- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by Adam Kennedy)
The moon in Uk tonight is more brighter than the normal, in this beautiful evening in Farnham, South of England. It may be because, paraphrasing the title of the album of one of tonight's performing artists, the Time Has Come for the british gunslingers Ben Poole and Stevie Nimmo to join forces and take on tour together their new albums Time Has Come (Ben Poole) and Sky Won't Fall (Stevie Nimmo).
When The Northern Light (Stevie) and The Southern Breeze (Ben) get together with Bluebird Reviews to talk about their tour together, one gets the immediate feeling that this is something that these phenomenal blues/rock artists wanted to do for a long time. (Nimmo) "The idea came up quite quickly. Ben was already with Manhaton, our record label and when I joined in as well, it was like: "Two musicians, using the same musicians as our rhythm section, having two records being released more or less at the same time. This is so obvious, why we shouldn't go on a tour together?". (Poole) "It was such an obvious thing to do together indeed because, as Stevie was saying, we were sharing the same rhythm section on our respective albums and artistically and financially it was the most wise choice to do too. Plus, it gave us the opportunity to do something special together, at the end of our personal sets every night. Despite the fact that we play our music using different styles, every night it was always special to finish the show together combining our styles together on stage. We really enjoyed working together on this tour and we hope that the fans had the same feeling too".
To share the same stage, for Poole and Nimmo, might mean as well to change the setlist they play every night fairly often, especially now that they both have new albums out. (Nimmo)"My setlist has been pretty much consistant from the beginning of the tour. I picked what it was, for me, the right mix of some of my older material and stuff from my new album. What it really changed, every night, was the way that each song started, then developed in something very unexpected and ended up in something even more unexpected. Some songs have some kind of structure on which it's dificult to escape from but other songs haven't and you just can play the latter exactly in the way you are feeling in that particular moment. To let it loose according to the way I feel every night, that it's the best way that it works for me on stage. (Poole) "I feel pretty much the same about improvising on many songs, as Stevie often does on his sets. Also, should one of our sets go on for a bit longer than what we initially planned,for any reasons, I don't know, because of a little banter with the crowd or a guitar solo that went on for a little longer, there is never any big deal or any argument between the two of us. Because we both know that, sometimes, when you really feel a special bond with a crowd or something magical happens on stage when we play our sets, you just have to let it flow because it's right to do so. We both respect so much one another and we don't mind dropping one song in our setlist in favour of the other, when that happens".
To talk with incredibly talented artists is a trye joy. There are laughters, banters and smiles all around. With such great friendship between the two guitarists, BBR wonders what they have learned from each other, by touring together. (Nimmo) "That he needs to practice a lot more! (chuckles)". (Poole) "I was going to say the same thing about you! (giggles). Seriously, it has been such a big honour to watch Stevie playing and singing. I have certainly learned few tips about techniques on vocals by watching him every night on tour. The camaraderie between artists playing this genre is something truly unique in this business. There might be one or two exceptions, sometimes, as it always happens everywhere but on the whole, all the people and fellow musicians I have come across in this business have all been extremely generous with me and there has always been great support between one another. No egos, no competition, just the desire to play our music and support each other. We all try to make a living as well, at the end of the day, so what is the point really to fight one another?". (Nimmo) "The mutual help and respect between artists is the key to be able to keep playing our music and share it with our fans. You may have noticed as well that, on this tour, the two of us are neither the support nor the main act of one another. It has been like this since Day 1 and it will be the same way until the end of this tour. We even help each other with tips during the sound-check, with things like, say, "This mic sounds better positioned elsewhere" or stuff like that. It’s on those little but important things that you see the mutual respect and the appreciation of what we both do as artists and friends. We want our shows to be good, to sound good and we would do anything we could to help and support each other in the best way possible to make that happen".
To tour together is often the perfect opportunity to write some new material together that may end, perhaps, on the two British artists' next records. (Nimmo) "We almost did it for Ben’s album, you know. It was discussed before this tour took place but it didn’t happen. My point of view has always been and still is that I want to write a song WITH someone rather than FOR someone. I like the feeling of being in the same room with the fellow artist I collaborate with, to get to know that person, know what he is like, know what he sounds like and then start writing material together. I am sure that, to write with Ben is something that it’s going to happen soon. We know each other pretty well by now, I know what he sounds like and on that respect, to be on tour together has been very beneficial for both of us". (Poole) "To work together is something we spoke about and Stevie said he’d love to help to write some material with me in future. Stevie has got such a natural flow, an ability to write lyrics that, I must admit, it is something I struggle with, sometimes. Stevie writes his whole material all the time and he is very gifted. When I write new songs, I may need sometimes the help of external songwriters to write lyrics on some of my songs. To write something together it’s something I definitely would love to do with Stevie and I hope it’s going to happen soon".
The Stevie Nimmo & Ben Poole Tour has been a highly successful one, as expected, so perhaps now that the tour is over, it is a good time to relax a little or maybe are these two hugely talented Blues/Rock Brothers starting to tour again straight away? (Nimmo) "I shall take some time off and play in a couple of festivals this summer. It will be a fairly relaxing summer for me, not overloaded with tour dates. That was a deliberate choice, because I like to live my life as well. Balancing personal life and work is very important for me. In September and October I shall be busy like hell and it will be great playing with Robin Trower on some dates. Then in November and December I shall be touring around Europe, than back in UK and France until 2017. As you can understand, I shall be so busy that a summer break it's really very much needed for me to have the batteries fully charged for what it's going to happen next". (Poole) "I'll have a little bit of time off myself too after this tour, because the last four-five months have been insanely busy for me. After this little break, I shall be playing few festivals outside the United Kingdom, in places like Spain, Germany, Austria and France. In September my European Tour will kick off and I shall be touring several coutries including the United Kingdom in October and I cannot really wait to be back On The Road full time. You never know, myself and Stevie may cross paths again anywhere. After all, the world is much smaller than what many people think it is!".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Sky Won't Fall by Stevie Nimmo and Time Has Come by Ben Poole are both out now and available on Manhaton Records
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
It's a pleasant, breezy evening in the south of England, when Bluebird Reviews gets the opportunity to meet one of those artists that is constantly rising, year after year and album after album to music stardom, the young and hugely talented Laurence Jones. The gig tonight in Aldershot, Hampshire is not only going to be a special night of music just for the fans of one of the most inspired British guitarists and singer/songwriters but also for his manager Golly Gallagher, that lives in this quaint Army town.
