.

 

 

For anyone that has ever had the privilege of riding in a funky ‘ole Ford Pinto, that experience was probably unforgettable.

Especially if that funky ‘ole Ford Pinto was slathered in green on the outside, but had plenty of red percolating from the inside.

Florida axeman supreme Sean Chambers explains:

“A friend of mine had just gotten his driver’s license – he was 16 and I was 15 – and he came and picked me up in his green Pinto and he put in a Jimi Hendrix cassette tape and played “Red House.” I had never heard blues, I had never heard Hendrix and I had never heard anybody play guitar like that,” Chambers recently said. “I asked my friend, ‘Who is that? What is that?’ He said, ‘That’s Jimi Hendrix and that’s blues music.’ And I instantly got chill bumps … that hit me like a ton of bricks. I said, ‘That’s what I want to do, right there.”

That’s precisely what Chambers has been doing pretty much ever since – playing an intriguing mix of Texas- and Chicago-styled blues, with a dash of Hendrix-inspired blues/rock for good measure – anywhere and everywhere he can. His latest album, The Rock House Sessions (Blue Heat Records) was recorded at Kevin McKendree’s Rock House Studio in Franklin, Tennessee and picked up a nomination for Best Blues/Rock Album at this year’s Blues Blast Awards.

In addition to the immensely-talented guitar and vocals of Chambers, The Rock House Sessions boasts a who’s-who of A-List musicians, cats like Reese Wynans (who produced and played keyboards), Tommy MacDonald (bass) and Tom Hambridge (drums). The resulting experience was one to remember, says Chambers.

“Not only was it great just to be working with those guys, but it was really cool to also just see how they work and chart stuff out. I mean, it might have been a song they had never heard and they would go in and listen to it and chart it out and then go in and record it and it would sound like they’ve been playing it for a year,” he said. “It was amazing. I really found myself having to keep up with those guys because they move and work at such a fast pace. The rhythm section tracks for the whole album were recorded in two days and then I went in and did vocals and guitar and any overdubs that I had to do the next two days. The whole thing was recorded in four days. That’s definitely the quickest I’ve ever recorded an album. It was a great experience.”

Another beneficial part of the process of having that group of heavy hitters plunked down in the Rock House was; that in addition to having access to their musical chops, Chambers also had access to some plumb material, as well.

“At the time, I only had about half the songs that I needed for an album written and finished. So one of the advantages to having Reese produce it, was he was able to bring a bunch of great songs to the table, too,” Chambers said.

Hambridge contributed some tunes to the project, Chambers brought some of his own songs – and he also paired up with Wynans for a couple – and the whole album was rounded out just right with a dash of songs from two of Chambers’ musical heroes, the late, great Alvin Lee (“Choo Choo Mama”) and the phenomenal Gary Moore (“Holding On”).

“I’ve always enjoyed redoing songs that inspired me growing up, or that have something to do with my whole musical journey. Gary Moore is one of my all-time favorite guitarists and he had just passed, as had Alvin Lee. So I thought it would be really cool to do a ‘hat’s off’ thing to two of my favorite players that really did inspire me when I was younger,” he said. “Before I really even talked to Reese (about the songs for the album), I was going through a bunch of Gary Moore and Ten Years After songs and stuff like that. When I heard “Choo Choo Mama,” I knew I wanted to do that one from Alvin Lee. Sometimes I’ll think I want to do a song, but when I play it, it just doesn’t feel right. Well, “Choo Choo Mama” was right in my barnyard. So that was a no-brainer. And Reese flew down to Florida for two days before we did the album and did a quick pre-production and told him I really wanted to do a Gary Moore song and he thought that would be a good idea, too. We both really liked “Holding On,” plus it’s a little bit different than the stuff that people may be used to hearing me do. So for picking cover songs to do, it has to be something that I like and that I really enjoy playing.”

Plans are currently underway for a follow-up to The Rock House Sessions, although Chambers’ next offering may see him going back to work with his regular band (Todd Cook, bass; Paul Broderick, drums; Gary Keith, harp) in the studio.

“It’s hard to tell right now, but it will probably be the Sean Chambers Band. The whole way that (The Rock House Sessions being a Sean Chambers CD instead of a Sean Chambers Band disc) came about was; I was talking to Reese about just playing on the album. And Jeff (Fischer), who is my manager and the owner of Blue Heat Records, was throwing around the idea of bringing in an outside producer this time, rather than me and the band producing it. So as I was talking to Reese about the album, it just kind of hit me that Reese might actually be a really good producer for the record. And because we had a limited budget and time frame, he asked if I’d ever considered using a studio band. He said, ‘One, they can get it done quicker and two, they can bring some really cool songs to the table.’ So once we decided that Reese was going to produce it, it was his suggestion that we use a studio band to record it and try something different. That’s how that whole thing came about, but I doubt we’re going to do it that way on the next one. I think the next one will have my band on it and the majority of the songs will probably be mine. I’m already starting to kind of get into the mindset of writing for the next album.”

The last couple of years have seen Chambers devoting considerable time and effort on another front. In 2012, Rickey Medlocke decided to reform southern rock stalwarts Blackfoot. Medlocke – a founder of Blackfoot and current guitarist for Lynyrd Skynyrd – handpicked the members of the latest version of Blackfoot (his involvement was as producer, not as a musician with the Jacksonville-based group) and Chambers was tabbed to play guitar and sing, which he did for a couple of years.

“I did my last shows with Blackfoot in June of this year. After about a year-and-a-half with Blackfoot, I started noticing that my band was kind of losing momentum and not working as much … just losing steam. So it was time to do my next album and at that same time, Blackfoot was working on material for a possible album,” he said. “The agreement that I had with my label (Blue Heat Records) was that when I did my album, I had to go out and tour and give it 120-percent, playing shows and pushing the record. So I had to make a decision. I thought it would be a great opportunity to do the album and then tour behind it, so the manager of Blackfoot and I came to a mutual agreement that I couldn’t be in two places at once. It was an easy decision. But it’s all cool with those guys; I really enjoyed playing with them and learned a lot about the way they do things. It was definitely a good experience. I played with them for two years.”

No doubt Chambers knew this before his time with Blackfoot, but it was reinforced during his 24 months with the band that there are a few differences between a big rock-n-roll extravaganza and an evening spent playing the blues.

