- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by Rob Blackman)
Summer nights are often blessed with starry skies, with some stars more brighter than others. It's no coincidence that, on this hot, summer evening, the sky on Maidenhead, south of England, has left an empty space to allow the shiniest of all the stars to land in this part of the world, Sari Schorr.
The singer and songwriter from New York City has been not just the talk of the town but of the entire blues/rock community, in the last couple of years. Her debut album, A Force Of Nature, due to be released this week, has been unanimously named by both the music press and the fans as one of the most awaited album of 2016.
Schorr has made her mark into the blues/rock circuit through her legendary live performances worldwide and by being on tour with blues/rock icons like Popa Chubby and Joe Louis Walker.
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Blues is one of those genres that never had any frontiers and never will. From United States to England, Italy, Colombia, Scandinavia in its entirety, just to mention few places, blues has and will always have one of those music languages that speaks to anybody the best and most understandable language in the world, that sonic Esperanto able to reach everybody, no matter whether you are rich or poor or the colour of your skin.
A country like Australia, not just blessed with beautiful landscapes and amazing blue sea but also with outstanding musicians, couldn't remain, of course, insensitive to the fascination that the blues carries with. One of the most acclaimed debut albums of 2016, Blue Skies, comes coincidentally from this wonderful part of the world, thanks to the artistry of Matty T Wall, a young and absolutely formidable guitarist and singer/songwriter.
Blue Skies is a musical journey of epic proportions that allow the listeners to travel into several decades of music. An album that is a true homage to blues and all its transformations during the years, transformations that have then gradually converged into jazz, rock and roots. Wall's vision of how the blues has moved on through time is first class and the success and attention that Blue Skies is getting not just in Australia but also worldwide is very much deserved.
Bluebird Reviews couldn't miss the opportunity to talk not just to a very inspired artist and talented guitarist but also to a very friendly and polite gentleman.
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by Graham Chapman)
"Russell will be here in a second" announces the gentle voice and the smile of Joanne Alexander, member of The Hitman Blues Band and, most importantly, wife of Russell "The Hitman" Alexander, frontman and band leader of this fabulous collective from New York. The band has released just few months ago one of the most entertaining albums of the 2016, The World Moves On (previously reviewed on our website) and Bluebird Reviews couldn't miss the chance to meet and discuss about the new album with The Man Himself, Russell Alexander.
We meet the band in one of their European dates, more precisely in London, UK, in one of the most iconic and historic venues of the UK capital, The 100 Club. Alexander is immaculately dressed in his stage suite with his typical Blues Top Hat that he loves to feature almost every time that he performses and welcomes Bluebird Reviews with a huge smile and warm handshake.
BBR - Russell, welcome on Bluebird Reviews and many congratulations on your new album The World Moves On. How long did it take to assemble together the tracks, old and new that ended up on your new record?
RA - All together, probably about three or four months. I started the pre-production in January, then got few things sorted and then we started recording in February. The record had to be done by the end of March. I was told by my publicist that end of March was the ultimate deadline and if we didn't have the record ready by the beginning of April, there would have been no promotion opportunities for the forthcoming tour at all. As you can understand, no pressure at all! (giggles). But despite all that, I am very happy about the end result and everything worked out really well.
BBR - The Blues has been defined, through the years, in many different ways. How would you define, in your own words, your very personal take on this genre that you like to call Original Modern Blues?
RA - See, the blues is a collective genre. You can go back all the way to the W.C. Handy days and then do a kind of progression up, by going through artists like Bessie Smith, Lonnie Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Charlie Patton and then moving another notch to people like Johnny Guitar Watson, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf. By creating such a great music platform, the artists belonging to the rock scene grabbed on and said "Oh, so this is where our genre come from!". Finally understanding where all this started, the rock artists made their own things, filling the gap, through their artistry, between the Chicago Blues style and the rock scene, based on the roots created by the artists I mentioned before. People like Fleetwood Mac, Cream, Eric Clapton, then as the days went by, guys like Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan did so really beautifully. All of us musicians apply our visions to what we consider blues because we all have a different view about what blues is. Even Stevie Ray Vaughan, back in those days, he was told: "Man, that is not blues". But sure it was, it was performed just in a different way. If we want the blues to survive and I am certain that it will survive, it has to evolve because any music genres need evolution, including the blues, otherwise it's going to disappear.