There is a certain energy in the air, even prior to the concert tonight. Some of the fans can hear from a distance Jones doing the last bits of his soundcheck and it certainly doesn't take a magician to read the happiness beyond the smiles of the many fans waiting to enter the venue and see this phenomenal artist.
When BBR meet Laurence Jones, we are greeted with a warm welcome and one of the wonderful smiles that every night Jones gifts his fans with, during his live shows. Jones looks in great shape, very relaxed and happy, which is quite incredible, given how long he has been touring his current album What's It Gonna Be.
BBR - Laurence, What's It Gonna Be is and has been a hugely successful album for you. A record that, in our opinion, establishes you as one of the best blues/rock acts worldwide. Which are your immediate memories in recording this album?
LJ - Just having a great time with my band. I have always done that type of recording with session musicians before and it was great to be there, for a change, just with my band. As you know, I produced the album myself together with my bass player Roger Inniss and I learned, through that experience, a lot of tips while producing the album that producers I have worked with in the past taught me. It was just great, there was no pressure whatsoever and we did exactly what we wanted to do. The whole experience of recording the album with my band has been totally free-style, we just plugged our instruments in and we were off!
BBR - You started playing music since you were eight years old. Did your parents encourage you to play an instrument and was the guitar your very first choice?
LJ - Yes, absolutely. My dad had a classical acoustic guitar and he used to play The Animal's classic House Of The Rising One to me. I remember that, since I was a child, I wanted to be able to play that song better than him! (chuckles). He made me practice something like two or three hours a day and I was so determined, as I said, to be better than him. Then last year, when I played at the Royal Albert Hall for the Lead Belly tribute night, I ended up being on stage with Eric Burdon himself and I knew my dad was in the audience that night. I said to him, after the show, "You see, I am better than you now, because I actually got to play with Eric on stage!" (chuckles).
BBR - Laurence, your songwriting style on What's It Gonna Be shows phenomenal maturity. What is the process that you follow when you write songs?
LJ - There is not a certain order that I follow, while I am writing and that is the beauty of it. A song may come to me by writing the lyrics first then the melody and the vocals, or I can start a guitar riff and build a song around it. Especially with this album, I wanted it to be more about songs and connecting with people, rather than just blasting the album with plenty of guitar solos, which occasionally some guys in this business do. I saw a lot of people in the audience, night after night, coming to my shows and connecting to certain songs from my previous album Temptation and I just wanted to follow that same emotional path, on What's It Gonna Be.
Laurence Jones with bass player Roger Inniss
BBR - How was your experience working as a producer with young Toby Lee (11 years-old blues/rock guitarist), on his debut EP album?
LJ - That was really cool, actually. He is just a great talent and he has got a lot of potential, for his age and he is very confident. It was so good also because having produced my own album previously, I had more of an understanding about how to produce an album. So I put a good team around us, with Phil Wilson on drums, Jack Alexander on bass and Victoria Klewin on vocals. Plus, as a very special guest, the great Bernie Marsden on one of the songs. Toby is going to go a long way, definitely.
BBR - The last 12 months have been for you quite special. The Lead Belly Tribute nights at the Royal Albert Hall in London first, then the one at The Carnegie Hall in New York gave you the opportunity not just to play in two of the most famous venues in the world but also side by side with the cream of blues and rock and roll. Was there ever a moment in which you had to pinch yourself and realise that you were indeed "living the dream"?
LJ - It was certainly a great experience and what I am going to say about artists and cameraderie may surprise you a little bit. It was great to share the dressing room with Buddy Guy at The Carnegie Hall in New York, although I had barely the chance to see him when he got on stage for the soundcheck and we just said hello, you know, the usual thing but he is such a great guy. What really stood up for me the most that night, though, at the Carnegie Hall, was what happened when all the artists present that night were down below and I had to go back to the dressing room to get a drink. I found my good friend Walter Trout practicing, in my dressing room, all alone on his own. Walter saw me and said" Can I be in your dressing room, please? It's so nice and quiet" and I was like "Sure, no problem". So I pulled up a chair and sat next to him and it was really a surreal moment for me. He played a song called Transition from one of his early albums with the same name, which was coincidentally the first blues album I have ever heard in my life. Walter said he has never ever played that song live in his career and the fact that he played that song to me, in that room, with only the two of us there, meant a lot to me and made me feel so privileged and honoured.
(From L to R) Walter Trout, Laurence Jones and Dana Fuchs
BBR - You have been working for such a long time with your manager and mentor Golly Gallagher and played hundreds of concerts with that very talented bass player that is Roger Inniss. How important is it for you to be surrounded, on your day-by-day- musical journey, by a band of brothers like this?