“Blackfoot’s set-list in their shows is a lot more structured than with my band. Their shows are very arranged and everything is played the same way, night after night. It’s more of a put-together show, which is one thing I learned from those guys,” he said. “Whereas my band, a lot of times I’ll get out there and not even have a set-list. We just get up there and feel the vibe of the room or the crowd and play off of that. I don’t think I play any songs the same way each night with my band, as far as guitar solos. The arrangements are basically the same, but one night I may take one or two times around on a solo and then go back into the vocal line. The next night on the same song, I may go three or four times around on the solo and then back. It’s not as arranged.”

Before his tour of duty with Blackfoot, Chambers had the unique opportunity to play with one of the true legends of electric blues guitar – heck, any kind of guitar for that matter – Hubert Sumlin.

“Hubert was playing on the bill at Bluestock in Memphis in 1998, so Steve Einzig (Sumlin’s manager at the time and also owner of Vestige Records, the label that Chambers recorded for then) called and asked if me and my band wanted to back up him up, because Hubert didn’t have a band at that time. That was a no-brainer. That was about three months or so before the gig, so my band and I started wood-shedding the Hubert stuff … the Wolf hits and some of Hubert’s material, enough for about a 60-minute set.”

That wood-shedding paid off when Sumlin was so pleased with the job that Chambers and his group did at the Bluestock gig that he asked them to stay with him and hit the road hard.

“He said, ‘Man, I want you guys to be my group.’ So it was Hubert Sumlin with the Sean Chambers Band; that was good for both of us. Usually my band would open and then take a 30-minute break and come out and back him up for his set. We went all over the country and to Japan, England and Ireland … a lot of cool places all over the world. Steve really played a big part in getting Hubert back on the map and playing again, because he wasn’t really playing a whole lot then.”

Considering the fact that Sumlin had to put up with all the trials and tribulations of touring around the country in a station wagon with Howlin’ Wolf, it would make perfect sense if Sumlin was a bit standoffish or hard to get next to. However, Chambers says nothing could be further from the truth.

“I don’t think I’ve ever met a nicer or more humble guy than Hubert. He was just a really great guy and a great person. When I first met him, I remember I was a nervous wreck. He was staying at the Peabody (in Memphis for the Bluestock show) and I had a set-list made out and all the stuff written down – the keys of the songs – I wanted to make sure I had my act together. So I knocked on his door and he told me to come in. Hubert just had this way of instantly making you at ease,” Chambers said. “I said, ‘I’m a little nervous, but I do have a set-list. Would you like to look at it?’ He goes, “Pardner, man, I’m not worried about it at all. All I want you to do is to let your hair down and have some fun. I don’t care if you make a mistake; let’s just have a good time.’ So by the time we went on stage, I was totally relaxed and calm. He just had a way and demeanor about him that was just so cool. He wasn’t worried about what songs we were doing, or who was going to start them out, he just wanted to get on stage and have fun. He was the ultimate storyteller. Every night he’d tell us stories about him and Wolf, or him and Hendrix or Muddy Waters … he was just a special guy.”

A special guy who never once forget the reason that he was up on the bandstand.

“Hubert always said, ‘You know, we’re lucky to be doing what we’re doing. Let’s do this as long as we can. Let’s keep this thing alive. You know why? Because one day we’re not going to be able to,’’’ Chambers said. “He was really convinced that this was a gift and that he had to share it with people. He’d say, “People work all week long and they’re tired and they spend $10 or $20 to come see a show and we have to make sure we always give them a good show and have fun and try to show them a good time. You always have to give the crowd their money’s worth,even if there’s only 12 of them out there.’ He also taught me how to be humble and how to ‘keep it real’ – that’s how people say it nowadays.”

He may not have known it as a pre-teen, but a good number of the bands – some even on the heavier side of things – that he was listening to at the time all had Hubert Sumlin to thank in some way, shape or form.

“When I was 11- and 12-years-old, I used to listen to the rock music of the day, stuff like Dio and Ozzy and Led Zeppelin and Boston and all the Florida bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers,” he said. “I loved all that classic rock stuff. That’s what kind of made me want to play guitar in the first place. But when I started learning that stuff on guitar, it wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.”

Then came the fateful encounter with Hendrix and “Red House.”

“That’s how I really got introduced to the blues – through Hendrix. I listened to nothing but Hendrix for several years … I just loved Jimi. I still hadn’t heard of Muddy Waters or any of those guys at that point,” Chambers said. “After I was learning about the blues and Hendrix’ style, I really became taken by the Texas guitar players, like Albert Collins, Freddie King, Billy Gibbons, Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray and all those guys. There was something about the Texas players that I just loved. Then, I started learning about the influences of all those guys. I heard Johnny talking about Muddy or Stevie talking about Albert King, so I started checking those guys out. That’s kind of how I backed into the blues. That’s how I learned it.”

All those sparks of inspiration come through loud and clear in Chambers’ playing, as does a touch of the bombastic leanings of Zeppelin, Skynyrd and Boston, influences from his younger days.

“Well, I’m a middle-aged white guy, and I think a lot of it (guitar playing) has to do with your upbringing. I love traditional blues and guys like Robert Johnson and B.B. King and Otis Rush, but as much as I try and play and sound like that, it still comes out the way that I am. That’s one of the things that I struggled with when we would open one of Hubert’s sets. He was so traditional and was the master of what he did,” said Chambers. “I always felt like I was too much blues/rock and would try and make myself more traditional. I would talk to Hubert about that a lot and tell him I felt like I needed to play more (traditional) blues since I was playing with him. He would say, ‘Pardner, just do what you do. There’s always going to be people that like what you’re doing and they’re always going to be people that don’t like what you’re doing. You’re never going to please everybody.’ So I quit worrying about that. I just do what I do.”

 

 Featured Blues Interview – Brent Johnson 

Just as most politicians don’t like explaining their double-talk and most weathermen don’t like relating back why their forecasts go astray, most journalists don’t like having tough questions pointed in their direction.

That’s because some things are hard to explain and some questions are hard to answer, regardless of which side is doing the asking.

Early on in his tenure of playing in Bryan Lee’s band, guitarist Brent Johnson took the brunt of a Montreal journalist’s review of the first Lee album that Johnson played on. The author went on and on about how awful Johnson’s work on the disc was and about how he wasn’t playing blues guitar, but instead was playing rock-n-roll, and about how he had no business being up on stage with an artist the caliber of Bryan Lee.

Johnson picks up the story from there.