BBR - During the making of The World Moves On, did any of the songs change their shape, whilst you were recording the album?
RA - A lot of times that does happen but on this particular album it didn't. When I walked into the studio, I knew already pretty much how I want the album to sound like. We had a keyboardist, Kevin Bents, who came in and threw in a lot of his own ideas. Some of the songs were starting in a way and finishing in a completely different way. That was the way we used to work on some of our earlier albums and if you hear the original demos of those albums and the way the tunes actually came out, they were completely different. But this one was pretty smooth and I have gotta say I might be finally getting the hang of it at this point, I am not sure but I feel I am getting there (smiles).
BBR - The band has been together for quite some time, now. How much has the sound of The Hitman Blues Band developed, through the years?
RA - Well, as you know I had many different players with me over the years. I started the band in 1989 and at the time, it was merely a cover band. Since those days, I went into a lot of changes of personnel and I believe that the only musician that has been with me the longest is Mike Porter (bass guitar), which has been with me for 12-13 years. I have worked previously with Mike Snyder, who is now playing with us both Baritone Sax and keyboards, many times before, since the mid-80's in different other projects but not on a long running like with Mike. This new record is a bit like the sum of our history, as Hitman Blues Band. You can hear in it new versions of songs from my previous records, like Catch 22 Blues from my very first album. That tune has got a special meaning for me, because I had the honour of having my father (Ray Alexander, excellent jazz artist) playing with me, which was a real treat. But then, if you compare, say, that track to the newer stuff, something like I'll Be Moving On or The World Moves On, for example, you can certainly hear the different approach we had on the new songs in comparison to the older one we revisited on the album. I guess that approaching songs in a different way, through time, is part of the evolution of any artist. One great thing was that, once I heard the job that the Team did in re-mixing and re-mastering versions of the older tunes, I was over the moon. Some of those tunes go back all the way to 2000 and it is amazing how fresh and so contemporary they sound still now
BBR - Our viewers are very interested to know about the genesis of your nickname The Hitman, Russell. They really hope you have never shot anybody in your life!
RA - No, I can reassure you on that. "They called me Hanging Johnny, away boys away but I never hang nobody" (Hanging Johnny by The Great Big Sea). I have got that nickname first because I knew so many tunes from the blues charts, back in the days, stuff from, I don't know, 1920s to 1970s all by heart. As you get older, however, you tend not to keep up quite as much as when I was younger and due to the fact that I am so focused and concentrated now with my band, you obviously lose, through time, any incentive to keep up with the Blues Charts and all that. The way that I dressed, also, already back in the mid-late 80's was very much noticed by the fans. I remember, in that period, a friend of mine coming to see me playing in an open jam session and when I walked on stage, he shouted "Hey, look, here comes The Hitman". So I thought that, considering that so many people called me in that way for many different reasons, it was wise for me to keep that name and that is what I did.
BBR - When we reviewed your record at Bluebird Review, we truly admired the capacity of the band to stick religiously to the tradition of the blues and at the same time, the ability to spice up that sound through your personal artistic touch. Which blues artists have inspired you and made you love so much this genre from the beginning?
RA - Oh boy, how long have you got? That's a huge list to make because there are so many different kind of blues. All the different styles of people like Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell, Charlie Patton, just to mention very few, they had such a big impact on my musical formation. But that is not all. If you go through each decade of blues with me, I can go on for hours. Maybe the first time I was really exposed to blues, as genre, was by listening in my young age to people like Cream, Canned Heat, Jethro Tull and a lot of Progressive Rock. One day I started listening to Elvis Presley's Sun Session album and I was amazed by how that album was based on blues. Through the years, then, people like Stevie Ray Vaughan and The Blues Brothers revitilised the interest about blues even further and that was really a cool moment for the genre. Then I started working my way backward, musically, discovering, a bit like the rock artists of the 70's I mentioned previously, that the fundament, the ground of that music was the blues. I guess that this is one of the positive sides of getting older. You get a bit more patient, sit down and dig deeper into the sound that was the genesis of what came after. It gives you the opportunity to appreciate where all started and how it started, something that when you are a younger and maybe blinded by the current music you hear on the radio, you don't consider at all.
