Zurich is one of those cities that gets mentioned often in the news for its wealth, functionality in every possible sector, from transport to city cleanliness and many others. Rarely, though, this city emerges in the worldwide press for the great respect and love that Swiss people have for Blues and Americana.
Somebody that is certainly fully aware of the great passion that Switzerland has for those genres is that extraordinary artist that is Eric Bibb, one of the finest guitarist and singer/songwriters worldwide that, for the last half a century, has been and still is among the strongest torchbearers of Blues, Folk and Americana.
When Bluebird Reviews meets the New York-born artist, Zurich offers gracefully its shiniest dress, weather wise, in a splendidly sunny afternoon. Bibb, who has been touring extensively the 2017 album Migration Blues for quite some time, a splendid record inspired by, as the album title may suggest, tales of millions of migrants moving around the world for many different reasons through the centuries, looks in splendid form, immaculately dressed as always and armed with a sweet and contagious aura of positivity.
The singer/songwriter, who has, in the meantime, recently released another fabulous new album called Global Griot (something that our website is going to review later this year) can be well proud of an album like Migration Blues. The album, one of those rare evergreen records that could have been written either 50 years ago or right now, has got that type of impact emerging from Bibb's inspired lyrics that would be of great significance in any time of the world. Being aware of Bibb's incredible skills as a songwriter, our website is wondering whether the artist was inspired to write this record by a particular episode that he had witnessed in his day-by-day life or by something that was suggested, perhaps, by Philippe Langlois, the CEO of Dixiefrog Records (Bibb's label). "Philippe was the real inspiration for that record. He thought that the subject was current and full of drama and emotion. Migration is the story of people and Blues is about people too and there is a great migration story attached to Blues people, like The Great Migration, as you know, when people left the South of America to move to the industrial cities of the North. So, when I made the connection between the current migrant situation, with lots of refugees coming into Europe and realized that there was also a kind of correlation with my ancestors travelling from the South to the North of the States, that was the moment when the songs started really to come together. But I must thank Philippe for providing the original inspiration, because it was a really powerful one".
To write great lyrics for songs has always been one of the main struggles for many artists, no matter the genres they play but it sounds like the difficulty of the songwriting process doesn't affect at all this wonderful American musician. "In general, I can say that I don't struggle with lyrics. What I need to have, before I get started with an album, is an original concept that has got enough juice in it, to enable me to sustain verses and choruses. If the subject, the theme of a record, is rich enough, then I don't have any trouble writing lyrics. I just fill in the blanks, basically, by trying to tell a story in a simple way through my songs. Sometimes, I am very surprised, at the end of the songwriting process, to discover that the outcome is a lot more clever then I thought it was in my original idea. It feels like I get helped from somebody or something mystical, where certain things will connect to each other in a way that I didn't consciously plan. I see them afterward and I say to myself "Wow, Man, that's clever, I wished I'd thought of that". But I did not think of it, when I was writing, somebody or something else did! (smiles). Talking about writing lyrics, I might get, though, sometimes, a little impatient, because I might want to write a song but the lyrics I write don't really have enough juicy ideas behind. Sometimes I write songs in a way that may sound like an exercise in songwriting and I realize that such songs may not be good enough. I must confess that I have got a few of those in my notebook but, it is also true that, for every three or four of those exercises in songwriting, a good song will come along, in the end. I don't question or trying to analyze the whole songwriting process anymore, because I think that it is impossible. I think that you just have to be in a receptive mood and, when everything is lined up, an idea will strike down".
One of the many skills of Eric Bibb as a songwriter is and it has always been to be very straight-to-your-face in its storytelling, never hiding his feelings or being afraid to point the finger to those that do wrong things in life. One of the songs off the Migration Blues album called We Had To Move, cites in its lyrics "....Some big shot politicians made them big cigar decisions, Didn't need our permissions - had to move". There is the distinctive feeling, through lyrics like those, that Bibb might have been, at some point and in recent times, slightly disillusioned by the lack of leadership of the latest American presidents. "I got over the shock, but I am amazed at how long, this circus, has continued. I wrote a song that it is included in my brand new album that even speaks a bit more directly about this. I don't want to mention anybody's name but you might have a guess. The song is called What He Gonna Say Today. You know, I am not really a political writer because I normally rather focus more on human issues but, with the main character of the song, it felt to me that I had to say something. I think, for any conscious person, to pretend that what this person says it is not absurd, it is really negligent. To me, it's like "C'mon people, we got to wake up!". We have been asleep long enough to let this person to get into The Office but, hey, there is a limit to everything! This person's actions, so far, have already impacted many people's lives in a negative way and it is so sad, because it feels to me more about egotism than leadership . More than egotism or leadership, it comes across more as insanity".