“A couple of years later, after I got to be pretty popular up there (Montreal) in my own right, he (the journalist) came and asked me if he could interview me. I said, ‘Sure, but before we start, I have a question for you.’ He said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘What’s blues?’ He said, ‘What are you talking about?’ I said, ‘Well, you told me (in his review) that I wasn’t the blues, so I’m asking you, what’s blues? Is it Son House or is it Albert King, because they sound completely different. So which one of those guys is real?’”

As soon as the dumb-founded scribe started to ponder the query, Johnson continued on.

“I said, ‘Look, man, if you’re going to try and make a career out of bad-mouthing everybody that tries to do something a little different, that’s fine. But you have to remember that if Muddy Waters had been worried about that when he went to Chicago, he never would have bought an electric guitar, and then where would we be?” Johnson said. “None of those guys (forefathers of the blues) were worried about anything other than being themselves.”

Being ‘himself’ is one thing that Johnson has rapidly excelled at. The Texas-born guitarist/vocalist/songwriter has been the talk of the blues world recently, with near-universal acclaim of his debut album, Set The World On Fire (Justin Time Records) filling up cyberspace all across the globe. Johnson was nominated for Best Artist Debut, as well as for the Sean Costello Rising Star Award, at this year’s Blues Blast Awards. All that outpouring of attention and the accolades that have been coming his way have caught Johnson a bit off guard.

“Yeah, I’m extremely surprised, actually. I didn’t actually set out to be a front guy and go and do this. Essentially, as Bryan got older, he was having to slow down and work less … we all knew that it was coming,” he said. “And I figured out pretty quick that if you’re a guitar player you pretty much have to front your own band, because there’s a billion guitar players and most people just don’t need one.”

Once he came to grips with that fact, Step A led to Step B, which was to step out into the spotlight under his own name and forge a solo career.

“I was like, ‘OK. Either I’m going to learn how to sing and make a good record or I’m going to go get a straight job somewhere,’” he laughed. “So I’ve never been the most confident person when it comes to singing or being a front man. I really didn’t know what to expect, but so far, it’s been a pleasant surprise, for sure.”

Johnson was fully aware that with all the ebbs and flows the music industry is currently undergoing – with artists from all genres seeking high ground to camp out on – that leaving an established act like Bryan Lee and the Blues Power Band after nearly 10 years was probably not going to be a garden path to the top of the charts right off the bat.

“It’s definitely tougher now (to start a solo career in the blues) than it was maybe seven or eight years ago. Doyle Bramhall Sr. and I got to be pretty good friends towards the end of his life and one of the things that he talked to me about was that back in the early ‘80s, they all thought they were done. They were losing venues and audiences were getting smaller and it was really tough to make a living and everyone thought the days of going out and being a touring blues band were done,” Johnson said. “He said what you’ll find is that it’s really cyclical and you’ll go through down times every now and again, but it always seems to pick back up. And that’s especially true of playing roots music; it never goes completely away. It might go a little out of fashion from time to time, but it never goes away.”

The way that Johnson sees it, the key to unlock the secret door of success is the same regardless of whether it’s pop, rock, jazz, country or the blues.

“The trick to playing any kind of music is honesty. If you mean it – even if it’s not somebody’s favorite genre – they’ll probably figure out how to listen to you and might even buy a record,” he said. “People respond to honesty. That’s what you have to go for, regardless of the market or the product; honesty.”

The New Orleans-based bluesman easily appreciates the value of a good song just as much as he does a red-hot guitar lick, which explains why Set The World On Fire is packed to the gills with both. Most of the material on the album is all original tunes, which is just how Johnson prefers it.

“I wrote that whole record in a very short amount of time. I went in with the intention of making it original material. I appreciate the guys that do covers and do them well, but the way I always looked at it is like this; no one really ever got successful by playing other people’s music. You have to be you,” he said. “I was kind of afraid I might get in trouble because it wasn’t a traditional blues record in many aspects. But for me, it’s always been that I have to do what I have to do and that’s to make my own music. I can’t get up there and be Muddy Waters – I don’t have that kind of talent. It just seems like a waste of time for me to get up there and do a bunch of other people’s songs. I could go in and record a bunch of Albert King stuff, but I’m never going to be as good an Albert King as Albert King was, so I may as well just be me.”

With all the natural talent that Johnson possesses on the guitar (he started playing at age four), it’s no wonder that he’s being touted as a major force on the roots music scene. But the attention doesn’t stop there. Johnson has managed to catch the ears and eyes of some of the biggest stars on the other side of the tracks, as well – on the pop and country side of the dial.

“Taylor Swift’s people asked me to come and play for her and there have been a bunch of people out of Nashville that have asked me to come and join these big country guys and I won’t do it,” he said. “This is what I love and this is what I do.”

It may not be easily detectable with a cursory listening of his music, but the name of Johnson’s band is a telltale marker for his longtime love of punk rock. The Call Up – Johnson’s group – is named for a song off the magnificent 1981 album by The Clash, Sandinista! There might be those that shudder to think that a bluesman could have influences of punk rock at his inner-core, but according to Johnson, that shouldn’t be cause for concern.

“To me, it’s the same thing. The reason that I love punk is the same reason that I love blues; they’re both not necessarily about how technically great you are. It’s about getting your point across and being able to make other people feel what you’re feeling,” he said. “Punk is what rock-n-roll was supposed to be. It’s stripped down and raw and has a lot of energy; it’s primal. And to me, that’s what blues are, too. The two have always seemed to be kind of intertwined to me and they have both scared people over the years. For example, if you look at Joe Strummer (front-man for The Clash), right before he died, his plan was to come down here to New Orleans and start a blues band with Johnny Thunders (New York Dolls, Heartbreakers). That’s why Thunders died in New Orleans; he was down here to do that.”

To further drive home the blurring line between punk and the hardcore blues, look no further than cats like Hound Dog Taylor, R.L. Burnside or even Son House, who were every bit as punk as Strummer, Thunders or Johnny Rotten were.

“Hound Dog Taylor is one of my favorite artists and still has one of my favorite epitaphs of all-time (‘He couldn’t play shit, but he sure made it sound good.’) But it’s all about communication, about how you get your point across. That’s true in punk and in the blues. But in my world, there’s two kinds of music; good music and bad music,” Johnson said.

Johnson started coming of age in Texas when the scene there was hot with artists like Doyle Bramall, Ian Moore and Charlie Sexton tearing it up from Austin to Dallas to Houston and way beyond. Then, he moved to New Orleans and his musical metamorphous entered another stage altogether.

