- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
There are no other genres in the history of music able to tell stories like the blues does. Some of those stories may have a happy ending, some other a less happy one. Still, they are genuine real life stories, whose players often go through hard existences, highs and lows, good times and bad times. The genuinity and honesty of those life tales is what creates the empathy, the real connection between artists and the blues fans.
Through the last quarter of a century, very few directors have been able to portrait the spirit and the message of the blues as well as director Scott Rosenbaum has been able to do with his new film, Sidemen - Long Road To Glory.
The film/documentary is a phenomenal and moving celebration of the life and career of pianist Pinetop Perkins, guitarist Hubert Sumlin and drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, three of the most important and talented Sidemen in the history of blues, which worked side by side with giants of the genre like Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf.
Bluebird Reviews is truly honoured to talk to director Scott Rosenbaum about the making of this wonderful labour of love for blues music and tribute to some of the greatest blues musicians of the last century.
Hubert Sumlin (Photo by Brian Smith)
BBR - Hi Scott, thank you for being with us today to talk about Sidemen. The film is not just a heartwarming homage to the blues genre but also to the life and career of three wonderful musicians like Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie Smith. How long did it take for you to prepare and assemble all the footage?
SR - Ultimately, it ended up taking 7 years to complete the film. It was initially conceived as a concert film, celebrating the music that they were either directly part of, also in terms of the legacy they represent with the music of Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and all that music that inspired the rock and roll generation that I grew up with. So it started out as a couple of years' adventure, but ultimately, after their deaths in 2011, the logistics required to complete the film ended up being much longer.
BBR - To be Sidemen, as Pinetop, Willie and Hubert have been, takes dedication, sacrifice, hard work and an immense love and respect for music. Why, in your opinion, did it take so long for the music industry to recognize the value of their talent and award them, coincidently, in the same year in which they all sadly passed away?
SR - Well, you know, I think in some ways and also by speaking to a number of people, even to the musicians themselves about this, I think they (Pinetop, Willie and Hubert) were some of the very lucky ones, in a way. I mean, when you think about the blues, how many guys for every Willie, Pine and Hubert, how many great musicians are there that no one ever really knows about? When these guys were coming up, the music was mainly made down south and if it wasn't for people like Alan Lomax and his father, who went down there and recorded Muddy's music and all the stuff coming from the plantations, all that material would have been otherwise lost forever. As far as it did take for these guys to be recognized and awarded, I think in the end it was really a great thing that they got the recognition at all. Hopefully, Pinetop, Willie and Hubert will represent, through that award, all those fantastic musicians that had long gone before and never be known to the world
BBR - Your personal relationship to Pinetop, Hubert and Willie goes way back, I believe, to 2008 when you worked together on your debut feature film, The Perfect Age Of Rock'n'Roll, released in 2011. Is it true that you initially thought of making, instead of Sidemen, a blues version of Scorsese's The Waltz, dedicated to the tradition and the legacy of the Delta and Chicago Blues?
SR - That is correct. When I had the good fortune to meet these guys, originally, I wanted to do a modern day version of The Last Waltz, with these fabulous bluesmen to be the core band of the movie and then to get all the rockers to use the blues as the inspiring muse that brought them to come out and play. The perfect example of what I had in mind is the Robbie Krieger sequence, in Sidemen. It's the scene when Robbie is playing Little Red Rooster with Hubert. Naively, when I was a kid, I knew that song originally from The Doors as I knew as well, originally, Mannish Boy to be a Rolling Stones' song! So that was the genesis of it all. To see The Last Waltz the first time and seeing Muddy Waters, that feeling brought the initial thought of a concert film. Of course, it was never going to be like the Scorses's way, by calling up Eric Clapton or Mick Jagger, asking to come down and do the job. What we did instead, was to put a tour together and we shot three or four concerts. Along the way, the Tour Manager, the agent of these guys had some relationships within the music industry and was able to reach out to artists like Robbie Krieger, Elvin Bishop and Timmy Reynolds from the Dave Matthews Band, to help with this project. It wasn't though a full concert of songs, like I had wanted, of all the Muddy, Wolf and John Lee's most popular songs. Then it all cast away, two and a half year in the filming. When I got in touch with (Producers) Pat Scalabrino and Fabrizio Grossi, at the time I was still trying to keep the project going, especially after the death of those guys and I couldn't really figure out what the film would have been about, at that point. It was completely an uncharted territory for me and I got to the point where I was very disillusioned about the whole project. I had no idea how to reach out to all the blues and rock artists appearing in Sidemen, celebrating these guys' life and career until I met Pat and Fabrizio. Through them, I got the right shot in the arm that I needed. They opened me the doors to so many of these artists and that was really much needed for me to allow the project to go ahead.
Pinetop Perkins (Photo by Kim Welsh)
BBR - How easy was it for you to reach out to all the music stars of the current blues/rock scene and ask them to share their feelings and experiences about Pinetop, Willie and Hubert?