(Photo by SD Photography)
BBR - How come that you decided to add to the new album five re-worked tracks from your previous records and not doing an album of all original material?
RA - I had a lot of people saying to me "Hey, you have got these older albums with plenty of great tunes, you should really consider to re-release them because they really sound cool. I had already some new songs ready and I didn't want to make an album made entirely of my old tunes either. So, we asked to the fans and we also discuss within the band which songs of our back catalogue would have been more appropriate to be chosen for this album and in the end, I have got to say I am pretty happy with the ones we chose.
BBR - Russell, you have been in Europe to play many times before. How different do European audiences react to your music in comparison to American ones?
RA - The typical answer would be that in Europe they are much more respectful, they listen carefully to the songs and so on. In reality, I don't think that there is so much difference between European and American audiences because our American fans can be as respectful as the European crowds. I also think that, another similarity we find often in our crowds is the amount of loudness, which is mostly the result of how much alcohol consumption there has been on a particular show, it doesn't matter where you are! (chuckles). There is also a fair amount of dancing but, again, it would be entirely depending by how much the crowd would be sober or not sober. Either way, what I generally find awesome about any type of audiences is that they will come and listen to the blues, no matter if it is Delta, Chicago Blues or any other kind of. Because it's the spirit of the blues that bonds them together, it's not important matter of what nationality they can be or their blues preferences. They come just and only for the blues, because they find a connection with it. They come because they want to support it and feel connected to it. Most of all, they want to see it performed live and feel the power of the blues.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
You must be born with those natural gifts that just people like Carmine Rojas possess, otherwise you will never be able to build or acquire them through time and experience, because they are so unique. A truly positive person, surrounded by an aura of pure karma every time that he speaks or smiles, Rojas is not just one of the most talented bass player of the last half a century of music but he is also in body and spirit, one of the youngest looking 63 years old artists that Bluebird Reviews has ever met.
His palmares, as a musician, is something that belongs to the elite of music history, given the fact that throughout his glorious career, Rojas has played with giants of the music business, artists like David Bowie, Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, BB King just to mention few of a very long list. After the end of his long-lasting collaboration with blues titan Joe Bonamassa, Rojas is now currently working with one of the most talented blues/rock artists and an old friend of Bluebird Reviews, Ryan McGarvey. Whilst on tour in Europe with McGarvey, our website had the opportunity to meet Rojas and talk about his remarkable career plus his ongoing side projects.
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo By Greg Waterman)
It doesn't happen very often that we humans get so close to Afterlife and, for some unexplicable reasons that we like to call miracles, we manage to make a comeback and live our lives in perfect harmony.
Walter Trout from Huntingdon Beach, California belongs certainly to this very restrict elite of people able to make an extraordinary comeback to life. When virtually everybody was convinced that he would never, even if he would have survived to the liver failure disease he went through, make a return to the music scene, this very talented guitarist and singer/songwriter took by surprise the whole world making a full recovery.
In the space of a year, Trout didn't just make his return to music activity but also released a studio album called Battle Scars, the chronicle in music of his battle for life, followed by a brand new live album called ALive In Amsterdam.
Bluebird Reviews is honoured to reunite, once again, with not only a Blues/Rock Guitar Hero but also with an old friend of our website to discuss about the new live album, why the concept of family matters so much to the American artist and why Amsterdam and The Netherlands have got such a special place in his heart.
BBR - Hi Walter, thank you so much for talking to us again at Bluebird Reviews. ALive In Amsterdam is a live recording that frames an important moment of your life and career, given what you have been through during the last 2/3 years. Which are the immediate memories that you have of that fabulous night of music?
