willie Dixon wrote it originally for Howlin' Wolf, but when he first showed it to Wolf, he wasn't interested in it.
Gio - Yes, I heard he was not exactly enamoured of the track in the beginning.
Omar - Yeah, he was kind of "It's ok, I don't know..." Then Willie Dixon used the psychology and said "You know, I know Muddy Waters wants to do it" and when he told that to Wolf he suddenly went "Y'a know what? Let me hear it again!"
Gio - They had a bit of a bad blood between the two of them.
Omar - What a great song to do for The Wolf, I can hear Muddy doing the Doodle now! I don't know if it would be the same. If you have never heard the Koko Taylor version of the track, you have to listen to that, she did a great job and was a great Howlin' Wolf fan too.
Gio - Are you still collecting vinyl albums or you decided to give your personal collection of 10.000 records a break? And are they all predominantly blues records?
Omar - I have everything! I have jazz, predominantly blues, I would say definitely, but I am a big fan of be-bop jazz, swing jazz and a lot of country too. When I say "country," I mean "All Time" country, not the new rock and roll stuff... Most country bands sound like rock and roll bands from the 70's now ... I like the old stuff like Hank Williams, George Jones - and funny enough they sang the blues too, you know!
Gio - After almost 25 years of making records, of which of your albums are you particularly proud of?
Omar - Well, you know, they are kinda like your children for me, so I love them all. I kinda like The Screamin' Cat because it was so different, you know, if I really have got to choose one; our mother had just passed away when I did Screamin' Cat and I did that with my friends Popa Molly and Frosty produced that record. I was in a kind of weird place because my mom had passed away, I would go to the studio and record some tracks and then Frosty, which is an absolute great friend of mine and also played drums with me for all these years, you know, he would say, "Why don't you go home? You came here and sing and play the guitar, why don't you go home and come back tomorrow?" And I would come in and sing and play and then leave, you know, and the day after I would find out what remarkable job they had done on the tracks.
Gio - So it sounds like you manage to capture your special state of mind on that record.
Omar - Yeah, as I said I would be able to come back to the studio the following day and they would have done stuff on the tracks, I would have not been able to do myself; obviously, it was always with my approval and my best interest in heart.
Gio - And I understand that being buddies in life too, that brings a mutual understanding about the way that the music got to be recorded.
Omar - Well, all the people I record with are usually friends of mine; we have so much fun together and this shows into the music too, you know.
Gio - Is it imperative for you to be surrounded by people you trust, Omar?
Omar - Well, it's like a party, playing with all my friends! It just happens that all my friends that work on the record are also our studio musicians and the fact they are my personal friends too make the life a whole lot easier, rather than hiring some session men that I have never worked before.
Gio - Does having standard session men make a record sound cold, in your opinion?
Omar - Well, if your friends happen to be also the studio musicians at the same time, why take the gamble?
Gio - We know that you tend to tour a lot, on an average 150-160 gigs a year. Will the European fans and in particular the Italians have the pleasure to see you "bringing The Wolf" live anytime soon in 2014?
Omar - I am not imagining it. I don't travel that far anymore, my health is not that good unfortunately, and because of that, I had to cut my tour back as well, as you might see on my website too. I am slowing down a bit, my feet don't work good but my heart works not bad.
Gio - And your voice still works very well too!
Omar - Well, my voice has always been pretty good.
Gio - Howlin' Wolf once said, "I couldn't do no yodelin', so I turned to howlin'. And it's done me just fine"." What would have been life for you without the blues?
Omar - I can't imagine! I grew up in Mississippi playing blues when I was real young and I really didn't know at the time I was playing blues. I didn't know what I was playing until few years later; the first guy I played with, he was playing blues, but I didn't really understand until I have got in to the band, I thought I was playing some other Mississippi sound but not blues. I realized that when someone in the band said "Hey, that stuff you were playing was blues!"
Gio - So it sounds like blues has always been into your DNA?
Omar - I think the way I grew up, it's just part of the fabric of life.
Gio - After a couple of album tributes to Jimmy Reed and now this fabulous homage to the Wolf, are you planning to write and record any new material soon or will you be focusing solely on touring in 2014?
Omar - Oh no, I always write, I write material constantly; I have always got things planned; I hope to do some more tributes down the line too. I am pretty much at the age in which I do what I want to do, you know; so if someone asks "Are you going to do more tributes?" I would say "I don't know yet." Somebody needs to do Bo Diddley's one!
Gio - I am pretty sure that such record would become a classic too!
Omar - Well, I may do that, I am not sure yet but it has been in the back of my mind for a while now. I actually got to manage to play with Bo Diddley once and, Man, we had a real ball!
Gio - I bet you did!
Gio- Your guitar style maintains that purity and class that has made your name since your first record in 1980? What is your secret?
Omar - Just good longevity! You know, I have been playing for a long time; I started when I was 12 years old and in one of the first band I joined we were playing covers off the radio and we were trying to replicate the songs just as they were on the records. In my town I wasn't considered that good as a guitar player because I was considered a messy one, although I just saw it as a way to do the songs in my own way. So when I left my home town to go to Hattiesburg, Mississippi which was further down the road, I got into bands that understood that I was marching into the beat of my own music ground, you know.
Gio - So your style just developed naturally through the years, record after record...
Omar - I have never been able to sit down and try to carve and copy something, you know; no matter how much I may like some sounds, I have got to put my own slant into it. By the time I start playing, I put inadvertently my own slant anyway (chuckles). I don't have to try, it just happens!
Gio - ... which makes the great artist you are.
Gio - If you were going to write a book about your life, what would the defining title be?
Omar - Oh, Lord! Maybe, "I had a good time?" (chuckles). I had more fun than anybody in the first years I played the blues, I was a real party animal, you know. The music was important but the party was REAL important! Somewhere in 1984 then I reversed and I put the music first as my priority and the party last and then one day, the party went away.
Gio - So, no definite title for your book, then? Maybe next time we will be talking you might tell me?
Omar - Well, I wanna do write a book now that we have been talking about that! And I have certainly got few tales to tell!
Gio - Omar, thank you so much, what a real privilege this has been!
Photo by Gio Pilato. (T-shirt by Omar Dykes!)
About Our Author: Giovanni "Gio" Pilato is Italian music writer, who has been living in UK since 2002. With an enormous passion for music, and life in general, his interest in the communications began at 11 years old. He worked briefly for local radios in his youth and did a one-off radio show on 2007 on the glorious BBC 6 Music Radio station. Gio started his freelance journalist career in 2012, with Italian artists, and is now mainly focusing on blues artists. To follow Gio Pilato and his all cool radio show, Visit: (RTL 102.5 Cool (Webradio)): http://www.rtl.it/CoolRead also: Omar and The Howlers: Essential Collection as posted for the Boston Blues Society. Keep the blues alive!