SR - Well, that question requests a two-parts answer. The entire film would only be possible because of the love that so many people and so many musicians had for Pine, Willie and Hubert. They were so well known, certainly within the music community, if not, by even a wider audience. Once I was able to get through the artists, through their managers and all the people that revered Pine, Willie and Hubert, as soon as they knew that a film was going to be made about them, helped me to open contacts with all those artists. The other part of that equation, of course, was people like the producers Pat Scalabrino, Fabrizio Grossi and the agent Hugh Southard, who represents these bluesmen. Those guys were really instrumental in helping me to interview the great musicians appearing in Sidemen and to speak to them about the influence they got from Pine, Hubert and Willie. We had such a great response from all those great musicians we interviewed. In the end, we had something like 50-60 interviews ready, but we couldn't put them all in the film. This is just to give you an idea about the enthusiastic support we had from all those generous musicians, while we were making Sidemen.
BBR - The film is beautifully narrated by Marc Maron, a comedian with a strong legacy to the world of music. Has he been the first choice as the main narrator since the beginning?
SR -We had talked about several choices for narrators and we put together a shortlist. Marc Maron was definitely at the top of that shortlist , partly because my co-producer Jasin Cadic and I are big fans of his podcast and what he has been able to do with that interview format that he so well does. I think his voice is really one of the foremost voices of pop culture and culture in general, right now and we wanted the film to have that freshness coming from a non-stereotypical narrator like Marc. Add to that the love and appreciation that Marc has about history of music, as much as we have too and you will be able to figure out why Marc was the perfect choice for us.
BBR - We absolutely loved the way you turned on and off the light on Sidemen, with Pinetop walking onto the stage in an old, abandoned theatre in absolute silence at the beginning of the film and to have him walking off stage after the end credits with the camera gently fading out. One gets the feeling he really connected with you, during the making of Sidemen. What are your immediate memories about Pinetop?
SR - The memories, not just of Pinetop but of all of them, are pretty similar in terms of having had the good fortune to have met them and to hear their stories on first hand basis. Greg Allman said in the film, and I really relate to that: "It's just like sitting down with your Grandpa!". And it was, but these were Grandpas that had these incredible stories, with first hand knowledge of Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker, of course Muddy and Wolf and all these legendary bluesmen. Just meeting them and having this wonderful experience with them was for me personally a once in a lifetime opportunity. I feel so fortunate that I met them when I did, when we had initially the notion of making a film together, at the time.
BBR - How difficult is it, in today's movie industry world, to put together a group of people prepared to invest and to believe in this magnificent labour of love and passion for the history of the blues, which is Sidemen?
SR - It's very difficult. I don't know whether it is more difficult today than it was 40-50 years ago but I know that it's always challenging to get somebody to believe in a concept or a vision. This film was completed two ways; on one side we had a seriously good investment made by our executive producer early on, which was critical to start the project. On the other one, we really made Sidemen out of sheer passion. We brought our own cameras, we went out, we made it largely on ourselves without a lot of support. After these three musicians, which became our friends too, passed away, it became something so much more than just making a movie. Of course, we wanted to complete the film but we really took very seriously the fact that these men trusted us with their legacies and we had captured some of their last performances, interviews and general footage. I would venture to say that the material we recorded of those incredible men was of such a highest quality that I don't believe anyone had ever been able to capture in the same way before. So, it became our own mission, a mission from God, quoting a line of The Blues Brothers' movie.
BBR - I heard you are working already on the follow up to your 2011's film debut The Perfect Age Of Rock'n'Roll. From where does the special bond that you have between filmography and music come from?
SR - That's a good question. Music was always part of the household. I grew up between my dad, a big music fan that had at home a turntable with all these fantastic records that I was just fascinated by and my uncle, which was a drummer and a little bit of a legendary figure to me. He was my gateway to music, telling me all these great music stories. He also turned me on to The Band, which was not maybe the most fashionable band for kids growing up in the 70's-80's but I do remember how seriously hooked I was to that fantastic album that is The Last Waltz. I guess that the bond you referred to in your question might have started back there, with that album, which incorporates so many elements of traditional blues. Music has always been a big component of my life, always will. It's something vital for me, a bit like oxygen that allows me to live and breathe.
Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (Photo by Jessie Lirola)
BBR - Scott, this is a very critical moment for music on many levels. It is becoming increasingly difficult for rockstars or popstars to sell records worldwide. Blues, though, this ultra-octogenarian evergreen genre, does not seem to suffer in this respect as much as other genres. In your opinion, what is the secret that keeps the blues alive and kicking after all these years despite all?
SR - That's a great question and it is relative to the state of the global music industry today, because other forms of music have not gone essentially through to what blues has been through the last century. If you think about the highs and lows, fading in and out of style, all kind of transitions that musicians have to deal with, which today happens to be streaming or digital downloading, to be a musician is not easy at all. But as far as blues and its survival goes, there's something to me and I think all people who are attracted to the blues, that makes the genre so special and is the fact that the blues is so elemental and pure. The blues is the foundation, it is the root, from which many different music genres have taken inspiration from. There is something so powerful about the guy or the girl sitting down with the guitar making music that will always attract people, no matter what. Just to give you an example, time ago I was screening the film to people that has no connection or knowledge about the blues whatsoever and suddenly I realised once again how much of an impact the blues can make on people when they hear it. Besides being moved by the film, those people I was referring to came to me after watching Sidemen saying: "You know, I really liked that music, perhaps I should listen to it a bit more". That's what it is. When you hear it, blues can make a really strong grip on people forever, almost becoming part of your DNA.
BBR - Should you define with one adjective each of the musicians featured in Sidemen, which one would you choose?
SR - Just perseverance. Absolute perseverance. That has been so important to me too. You know, struggling to make this film over seven years, it's not too difficult to stop and think, as you are getting down: "Wait a minute, I am making a film about three guys who spent, six or seven decades pursuing their careers and going through a lot of low times". So, their perseverance has always been an inspiration in making this film and, as an artist, it will always be an inspiration to me. Because they went through such hard times that, when I think about my situation, personally and I compare my life to theirs, they really went through hell and back and still persevered to play until a very old age, despite going through highs and lows. What a tremendous inspiration they have been to me. I hope we were able to catch that perseverance in Sidemen too. They were the nicest guys in the world. I feel very fortunate to have met them and have this experience with them. I hope the film captures just how genuine and talented and sweet these men were and the audience can get the same feeling that we had while we were making the film.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Between East Street and the Mississippi River in Memphis TN, there is a special place that holds a lot of secrets and tales related to the history of the blues. This place is called Beale Street and there, in this almost 2 miles-long stretch in the heart of Downtown Memphis, anything can happen, especially when it comes to music.
Beale Street is the birthplace of Mississippi Bigfoot, one of the greatest blues/rock revelations of 2015. Their debut album, Population Unknown, previously reviewed on our website, has been unanimously recognised by the music press worldwide as one of the best releases of the past year.
To track down the band has not been that easy but in the end, Bluebird Reviews managed to reach Christina Vierra, the band's singer/songwriter, to discuss about the making of Population Unknown and how the band got together.
BBR - Christina, 2015 has been a special year for you all, thanks to your fabulous debut album Population Unknown. What inspired you to call the album in that way?
Christina - We liked to evoke that idea of unknown, the uncertainty about how many millions of people are really spread around the globe. There are still so many things to learn about this world and this idea of being unable to quantify how many millions of people live out there, this big Unknown, is what inspired the idea of the album title.
BBR - We have read differing opinion about your style from the music press, due to your great ability to combine elements of the traditional Delta Blues with 70's rock with tinges of funk and R&B. How would you guys call your unique playing formula?
Christina - Well, that sounds like a pretty good description to me. We definitely like to pay homage to our music scene, what we have down here in The Delta, where some of the great roots of music come from. Though, at the same time, we like to have the freedom to take our music to other directions and have the opportunity to crush genres together. Fundamentally, we don't like to stick by any rules or play what people think we should play. We just let our musical flow run and break new grounds. It's a pure free-form expression, our sound is what we are.
BBR - Your album has been one of the best surprises of 2015. How long did it take to write and record Population Unknown?
Christina - Thank you. Some of the songs of the album have been written over few years, some other have been written almost instantenously. A song like Mighty River, which is the first one I have written here in Memphis, was born pretty much within minutes. It tells the story of my experience on going down to the Mississippi the first time, riding my bycicle and feeling deeply inspired by its sound and the almost hypnotic way it runs. As far as the recording goes, we spent something like 8 days in the studio and we managed to record Population Unknown exactly in the way we wanted. It was pretty amazing for me, because I have never done so much work on an album in such short amount of time. It was really intense.
(From L to R: Doug McMinn (drums), Christina Vierra (vocals), Ashley Bishop (guitars))
BBR - The opener Burn That Woman Down digs immediately into very deep subjects, like the importance of women in modern society. Was there a particular episode that inspired and triggered such powerful lyrics on this tune?
Christina - I appreciate that you guys noticed that. It's a song about women being at the fringe of society. It's not about a specific one but I just wanted to get an important message out there about the role of women in nowadays' world and how they are perceived. I felt like it was something that really mattered to me and I wanted to get it out there. Many songs on the album attack subjects like that. It's pretty heavy stuff.
BBR - Clarksdale is perhaps the key song of the album that brings everything together, carrying hints of Mississippi Hill Country Blues. Has Clarksdale really managed to "save your souls", as you sing? And why does the devil say, at the end, that he's "coming back just for Johnny"?
Christina - (Chuckles) I am not sure my soul has been saved through that song. When we were down in that area, that expression that I sang did really come up. I brought it up to the guys in the band and Johnny (Holiday, guitarist) said, "No, you don't wanna do that". What we talk about in that song is really a serious subject. Some people think that it is just a story, but I feel that there are some elements of truth about Clarksdale and its dark misteries, although we managed to express them in the song in a tongue-in-cheek kind of way. Maybe we should have not put in the end that thing about Johnny and the devil but, hey, guess what, we did! (chuckles).
BBR - Christina, we sense in the lyrics of You Did something almost autobiographical. You sing with a special power and intensity on this track, like you are feeling that song deep in your skin. Is the tune about yourself?
Christina - It is a song very close to me and it's about memories of times when my heart has been broken. Being that tune so personal, I guess I was able to deliver my vocals with a particular conviction and I am glad you felt the intensity. The song is about that moment when all you want from your partner is to admit and acknowledge what sometimes happen between a couple and accept responsabilities. So many people don't get that message about what real respect is between two people. The song almost wrote itself, it was just a personal take about making a point and do not give the satisfaction of holding back but rather say: "Hey, you did that, not me". For everytime I have felt myself in that way, I always found very liberating just to tell it as it is. I hope that kind of feeling resonated on You Did too.
BBR - Did you guys work with one another, prior to that famous gig in Ground Zero in Clarksdale, where it all started?
Christina - Ashley (Bishop, guitarist) and I met in Beale Street some time ago, close to the time I moved around the area. I was trying to meet new people, to connect with new friends but, for some strange reasons, people seemed almost scared of me, maybe thinking "Should we join her or fight her?". Ashley had approached me asking whether we could work together and he had been the first one to do so, when I moved to Memphis. He just said: "Stick by me and I shall find the best guys in the establishment". When Doug (McMinn, drummer) got involved, we all knew that the nucleous of the band was there. Doug had been playing with many big names in the music industry (The Drifters and The Platters, among many) and that dragged even more attention to us, because many people was dropping by and see us playing, since they heard Doug was in the band too. When it came down to find the missing dots within the band, we have been also very priviliged to get on board Cade "Missippi Mudd" Moore to complete the circle. Having Bigfoot as part of the name of our band also says a lot about us. Not only about the passion for music we all share but also about our sense of humour and our imagination. Those are important elements that help to keep the spirit high and happy within the band, things that many tend to underestimate nowadays.
BBR - Your debut album has received lots of praises in the United States and now there are rumours of a European Tour due to start really soon. How thrilled are you to bring your high-octane fuelled sonic formula to the other side of the pond?
Christina - I cannot wait, honestly. That will be my first time in Europe, ever. I have been in places like Mexico and in the majority of the United States but never to beautiful Europe. It is all very exciting. We often meet a lot of Europeans in Beale Street and we always get great receptions from them. I am really over the moon about the idea of touring there. I hear that in Europe, music fans are very receptive and like to cheer bands all the time, hopefully they will do the same for us too! (chuckles).
BBR - The blues is, perhaps, one of the very few genres able to infiltrate the hearts and souls of musicians and music fans. It becomes almost a way of life, the air you breathe, a life path to follow for many. How does this phenomenal music style influence your everyday's life?
Christina - That was really well put. Like you said, blues is something able to reach some deep places of our souls. That happens not just for musicians but for fans too. Every time we walk in a room and play our music, there is nothing more special than hearing somebody saying back to us: "You really moved me on that song" or stuff like that. It is so incredible how blues helps to connect with people and how fans feel so emotionally close to the genre. Through our music, we just wish to bring to our fans some of our good experiences and hopefully convey to them our passion and honesty. It is a deep honour and privilege to be able to exchange our emotions with an audience, even just to a single soul. Back when I was 14, I went to see Howlin' Wolf live and afterward I felt such an intensity that I rarely felt in any gigs I have ever seen before. I always dreamt to become, one day, somebody able to transfer that deep feeling and emotions I experienced in that unforgettable day to our audiences, every time we play live.
BBR - Christina, one of the late great Luther Allison's favourite quotes was "Leave Your Ego, Play The Music, Love The People". Is this the winning recipe for Mississippi Bigfoot's success?
Christina - Wow, that is some quote! I think Allison's statement really sums up our attitude, who we are and what we want to convey to people. That is an awesome quote, I am afraid I cannot think of anything better to say after that. We can only play our music to the fans and being ourselves, that is all that matters to us. I guess that is what really Luther meant.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Mississippi Bigfoot are currently on Tour. You can find their Tour Dates at the Band's website
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Photo Credit: Al Stuart
I don't think I have ever been as impressed as I am now in looking at Fabrizio Grossi's portable agenda. The amount of Rockstars' phone numbers present on Grossi's personal devices is as impressive as the one that a Prime Minister of a world country may have. From Billy Gibbons to Stevie Vai, Robben Ford, Steve Lukather, the list goes on for hours.
Fabrizio Grossi, originally from Italy but now an American citizen, has become in the last 30-plus years one of the most acclaimed producers worldwide, working side by side with the cream of the music establishment. Among his many talents, Grossi is also an excellent bass player and he has been involved in several music projects, in his career for many years now.
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Nobody knows his real name but, at the end of the day, his enormous talent and personality is all that matters to music lovers. Big Boy Bloater has become, through the years, one of the hottest names in the music business, not just in his homeland in the United Kingdom but worldwide too.
Despite a tribulated period of his personal life, Big Boy Bloater has managed to put together with his long time compadres The Limits, one of the most accomplished album of his career, Luxury Hobo. The album, recently released, is an entertaining photograph of life in the modern society, a didactic and allegorical outlook on the way that people live nowadays, almost in a mechanical way. Musically and vocally as well, Big Boy Bloater and The Limits have reached with Luxury Hobo one of the pinnacles of their glorious career. Bluebird Reviews is delighted to meet Big Boy Bloater to talk about Luxury Hobo and the artist's career so far in a dark, rainy day here in the outskirts of London. Two minutes into our conversation, though, Big Boy Bloater's big smile and charisma helps immediately to bring back that brightness that UK is unable to supply today.
BBR - Luxury Hobo comes after a difficult moment in your personal life. How long did it take to assemble together the songs that ended up in the album?
BBB - I wrote the first song of the album last year, that was the time when it all started. To be honest with you, I am not that kind of person able to pre-plan well in advance songs to be written and recorded. I find myself working better when I get close to deadlines. When the time came for the record to be completed, I just said to myself: "I have to get a grip and get the job done". I am a last-minute type of person, I find being under pressure getting the best out of me.
BBR - Half of the record is fuelled with some real foot-stomping 70's rock, which brings back memories of the best periods of bands like Dr. Feelgood or the Stones of Sticky Fingers. Have you been listening to a lot of 70's rock records, prior to recording Luxury Hobo?
BBB - Yes, I think so. I remember I was listening to a lot of Mott The Hoople's material, T-Rex, Elvis Costello, that kind of stuff. I guess I was feeling in a particular 70's mood, which has probably infused unconsciounsly some of the material on Luxury Hobo.
BBR - It's fascinating and, somehow ironic, to hear someone like you, partially involved in the media business, talking about the debatable impact that platforms like YouTube bring into people's life in that beautiful tune The Devils Tail. Was the track inspired by a particular episode you witnessed throughout your side career as a DJ and music journalist or something else?
BBB - There is not an episode in particular I am referring to, in that song. It is just that I keep noticing in many people this insane desperation for fame. They would do anything for their fifteen seconds of fame. It is just an observation on the subject. I cannot understand, for the life of me, why people would reach some very low levels of dignity, in order to get few seconds of notoriety. It is just something that, to people like me, doesn't make any sense at all.
BBR - All Things Considered is, in my personal view, the song that mostly defines your artistry in Luxury Hobo, with your powerful deep singing style and your guitar penning one of the best songs I have heard so far in 2016. What influenced more your R&B roots, the Stax or the Motown sound?
BBB - I would probably say Stax. Especially the first Stax period made a real impact on me. There were some fantastic Blues and R&B songs generated in that period. You know, as hard as I try, I don't think I can reach with my voice those fabulous peaks that Stax's artists were able to do, back in those days. I am getting there, though, little by little (chuckles).
(Photo by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato)
BBR - How much does it still annoy you the fact that some music press keep labeling you as a blues artist? Because that certainly annoys me.
BBB - This is something I have to fight every single time I deal with press or media in general. It is not because I consider a bad thing to be called a Blues artist at all. I love Blues myself but I feel Luxury Hobo is much more than blues. Also, I think that when you put a tag on something, people would just say: "Y'know, I am not that keen on blues, I am not willing to give a go to this album or that artist". I rather prefer they call it Alternative, if they really need to label it, because the people would be at least curious to give the record a spin and perhaps say: "Hey, I don't really know what this is but I like the sound of it!". I was once part of a band for a very long time, something like 15 years plus. We were playing just songs from the 50's R&B circuit and we reached the highest level we could possibly achieve in that time, we were at the top of our game. The down side though, was that you, as an artist, end up in a musical cul-de-sac with no ways out and I don't want that kind of history repeating again. Luxury Hobo has got certainly Blues elements but it has got also elements of Rock and Soul into it. In brief, there is something for everybody. To label it as a Blues album, is very restrictive and perhaps a little bit unfair. And for an artist, as you said, it is very annoying and frustrating.
BBR - In the past, you have always self-produced your records. This time around, on Luxury Hobo, you had the helping hand of Adam Whalley, a TeamRock (The music media platform BBB colalborates with) compadre to bring up a notch the production quality of your sound. Which has been the best contributing factor in your opinion, of working with Adam on this album?