WT - Well, I remember it was, to be perfectly honest with you, a rather stressful night. There were many logistic sides to be put together. My wife Marie was trying to coordinate all the different aspects of the concert and its recording so it was rather stressful for her too. I do particularly remember one thing, though, about that night. When I walked on stage, that roar from the crowd and the incredible love that the fans showed me in Amsterdam had the same intensity of the one I felt at the Royal Albert Hall in London, for the Leadbelly Tribute Night. It was truly special.
BBR - I guess that The Netherlands is one of those special places for you, as an artist. That is the place where the first Walter Trout Fan Club started and among all the places in the world where you have been playing throughout your career, The Netherlands is a country that feels a special connection with your music. What is the secret of the special bond that links you and your music to the Dutch crowds?
WT - I couldn't tell you, really. From the very first time I played in The Netherlands with my band, they have just embraced my music and myself completely. The first time ever I went there to play with the Walter Trout Band, I was amazed by the number of the people that showed up. In many countries where we had previously performed, at our very first concert there might have been something like ten people, because we hadn't made our mark yet, in such countries. Then the numbers would have increased with each passing gig. When we did our first show in The Netherlands, in those days, we were expecting pretty much the same amount of people we had in other places. Instead, the whole place was sold out and when we walked on stage the crowd went completely crazy and it was such a beautiful sensation. I was also very lucky, in a way, that in the very same country, later in 1990, I had this major hit with the song The Love That We Once Knew. That song was so successful, in The Netherlands, that it reached the No. 1 in their music charts! I couldn't believe that my song was at the top spot, followed by Madonna, Bon Jovi and Brian Adams. You have no idea how great that felt on many levels. Not only because, for once in my career, I reached the No. 1 with one of my songs in a country but also because The Love That We Once Knew allowed me to reach, through that Number One spot, a bigger and wider audience, becoming also a phenomenal radio hit. You can hear, on my new live album that, as soon as I go into that song while I was doing the Encore, they all start singing it. There is also another song of mine called Say Goodbye To The Blues, present on the live album too and written in cooperation with a dear friend of mine Tim Jahnigen which, for five consecutive years on the national Classic Rock station in The Netherlands has been voted by the people as the best blues song of all time. What a honour for me. Those two songs have been my most important hits in that part of the world and I am so thankful and overwhelmed for the love that the people of The Netherlands has showed me since the beginning. Words cannot even start to explain my gratitude to them.
BBR - ALive In Amsterdam's tracklist includes, as one would expect, many tracks from your latest studio album Battle Scars. Do you ever feel uncomfortable to play certain songs from that album that rewind back to a difficult time in your life?
WT - I don't feel uncomfortable but sometimes some songs affect me emotionally, because, as I am singing those lyrics, it feels like I am re-living the experience. Occasionally, it really takes that pain back in my mind and I must confess that more than once, on my last tour, at the end of one or two of the songs of that album, I needed to hide for few seconds from the audience and have a little moment on my own. I always like to be able to live the lyrics of the songs I write but I guess that, in Battle Scars, there are times in which that emotional involvement and by living those lyrics in a particular time of my life it gets a bit too much even for me.
Walter Trout & his wife Dr. Marie Trout
BBR - This live record sees an energised Walter Trout on many levels. Your ability to play guitar is second to none but the really surprising factor is that your singing style has reached some new fabulous highs. How much has the first leg of the Battle Scars Tour helped you to reach this new found and incredible singing versatility?
WT - That is hard to say, because, when I was very ill, I remember I could barely speak. I did not have any strength at all and if you remember my vocals on the album The Blues Came Callin', I finished that record after a really long and painful process, right before I went to the hospital. There was a song on that album that I wrote for my wife Marie, called Nobody Moves Me Like You Do and when I hear that song, I can remember and hear the struggle I faced in recording those vocals. I literally had to sing that song one line at the time, take a break for five minutes, get a bit of strength back and then press the Record button again to sing the next line, because I did not have any energy left in me. So, when I started to get my strength back, to sing became a brand new and rather joyous expression for me, like I never felt before. It was the same for the guitar playing. When something like that is taken away from you and then that thing comes back through hard work, it becomes more meaningful and important for you then it was before. When I am singing, it feels very liberating for me because I feel like I gained that power again, in my voice.