“It’s scary as hell (playing music in New Orleans). When we moved here I was in high school and I was dumb enough to kind of think that I was pretty good, because I’d been playing for a long time,” he said. “I made it two nights in New Orleans – I wasn’t old enough to get in to hear anybody, but I’d hang out by the windows and listen – to figure out there are some scary musicians down here. There are guys that play on the streets here that could smoke any of us. There’s a reason why you look at (Mike) Zitos’ road band and see that he’s got a bunch of New Orleans’ cats with him. We have the best rhythm sections in the world here in New Orleans. The best drummers in the world come from New Orleans, because your whole life is a parade, from the first year to the last; there’s a parade every weekend with a marching band and that rhythm becomes ingrained in you. There’s something very unique and very spiritual about music that comes from New Orleans.”

A fixture on the New Orleans scene – specifically Bourbon Street – for many decades (as well as the blues scene in general) has been the great Braille Blues Daddy, Bryan Lee. Johnson spent nearly a decade playing stages all over the world with Lee.

“The most important thing I learned from Bryan was to give everything you have, every night. He couldn’t tell if the crowd was three people or 3,000 and it didn’t matter any to him, he was going to nail them to the wall.”

That ‘leave everything on the floor’ mentality on the bandstand is just a small measure of Lee’s legacy. Another thing that has set Lee apart from some of the rest of the pack is his unflinching desire to make sure the show goes on, regardless of the situation.

“We were in Montreal after I first started playing with him and he called me one night and he sounded like Droopy Dog. I asked him what was wrong and he said he couldn’t feel the left side of his face. I thought he had a stroke and I wanted to call an ambulance and call the promoter and cancel the show (Johnson was also road manager for Lee at the time), but he said not to worry about that. He just wanted me to know it would take him a little longer than usual to get ready, because he couldn’t feel his face to shave. I said, ‘You can barely talk, there’s no way you can sing.’ He insisted that we do the show and when we got there, the place was packed to the rafters and he still couldn’t talk. Every time he talked into the mic, you could tell something was wrong with him. But when he would sing, it was like nothing was the matter. He did four more shows (after that night) before I could convince him to go to the doctor. I’m not exaggerating when I say that there were at least three tours that by the time we got done with them, he was close to death. He’s just so tough and so driven that he was not going to give up or give in for anything or anybody. When you’re that guy’s sideman and you’re 22 years old, you learn that you better not take a night off, because if that man doesn’t, you have no excuse to.”

Johnson’s dedication to Lee was one reason that when the cream of the Nashville crop kept blowing up his phone with offers to tour the world, the answer was always the same – thanks, but no thanks.

“It was a hard thing to do, when I left (Lee’s band). But I promised myself that I would not leave his band until I felt like he was where he needed to be. Honestly, I turned down the Taylor Swift gig so I could keep playing with Bryan,” he said. “I just love the guy. After spending all those years with Bryan we kind of got spoiled a little bit and are having to start over at the bottom again.”

With as much notice as his guitar skills have been drawing, it’s really debatable as to whether or not Johnson is really at the bottom. But equally as important as his maneuvers up and down the fretboard are, is Johnson’s perspective on keeping his copious abilities in check and making sure focus is not lost on the composition. Tastefully-restrained while also laser-beam deadly seems a logical way to sum up Johnson’s guitar playing.

“I really have no interest in being the guitar-hero guy. That’s not what I want to do. There are nights that I get bored if I play too much,” he said. “That’s one of the other things that I learned from Bryan, as well getting to play with Buddy Guy and Hubert Sumlin and Otis Rush and Lonnie Brooks and all of them, is that it’s really easy to over-play and the only people that will be really impressed when you over-play are the guitar players in the audience. Nobody else cares. They just care whether or not it sounds good, not how complicated the lick is. If it’s not musical, it doesn’t matter. I would rather be known as an artist rather than as a guitar player.”

There’s no doubt that Johnson’s solo career – while really just leaving the launching pad – is headed for lofty heights. But where it ends up is anybody’s guess at this point in time and he seems more than fine with that.

“As long as I can play and make a living, I’ll be happy. You don’t get into this genre to get famous or to make a bunch of money. I’m blessed with a good record company; they give me carte blanche and I can do whatever I want,” he said. “So I don’t have to worry about that. I’ve got the ability to get my music out there as long as my label is there. I just want to play and this is the only kind of music I’ve ever played and the only kind that I want to play.”

Editor’s Note: Brent was nominated for Best New Artist Debut Album in the 2014 Blues Blast Awards. To see a video of Brent Johnson, CLICK HERE

Visit Brent’s website at www.reverbnation.com/brentjohnsonband

Photos by Gary Eckhart © 2014

Blues Blast Magazine Senior Writer Terry Mullins is a journalist, author and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He’s also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.

 

Victor Wainwright

It’s 2:30 in the morning in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, and the ship’s a-rockin’. Victor Wainwright is playing to a packed house in the piano bar of Holland America’s Nieuw Amsterdam during the recent Legendary Rhythm And Blues Cruise.

The room seats 50 or 60 folks comfortably, but you couldn’t squeeze another listener into the cramped quarters if you tried. They’re jammed standing-room only against one another and grooving to the music as he fires off one song after another on the 88s. They’re listening to one of the most soulful voices in the business. That’s the way it’s been lately for one of the busiest and most popular artists emerging on the scene today.

At 33 years old, he’s the Blues Music Association’s reigning Pinetop Perkins Piano Player Of The Year and has been nominated for the award again this year, the third time in a row he’s been tabbed for the honor. A former Blues Blast Award Sean Costello Rising Star Award nominee, he performs about 300 gigs a year, divided among solo performances, work with his own group, WildRoots, and with bandmates in the new supergroup, Southern Hospitality, who were with him on the cruise. It’s hard to believe he’s got any sleep at all, juggling the piano bar with SoHo sets and accepting invitations to jam practically around the clock.

A pleasant, down-to-earth crowd pleaser, he’s large, but not tall man who simply radiates the enjoyment he gets from the audience with an ear-to-ear smile. His facial expressions range from pious altar boy to wild-eyed, mischievous devil, and he sometimes amazes listeners by getting up from his stool and balancing his heavy Roland keyboard on his ample midsection during the middle of a tune.

Not bad for a young man who, only a few years ago, was sitting in the control tower, probably bored out of his mind working as an air traffic controller at Memphis International Airport in Tennessee, where he now resides.

It didn’t take Victor long to realize that the keyboards – and the road – were his true calling.

A native of Savannah, he’s the son and grandson of folks who, in his terms, “get paid to play the piano.” Both men have worked professionally out of their North Georgia homes, gigging occasionally in neighboring states. By age eight, Victor was accompanying them, often serving as a roadie, helping load and unload keyboards and amplifiers, and occasionally getting a chance to sit in.

Victor honored them recently with the release of his latest CD, “Family Roots.” A double album, it features granddad Jesse and dad Victor Sr. playing and singing with WildRoots on one disc and Victor and the band on the other, is only available for purchase at his live performances.

“I was learning from them at home,” said Victor in the adjoining casino before his piano bar performance. “They’d bring me up on stage some. My grandfather Jesse was The Man — he taught me how to play. And my father, he encouraged me and taught me how to sing.

“It was the perfect balance of blues on Saturday night to church on Sunday. Sin to salvation. That’s the whole history of it all – just like here,” he chuckles. “Here we are playing slot machines, and in just a minute, I’m going to sing some gospel music!”

While Wainwright’s material bridges Memphis and New Orleans, his style of play is all his own. “It’s a mix between what my grandfather plays and what I picked up from the Rev. Billy C. Wirtz through Sunnyland Slim, Pinetop Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis, too. It’s barrelhouse meets New Orleans meets boogie woogie meets genuine rock ’n’ roll meets honky tonk,” he says.

During his high school years, Victor played with Eric Culberson at the Savannah Blues Bar, the guitarist’s joint that’s been a fixture in the city’s historical district. Culberson also included Wainwright’s early band, Girls Gone Wild, in his performance lineup. But a move to Florida truly accelerated Wainwright’s musical ambitions.

He attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, one of the best places in the world to get a degree if you’re planning a career in the aviation or aerospace industries. It was there that he hooked up with folks at KingSnake Records. Owned and operated by the late Bob Greenlee and based in nearby Sanford, it was a small label with an impressive roster of musicians, including Ace Moreland, Noble “Thin Man” Watts, Ernie Lancaster, Bill “The Sauce Boss” Wharton, Dr. Hector And The Groove Injectors, James Peterson, Jumping Johnny Sansone, Joe Beard, Chicago Bob Nelson, Alex Taylor and others.

He earned a bachelor’s degree, but his post-graduate studies in the blues came a short while later when he met the multi-talented Wirtz. A student of Chicago blues keyboard master Sunnyland Slim, Wirtz has earned acclaim both as musician and a comedian. His raucous stage show welcomes parishioners to the First Church Of Polyester Worship And Throbbing Horizontal Teenage Desire as he pokes fun at hot topics in a humorous way. In addition to being a gifted showman, he’s one of America’s foremost experts on gospel music, a journalist whose columns have appeared regularly in Blues Revue Magazine among others, and he’s also had a career in professional wrestling as manager of the legendary Nasty Boys.

“Victor was playing locally, but I took him to his first national gigs,” Wirtz says. “He had just graduated, and they hadn’t decided where they were going to send him, which was Memphis. Pretty fortuitous!

“At the time, my own career was in second gear and Victor provided a spark. For a while, it was pretty cool. We worked together for about a year and a half and did one little album called ‘Pianist Envy.’ There are about a thousand copies floating around.

“I saw the potential there with Victor. For the first time in a long time, I saw someone who was younger, that seemed to have some clue of this music business. It was good. I was ready to do some sort of the passing of the torch of some kind,” says Wirtz, who, in his 50s, is still young in blues terms. “I passed along some of the stuff I know about working crowds and the road in general.

“Playing the music is the easy part,” he says. “Getting up on stage and banging on your piano…that’s easy. Driving, dealing with fans, getting to gigs on time, that’s the hard part. But he’s catching up with the realities of this business because they’ll burn you right out.

“I had Sunnyland Slim, and he had me. Hopefully, he’ll do the same for someone down the road. I’m really interested in seeing what direction he goes in.”

It might surprise some folks to learn that Victor doesn’t read music. “If Barrelhouse Chuck or David Maxwell walked in and asked me to play Chicago style or something else, I’d tell them that’s not my game,” he says. “I’ve never learned to play anything by the notes. As much as I have respect for people who can listen to a Pinetop record and playing every lick like Pinetop, I’ve always found it more appealing to me to learn to do something that people could identify as Victor Wainwright.

“I feel like it’s served me well so far. And Billy taught me that the most important thing is for people to be having fun. It’s actually nothing about hitting the right notes. If you’re welcoming and have the right intent behind the notes that you’re playing – the emotion, the right musical intent going on between you, the folks you’re playing with and the crowd – that’s where the magic happens.”

It didn’t take long for the road to beckon for good once Wainwright settled in Memphis, his college degree in hand, and started his day job with the FAA.

“My daddy calls me a $100,000 keyboard player,” he says wistfully, referring to the salary he could have earned for guiding planes to the ground.

The premise for WildRoots actually began in 2004, when Victor entered into collaboration with Stephen Dees, the Novo Combo bassist who’s toured and recorded with Hall and Oates, Foghat, Pat Travers, Todd Rundgren and others. They met at a benefit concert in Ormond Beach, Fla., and formed a partnership that eventually resulted in Wainwright’s first solo album, “Piana From Savannah,” and the creation of Wainwright’s label, WildRoots Records. In addition to Victor’s own work, the lineup now includes rising talent Robert “Top” Thomas.

The band Victor Wainwright And The WildRoots emerged five years later with the highly successful “From Beale Street To The Bayou.” It was honored by BluesWax magazine as one of the top ten albums of 2009.

With a lineup that now includes guitarist Nick Black, bassist Will Hanlon and drummer Billy Dean, they’re touring constantly when Victor’s not booked for the occasional solo act or working with Southern Hospitality.

You’d have to be living under a rock this lately to have missed the meteoric rise of that supergroup, which teams Victor with two other equally talented musicians: Damon Fowler, the popular lap steel, slide and dobro playing songwriter from North Florida, and J.P. Soars, the searing guitarist who fronts the Red Hots, the South Florida band that won top prize in the International Blues Challenge competition a few years ago.

The group started by accident. Wainwright and Fowler were both in the crowd in Delray Beach, Fla., on a night when Soars was gigging at Boston’s On The Beach, an oceanfront eatery that’s been promoting blues acts for better than 30 years. Often, during the late set, it’s common for the headliner, usually a national act, to open the stage for a jam with other visiting pros, and J.P. invited both men to join him on stage.

“We played for a while, and it was magical,” Victor recalls. “The next thing you know, somebody suggested we form a group. We were kinda laughing about that at the end of the night. I said all right, but it was just talk. After all, we were already really, really busy with our own bands.”