BBB - That's a very good question. He really brought so much to the album. Despite being a young guy, Adam has got a very wide taste in music and a big knowledge too. He likes very much his Rock stuff but his knowledge goes much further than that. It was great to bounce some ideas off him and exchange points of view on songs or technical stuff. He even contributed to share his views about adding second guitars on some tracks. It was really great to have that precious second ear listening to my songs. Sometimes, when you write a song, you are so close to something but still unable to see it or feel it, without somebody that can actually hear you and point at you what the missing factor is. Adam's outside opinion was another added bonus to the great time we had in the studio working with him. The cherry on the cake, for me personally, was that on Luxury Hobo I didn't have the whole pressure of producing, engineering and think about all the different aspects of making a record. I knew I could rely on Adam while working on Luxury Hobo, which made the whole recording process much more enjoyable for me. Perhaps the most relaxed and chilled recording process I have ever done with The Limits. It really felt like a bunch of friends playing together without added pressure, because we knew that Adam was firmly in control. Hopefully, our fans will perceive how much we were enjoying ourselves on the album and have a good time through our new album.
BBR - I have read some time ago that chicken is your favourite food of choice. What's the reason why you don't like chicken cooked in Italy?
BBB - (chuckles) It's kind of a long story but I'll try to be as brief as I can. Few years back, I worked with a motorcycle clothing company and they were doing exhibitions in Italy. They took us out to play over there and the first night they took us out for dinner. The restaurant put some real weird looking food on the table. It didn't really inspire me at all, however I got on with it but i asked if I could have something different the following night so I asked for some chicken. When we returned back to the same place the following night, the restaurant staff asked the chef to cook some chicken for me but I am convinced the guy never cooked chicken before in his life. All I got on the plate, was boiled chicken which, honest to God, put me off for a little while on Italian food. But I have been back there so many times after that and the food and drinks have always been fantastic. That was just a one-off situation. How the heck did you find out about this? (chuckles).
BBR - BBB, how did you come up with the idea of using Lego characters in the video of It Came Out Of The Swamp?
BBB - The whole idea goes back about three years ago. After my last album, before Luxury Hobo, I had a really bad and low period, I would call it a breakdown, really. To keep myself busy, at that time, I started doing things with Lego stuff in a room, on my own, because I found doing that sort of thing very therapeutic, mostly to keep my mind busy. I had this bag of Lego bits in my dad's loft and that brought a big smile on my face, when I I found it. I have been doing bits and pieces with Lego stuff for few years now, as a hobby. When I wrote It Came Out Of The Swamp, at that time I had a Lego set ready and appropriate to the context of the song so I said to myself: "Hey, this is a marriage made in heaven!". It made perfect sense to me and I knew it had to be done that way. I started working on the video around Christmas time last year and it took a little while to complete it. I wish I had few more weeks available to add more elements to the video but I had to stick to deadlines for the release date of the video. But I do remember that time making the video as a very enjoyable one, sitting in my office, fiddling with Lego bits, such fun!
BBR - You have announced the first dates of your UK Tour for May 2016. Will your American fans have the opportunity to see you performing in the States, sometime this year?
BBB - Well, I never say never but so far there is nothing planned yet. I have played few times in the States, over the years and I always had a fantastic time. It's a huge country and to tour it, it takes a lot of time to travel from a place to another. In Uk, you can go from top to bottom pretty much in one day, while in the States it is slightly more complicated. It certainly takes a lot of planning to do a proper tour of the States but I'd be there in a flash, if that was solely a decision that was up to me. I really love being there playing and I really hope it will happen sometime soon. If not this year, maybe next. One thing for sure, though. We will be touring in Europe, after our UK Tour, in places like Germany, Italy and few more, hoping to bring the good Luxury Hobo vibes to our fans all around the world
BBR - A wonderful new album, a new record deal with Provogue/Mascot Label Group and a new tour starting soon. How excited are you, right now?
BBB - To be honest with you, I am so concentrated still in promoting the album and doing some more videos for Luxury Hobo that I have not quite yet realised the scale of all this. Inside my head, I can sense it's all happening and it is all exciting time. Sometimes, my wife Lisa reminds me all this, then I reflect for a split second and I tell her: "Well, yeah, I know, exciting, isn't it?". D'you know, I really think that I should sit down, sometimes, take a deep breath and smell the roses. Fundamentally though, despite all the rushing around for promotion and all that is related to Luxury Hobo, I can't honestly wait to be back in tour with The Limits and play our music. It has been a while now and It's good to be back.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Sometimes, although, sadly, not very often in the music business, there are music stories that have an happy ending. When that happens, especially when it comes to recognizing the artistry of special musicians like JD Simo and his band, it makes one believe that there are still people within the music industry that understands and encourages broad talent.
Simo is a collective that has got the attention of the worldwide music press, thanks to the powerful combustion of blues, rock and R&B that this band is able to generate, live or studio. Let Love Show The Way, their new album recently released via Provogue/Mascot Label Group, clearly demonstrates the excellence of their music message and the band's incredible eclecticism.