BBR - You have covered a few songs of some of your fellow blues/rock musicians throughout your career, as also shown in this new live album in which you play songs from John Lee Hooker, BB King and Luther Allison's repertoire. Has the fact that you have been recently to Jeff Healey's memorial inspired you to record one of his tracks, in the future?
WT - I might do that but, to be honest with you, I had not really thought about it. I am just starting to think about making another studio album, to be made probably in January or February 2017 and that is on top of my agenda. But it would be a good idea recording some of Jeff's music. I loved his music and I was very lucky to get to know him even before he became famous worldwide. When I went to play in Canada, back then, there was, as opening act, this local kid that I had never heard of and I remember that myself and Coco Montoya sat in the wings of the stage and we had our jaws dropping to the ground by watching Jeff playing. I have got to watch him go from being a little, local kid in Canada to become an international music hero. I have been so privileged to see him blossoming, not just as an artist but also as human being. Jeff was really a very special person in many ways.
BBR - You allowed a lot of artistic freedom, on ALive In Amsterdam, to Sammy, Michael, Johnny, your son Jon and your long time friend musician Andrew Elt. Do you feel like this new album is not just your personal "Thank You" to all the fans that have supported you through thick and thin in your career but also to your "On The Road" family?
WT - Of course. Those guys were there with me all the way. When I was sick, they told me that if I could ever get back to music, they would have been there for me. They had the chance to go on and play with other people but they waited for me. Michael (Leisure, drummer of the band) once told me: "I don't care if Roger Daltrey hires me to play drums. If you get to the point where you can play again and you really want to play again, I am here for you". All the boys in the band told me that. I so much love those guys. I am so in debt with those fellas for hanging there with me for almost two years. They prayed and they waited for me, having no idea if I would ever get back again to music and I want always to be there for them as much as they were there for me. It is a real family On The Road. All of them auditioned for me, no matter whether they have been in the band just for one year, like Johnny (Griparic, the band's bass player) or something like 9 years for Michael or even for 16 years like Sammy (Avila, the band's keyboard player). But they all auditioned and when I hired each of them, I said to all of them from Day One that I wanted to make this band feel like a family because I want us to be a family, when we are on stage. I want that feeling to translate into our live shows. We are not just four guys going up there, trying to play together and put up a good show but we are four guys that really care, respect and love each other. I want us to communicate that to the crowd, as we play. I always wanted that. I remember the time when I started to be a musician, age 14. My ultimate goal that I really wanted to achieve was to be in a band like The Beatles. They really blew my mind and I saw their cameraderie and their tight, close relationship, especially when they first came on the scene. They stuck together like one sole unity, like one person and I thought that was a wonderful thing, what an incredible bond. The actual concept of a tight, close, hard working band like The Beatles, that was exactly what I wanted my band to be.
BBR - Amsterdam, coincidentally, is not only the place in which you recorded your splendid new live album but also the place in which you shared the stage with the all-stars project called Supersonic Blues Machine, on their very first live performance ever. Can you share with us any hidden backstage and onstage tales of that special concert?