But then the phone rang.

A representative of the Heritage Music Blues Festival in Wheeling, W.Va., was on the line to Fowler’s booking agency, Piedmont, desperately searching for a last-minute replacement for first-generation blues superstar Honeyboy Edwards, who was well into his 90s and in failing health.

“When Damon found out, he suggested we do it, so we did,” Wainwright says.

The night before the gig, all three of the guys were scattered around the country, performing with their own bands. They flew to Wheeling at five in the morning without sleep and took the stage without a single rehearsal. “We just showed up and played our own stuff,” he says.

They were an instant hit, fitting together like hand and glove, with Victor getting up from the keyboards and gleefully cheering on the guitarists during their solos as he prompted the audience to show their appreciation.

Their attention-getting and award-nominated first album together, “Easy Livin’,” came about in much the same way. “We came in and recorded it completely live, and that was it,” Wainwright says. “What you hear is what you get.

“With us, it’s like being on a porch on a summer day in the South with a glass of ice tea. We don’t take anything too seriously. With Damon, J.P. and I, the crowd is always invited to a party. With my own band, it’s more grandiose.”

Juggling two bands and solo work is grueling, so much so, in fact, that Victor decided last fall to take a good look at himself and alter his lifestyle to assure fans and himself that he’d be around to enjoy for the long term. He took the entire month of September off, entering a clinic to address his addiction to nicotine and other related problems.

As he stated in an open message to fans, he’s now smoke-free, eating healthy and making sure he gets a good night’s sleep, something he didn’t do in the past. One of the benefits, he says, is that he’s already dropped about 25 pounds from his ample frame.

“This fresh start of body and mind has brought a new beginning for me,” he says, “and I really appreciate all the love and support I’ve received.

“I want to do this as long as possible. And when you’re on the road 300 days a year, life in general can get intense. I’ve learned to cope with that.

“Unfortunately, we’re in a career where people almost expect you to be messed up. They want you slightly bigger than life, but still approachable. They want to party, and they want you to party. So what we have to do is just make sure we take care of ourselves.

“And that’s exactly what I’m going to do.”

For great videos of Victor live in concert, visit http://victorwainwright.com/media/

Photos by Bob Kieser © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine

 Featured Blues Interview – Damon Fowler  

Every day we hear the old-time hard-core Blues enthusiasts lamenting the decline in interest in the music or the lack of quality players to keep the genre alive. Nothing could be further from the truth. Down in Florida there is a group of guys who are really shaking things up all over the country and making people listen.

The torch was lit way back in the last century by the legendary Allman brothers and today, the young guns like Damon Fowler, JP Soars, Albert Castiglia, Derek Trucks and a host of world-class supporting musicians are making South Florida a hot bed for Blues seven nights a week.

“That’s because Blues in Florida is real big right now,” Florida native Damon Fowler says. “We have active Blues societies, a slew of working musicians, good weather and venues that support us. We can play every night of the week if we want to.”

Damon hails from a musical family whose members spent their time during family gatherings sitting around pickin’ and grinnin’.

“When I was a kid my mom and I lived with my grandparents who owned a septic tank company,” Damon explains. “My uncles all used to work for them and after work they’d gather and get out their guitars and play. One day I was with my grandma at the music store where she’d gone to buy one of my uncles a guitar. I was about 10 and told her I really wanted a guitar of my own. She bought me my first guitar. It was a cheap little acoustic. My uncle showed me some things he knew and I was set.

“Growing up, I’m 35 now, it was Guns ‘N’ Roses,” Damon says. “Then I got to sit in with some of the local bands early on. The first Blues song that I really liked is James Taylor’s “Steamroller Blues.” I love the simplicity of the first 12 bars. It’s a great song. From there it was on to BB, King, John Lee Hooker. I just kind of grew with it. If you’re going to play any kind of music, all American music has elements of the Blues in it. Country, rock and roll, gospel, all have roots in the Blues.”

After playing in and around his home area near Tampa during his high school years, Damon’s fortunes changed for the better when he met legendary Blues rock guitarist Rick Derringer, author of the rock staple, “Rock and Roll Hoochie Koo.”

“I first met him (Derringer) when I was 15 or 16 at a gig,” Damon recalls. “He lives not too far away from my hometown. Later we opened for him and then when he was done (with his set) he called me back out to do an encore with him. It turned out to be a jam. I was thrilled to be asked to sit in with him. Next thing you know, he offered to produce my first record. It was totally unplanned. After working with Rick I had some credibility and exposure.”

Having established himself firmly with his peers on a national level, Damon has joined many luminaries in the Blues and rock and roll genre to show them what he can do. Guys like Jeff Beck, Buddy Guy, Johnny and Edgar Winter, Robin Trower, Gregg Allman, Jimmy Vaughn, Junior Brown, Rick Derringer, Little Feat, The Radiators, Chris Duarte, Delbert McClinton, and numerous others have asked Damon to add to projects and appear with them on stage. To add more ammunition to his fiery arsenal, Damon has become proficient playing slide guitar as well as lap steel and Dobro. His guitar work is reminiscent of a young Johnny Winter. You can also hear the late Duane Allman in his slide playing.

“C’mon man, I live in Florida,” Damon says. “Duane Allman is everywhere. Duane was a great player but so is (former ABB guitarist) Dickie Betts. Ninety percent of the sounds of the Allman Brothers came from Betts. He’s still a great player today.”

After releasing his 1999 Derringer-produced record “Riverview Drive,” Damon started garnering attention and enjoyed loads of regional success and accolades. Electric Blues called the new CD “an all-around solid effort,” with “plenty of strong guitar jams.” Life was good for the young guitar hot shot and getting better. As fate would have it, a single life-changing incident cast Damon’s life in a whole new perspective.

In December 2005, Damon, his uncle/manager Bobby Fowler and Damon’s drummer were headed to play a private party. Bassist Chuck Riley was to meet the guys at the gig.

A car started to get off the highway at an exit and then at the last minute swerved back onto the road in front of Damon’s van. Two cars in front of the van slammed on their brakes and Damon still had the van under control until a pickup slammed into them from behind. The van flipped onto its driver’s side causing Damon’s head and left shoulder to skid along the pavement until the vehicle stopped. He ended up losing part of a deltoid on his left arm and needed skin grafts on his arm and head.

“It was in the afternoon, and we were all totally sober,” Damon says. “I had my seat belt on and we were headed to play a private party. I flipped the van and got tore up pretty good. I’m much better now, but it was pretty shitty for a while. I lost my girlfriend. I had to move back home with my parents. There’s definitely a Blues song in there somewhere.”