LJ - It's so important. You spend all of your time together, in a tour van, even more time than I spend with my family, to be honest and it's vital to have great bonds between all of us. Last year we did something like 250 gigs together, therefore you can imagine how important it is to get on well with everyone. Golly is a true inspirational figure for me. He taught me so much about this business, with all the great experience that he has. He was in the music business long before I was even born, you know (smiles), working for Sony and many other majors. Golly really showed me the way and taught me how important it is to have a good team around you and I feel privileged to have him as my manager.
BBR - Laurence, we understand that your new album is rumoured to be released late this summer and produced by a real authority of the business, Mike Vernon. Is the new album yet untitled or have you already thought how your next album is going to be called?
LJ - I always like to be a step ahead of the game! (chuckles). I always like to think forward about the next album and the songs I am going to write. To write songs is something that happen very naturally and I feel very fortunate, in that respect because I know that some people in the business really struggle often, when it comes to write new material. I just keep writing and writing because there are so many experiences on the road that I like to write about and share with the fans through my songs. We will be releasing the new album in July/August and it was indeed a big honour to have Mike Vernon to produce my album. He has been working with top artists in his career, people like Bowie, Eric Clapton, Peter Green and on the famous John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers album, an album that really set the scene for the British Blues, back in the day. It was great working with Mike and I was really surprised about how much he let me be myself throghout the recording process. I have been working with producers in the past where they costantly tell you what to do and tell you "that is the way it's going to be". With Mike, it was a completely different ball game. He just stepped in at the right times, when he knew it was right to do so while we were working together. In comparison with What's It Gonna Be, on the new album you will find less overdubs and more of a raw, live sound. We loved working in that way and I am sure the fans will love that too. The raw, straight-to-your-face kind of sound on the new album will be exactly the same one the fans will hear when we will play the new songs live, once the new record is released. The whole experience of recording with Mike was very relaxing and I sincerely hope to work with Mike again in future. The new album is going to be called Take Me High and I cannot wait to play the new songs to the fans.
BBR - We are aware that your summer tour schedule is building up nicely, with several dates already booked around Europe. When will the American fans have the opportunity to see you there again on tour?
LJ - We are going back to America by the end of August. So far we have just three dates confirmed, one in New York, one in Massachussetts at the Blues'N' Brews Festival in Nashoba Valley and one at the Chenango Blues Festival. It's going to be awesome and I am really looking forward to play there.
BBR - You have previously stated that "Music is my healer". How much has the support of the fans helped you through the healing process?
LJ - It helped me massively. I have had loads of people come up to me, since I have been working with the charity Chron's and Colitis UK (Laurence suffers of Chron's Disease himself) saying: "You are an inspiration and your music really gets me through the day" or things like "Just to see you going up on stage knowing what we are going through with Chron's Disease is amazing". Without playing music I would get easily down and thankfully, I get to challenge my feelings into my music and just trying to be true, to me and to everyone that love my music. If it help the fans as it helps me, that would be the best feeling ever. I can't thank the fans enough for the support. We do a lot of fund raisings for this cause and we raised £15.000 last year, which is amazing and again, I cannot believe how incredible and supportive all the fans have been so far.
BBR - Laurence, the blues is among the very few music genres worldwide able to survive and reinvent itself through time, without losing contact with its history and tradition. What is, in your humble opinion, the secret of this genre's longevity?
LJ - Like you said, it's all about history and people, nowadays, crave for history. It's a bit like going to places where it all smells of history, say a place like Rome, for someone from Italy like you or a place like my hometown and Shakespeare's land Stratford-Upon-Avon for me. History is always there, it's part of our heritage and it's something we know that we can relate to anytime. In the same way, the blues and its history can be found in so many different genres that it could never be lost, ever. It's in pop music, rock, soul, you name it. Blues is the common ground, the genesis for all genres. Think about the 60's and 70's, when England had a massive blues invasion, influencing our music culture. Bands like The Rolling Stones made of the blues their music manifesto in those days. They were not just one of the biggest bands in the world but also the only band able to take a blues tune to the No.1 of the music charts worldwide ever with Little Red Rooster. The Blues is always going to be on top in any time of the world, because it is the root of everything, when it comes to music. And we all know that nothing, without roots, it's going to survive.
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Take Me High is due to be released by the end of July 2016 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo by Mark Bicham)
When it comes the time to work hard on creating and playing music, very few people in the world does that better than a blues or a rock musician. The Shreveport, Louisiana-born guitarist and singer/songwriter Lance Lopez knows that very well. Since he moved to Texas at the tender age of 13, Lopez had the opportunity to be "raised" musically by outstanding artists such as Johnnie Taylor and Lucky Peterson, two instrumental figures in Lopez's growth as a guitarist and singer/songwriter.
Lopez is now considered one of the best guitarists of this generation worldwide and universally recognised by fellow musicians and music press as the heir of the great Texan tradition of blues/rock guitar.
After a few year's hiatus of releasing new material, Lopez has now been involved in two records just released, one as a member of the supergroup Supersonic Blues Machine called West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco, the second as a solo artist, releasing a live album called Live In N.Y.C.
In a super-busy moment of his musical career as this one that Lance Lopez is living right now, it must be not easy to balance many things at the same time. "It actually helps me to stay very busy. It makes me much more creative when I am that busy, as long as I don't get too tired. When I am moving and travelling and playing and working on many different things, I find working on many things very helpful to me. It keeps me excited and happy, thinking about all those things happening and to look forward to. When I am working between different projects, it is important for me to do the right amount per time on each project, in order to keep things very fresh. It's all about balancing but to be busy, it's something that certainly helps me to stay very focused and creative".