WT - Man, that was an incredible experience and that band is really an amazing group of musicians. One thing I can tell you is that, all those guys, as accomplished, revered, esteemed and respected by the world of music as they are, they are all just so down to earth and a group of very humble people. We got there a couple of days early to do a bit more rehearsal because we never played together live before, so I got to be around them for a while. I was amazed about the fact that there was no egos involved, no attitudes and we truly enjoyed hanging out together. We all became very close friends and, since that show, we all keep in touch very frequently. We exchange a lot of e-mails between myself, Billy Gibbons, Robben Ford or even, at times, jam together, like few nights ago when Fabrizio (Grossi, bass player with Supersonic Blues Machine) came to a club where I was testing some songs with my band for the forthcoming Tour and he just joined in on stage with us. They are, sincerely, a great group of guys. We have another show, as Supersonic Blues Machine, coming up in August in Norway, at the Notodden Blues Festival and funnily enough, I am going to headline one night with my band and then next night I am going to play with those guys. Joining us as well, that night, there will be also another fantastic musician, Steve Lukather. It's an absolutely joy playing with them. I mean, take somebody like Alex Alessandroni on keyboard, which has played with artists like Christina Aguilera or Stevie Wonder. What an incredible musician Alex is and he is just the nicest guy! Then there is Doug Rappoport on guitar, insanely great musician too. Then you have, of course, the three fellas which are the core of the Supersonic Blues Machine. Kenny Aronoff on drums is a real force of nature, it's like heaving a steamed locomotive within the band. Lance Lopez on guitar, a truly fabulous guitarist and such a humble guy. Fabrizio Grossi on bass is a hugely talented bass player and the nicest guy ever. As an extra added bonus, I have got to tell you also that, after the show in Amsterdam with the SBM, I felt this tap on shoulder and there was Bonnie Raitt, congratulating me for the show! I have always been impressed by her immense talent. The first time I saw her playing was in 1970, at The Philadelphia Folk Festival. She was there, alone on stage playing acoustic and I was so mesmerised by that performance. I still am. I gotta tell you also that, after that show, we were just going away from the venue and I got this message via a Social Network from Bonnie's bass player Hutch Hutchinson, which coincidentally played bass on my albums, Common Ground and The Outsider too. The message said "Hey Man, we were looking for you because Bonnie wanted you to sit in" but sadly, by that time, we had left already. What a shame, really. To play a song with Bonnie is something that I really want to do before I die.
(Photo By P. Scalabrino) From L to R: Walter Trout, Doug Rappoport, Lance Lopez, Fabrizio Grossi, Billy Gibbons, Kenny Aronoff & Alex Alessandroni
BBR - You have just started the 2nd leg of the Battle Scars World Tour. Have you planned to play pretty much the same setlist present on ALive In Amsterdam or are you going to surprise your fans by playing different songs from your extensive catalogue?
WT - We have few songs now that we have added to the show. I call them new songs but, in reality, they are old songs that we rehearsed lately in front of people by doing few unannounced club gigs so we could test those songs in front of a crowd. I am talking about tunes like May Be A Fool or Prisoner Of A Dream, amongst others. The nucleus of the show will be still though my latest studio album, Battle Scars.
BBR - Have you had any chance to write new material, while you have been on tour in the past 12 months?
WT - Haven't thought about it at all, no. I am not the kind of guy that write songs, whilst On The Road. I do write lyrics, when I am travelling. I do sit in the back of the van, sometimes, with my headphones so I can tune out from the world. I think about things and I write them down, making those lyrics becoming poetry as best as I can. Then, when I am back home, I try to put them to music and combine the two together. Every time that I get in my hotel room, after a show, I am not the type of guy that gets out the guitar and play. I rather prefer to save myself and my energies for the stage. After all, I am on stage every night for two hours and I completely immerse myself, mentally and physically to the live show. I think it's just wise for me to use my strength for the shows and write new stuff when I am back home.
BBR - "Music is my healer" is one of the most favourite slogans of a fabulous young guitarist and dear friend of yours, Laurence Jones. How much has music been your healer, not just in recent times but throughout your whole life, Walter?
WT - It's been my healer for my whole life. That's why I called my book Rescue From Reality. Music provided me a refuge for a very insane childhood. It provided me a sanctuary that I can escape into, where nobody could touch or hurt me. After the period in which I have been sick, to be able to come back up on stage, in that splendid venue that is the Royal Albert Hall in London and, after almost two years of absence from a stage, to get that reception from the crowd, it lifted my spirit and my soul in an indescribable way. I realised, after that night, that music is now for me something different, something that allows me to get even deeper into myself and closer to my emotions. It gives me the chance to experience a part of myself and my emotions that I didn't even know it was there.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato