01 September 2015

An Interview With TED DROZDOWSKI of Ted Drozdowski's Scissormen

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You should know that this is all pretty much Ted Drozdowski's fault. He was the inspiration for this whole writing about weird blues-based bands thing that I do.

See, what happened was see...I first read a review about Junior Kimbrough in '93-'94 via some other writer (Mike Nickles I think was his name...via Tower Magazine) but after that the only guy that it seemed was doing any writing about R.L. Burnside and T-Model Ford, Junior Kimbrough and the rest of them from the hillcountry/Fat Possum Records scene was this guy Ted Drozdowski in The Boston Phoenix weekly. He was always smart and spot on in his reviews of this new, yet ancient form of blues, this north Mississippi trance blues boogie thing that was slowly seeping out of the regions hill country. It seemed like this Ted knew the people that he was writing about.

It turns out that he did know them. And he knew Jesse Mae Hemphill, too, among others. Now, not to humble-brag, but I was blessed to see Junior Kimbrough one night in Seattle, and even got his autograph. My guitar playing friend Jim Friesz went with me and, he'd never heard any Kimbrough music, he said later that it changed his life in the way that he looked at guitar. Years later I went to his juke around Holly Springs, Mississippi...and I got to visit briefly on occasion with R.L. and T-Model over the years, but this guy has stories to tell, he had hang time with the heroes. And continues to do so via his writing gigs. Auerbach, Gibbons, Joe Perry, Honeyboy Edwards, Kid Congo Powers, and on and on...

Me want to write real good one day and Ted's work inspired me to try and do just that. So. Here I am over a couple thousand posts later, still tapping away. So thanks for that, Ted!

Who the hell is this Ted Drozdowski?

Ted is an award-winning
music journalist and a guitarist of prodigious talent, who plays with real depth, raw honesty, and originality. Drozdowski's guitar solos are often meditative and just as often savagely raw...sometimes at the same time.
He's an honest blues lyricist in that he writes and sings what he knows rather than throwing out my mama left me cliches. He's also a fellow who has one of those singing voices like Dylan, Neil, Hank, Morrissey et al that might take a listen or two to get into, but the payback is unique and often outstanding.

But it's live...live is where Drozdowski shines, because Ted is also a showman in the classic old headcuttin' (literally, in Ted's case) sense. He's bringing back that good old blues-psych-rock action and entertainment for the whole family. He shuffles and he slips, he's got a dip in his hip, he's got hard pointy stylish shoes (one pair became the name of a film made with the director of the documentary Deep Blues Robert Mugge called Big Shoes.)

I don't know if he's got an Ass Pocket of Whiskey, but Dude knows how to put on a show. He likes to get folks to hold his guitar while he rips a solo using anything handy for a slide, from whiskey bottle to a candle, to...well...anything, as you would see should see HERE: Blurt slide guitar challenge. He likes to roll in the soul, and get hip to this tiny tip: to make that human connection with the audience, letting them sit with him, and dangle a leg over the fourth wall, so to speak, to bring us in on it.  Drozdowski's an inclusionist and wants everybody to dig the blues. That's what it's about. And it ain't braggin' if you can do it, as the man said, and Drozdowski and his band do it.

I saw Ted play in St. Paul for one of the Deep Blues Festival shows a few years back. He was wailing hell on a solo, sliding around that guitar while walking the length of the bar, but unfortunately he misjudged and managed to get ka-bonked in the forehead by the blade of an industrial ceiling fan that he'd somehow misjudged the height of. But he kept rocking, and he walked on down the hall and out the front door, still plugged in, to play solo on the sidewalk with blood streaming down his face. At last, some guys guided him to the bathroom and cleaned him up while he and his drummer kept playing. After the show, he went to the hospital. That is all.

Ted Drozdowski has played with the masters of north Mississippi. He's kind of a modern-day Brian Jones (without the issues) in that regard in that rather than go to Morocco to connect to the source, Ted went to Mississippi. He's a blues guitar adventurer with a craving for the deeper level, that deep blues thing, that blues/soul/gospel moment of beauty. He digs the cosmic blues, but he digs it with all the grit and the heaviness of the first '60s electric blues albums...with a literate stoniness/grooviness...a soulful sense of space and pocket. There at times this dub vibe to his blues, it's that psych thing. It gets trippy. He knows the right solo, the proper groove, how to hit that punctum and hold it. Catch and release, call and response, that thing that moves us to cry from sadness or dance from happiness...to feel like somebody else is feeling it, dammit! He's listening for something that'll take us out of this place. And he tends to find it.

Drozdowski knows his Televisions from his Zappas, his Kings- Albert, B.B. and otherwise, and of course he reveres the Queens- Jessie, Minnie, Sister Rosetta, Big Mama, etc etc.  By the way, he's got a cool ebook out now called Obsessions of a Music Geek, Volume I: Blues Guitar Giants . This book will kick off a series of ebooks on Ted's favorite guitarists. Ted the writer and Ted the guitarist are both great talents, but I'm pretty sure he writes so he can play guitar.

Love & Life is an amazing sounding recording. It breathes space and fire, rolls with sheets of sound and/or howling wolves across the downtown Mississipi hills like he's "backed by the river, and fronted by the grave." to paraphrase Mississippi juke owner Red Paden.

The Scissormen have a psyched-out and heavy, yet nimble sound, that rocks hard (but isn't hard rock) while still remaining blues, still highly-melodious while kicking hard. To see them play together is like watching a game of musical tag. Guitar and bass grooving off each other, pushing each other, pulling each other, as the drummer keeps one hand on the brake and one foot on the gas. They are each a great counterweight to the other.

Ted Dreozdowski's Scissormen drag the blues' stinkin' carcass to the stage and transform it, hot rod it into a sharp dressed sixty-dollar man...a back-door man...dipping its big ol' feet into seventies fuzzed-out psych-rock platinum shoes, and taking a walk through early electric blues grooves, rolling a tussle in the membrane with some early ZZ Top mud vs some early Capt Beefheart soul, some Stooges sonics, and Junior Kimbrough trance.  Mr. Drozdowski throws an audio free-love party/knife fight with Bobby Dylan, Muddy, Lightnin', Fred and R.L. with Ron Ashton in tow. Like an evolving, prodding, throbbing, teetering, shining alien beast, like paper and fire, like lightning and smoke, Drozdowski and friends mix up and kick up the history of Chicago blues and on down along the river past Cairo to New Orleans, or London, or Boston, to the sea and out to deep space. In other words, you ain't never heard nothing like this in a long time.


RS:: Rick Saunders - Ted Drozdowski!
You grew up in Boston? How'd you learn to play guitar? Was your family musical? What'd your folks do? Did they support your young rock desires?

TD:: Ted Drozdowski - Alright, let's get some basics out of the way.
I grew up in the industrial armpit of Connecticut, a town called Meriden, but my folks and family are from the anthracite region of eastern Pennsylvania, an hour south of Scranton, and are basically coal miners and hillbillies, with chickens and cars on blocks in the yard. My mom and dad are first generation American and grew up during the Depression, which took a real toll on my dad. My mom was the artistic one, who got me interested in country music and reading early on.

Their only real attempt to support my interest in music was getting me an S&H Green Stamp guitar that was unplayable — with the nylon strings two inches off the fretboard. I thought it was me until I was in my mid-teens and borrowed a Yamaha acoustic from a friend and suddenly could make those “chord” things I’d read so much about. Dad moved mom to Connecticut just before I was born for a job making engine parts at Pratt & Whitney Aircraft. He had that job until he died. Mom still has a garden, reads and crafts, and listens to country music. She’s a wonderful person. I’m generally a self-taught guitarist, but I did take some basic lessons when I first got going from John Curtis of the Pousette-Dart Band, which had the ’70s hit “Amnesia.” That was basic chords and standard tuning, but then I started going deep on my own.

RS:: Were you ever a record store dude? You've got the taste for it. Tell me about influences. Did you always dig the blues or did it take you awhile?

TD:: I never worked in a record store but I was a frequent flyer. I bought my first album with my first allowance money when I was about 10. I saved 50-cents a week for six weeks and then bought The Sounds of Johnny Cash at Star’s department store. Awesome album, and I still have it. For about $2.97 including tax. But as soon as I turned 16 I got a job at McDonald’s and saved enough money to buy a car a.s.a.p.

After that my friends and I hit at least three record stores every weekend, buying up all the used punk rock, prog rock and roots music albums I could find. Watching shows like The Midnight Special and In Concert and being an avid radio listener — to major FM rock, country and college stations — and reading NME and Musician magazine, gave me eclectic tastes.

So blues — ever since seeing Ike & Tina and Ray Charles on TV, was a vein of interest for me that paralleled many others. And the first blues album that kicked my ass was a Chess compilation I found used for $2 called Wizards of the South Side, where Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters spun my head around, Exorcist style. So those were the first hardcore blues artists I loved. They didn’t sound like anybody else, which I’ve come to believe, is the essential foundation of being a real artist.