Despite being a very prolific songwriter and an excellent guitarist and singer, it has been a while now since Lopez released either a studio or a live album (Handmade Music was his last release in 2011). Given his extensive touring schedule, Bluebird Reviews is wondering whether this was a stop gap from releasing new material that he chose purposely to do or Lopez thought that the time was not right to release a new album until now. "There were many different things happening that stopped me by releasing new material. I needed to find a new record company. The right one for me with the right deal, which has been for some times a major issue to resolve. Also, with putting out albums and especially working with Fabrizio (Grossi, producer and fellow compadre on the Supersonic Blues Machine project), I just wanted the albums to be very good and I wanted to be satisfied with them. I did not want to put out something just for the sake of it. We spent, therefore, a lot of time working on those recordings and making sure they were absolutely hundred per cent fantastic, before we released them. Those were really the main reasons. After I have been touring Europe, I think it was 2013, I came back to Texas, in the States, where I have been for the last three years writing more music, more songs and working on the SBM album. It has been a long time coming for new music to be released but that gave me the opportunity to focus on all these projects and ensuring I was releasing the right material at the right time, just when I was completely satisfied with them".
Bluebird Reviews has been talking to Lopez's brother in arms on the Supersonic Blues Machine project Fabrizio Grossi a little while ago. Through his larger-than-life personality, he brought to us all the excitement that Grossi, Aronoff and Lopez felt in recoding the band's debut album and how great it was working with so many music giants and fellow musician friends on the record. Our website was wondering whether Lopez felt as well that the album was going to be so incredibly magic too. "Yeah, absolutely. When I began working with Fabrizio, we felt immediately a great connection, musically speaking. We realised almost immediately that we were meant to work together. I knew it was going to be phenomenal, especially considering how much work we put into it. We really took our time and we really worked very hard on every single aspect of that album. That's what I like about Fabrizio so much. He is a hard working man and he likes to be a perfectionist, two things we certainly have in common, when it comes to music. The special connection between us made to work on the album being a very enjoyable journey, although hard to achieve. I have always worked very hard on producing and ensuring that all aspects of the production side were perfect on each of my previous records and I am aware that not everyone is happy to do that, in this business. Everybody just wants to hurry up their records and get them finished, while with Fabrizio, we just decided to finish the album when we felt the time was right. Many producers and many engineers don't like always to do this and that was really a major factor that made working with Fabrizio a fabulous experience. Now that the album is finished and it is out, it is nice to seat back and appreciate all the hard work that we put into it".
(Supersonic Blues Machine - From Left To Right Kenny Aronoff (Drums), Fabrizio Grossi (Bass), Lance Lopez (Guitar, Vocals))
Together with the Supersonic Blues Machine album, this extraordinary artist has also released a live album recorded in New York City and our website asked Lopez whether recording the album in NYC was a purposely pre-planned idea or did Lopez rather thought that, among all the live recording taped, the NYC performance was the most satisfactory for him. "That was not really planned. What happen was that the late great Johnny Winter invited me to perform at his 70th birthday party and he wanted me to perform for him, which was a big honour for me. Rather unfortunately, that was going to be the very last birthday party for Johnny (Winter passed away few months after). That night, given the very special occasion, we went on stage, played our socks off and give it all because we knew that was something that myself and the band did in Johnny's honour, not imagining in the slightest that a couple of months later, Johnny would have sadly passed. Rather unexpectedly and shortly after Johnny's passing , Paul Nelson, who was Johnny's manager and I was also working with, told me that they recorded that performance and were so enthusiastic on the outcome that they really wanted to release it as a live album. I told him I was going to check the recording out and see whether it was good enough for me to be released. When I heard it, it really blew me away, I thought it was fantastic. I saw somebody's video recording of that night on YouTube but obviously, the perception of sound you get from a roughly recorded video is completely different from a proper sound recording system. We had some engineers in New York mixing the live tracks and when I got the final mix sent back to me, I thought it was so wonderful that I really wanted it to release it as soon as possible. I didn't want to use Johnny's name for the promotional aspects and did not want to release the album shortly after Johnny's passing as a sign of my deep respect for his music and his artistry. I felt that now the time was right to do so and honour the memory of such a great musician and friend of mine in a very special night of music. That is the reason why the album wasn't released earlier".
Checking out the setlist, the material handpicked for the live album belongs mostly to Lopez's last studio album Handmade Music, with the sole exception of the crowd-pleaser El Paso Sugar (from the Higher Ground album) and a brand new track, Tell The Truth. We asked Lance Lopez whether there was any particular reason why the Texan artist decided not to add anything from a solid, beautiful record such as Salvation In Sundown. "Well, we were still, at that time, touring the Handmade Music album after a couple of years of its release, therefore it felt kind of natural for us to play tracks mostly from that album. What you hear on the album, it is just a condensed setlist of what we used to play on regular nights at that time. We generally played each night tunes from that album but also from the Salvation In Sundown album and my previous ones too. However, for the set at the BB King Blues Club in N.Y, we had to condens and shorten the setlist but still wanted to include the fans favourite El Paso Sugar and a song that is yet to be released on any of my studio albums, Tell The Truth, which is a song on which Fabrizio and I have been also working on for a future studio album".
The live album clearly reinstates the stature of Lopez's talent, a true performer at the peak of his game. But does Lance Lopez follow any particular ritual before he goes onstage? "I just like to warm up beforehand. I must make sure that the band is very well rehearsed and that my amplifier and all my equipment work properly. Then I like also to take some time before the show, say half an hour before going on stage and play some guitar backstage. That helps me to get in the moment, in that special zone in my head because when I then go onstage, in the middle of some of those guitar solos, I go to a different place in my mind and every time that special moment feels like living a spiritual experience. That is why I feel I need to take that time before the show, to start channeling that kind of experience and share it with the fans".