Migration Blues is a complete record on many levels. Having already mentioned Bibb's fabulous inner talent as a fine raconteur of people's lives, the amazing musical ensemble that emerges through the songs of this album is equally splendid, Bibb's long time music compadres Michael Jerome Browne and JJ Milteau worked extraordinarily well on the Migration Blues album and our website is wondering what is the secret behind the great musical understanding between Bibb and those highly talented musicians. "I think it is divine planning! (smiles). I think that meeting Michael was something that just had to happen. I can't really imagine me not being able to meet him, because he had an incredibly strong impact on the music I have been making and the way I have been performing it. My whole perspective on Country/Blues has been enriched beyond words, by knowing Michael and playing with him. JJ Milteau is also somebody who is a master of his musical language. He knows the Blues language in many different dialects and he is so respectful and devoted to the details just as Michael is. They both are similar, in that way. You know, it is interesting, they were not born in Mississippi, they were not born in the South part of America and they are students of this music like I am too but, I have got to say, they have learned that musical language so well and found their own voices incredibly well. They are not purist but they are certainly knowledgeable and respectful of the traditions to a very intense degree. To have that vocabulary at my disposal, it is such a great feeling. To me, it is the perfect Dream Team".
Bluebird Reviews had the opportunity to watch Eric Bibb performing live, back few years ago, together with a stellar cast of music artists, at the Royal Albert Hall in London, Uk, for a very special Lead Belly Tribute Night, an artist that has made a strong impact in Bibb's musical formation. "Lead Belly is, for me, a sort of eternal fountain of inspiration, knowledge and style. He is somebody who, to me, is always there, even if he is no longer here with us. He is an indirect influence on anybody who enjoys playing Americana music, particularly the African American part of it. You can hear his influence in the back of your head in any unexpected moment, I guess, because he put out so much music and in so many different related styles that, whatever you might be playing, it is not too far away from something that he had already done, at some point. In that way, he's going to be always an influence. The way I am singing, these days, in the way that I am phrasing and writing my songs, also has a direct link to a great artist like Mavis Staples and the music that she did with her dad, her sisters and brothers. Her way of delivering the vocals, the way of phrasing, emphasizing, over the years has become more and more an influence for me. I often hear her, in my head, when I am writing a song, just like in the way that I mentioned before, talking about Lead Belly. I feel a strong connection with her, if you think about the kind of Blues that I write. She has always been a gospel singer from the beginning and she has expanded her repertoire to include different kind of material but, her way of making a statement, it comes out of the church and is so extremely Bluesy. Something that has been and still is, a very strong influence to me and my music".
The guitarist and singer/songwriter has been on Tour now, for the Migration Blues album, for quite some time and we find interesting that Bibb, at the time we interviewed the artist this year, had the opportunity to write and record so much new material and being able to release, in the same year, a double album of such strong songs like Global Griot. With all this intense live activity ongoing, it must have been very challenging for the artist from New York to put together another body of work of remarkable quality like Global Griot. "I must confess that this year has been rather intense. Fortunately, I was able to finish up the new album just before I started touring. I normally write when I am home, it's not like I take a break from touring, when I decide to start writing. I am so happy to be at home that, evidently, gratitude seems to inspire creativity. I write and also record a lot, when I am home. I start a song in my own bedroom and I would then tell my engineer to come to my home with a microphone interfaced with a laptop. Then I would send the recorded file with the song to some of the people I work with, as a sort of starting point, before starting maybe tweaking the song a little on a later stage. I write in-between everything else that I am doing, either at the kitchen table or elsewhere, where everything else is going on around me. I don't have a separate studio where I work on songs. I write in the middle of life, to put it simple! (smiles)".
One of the most recurring questions lately with many artists, music wise, has been about how, in a difficult time of the world like the one we are living, where people is becoming increasingly separated from reality, how much of an educational weapon an ultra-centenary music genre like the Blues still is and how much it tries to encourage people and tell them to live their lives at the very best. Something that we feel to ask to Eric Bibb too. "I think that the genre is still hugely inspirational. I feel that, for a world that it is becoming increasingly depending on technology, there is an attraction to a simpler time, when people were working with their hands more and they weren't constantly on their mobile phones. They were walking, listening to the radio and not to their headphones. The rising popularity of what it is known as Americana music, and this really amazes me, with young people, has made possible that they are more and more of them picking up a mandolin or a guitar and making music the same way that was popular a hundred years ago. And this is something that I have noticed happening all around the world, not necessarily just in the States. This appeal of acoustic music from an earlier time, I think that is directly related to the speed at which we have been evolving, technologically and it's comforting to settle into something that came before you and still has some kind of emotional depth and it's nutritious for the soul. I guess that is why they call it Food For Soul! (smiles)".
Before letting this extraordinary poet of contemporary music go for his pre-show dinner, our website is curious to know which adjectives Bibb would like to see associated to his name, in a hundred years time, by future generations of musicians and music fans. "Blues, Troubadour, Songwriter, who sang uplifting songs. Nothing else".