RS:: Who was the first blues artist to kinda flip your lid and make you think you wanted to play this stuff?

TD:: As far as playing the music goes, I’d have to say it was Clapton, as un-hip as that might sound today. I got a two LP Polydor compilation of tracks from his early solo albums and “Bell Bottom Blues,” with those exquisite pinch harmonics, and “Let It Rain” really touched me — but not any more than Richie Blackmore on Deep Purple’s Machine Head. That was also a really inspiring album, “Smoke On the Water” and all…

From Clapton solo I backtracked to Cream and read about Robert Johnson, and then the hunt for all kinds of regional blues — Chicago, Mississippi, Texas and West Coast — was on. I started playing in a punk rock band a couple years after I got a guitar …also loved the Clash, Ramones, X, Gun Club — especially that first Gun Club album, which is a blues record. I always considered my bands before Scissormen to be “secret blues bands,” because blues was the foundation of my playing no matter the genre. The sound of blues just seems to reach deeper into my head than any other sound — although I loved it all. Gimme Fred Frith and a cheeseburger and I’m happy as a pig in a spa.

I didn’t really achieve anything approach “blues enlightenment” until I was living in Boston, and at the same time I discovered my music journalist hero Robert Palmer’s book Deep Blues, a club called Nightstage opened in Cambridge, the next city over the Charles River, and had every great blues artists still alive come play, and Stevie Ray Vaughan came along. Hitting that trifecta put me over the edge and started to fill me up with an understanding of the music.

And then half a decade later, here comes R.L. Burnside, and then he almost single-handed changed my life.

RS:: As a beginner guitar player I'm always interested in what real guitarists use for equipment. Let's talk gear. I'm particularly interested to hear how you like playing the diddley bow that our mutual friend artist MikeWindy made for you, but also what other guitar(s) you use.

Do you use much in the way of pedals? How about amps? You have a diverse guitar sound, yet it has a kind of thick, heavyness to it. How did you develop your sound...or would you say you are still a process you are developing?

TD:: Gear is a deep swamp for me, and I’m happy to wallow in it all day! And I do not travel light to gigs. I typically bring two amps, two round-neck guitars and two one-strings, and if I had my way I’d bring a third round neck, but you can only fit som much gear in the van.
I am by nature a Les Paul guy. Their depth and fullness is a good foundation for the low, fat tones I like, which are more mysterious, to me, than the tones from most single-coil guitars.

That said, after playing my Pauls for about three years straight on stage, I’m back with my workhorse Fender Esquire reissue. I dropped two vintage Les Paul pickups into it and refitted the neck with jumbo frets. It’s a really versatile guitar and the thin neck feels perfect to me, as do the ’60s profile necks on my Les Pauls.  On a whim, I took the Esquire and a Flying V out to a gig early this year. The V went down and I had to use the Esquire for the rest of the night, and it reminded me how much I love it. I call it my “signature model,” because it’s covered with autographs from friends and influences. But it’s mostly the Les Pauls on the album, along with a ’70s Stratocaster, a Les Paul Special, an ES-345 and an ES-150. I used the Esquire for the solo on “Watermelon Kid” and “The River,” which is a live first take.

In general, I like low tones, heavy on midrange. Bright breaks the hallucinogenic bubble for me, and I like things weird. I hope to keep developing my sound until the day I die. The chase is too much fun to give up, and there’s always a new sound in my head I want to track down.

To that end, I have reduced my pedalboard for the road to the essentials: tuner, a MXR Micro-Amp for boost, an Archer pedal (which is a superb Klon Centaur clone at a fraction of the cost), a Phase 90 phase shifter, a vintage VB-2 vibrato pedal, a Digitech PDS-1000 vintage digital delay and a Supernatural reverb, which lets you paste trails on the ends of notes, almost like a B-3, without needing to change your picking approach.  Sometimes my MW Fuzzytone pedal also makes the scene, and can be heard on the solos of “Black Lung Fever.” I probably have about another 40 pedals that wait at home for the right day in the studio or the right gig.

The crawfish pot diddley bow Mike made for me is a ridiculous amount of fun to play, and when I added the Mexican Strat pickup, it started to really bark. You can hear the galvanized steel of the pot. It’s unique. I play it with a slide bar, like a lap steel.

My other one-string is a ’60s Epiphone hollowbody that I saved from the Tremo-Verb head, a Big Muff pedal and a 1x12 Eminence speaker, on “Can’t Be Satisfied” on Love & Life.
 boneyard. It’s headstock was sheared off so badly it couldn’t intonate correctly, so I stuck it on with the kind of glue they repair boats with, pulled out the frets and gave it a new life. You can hear it, running to a Mesa Boogie

For amps, I used a bunch of things for Love & Life: a 1972 Marshall Super Lead head, my Mesa Dual Rectifier Tremo-Verb, a 1963 Supro Lightning Bolt, an Epiphone Valve Standard with an Eminence speaker, a 1966 Fender Twin Reverb and even a Roland Cube 30, for the immediacy that transistors give — required for the backwards solo in “R.L. Burnside (Sleight Return).”  And often I paired or tripled them up in the studio to get unique sounds for the heavier tracks.

RS:: Tell me about how you got started writing. You've been doing it on a professional level for a long time. You recently wrote an e-book titled Obsessions of a Music Geek, Volume I: Blues Guitar Giants covering John Lee Hooker, Otis Rush, Johnny Winter, Freddie King, Michael Bloomfield, Z.Z. Top's Billy Gibbons and Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys, which I understand will be a series of books. How'd you get started, what writers influence or inspire you?

TD:: The writers who first inspired me were Dr. Seuss and Stan Lee — my on-ramp was Seuss books followed by comics, as a reader. And I was one of those withdrawn kids who writes fiction and poetry. But when I was in my teens I started reading music magazines, and while I was studying journalism in college in dawned on me that at some point I might be able to make a living writing about music. By then I was reading Lester Bangs in The Village Voice and Robert Palmer in The New York Times religiously, and I enjoyed the Rev. Charles M. Young in Musician (magazine) and Rolling Stone.

While I loved the wildness of Lester and Charles, I really enjoyed Robert’s focus, depth and ability to explain what music sounds like, and his tremendous insight. Later, when I discovered his book Deep Blues and we became friends, he opened up my perspective more directly — although I was pretty wide-open by the time we connected, which, I think, is why we connected. He sought other musical freethinkers. And he was my original deep Mississippi connection.

After graduating with a print journalism degree and working on a newspaper and an industrial trade magazine, I got a job at Musician, which was a bucket-list item, but the magazine had peaked at that point, in terms of scope, imagination and leadership. The days of Vic Garbarini, another free thinker, were over. Nonetheless, it was a great experience. I’d never been encouraged to smoke pot at work before… And when I began writing for Rolling Stone as well, Anthony DeCurtis became my editor there and was a significant mentor and remains a friend. I already loved his writing and was so delighted that we hit it off as well. That was even before meeting Palmer. So, short version: Bangs, Young, DeCurtis, Palmer… and by then my ideas and style were fully formed, I think. Now it’s just a matter of lifelong refinement, like songwriting, guitar and mindfulness.

I’ve been a musician and freelance writer since leaving the Boston
Phoenix, where I was music editor and then associate arts editor, in 1998. So that’s a long time to avoid an office or an assembly line. I’m proud of that. Today I’m writing mostly for guitar publications, which suits me fine because it keeps my nose down in the instrument.
Folks have been urging me to do books on various topics for years, but the money’s so short I figure it’s not worth the time it would take away from making music — which is a much bigger rush and an amazing experience, always. I finally decided that since I had accumulated a body of work that’s many thousands of pieces deep, I should revisit my own back pages, revise and improve upon certain key pieces, and share them with folks. Doing an ebook lets me stay indie, which I like, and also makes it easy to publish a series on my own schedule. Since I have a new psychedelic blues based album coming out, a book on blues guitar heroes seemed like a good starting point. Next up, I think it’ll be a volume of inspirational pieces for beginning guitar players. And for volume three I’m considering a collection of pieces on musical innovators — maybe guitar, maybe broader.

RS:: I'm wondering if you'd be interested in talking about the process of releasing this album...the timeline...what it's like trying to hype yourself when everbody with GarageBand and Bandcamp can slap up an album on the interwebs, and does. I'm also interested in how you recorded it. Studio? Rehearsal space recordings? Hell you can make amazing stuff these days with a laptop that back in the olden days we'd have to walk thru the snow backwards uphill both ways and barefoot to record. What were your thoughts about how this album would sound...sonically?

TD:: This is an album I’ve wanted to do for five years. I have an exact blueprint demo of “R.L. Burnside (Sleight Return),” the song that really set the tone for the album as I was writing tunes, going back that far. But figuring out how to get it done was a dilemma. I didn’t really have the right players available and didn’t know how to begin the recording without the funds to pay for the sessions and, then, to get the album out.

While I could conceivably have made the album using GarageBand, which is the best recording capability I have at my house, the results would not have been able to cast a net as wide as I want. I’d like as many people in as wide a population as I can reach to hear Love & Life, because I think this deeply rooted music is important and has something to offer to the modern world.

Over the course of about seven years, from 2008 to 20014, I’ve appeared on the Mando Blues Show (https://www.facebook.com/MandoBlues) on Radio Free Nashville more frequently than any other guest. I’ve always loved the quality of the live recordings, and had become good friends with the show’s host, Whit Hubner, and the owner of Omega Lab Studio, Robert McClain, Jr., where it’s taped for rebroadcast and the podcast.

The studio is in three military surplus tents on top of a mountain down a dirt road in the woods behind the Loveless Café, just outside of Nashville.

Although a few live albums have come out of there, there hadn’t been any studio productions — more layered and nuanced work — done in the tents. So it dawned on me that a full-blown studio album might be a cool project for Rob, and he agreed. And at about the same time, the line-up of players for the album came together.

We started working on the tracks for one afternoon and evening a week, taking our time but recording really efficiently, because I knew exactly how I wanted the album to sound and how almost all the parts of the arrangements would fit together. The bass and drums were cut in two sessions, and then it was pretty much me layering in guitars and vocals. And I traded Rob a really nice guitar and some other things along the way. So, really, the album was made on friendship and trades, with the hope that it’ll bring a little sunshine for all of us.

Love & Life is an evolutionary step to what — for the foreseeable future — I see as the band’s destination. I’d made five albums and a film with the duo line-up and really wanted to expand the sound live, with a trio, and on album with new sounds, like the B-3, and more nuanced, textural and diverse guitar. The songs I was writing were asking for that, too. Guitar-wise, Love & Life draws on a lot of aspects of my earlier playing that I’d put aside in the duo. Plus, all of the earlier Scissormen albums were cut live in the studio or on stage, including vocals, and I wanted to change that.

When I went into the studio, I was using the period of psychedelic recording between 1967 and 1972 as a guide. I didn’t have an exact blueprint, but for inspiration I was thinking of Axis: Bold As Love, Electric Ladyland and Then Play On. I would have liked to spend more time mixing, to make things even more psychedelic, but I think we got pretty close to the bone.

The album sounds essentially like I wanted it to before we recorded note one. 

We finished recording in early 2014 and I spent a year looking for a label to partner with me, but struck out. I didn’t have the cash to even pay for the pressing. Most of the labels I’d approached, even those who I’d done work for in the past as a writer or consultant, or are part of the same music communities as me, couldn’t even be bothered to listen. Everybody’s busy, but that’s disrespectful. Let me leave it at that.

So my wife Laurie and I undertook an Indiegogo campaign to raise the money to manufacture the album and put it out, get it to radio and hire a publicity person. We hit our goal, with 166 donors from nine counties, which a great validation and really empowering. And the label name Dolly Sez Woof was inspired by my dog — who is also the label’s CEO, because she’s got a nose for good stuff, can sniff out opportunities and gets her business done every day.

RS:: Something that really sticks out on this album is the track you did with Mighty Sam Mclain. Tell about how that came about.

Sam and i had been friends for more than 20 years. I think he was truly the last of the great red clay soul voice in America, and I learned a lot from Sam about having a vision and being an artist. We were very close — he passed away shortly before the album came out, which was sad. I was looking forward to us sharing the life of the album together a bit.  He was a great man and an amazing artist. Anyway, I'd been dreaming about some kind of musical collaboration with Sam for years, and when I wrote "Let's Go To Memphis" I knew his voice would be perfect for it. I ran it by him one day, and he instantly agreed. He and his guitarist and producer Pat Herlehy cut the vocal to tracks I mailed to them on CD. When we got the results back, everybody in the studio had goosebumps. Anyway, Sam was a dear friend and hero who I admired and his lost is major for me and, I think, the world of music.

RS:: I heard you did a project in a school in Nashville where you helped kids make a diddley-bow?

TD:: Well, Mike Windy who is a great artist and a teacher living here in Nashville, built the bows with his class and then had me in to lead the kids in playing them and to show them the ropes — or, at least, the string. What was exciting about it was the great energy of the kids and Mike, who really has a gift for opening to world wider for all people through art. Plus the chance to talk to a diverse group of elementary school kids about Muddy Waters, Son House, Charley Patton and Jessie.

RS:: Speaking of our friend MikeWindy, I asked him to come up with some questions for you.
RS:: Yo MikeWindy! Gimme some questions to ask Ted Drozdowski in an interview!

MW (MikeWindy) :: 
Why live in Nashville when he could've worked from anywhere? (Talk about) the connections between psychedelic music and blues music. 
What was working with Robert Mugge like? Ask him about his backyard concerts!

Why live in Nashville?

I love being in Nashville now. It reminds me of being part of the alternative rock scene in Boston during the ’90s, when music helped start bonfires all across the creative arts scene. It was an amazing time and I can’t believe I’m experience this kind of artistic eruption again! Boston was getting more expensive and less fun, and we needed to go somewhere. I’d been coming down south with the band regularly, and we’d often use Nashville as a hub for doing shows out to GA, AL, AR, MS… And we knew a lot of people here who’s already moved to Nashville. Laurie came down and took a look around, and we decided to take the leap. Then-low housing prices helped, too And, of course, we wanted to be in a music town. Pretty clearly, we’re now in THE music town.

Q: Connections between psychedelic music and blues.

A: To me, they’re deep and plentiful, starting with Son House’s approach to resonator guitar — intoxicating — and moving right up to Muddy and Wolf — who had a psychedelic voice — to Captain Beefheart, Jimi Hendrix and Junior Kimbrough. I think there’s something very unusual and spiritual about the world that the blues comes from, which immediately lends itself to psychedelic song interpretation and creates a beautiful aura of timelessness.

Q: Robert Mugge…

A: Working with Bob was a gas. It cemented our friendship, which was a big deal to me considering how much I’d loved and enjoyed his work. I also learned that he’s a real taskmaster!!!! But he gets results and I still can’t believe I’m the focus of a Robert Mugge film. It’s crazy. It almost seemed surreal until I saw myself on a huge screen on a Dolby 7.1 theater at a Florida festival. Then it was clear that it was surreal!!

Q: House concerts?

A: A few years ago Laurie and I decided we wanted to do something fun in the summertime with our home, and I was also really wanting to play more and do something with other musicians that didn’t involve hitting the road. We decided to do a back porch concert series — we’d hosted a series in our loft just before we left Boston — and tour amazement, we’d ask somebody we thought was a really serious artist and nearly all of them said yes: Webb Wilder, Amelia White, our friend Dave Arcari from Scotland, Nick Loss Eaton from NYC’s Leland Sundries, Eric Brace & Peter Cooper, Kristi Rose & Fats Kaplin… It was an amazing experience. But this year we can’t do it because I’m so busy with the release of Love & Life.

Q: My dream line-up?

A: Honestly, I feel like I’m  already playing with my favorite bass player, Sean Zywick. He’s a great creative mind and a top-notch human, so I’d hang onto him while he got Elvin Jones and John Bonham on drums; Jimi and Sonny Sharrock to help out of guitars; Otis Spann on piano, Jon Lord on keys and Coltrane on sax. It’s good to play with people who are better than you, so you can learn. I’d learn a lot. Oh yeah — the utility player would be Tom Waits!

RS:: Thanks MikeWindy for the Q's!

RS:: Tell me about your new
band members. What's
their story?
Were they who you had in mind when you decided to expand your bands palette?

TD:: Although the band’s not a trio on the album, there are four band members overall including me. It’s Sean Zywick, my main musical compadre and creative foil, on bass; Pete Pulkrabek on drums, and a second drummer, Chip Clarke.

When the money and circumstances are right, we expand from a trio to a four-piece with two full-kit drummers — and we do most hometown gigs that way. On the road, we can literally only fit three or us on the van, so usually it’s Pete or Chip.

I met all of them here in Nashville, although they’re from Michigan, upstate New York and Maine respectively. And they’re veteran players. Although Chips is only 22, they’ve had a lot of experience. What they haven’t had is a lot of experience playing “blues.” I need players who are going to attack the music with a rock edge and attitude, even if they are playing a shuffle. I need musicians who can play the music and create on the spot, not play, as some blues drummers have told me, “all the forms.” I don’t play forms. I play songs and original music.

They weren’t exactly who I had in mind when I decided top open up the band’s sound five years ago — but after playing with them for the better part of two years, as it turns out they are exactly who I had in mind.

For me, this album is a leap I've been longing to make for a while, as I've tried to find ways to transcend limitations of $ and personnel. It turns out pretty much as I'd conceived of it in advance, and lived up to the three goals I'd set: more texture accomplished via multiple guitars on most songs; my signature slide playing as a thread throughout the album; songs that told stories.