(Photo by Sanders Photography)
Chris Reddan on drums and Mike Nunno on bass provided a fabulous backbone to this artist's thunderous guitar style and vocals on Live In NYC. "I actually lived in New York City many years ago for a while and Chris Reddan was a long time drummer for Popa Chubby. Mike Nimmo played with Lucky Peterson and various blues artists so I have known them both for a while. When I was touring the East Coast, I would use them as my rhytm section. Chris has worked for many great blues and rock artists and he is one of the number one drummers in blues/rock and one of my dearest and best friends. We all have a very good connection and Mike is absolutely one of the best bass player in New England and the whole of the East Coast. To play with those guys, that night, was a magical moment and I am really glad we managed to capture that moment in time and frame it forever on this record".
Lance Lopez's incredible talent as a guitarist has been compared to geniuses of the instrument, like Hendrix, Winter or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Many tend to forget though that he has also one of the most intense, powerful and deep voices on the current blues/rock scene. To be not recognised adequately for the quality of his vocals must be something that may disappoint Lopez, sometimes. "I am also a vocalist, you are very correct and I guess that, often, my guitar playing and the solos I do onstage might overshadow that aspect of my artistry. To be honest with you, I am not overly disappointed about that because I know that it is something that, my fans or whoever has listened to my studio albums. are aware of and appreciate a lot too. On this subject, working on the Supersonic Blues Machine album was also extra special because it gave me the great opportunity to showcase even further my skills as a lead singer, due to the amount of fabulous Special Guests playing guitar that we had on the album. That allowed me to relax a little and free me up, as a guitar player and focus more on the singing side".
Deep inside, many artists dream to reach immortality through their music. But how would Lance Lopez love to be remembered in a hundred years in an imaginary universal musical encyclopedia? "Nothing too fancy, maybe just the fact that I was the torchbearer of the next generation of blues/rock music. I feel I definitely followed the footsteps of those great artists of the past and present, people like Johnny Winter, Billy Gibbon, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Freddie King and all the greatest that came from the US state where I live. What I would love to convey as well, is also that I have tried to be the best musician that I could possibly be, playing in such a great band like Supersonic Blues Machine and performing with many artists, not just from Texas or American but worldwide for international audiences".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Live In NYC and the Supersonic Blues Machine album West Of Flushing, South Of Frisco are out now and available on Amazon
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
The American Blues/Rock guitarist extraordinaire talks to Bluebird Reviews about the making of Pierced Arrow, the new album with the supergroup The Rides and also about his future with The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
(Photo by Greg Logan)
Two decades in the music business and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, one of the most iconic blues and rock and roll artists worldwide, sounds and looks as in great shape as ever.
Shepherd is one of the architects of the contemporary blues/rock renaissance and it is not a surprise to see his artistic path often crossing with giants of the music business, going through the re-discovery of the traditions and the history of the last half a century of American music.
In this respect, by working with the supergroup The Rides, Shepherd has been able to explore even further, together with his fellow bandmates Stephen Stills and Barry Goldberg, his love and passion for American music at 360 degrees, something that Stills and Goldberg share too with the Louisiana-born artist.
Pierced Arrow is the band's second album and is the ultimate America's songbook. The record is a true homage to this great country, celebrating half a century of music history. From Rockabilly to R&B, blues and soul, the album takes an impressive turn to the band's highly acclaimed debut album Can't Get Enough. Bluebird Reviews is wondering whether taking such turn was the the plan all along for Pierced Arrow or did the new songs changed their shape during the recording process. "Well, we didn't really have a plan, except that we wanted to go ahead with The Rides and make another great album together. The songs got their shape at Stephen's house, just like what we did on our first album. We wrote the songs over there between myself, Stephen and Barry and we brought also in Kevin McCormick (rhytm section bassist) to join us on some of the songwriting sessions. We never meant to steer the album towards one direction or the other and as a result, you can hear many different musical influences on Pierced Arrow. I think that this new record really further defines the sound of The Rides. It's the sound of a true American band that started as a blues band and then gradually spread its wings towards the genres that made the music history of our country, just like you mentioned. In Pierced Arrow there is blues, there is some old school, vintage rock and roll and much more. Our goal was fundamentally to do a great album and to be able to follow the lead that the songs we were writing were taking us to".
When listening to Pierced Arrow, there is a real feeling that Shepherd, Goldberg and Stills were having a real good time recording the album and letting it loose. A sign that, perhaps it didn't take long for The Rides to write and record the new album. "Well, it took a little while, to be honest but not because it was hard to make it but because of our personal schedules. We finished our first Tour in November 2013 and got back together, at Stephen's house, around the end of January 2014. We immediately started writing songs for the follow-up of the Can't Get Enough album but my schedule and Stephen's schedule with Crosby and Nash was so busy that we had to search for opportunities to reunite over the course of 2014, when we were at home in the same time. That is what we did and since then, at any possible opportunity we got together every few months and wrote new songs at Stephen's place. We gradually wrote Pierced Arrow over the course of 2014 but, by the end of that year, we figured that we had enough material and songs to go into the studio and record the new album. The recording process started at the end of January 2015 and then we mixed the album in March 2015. Our hope was to get the record out in 2015 but the mixing process took a little bit longer then we had expected. Stephen had to leave in the middle of the mixing process to go to Japan with Crosby & Nash and during that time I was offered to go on Tour with Van Halen in the United States for the entire summer, offer that I accepted. Those circumstances forced us to postpone the release of this album until this year. It took a while to get us finally here and to be able to release Pierced Arrow but if you would have taken all the obstacles out of the equation, to write and record the album happened relatively fast. We normally like to record our songs on the first or second take and we still approach our music that way. We tried to record everything in the most authentic and organic way as possible, with very minimal overdubs, which is always the way in which we like to make records".