The time spent recuperating at his parents’ gave Damon time to reflect on what the future might hold. How in the world would he ever be able to play at the level he was before the accident?

“When I had the wreck I was 25 and I didn’t appreciate some of the smaller things I had been blessed with,” he says. “I wasn’t necessarily taking things for granted. I was just unaware. It was time to miss what I did (for a living). It was a time to regroup. I started singing more. Playing more slide. Just trying to get better and getting back to work.”

It took about a year but Damon’s persistence and dedication to his craft left him a better player and vocalist than he was before the accident. He feels his playing and singing improved during his hiatus.

As his fortunes have improved with his own power trio, Damon has been involved for the past couple of years with a highly acclaimed super group calling itself Southern Hospitality. Alongside Damon are former IBC winner JP Soars on guitar and Blues Music Award winner Victor Wainwright on keys. The SH rhythm section consists of bassist Chuck Riley and drummer Chris Peet and together their debut album “Easy Livin” has garnered tremendous acclaim from all corners of the Blues community. The disc was produced by none other than Tab Benoit, a man who knows a few things about the south and its musical heritage. The results are a concoction of all manner of Southern music including roots rock, Delta blues, and Wainwright-driven boogie-woogie. You have to hear it to appreciate it.

“I love playing with those guys,” Damon says. “I’m the only one who is without a medal. I’m medal less. JP has a sound of his own. He traveled with some extreme death metal bands before he started playing Blues. Those guys are into shredding. He was young and that was his thing. I think he heard the Blues and it grew on him, just like it does everyone else. Victor is phenomenal. He can sing and is just a great (piano) player.”

Damon has received recognition of his own, maybe more on a regional level, but nonetheless it shoots down his “medal less” statement. In last year’s “Best of Tampa” poll, Creative Loafing magazine named him “Best Guitarist, Best Slide Guitarist, Best Lap Steel Player, and Best Dobro Player.”

“If you’re going to hang around Tab you need a much bigger battery,” Damon says (with a laugh). “You can’t out drink him. He tells the best stories. He’s the last man standing after everyone else has faded at the end of the day. He was a lot of fun to work with.

“I was lucky enough to be invited to play with Tab’s project, Voice of the Wetland All Stars alongside Big Chief Monk Boudreaux of the Golden Eagles, who is a Louisiana legend,” Damon said. “It was a thrill. I just got back from Jamaica where I went with my manager Rueben Williams and Big Chief. It’s definitely a third-world country. The steering wheel is on the wrong side and they drive on the wrong side. It’s crazy. We went to Kingston which is extremely poor. There were only three white dudes including me but the people were super friendly and we were well received.”

“Sounds of Home” is Damon’s third solo offering on Blind Pig records. The disc features Big Chief Boudreaux and is also produced by Tab. It’s a mixture of the various roots music influences in the young guitarist’s life. There literally is something for everyone on the disc.

“I like gospel music,” he says. “It comes from the Blues. My grandparents listened to a lot of gospel and bluegrass. I’m a huge fan of Mississippi John Hurt and that’s where some of my gospel comes from. The rest is just stuff I like. We recorded it at Tab’s studio in Houma (LA). I’m real proud of it.”

Damon has mixed feelings on the state of the Blues today.

“I think the future of the Blues is up in the air,” he says. “Record companies need to figure out a way to market it to younger people. Some of the younger players like The Black Keys and Jack White are playing the Blues for younger audiences and we need to continue to encourage that. I feel real good about the future of the music. We just need to continue to support it.

“I really like playing the festivals,” Damon said. “There are more people and we are able to reach a broader audience. Some of the clubs have lost their character and the audiences tend to be stuck up. They want to drink martinis instead of beer. The general idea is making a real connection with the people you play to. People seem to really enjoy the festivals and we enjoy being a part of them. The bottom line for me is I love playing shows, playing gigs in small clubs, making records. I love it all.”

Visit Damon’s website at: www.damonfowler.com

Photos by Marilyn Stringer © 2014 Blues Blast Magazine

Interviewer Jim Crawford is a transplanted Texan and the current president of the Phoenix Blues Society. He’s a fan of lots of different types of music but keeps his head mostly planted in the Blues today. He received his first 45 rpm record, Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man,” at about age 8 and it stuck. He hosted the “Blues Cruise” on KACV-FM 90 in Amarillo for many years and can be found on many nights catching a good show at the Rhythm Room, Phoenix’s Blues Mecca.

 

 

Ask Bluesman Albert Castiglia (ka-steel-ya) what it takes to become a good Blues player, he’ll likely say you have to go to the college of the Blues, Chicago!

The young, by Blues standards, guitar slinger spent several years in the Windy City honing his craft before returning to his South Florida stomping grounds where today he is an in-demand player who enjoys a large fan base.

“Playing in Chicago is just like going to college,” Albert says. “It’s the equivalent of going to Harvard to study law. For me it was the greatest educational experience I could have. I went and played and saw what the Blues is really all about and was exposed to many different styles.”

But first we need to go back to the beginning and see the where, when, why, and how young Albert got started on his life’s journey.

Albert was born in New York in 1969 (on the same weekend as the historical Woodstock Music Festival) to a Cuban mother and an Italian father. When he was five his parents packed up and moved to Miami where the Castiglia clan still resides. He began taking guitar lessons when he was 12 and decided as a teenager that the Blues were the best way to express what he had to say.

Needless to say, it hasn’t all been champagne and roses.

“I’m 43 and I’ve had my share of kicks in the ass,” he says with a laugh.

In order to keep peace in the family, Albert completed his college education and earned a bachelor’s degree in social work before taking a job in the welfare department for the State of Florida.

“I worked for the state for four years,” Albert recalls. “I started as a case worker and at first I was very idealistic. I thought I could save the world. I found out real quickly that it is a thankless job. It’s very easy to burn out. Social work of any kind is a thankless job. I was involved with food stamps and it was bad enough. Think of the people who had to work in the child welfare department. It was total a bureaucracy. I really thought I was helping people only to find out I wsn’t doing anybody any good.”

Throughout it all, Albert kept plugging away at his music, performing at nights and on weekends in the clubs in and around the Miami area. In 1990 Albert made his professional debut as a member of the Miami Blues Authority. New Times Magazine named him ‘Best Blues Guitarist' in Miami in 1997. He was picking up steam.