I think it's the best work I've done as a songwriter and player, and it draws on every element of all the music I love while still, essentially, being the work of a juke joint blues band with ties to the earliest forms of the music, from it's first few decades.
It's amazing fun to play these tunes live, and I hope to be able to continue to do so for many years to come.

RS:: I hope you do, too. It's been a pleasure to get to know you more, Ted, Good luck with the new recordings.

05 August 2015

A Short Interview With The Extraordinary SARAH McCOY of New Orleans, Louisiana.

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I can't remember now how I happened to see this Sarah McCoy video but I don't think I shut my mouth the whole time it was on. 
In it she holds nothing back and lays her sound down artfully, with great blues power, and a strong sense of good old-fashioned raw art and soul. 

Part Miss Simone, part Waits, part the carnival barker showman, part the carnival's sad trapeze artist, she is all Pianist and all her own voice. Ms. McCoy is an original talent with a sound that might recall standing five feet from a passing train, or a distant memory of someone you heard singing gospel from across the street one night, or the sound of someone breaking your heart with a blues and soul mixtape, or a bar full of lovers moving hot sweaty in the moonlight to the music of Sarah McCoy...
I had to find out more.

A brief interview is below the video:

RS:: Rick Saunders : I stumbled across a video of you in France playing the piano and singing your song Merry-Go-Round with your Glockenspielist Alyssa Potter in France. I'm still reeling my jaw back up. It's a thrill to see someone play so full-on. I've always held that one should be prepared to kick up there, or get off the stage.

What's your story, Sarah McCoy?
Where are you from, how long have you been playing piano?
Do you play other instruments?
And why not a glockenspielist, for crying out loud?
Do you augment with other instruments when available?

SM:: Sarah McCoy:
 My story, huh? Well, I came wailing into the world May 27th, 1985 to a retired police offficer and an ex-nun who met as recovering alcoholics. As funny as it sounds, it really is a beautiful story. We moved to charleston, South Carolina in the early 90s after hurricane Hugo. When I was 11, a traveling carnie gave my parents a piani for me, when I was was 12, my pops was diagnosed with cancer, and when I was 15, he passed away at the age of 72. By this time I was in a local charter school for music and theater, but I ended up ditching it to try and feel normal in an average public school where no one knew. 

Fast forward a few years and I'm turnin 20 and hittin the road with my thumb out. I hitchiked and landed in California.

That's where I met Alyssa, my glockenspiel player. She was my supervisor in a Pizza joint called Pizza My Heart. She was sleeping on my couch when I won an online auction for a glockenspiel. (i was in a phase of aquiring lots of tiny instruments). Anyhow, she would sit down during my band practices and dink out the waltzes on it while we played. Anyway,  I ended up just throwing her on stage with it one night and she never stopped playing with me after that. We ended up  running around the country for a while then coming back to Monterey. But for many good reasons and personal circumstances, we decided to randomly move to new orleans where the grand adventure really began to take off.

I have been playing piano for about 15 years now, and the glockenspiel has been there for me thick and thin.
Its bizarre because for some reason it works and it always has. Which is perfect because the chick that plays it is my best friend in the universe.

I do have a fluctuating band. I've played with bass players, cellists, horn players, drummers, mandolins, guitars and even an admittedly crappy ukulele. But it's always boiled down to alyssa and I.
We kind of rule with the power of friendship.

Thanks for your time, Sarah. One should never underestimate the power of friendship. You make really incredible, legit work and I hope I get to see you play live sometime. Bonne chance!

This is the only official recording of the terrific Sarah McCoy at this time. 
Sit down and Listen it to it, as soon as you have the time. While highly melodic, with a moody groove that suggests some rare string-laden Motown heartbreaker, this is no pop confection. This is six minutes of classical-infected New Orleans piano blues played at an early Winehouse level.


Sarah McCoy @ la Maroquinerie (Paris) from David Unger on Vimeo.
Extrait du concert de Sarah McCoy à la Maroquinerie (Paris) le 14 février 2014, dans le cadre du festival "Les Nuits de l'Alligator".
filmé par David Unger

30 June 2015

LOU SHiELDS - Cold Water Collection

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Chicago's Lou Shields plays classic, original, piedmont-esque country blues without artifice, or a 
whiff of potpourri. His picking is nimble, powerful, and confident, his singing the same.