Pierced Arrow is an album that took many fans by surprise in a great way. Bluebird Reviews doubts that this new record carries any "leftover" track from the recording session of the first album. "You are correct, there were not. There were some ideas that came up, on the first album, by jamming together that then developed further in the studio when we finished the first album. The outcome of those jams though did not make it on the Can't Get Enough album and we did not think they were worth revisiting, while making the second album. There were, however, some songs that we recorded for our new album that were not included on this record. There were a couple of extra songs that I am not sure whether in future they will show up or not on one of our next records, you never know".
The Rides - (From L to R) Stephen Stills, Barry Goldberg & Kenny Wayne Shepherd
By the sound of what Shepherd just said, such songs that did not make it for the album's final tracklist may see the light of the day, perhaps, on a possible live album in future. "Maybe, why not? We are recording all the shows that we are doing on the current Tour and we did the same with all the shows we did on the first Tour together too. I have been thinking about, maybe, putting together some performances from this Tour with some from the first Tour and perhaps releasing one live album or maybe two live albums, which would be very interesting".
Pierced Arrow, among many highlights, also unveils a phenomenal delivery of Gladys Knight & The Pips' classic I've Got To Use My Imagination but in the version made by the great Bobby "Blue" Bland. "Well, that was certainly my most favourite version of that song. I mean, I just love the way that Bobby Bland recorded that song. It is my personal preference, I just love his take even more than the Gladys Knight's one. When we did the first Tour, that's when we started playing that song at first. As you may understand, on our first Tour, at that time we had only one album to play and there was obviously not enough material to carry a show for an hour and a half. So we had to look into each other's catalogues to find additional songs to help and fill in the set every night. We did some of Stephen's songs, some of my songs and then I started looking for some songs that could have been good enough and fitting enough for the live shows. When I heard the Bobby Bland's version of I've Got To Use My Imagination, I thought "This would be a great song for us to do". So we did that on the first Tour and we realised that it worked very well with the audience. So much so that we decided that we were going to record our version of that song on the second album and that's what we did".
The band's name perfectly defines the musical journey The Rides are on and the love for vintage cars that Shepherd shares with Stephen Stills. The guitarist and singer/songwriter, among many cars he owns, has got also a couple of splendid vintage Dodge in his eclectic collection. BBR is wondering, using a language close to Shepherd's heart, whether The Rides pushed enough the accelerator on this album as much as the artist would do on one of his Dodge's. "Yes, I would say so (chuckles). The music, the concerts, our whole relationship and cameraderie as artists, it all takes you on a journey that it's pretty much comparable to an experience one can have by driving a fast car, just as you said. It's that special feeling of having your foot firmly planted on the floor of your car, shooting away on the highway and watching the world go by. I would certainly say that this experience with The Rides resembles for me that type of wonderful feeling. We are a high energy band and there may be times when we push hard on the accelerator, while playing or some other times we can slow down a little but the engine of our band would always remain as smooth as one of the cars you just mentioned".
Life In The Fast Lane is a song from the glorious band The Eagles that sums up well the rhythm of Shepherd's career in the music business. An unstoppable musician, Shepherd always works very hard and tour relentlessly for the best part of every year. After The Rides Tour is over, will this hugely talented artist release new material as The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band anytime soon? "I have been writing songs and making several trips down to Tennessee over the past several months, writing with new songwriters that I have never written with before and working with some of the people that I have been writing with my whole career. So, in answer to your question, yes, I have been writing songs and a new album is in the making. At the moment, I am not exactly sure how the next album it's going to sound like, to be honest with you. We have been writing different kind of songs, some of which sound like nothing I have ever done before and I am not trying to steer the album in any direction in particular. I am just writing songs and going where the music takes us while we are writing. I would anticipate that by the end of this year, I'll be in the studio recording the new album, which should be probably coming out by some times next year".
The new The Rides album sees also Shepherd harmonizing with Stephen Stills on a couple of songs. In BBR's view, one of such songs, Virtual World, represents one of the most intense musical moments on Pierced Arrow. An experience that must have been truly special for the blues/rock titan. "It has been amazing. It was something I would have never expected to do in this band. I figured that, within the band, I would have been singing just lead vocals, just as Stephen would have but I didn't really anticipate us becoming a harmony group. When that happened on a couple of tracks of the album, it really felt like a truly remarkable experience. I mean, Stephen is legendary when it comes to harmonize. When I think about the great artists he has been harmonizing with throughout his career, people like Neil Young, David Crosby, Graham Nash, just the idea that my name is now added to that fantastic list, makes me feel really happy and proud".
The Rides are currently touring the United States (see the band's full schedule on their website http://www.theridesband.com/) but on their schedule there is no mention of touring European countries or any other part of the world so far. "Well, I wish that there was the chance to tour out of the States but I can't say that there is. I have been trying to push for an European Tour schedule at least but it is a little bit complicated to do that, with this band and this organisation. I don't know whether that might happen, I wish that would really happen but at this moment in time, I couldn't possibly say".
Kenny Wayne Shepherd is not just a phenomenal and versatile musician but also somebody with a deep knowledge and understanding of the roots of one of the music genres that he loves the most, which is the blues. The Guitarist released, almost a decade ago, a wonderful live album and music film about the tradition and the history of the blues through the tales and the songs of some of the most influential blues artists. The CD/DVD is called 10 Days Out: Blues From The Backroads and it is one of the most impressive music documents of the last century on the importance and the influence that blues had and still has in contemporary music. BBR is hoping that Shepherd, one day, will be able to do a follow-up of that memorable project. "Well, it is my intention to release a follow-up to it. The plan was to have much more work accomplished on this project than we have but honestly, with my band, with touring and now having a second band with The Rides and touring with them too, I have not had a lot of extra time, lately, to work on the next 10 Days Out Mach II. It is still something though that I intend on doing and hopefully, soon, I hope to find the right time slot to allow me to pursue this project so close to my heart".