Bluebird Reviews are absolute prvileged to talk to JD Simo, band leader and the driving force of Simo, about how Let Love Show The Way is an album that captures the sound of a band at the top of their game and how pleased JD is, on the outcome of this excellent record. "I am very happy. To me, it is indicative of the kind of music, regardless of genres, that the three of us in the band gravitates towards. I feel that we were able to capture some really good performances and I feel it's a genuinely honest record. The songs were written in a very spontaneous, organic way. No sitting down, no premeditation, it's just happened very naturally. I would say that the whole record is very organic and deeply truthful on what we are, as a band. I don't feel that anybody that buys this record will be disappointed, because it's honest and we are all very happy about the way the album sounds and shows who we are".
Simo is a band whose core word is definitely "improvisation". It's so impressive how easily the band is able to switch to different music styles with such natural ability and still maintain their signature sound. Among all tracks present on Simo's new album, Ain't Doing Nothing is, undoubtedly, a key song of the album that truly defines the creativity of the whole collective.
"That particular song is a jam, and it is indeed pure improvisation. We just started to work, on the second day at the Big House in Georgia and that song was the first thing we played that day. Adam (Abrashoff, drummer of the band) started to play that groove then I walked into the room, put the guitar on and away we went. That was exactly as it happened. It wasn't composed previously. There were several jams, many improvisations like that which we recorded while we were making the record but that was the one that I enjoyed the most. I guess, because I thought it had a very nice flow. That particular song is truly the core of what we do, definitely. It's what the three of us do naturally, whether it's a soundcheck or a rehearsal or a live performance, that spirit about us going where the music is taking us at that moment, is something that we love to do and it's the true representation of the band's spirit. And believe it or not, the only reason why I didn't start playing until a minute or so in, on that track, it's because I simply wasn't in the room yet! (giggles) I was in the kitchen, which we transformed in our control room, during the recording and the minute Adam started playing I said "Hey, I wanna play that!". So I ran in and off we went".
The Big House in Macon, Georgia, where the band created most of the album, is truly an iconic place, with beautiful high ceilings inside. The Allman Brothers Band used the place to write some of the best music of their career, many years ago. Given the fact that JD Simo loves to let the amp determine the sound of his guitar, one wonders how JD managed to catch the marvellous feedback and reverb that one can hear on the album, in such an unusual location with such structure. "Well, it wasn't that difficult, really, if you have a bit of recording experience. The three of us have a lot of experience in that respect and we didn't have any real problem at all. For the guitar, especially, it was just a matter of putting an extra microphone and moving around the room, trying to capture that natural ambience. That extra microphone, in the end, became the guitarist's echo chamber. That's part of the appeal, to me, of working in places that aren't proper recording studios. The reason is because, when things like these happen, they add a special ingredient, a special spice to the whole recording experience and that was certainly one of them for me".
JD's reputation and artistry as a guitarist has not gone unnoticed, especially by fellow musicians. The Blues/Rock Titan Joe Bonamassa, in particular, has always been one of JD's greatest admirers. "The two of us met in two different incarnations. The first was about 15-16 years ago, originally, when he was first starting out on his solo career and I was a teenager at the time, playing in bands and touring around. Our paths went in separate directions and we were re-acquainted about 6 years ago, through e-mail, because we had some mutual friends and he reached out to me when our group first formed. He was really nice to me, saying things like "I really enjoy what you guys are doing" and he kinda opened the door for a friendship to happen. Since then, we have been communicating a lot via e-mails, text messages, phone calls for a year or so, until we finally hung out for real and we became very close friends, as we have been now for several years. We manage to hang out together fairly often and he has always been an incredibly supportive figure for us since, pretty much, the very beginning. He is genuinely somebody I admire and love very much, a bit like an older brother to me. We are due to start the Blues Cruise again with him, for the second year in a row and I can't wait to jam with him, because I know we always have a lot of fun when we get together. It's easy to say how talented and great with guitar he is, but I gotta tell you that he is really a good guy, he really is and trust me, that is not a common thing, especially in music business".