Then, overnight, things changed and the path was cleared.

Gloria Pierce, a music promoter and friend landed Albert an audition with the legendary Chicago harmonica master, Junior Wells, who was so impressed with Albert’s playing and vocal style, that he was asked to work in the band as a fill-in lead guitarist for a three-city mini-tour in clubs in Cleveland, Buffalo and Detroit. The gigs went so well that he was asked to become a permanent member of the Junior Wells Band. Under Junior’s tutelage, Albert performed in all the major Chicago Blues clubs as well as clubs and Blues festivals all over the US, Canada and Europe including France, Switzerland and Italy. Audiences were thrilled with his playing everywhere they went. Unfortunately, Junior became ill and passed away in 1998.

“It all happened so fast,” Albert says of his time with Wells. “I’m in my office one minute and the next I’m with Junior Wells in the South of France. It took me a long time to get there and then it all happened over night. It was a real mind blower. One minute I’m pedaling food stamps and then I’m playing guitar with one of the most famous Bluesmen in the world.

“Junior Wells was a great guy,” Albert relates. “He was just as ornery as everybody said. It was like having my dad around all the time. I never, ever took it personally when he had to put his foot in my ass. It was all part of my education. A bad day with Junior Wells was still better than a good day at the office.

“One time Junior told me that I played pretty good but I dressed pretty bad,” he says with a laugh. “Junior was always impeccably dressed when he was on stage, or just about anywhere you saw him, for that matter. He took me to a men’s shop and bought me two suits with no lapels. I’d never worn anything like that in my life. He had a really good heart. He was known for his crazy streak when he was younger but he’d slowed down quite a bit toward the end. I still miss him very much.”

When Junior passed Albert was living in Chicago and stayed with Junior’s band for a while as the lead singer and guitar player. The band had changed its name to the Hoodoo Man’s Band and later started touring with Atlanta- based Sandra Hall, nationally known as the "Empress of the Blues." Albert opened the shows for Sandra and the touring continued for the next several years.

“Chicago was an amazing experience,” Albert says. “The stories I heard. The people I met and played with. It was all part of the education. I’m proud of the fact that I stuck with it as long as I did. Some people dream about reaching something they never get without being willing to pay their dues and put in the work. I made up my mind to not change paths for anything. I always had hope. I was never going to give up playing. I’ll always play guitar but it was a killer with a day job. I got to find out what was out there. I got to meet all kinds of famous people and I stole their licks. The whole (Chicago) experience really humbled me. I can’t begin to tell you how much I learned from Junior.”

The Chicago stint gave Albert a new found maturity he says he didn’t have before.

“Before, I just kind of wrote stuff without really living it,” he says. “I found out you have to write about things that are going on in the world or people are not going to believe you. Junior used to say ‘You can’t live it if you don’t give it.’ Now I know what that means.

“I write about things that affect my life,” he says. “I write about the experiences of others, too. That’s how I’ve improved. I come from a long line of cynics in my family. It’s in my genes. I used to watch the news and my songs would be so angry. Even my love songs were angry. Now I think using a little humor in the lyrics is very important. Humor is cathartic for me.”

Albert says after four years paying his dues he made the gut-wrenching decision to return to Florida and try his hand at making a name for himself on his own merits.

“It was great playing with all of the people I met,” he says. “But there are a lot of good players in Chicago and it was hard to pay the bills. I felt really bad because I couldn’t make it up there. I felt like I’d failed. There were times I wasn’t able to make the rent and had to ask my parents for a couple of hundred to cover it that month. They always came through and I appreciate them very much. They weren’t exactly supportive of my career choice but they never abandoned me. They thought it was just a phase that I would grow out of. Turns out, moving back to Florida was the best move I ever made.

“My folks are very traditional and old-school in their values and believe you need a steady job with a regular check on Friday to be successful,” Albert says. “The’ve always believed in me but there were times when their faith was tested. Since I’ve been back in Florida and have established a nice fan base they’ve been to my shows. It took them a while but now my mom has become a Blues fan.

“My mom wanted me to introduce her to two people. One is Marcia Ball, who I really don’t know and don’t have contact with,” Albert says. “The other is Watermelon Slim, who I do know and introduced her to and they chatted for about 10 minutes. He was very nice to her and she was thrilled.”

By 2002, Albert thought the time was right to go it alone and released his debut album, “Burn” followed by the 2006 offering “A Stone’s Throw” on the Blues Leaf Records label. Both albums met with critical acclaim and most recently Albert released his latest disc, “Living The Dream.”

“We’re going back into the studio at the end of August to finish our new album,” Albert says. “It’s about half done and I’ve got a lot of cramming to do before then. I’m excited about the new stuff.”

Aside from Sandra Hall and Junior Wells, Albert has shared the stage and jammed with Chicago luminaries Aron Burton, the late Pinetop Perkins, Melvin Taylor, Sugar Blue, the late Phil Guy, Ronnie Earl, Billy Boy Arnold, Ronnie Baker Brooks, John Primer, Lurrie Bell, Jerry Portnoy, Larry McCray, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater and Otis Clay. So his time in Chicago did provide him with valued connections and plenty of classroom time.

“I feel incredibly blessed,” Albert says about his time in Chicago. “My playing has improved. I still feel like my guitar is my strongest instrument. My voice is OK, but I ain’t no Odis Redding. It serves its purpose. I don’t sing out of key. That says a lot. (Laughs)”

Along the way, Albert can name the usual suspects as his influences. He cites Eric Clapton for having the most profound effect on his music.

“Eric Clapton led me to Mike Bloomfield and to Stevie Ray (Vaughan),” he says. “Without Clapton I would have never discovered people like Muddy, Bobby Bland, Junior (Wells) or Otis Rush. These guys all made a definite impact on my playing.

“I love Freddie King’s voice and guitar work,” Albert says. “I tried, but it’s real hard to emulate him. Buddy Guy is my favorite guitar player today. He knows when to bring it and he knows when to lay back. There’s also a trend for Blues purists to want to dump on the English Blues guys for not being original but you can’t discount their influences either. Everybody contributes to the cause.

“The music is not going to go anywhere,” Albert declares. “Who’s going to fill the legends’ shoes? There’s a bunch of us who are going to, that’s who. There’s a bunch of us working and working steady. I loved working with Junior. If you can handle touring with a hard core guy like that, you can handle anything.”

Amen.

 

Albert Castiglias website - http://albertcastiglia.net/

Blues Blast Magazine website - http://www.thebluesblast.com/

 

 

 

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