The Maverick guitarist from Shreveport has played and still does with the elite of blues and rock, from BB King to Eddie Van Halen, not least his fellow compadres in The Ride's project. Before parting company, we ask Shepherd whether there are any musicians, of the past or present, that he would have loved to record with in his splendid career. "Well, to be honest, I don't sit around thinking about stuff like "I want to work with this guy or this other guy". I just let things happening and see, in the end, with which artists I was meant to play with, you know? For the longest time, I never had the opportunity to play with Eric Clapton until several years ago, when I was able to play with him on stage. I mean, to record with him, that would be fantastic but, I reckon is hardly ever going to happen because he is very focused solely on doing his own albums. Basically, I am open to make music with anyone that really makes sense to me and I can make some great music with. I think that as long as I remain open to that idea, you never know what it might happen!".
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Pierced Arrow is out now and it can be purchased via Provogue/Mascot Label Group
- Written by Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
(Photo courtesy of Mike Zito's Official Website)
There must be something special about blues and blues-rock. Something that helps spiritually and emotionally music artists going through rough patches in their lives to give them the necessary strength to live through those difficult times and come back stronger, both as artists and human being.
Mike Zito knows that very well. A hugely talented guitarist and singer/songwriter, the Missouri-born artist has lived in his own skin through the tough times, luckily rising victorious from the heavy problems related to alcoholism. Zito is now happily at the top of his game again, even more so than when he was working with that incredible music project that was Royal Southern Brotherhood. With a new, splendid solo album with his band The Wheel out now called Keep Coming back, this extraordinary artist seems to have found the perfect personal and artistic balance to express his great talent as a musician and a songwriter. Bluebird Reviews is deeply honoured to meet one of the most loved blues artist worldwide and discuss his new album and this moment of his life and career.
BBR - Mike, thank you for talking to Bluebird Reviews, such a honour for us. Keep Coming Back is your first solo album after leaving the Royal Southern Brotherhood. For how long had you in mind to go solo again?
MZ - Well, I'll be honest, I never thought that I wouldn't go solo again. Part of the idea with the Royal Southern Brotherhood was we could do both, touring as a band and have our separate career at the same time. But the Brotherhood became so popular that we kept holding on the idea of doing both things, because we were doing so great and for a couple of years we kept going. Somewhere in there, I guess, after working with the band for so long, I thought I was starting losing touch with my solo career. I thought that, if I was not going back there soon, being a solo artist, maybe I might have lost all that I have been doing for such long time. I wanted to go back to do what I love to do best, which is playing blues and doing my own things.
BBR - Bluebird Reviews has been a great admirer of your music and your talent for a very long time. This is the first album though, where we can actually feel that you are at peace with yourself. Did you feel any different when you wrote and recorded this splendid album?
MZ - I did. You really hit it on the head, in your question. I am very much at peace with myself in these days. I think that the album really captures this feeling. As a songwriter, I feel that this is one record where really I stepped more away from the blues that I have ever done before. I just wanted to share that inner peace I am in right now, kind of let everybody know where I was at. Yeah, you really hit it on the head, this album to me is really where I am, at this moment in time in my life. I am really grateful and very lucky to have the life I have and I hope that I expressed this special moment of my existence through this record.
BBR - Keep Coming Back is a real tribute to American Music. You are able to dazzle into genres like rock, country, blues with great grace, intensity and passion. Through the eyes of a consumate artist like yourself, are there still many musicians out there able to carry the baton with the same determination and craftmanship you show on each passing record?
MZ - Oh, yes, certainly there are many, I definitely think so. There are so many wonderful artists out there right now. Thank you for the kind words about the record. It is indeed an Americana type of album, with some rock'n'roll or country songs, just as you said. The truth is, when I made this album, I decided I would not hold myself back this time. If I wrote a song, I just wanted to deliver it in the way it was originally conceived in my mind, whatever genre it might be. There are so many brilliant artists nowadays, people like Gary Clark Jr. or Tedeschi Trucks Band, for example, able to bring together so well in their music formula many different genres still maintaining their identity as artists. I guess this evolution in music is what kept the Blues alive. In the States, for example, Blues artists have pretty much evolved their ways to play and incorporated in their sound elements belonging to different styles of American music. This is one of the reasons why the Blues continues to survive. In America, genres like Country music are still very popular but that particular genre, in the past years, has changed a lot. To the point that many Country music fans are now saying that they are not able to recognise that genre as such anymore, because it's changed too much. It's evolved in a way where it has been completely turned upside down, altering completely the origin of this music genre and becoming something else. The Blues, instead, still maintains its origins. The sound has just evolved but the foundations are there, still very solid.
BBR - You are and have always been a very prolific songwriter. We have heard that now you are enjoying also being a columnist for a very important Blues magazine in the United Kingdom. Does this represent something you always wanted to fulfil in your life or did you discover that you had a great talent as a music writer purely by accident?