(Simo - From left to right: Elad Shapiro (Bass) - JD Simo (Guitars & Vocals) - Adam Abrashoff (Drums)
The story behind Let Love Show The Way is very singular. JD had the album pretty much ready, prior to the Big House sessions, which were meant to just add bonus tracks to complete the album. Then, suddenly, something happened. "We indeed had a whole record finished, before we went to Georgia. The master was ready to be released and the Big House session was intended purely to record, as you were saying, some bonus tracks, as agreed with our record label. To be honest, the realisation of how much we accomplished when we were in Macon, came a week later, after the recording in Georgia. I had all this material and I thought that some of it was good, some was really good and when we got to do the mix with Nick, our engineer, after we mixed a couple of the songs, it was pretty obvious to me that I had to re-think my original plan about the album. I salvaged few of the songs from my original draft of the new record and add them to the stuff we recorded in Macon. Then, I re-sequenced the album, because I thought it was going to make a much better souunding one. Likely, our record label and our management agreed, which was a blessing for us. In retrospective, thinking about the time we had at the Big House, although I was very focused on the recording of the album, I think we all had a lot of fun and a great time. While we were there, I had the chance, for few moments, to stop and drink in the whole experience I was living at the House, thinking about the fact I was recording an album in the communal home where the Allman Brothers Band, some of my biggest music heroes have been recording. And to top all that, getting to play Duane Allman's Les Paul (very few guitarists had that privilege, ever), during that time, has been an extra special cherry on the cake".
Simo's new album is not just a true masterpiece from a sonic point of view but also when it comes to lyrics. Some of the lyrics, though, get a darker tone, when the subjects move towards losses or separation, like in tracks like Long May You Sail or Today I'm Here. Bluebird Reviews is wondering whether JD needs to be in a particular place of his soul or state of mind when writing lyrics. "Not a particular one, no. For me, whenever I am writing, I don't feel I need to be somewhere spiritually. As per many people on this planet, I believe that there are equal parts of light and darkness in my consciousness. I like to think of myself more as an optimist then a pessimist, though. When I am working on something, it's just wherever my head is at that particular moment and it's usually not about anything necessarily in particular either. Few things that I write lyrically are about something really specific, I guess. The ability to write, for me, it's more about the immediacy, whatever it's coming out at that specific moment. I just let my subconscious flow with whatever comes to my head and I don't challenge it, I just let it flow, because I feel that my subconscious is telling me to write about that specific subject, at that moment. So I guess I let myself be myself, subcosciounsly. Hank Williams used to say: "God writes the songs, I just hold on to the pen". And that is a very true statement that mirrors my experience, while writing songs".
The Chicago-born guitarist has been travelling quite a lot, throughout his life. When he moved away from Chicago, he went and lived in Phoenix for few years until finally landing in Nashville, the place he now calls home. It is rather difficult to capture, in his guitar sound, which of those places might have inspired him the most, artistically. " I would say Chicago, just because of obvious reasons, given all the amazing years I spent there and the influences that originated my sound. That being said, any place I have ever lived had an impact on me in different shapes and forms. Nashville, obviously, was a very formative place for me, playing the clubs with different bands and working as a session musician really refined a lot of the musician I am today. But if I was forced to give a definite answer, I would certainly say my birthplace Chicago. I am very proud to say I come from that part of the world".
Let Love Show The Way feels like the culmination of the band's musical experiences of the last 10-15 years. The album has got a definite blues depth, to which the band adds cleverly some powerful rock layers. Bluebird Reviews wonders whether this is indeed the arrival point of the band's hard work throughout their career or, perhaps, the beginning of a new musical journey. "It's probably both. Anything that you do, artistically, is a reflection of your past, no doubts about it. For us, at this point in time, in the last year, which would include the one we are in now, we have been afforded opportunities that we only dreamed of for years and years, so, in some ways, it feels like a new birth. And it's very exciting to be in the middle of it. In regards to blues and rock, Black American Music is what truly captured my attention when I was a little boy and it varied my musical tastes. It has always been the type of music I tend to gravitate towards in terms of default setting, although my personal music tastes are now predominantly directed to White American rock music. But I always relate to Black American Music in terms of emotional content. I could listen to black artists for hours, because of that emotional content they are able to infuse to me but in the context of what we do, if it is true that we play primarily blues, I wouldn't necessarily call ourselves a blues band but more a rock band".
JD is an eloquent interlocutor and our conversation flows in a very natural and spontaneous way. But who really is JD Simo in everyday life, when he is not playing guitar? "I consider myself a quiet person and maybe somebody may find me even a bit boring, sometimes. I try to express myself more through my music, when I am playing, because I feel it reflects who I really am. In the way I play, I can sometimes whisper, some other times scream and that shows maybe a bit more about who I really am, rather than engaging myself in casual and maybe boring conversations".
There is no doubt that JD Simo is a true Rock'N'Roll heart, living for music 24 hours a day. Since 2016 begun, JD has released a fabulous new album with his band, recorded a session in Nashville with Jack White and his guitar playing has received many accolades by the music press worldwide! Before parting company with JD, we cannot avoid asking him where is the next stop on JD's train ride to stardom. "A venue near you! No, really, all that I hope from this business is to be given the opportunity to continue to express myself as a musician and try to do the best that I can, through my music. Really, above and beyond that, is really not up to me but to external factors. I am just grateful about the opportunity that we have been given so far as a band and I can just promise to do my very best as a musician, not just now, but hopefully in the years to come too".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Let Love Show The way is out now via Provogue/Mascot Label Group. Follow Simo on tour through the band's Official Website