MZ - I guess I discovered it purely by accident, although despite the fact didn't play music at all, my mother was a writer. She was a real poet, she wrote all her life. It must be something deep inside our family's DNA. I have been writing for a long time myself but never considered writing for a magazine. I started to write a blog about five years ago and I did it purely to help myself, while I was on the road, to get my feelings out and share them with the fans. It became, after a while, really well received. People liked what I was writing, saying that they enjoyed the fact I was expressing my feelings straight from the heart and it was so overwhelming to discover how many people was following and liking my writing. Suddenly, Ed Mitchell from The Blues Magazine in UK contacted me, saying: "We have been reading your blog and we have really enjoyed it. Your writing is very good, would you be interested in writing a column for our magazine?". I was almost shocked, I couldn't believe these guys in UK were asking me this. Of course I said "Yes" and I have got to say I take great pride in doing it. I really enjoy writing and it's one of those things I like to do purely for myself. I don't consider myself really the greatest writer on the planet but I feel confident to talk about what I do or about music, in general. The column is such a pleasure to do, so enjoyable, because I get the opportunity to share the topics of the magazine or to talk about the state of the Blues genre to many fans in the world. I have also been writing a book, about my story of getting clean and sober. It is still in the making but, when it is finished and it come together well, I might try to release it. I am in no rush though to write my autobiography, because I consider myself still a young man! But surely, one day, that book will be out there.
BBR - Mike Zito keeps coming back to his music roots and also to work again with The Wheel. The record really underlines a perfect chemistry between you and the band. When you went to the studio to record the album, did it feel like you and The Wheel never stopped playing together?
MZ - It certainly did. The band is totally in tune with me, my songs and my songwriting style. We certainly try always to record albums with a live dynamic, where we get into the studio, set up and just play and record as we play. I think this album, among all the albums we have done together, it has been the easiest. The thing is we all know where we are coming from, musically speaking, I know what everyone's capable of and they know what I am bringing to them. Everyone is also very comfortable, I haven't got to ask any questions, I don't need to tell to anyone to do anything, we all just know each other so well. It was so easy to dive into the music, into this record, there is a real comfort there, in working with one another. It's like being married to someone for a year or two initially, then, if all is well, the marriage keeps ongoing for 10 years or even longer. The comfort level, the chemistry, keeps increasing and get deeper, the respect for each other grows as the years go by. We were at that high level of comfort I just described when we entered the studio and started working on Keep Coming Back. As a consequence, the recording process felt really good on this record.
BBR - Mike, I like to think that in your title track, when you sing about "This Old Man He Took My Hand And Brought Me To The Light" that you are not just referring to God but also to the moral support that somebody like Walter Trout gave you in a tough moment of your career (although Walter might not appreciate too much to be called "Old"). How important has the friendship and cameraderie of many blues/rock fellow artists been, to help you battle your inner demons?
MZ - Walter Trout is such a great friend and he has been a hero of mine for so long. To have him as a friend, absolutely helped me along the way, encouraged me, inspired me and just the fact he has always been there for me, feels really wonderful to me. And you are absolutely correct when I refer to God, metaphorically, as the Old Man. When I sing in that song "He Pulled Me Out A Seat", it's like when you get to the recovering meetings and they always ask "have a seat" and talk about you and how to get sober and cleaned... You feel that the Old Man is there with you and will stick with you forever. And you are quite right about all the people that helped me along the way and I am talking about everyone, not just fellow musicians. Surely many great artists have been through the same issues I have been through and of course, Walter is the most significant and again, you were quite right also about the fact that Walter surely wouldn't appreciate to be called an Old Man! (chuckles). He certainly is not and he doesn't play either like an old man, that's for sure.
BBR - We understand you are due to release a new acoustic album called Troubadour Volume 1. Can you tell us more about the making of this new record?
MZ - It is just something I recorded for my fans. I just have it with me at my shows. I do several acoustic shows, I do some acoustic guitar sometimes while I am touring and people always tell me how much they enjoy the different acoustic interpretations of some of my tracks I play at shows. I have my own home recording studio and I decided to set up a couple of microphones, get out my nice acoustic guitar and I went through my first three albums I did on the Electro Groove Records label. Through the help of some people, they ticked what they thought were their favourite tunes, out of those albums and I interpretated them acoustically and record them acoustically and put them on a disc. In this way, every time I play live at shows, they cannot keep asking me anymore about making acoustic albums, I would just say to them "Hey man, you asked for it, here you go, you got it". Maybe one day it will get officially released by a label but for the time being, it is just something I did purely for the fans and to keep them happy. On top of that, I like to think that this acoustic album also gives the opportunity to people to discover my early songs under a different dress and quite frankly, it was a lot of fun for me too to record it, as an artist.
(Photo courtesy of Mike Zito's Official Website)
BBR - Mike, you are currently touring the United States in support of the Keep Coming Back album. Will your European fans be able to see you live anytime soon?
MZ - We are working on that. There have been a couple of shows in Europe this month, one in Norway and one in Germany but it was not a whole tour, unfortunately. There are some dates coming for the summer but I do know that in the fall we have a full tour of all of Europe, I believe it is a 5-week one and it is currently in the making. I hope the European fans will be patient enough and wait for me and the band to perform live later this year.
BBR - It's great to see the healthy way you are living your life in Texas, the place you have been calling home for quite some time now. Has the young boy from Missouri finally found the perfect design for life to live happily ever after?
MZ - I sure hope so. I believe in my heart I have. I am very happy and peaceful with myself. It's a nice acceptance for me about where I am at and what I am doing at this stage of my life and I don't feel I need any more of what I already have right now. I feel blessed to have so much in my personal life that it's sometimes overwhelming. I just need to keep plugging away with my recovery, you know, make sure I don't go crazy anymore but thankfully, I've got a lot of support at home. I have got a wonderful family to support me and the music to keep me going. I just want to make sure that I don't rest on my laurels and don't get too comfortable. I want to make sure I continue to make great music and challenge myself, without going crazy. That's the plan!
Giovanni "Gio" Pilato
Keep Coming Back is out now and available on Ruf Records