There's a tautness to Mr. Shield's playing, an insistence that balances his midwest twang and drawl with a southeastern mountain blues walk that is at once familiar, yet layered, present-day old-timey with none of the affectations that can draw. It's weird olde american music played like it came out today. This
isn't skinny suspenders music, but a soundtrack to Mr. Shield's travels and artistic sensibilities (he gigs as art teacher, too.)

I did a short interview with Lou and he told me that part of his style comes from skateboarding, and that sounds correct. There's a weighting and unweighting to his picking style, a flow of energy that is easy, yet tough. Burly, but gentle. Bottom line: quality stuff.

RS (Rick Saunders) :: I've been listening to your new album for the last week. It's terrific. 

A friend sent it to me who thought I should check you out so as a result I don't have much info about you.

Are all your songs originals?
How long have you been playing guitar?
You seem to have an interesting collection of instruments. Can you tell me about them? 
Your playing style is very physical, your picking is powerful. I'm interested in how you developed your style, and who you see as influences.

LS:: Yes, all the songs are originals.  I very rarely play a cover song.  However, I definitely have my influences and draw deeply from the past.

I have been playing guitar for over 25 years.  
I got into playing home/hand made instruments about 6-7 years ago.  I stumbled on a few during my travels and then a good friend of mine got into building.  He does most of my stuff now and goes by Callahan Guitars.  His name is Mike Callahan.
He made me a 4-String "Shitar" out of reclaimed materials from my skateboard ramp.  Also a 
image stolen from wesleybushby.blogspot.com/
spider-cone wood body resonator, a 6-string Shitar, a semi-hollow body w/P-90s and is currently finishing up a Tri-Cone.

I usually get a crazy idea and message him in the middle of the night and we start brainstorming the design, locating materials usually 60% reclaimed wood and parts and then he gets to building.  It is a great process and I love to support my friend who is an aspiring luthier.
My style comes from skateboarding, working hard and releasing my energy and experiences while performing my songs.  I am very into Pre-War Country Blues, Delta Blues, Fingerstyle/Ragtime/Jug Band and all that good stuff.  Also 80s Punk and Hendrix..  Some of the early Folk musicians as well. 
My style comes from so many past musicians and also environmental sounds too..  

I also have a mangled right hand..  I am missing half my Index finger, 1/4 of my pinky finger and my middle and ring were also injured in a table saw accident..  So my picking is A-typical.

RS:: Tell me about your picking style, if you will. 

How do you think it differs from another guitarist not missing parts of their hand? Did you play guitar prior to the accident?

LS:: I seem to do everything kind of my own way or as an interpretation of things I hear.  I would rather not get somebody else's idea "right" anyway..  So I have a few picking styles that I use in my tunes for Slide, Fingerstyle guitar and Banjo.  But because I use my thumb, middle and ring finger it comes out differently than more traditional picking styles/techniques.
I did play prior to the accident but losing my Index and part of my Pinky finger helped me get serious about art and music because it was nearly taken away forever.  So for me it was a strong life lesson to learn about having respect for the moment, working hard and learning to be grateful for what you have in the now.

RS:: How long have you been traveling and playing music?  
Do you have a favorite place to play, or venue?

How do your songs come to you? Music or lyrics first? Does it take you a long time to write, or can you whip 'em out? Or does it just depend?

LS:: I have been playing guitar for 25+ years.  But performing this way for 6.  I have been writing this kind of music since about 1995.  

I love to be in a place with good vibe and character.  Maybe an old building with an ancient wood floor, wood beams or some kind of cool history/vibe.  I luckily have many favorites both in the U.S. and Europe.
The songs come to me almost like magic.  I can not try to write a song.  They just happen.  It is usually a riff on the guitar or banjo that I some how pull out of the air. My lyrics are about whatever might be bothering me at the time.  Or something that I have learned.

Sometimes I can finish a song very quickly and others take months. But they all seem to evolve over time and take on their own life as I perform them.

RS::  Screamin' All Over/Mountain Country is a hell of a song. Please tell me about it.
LS:: The two songs run together.  Screaming all over is about how "she done left" and Mountain Country is about how he heads to the hills to pacify his mind.  "Head back to the mountain country, place where I Should be"

RS:: You tour a lot. You're playing shows all over but do you play on the street at all? Any place in mind you'd love to go to that you havnt yet? 

What's happening in the coming year? New recordings? Travels?

LS:: I started out busking and doing open Mics.  I occasionally still do both but I am focusing on touring as much as possible these days.  
We are working on a tour in Europe for 2016 that will hopefully include Switzerland, Finland and Sweden along with Belgium, France Germany, Netherlands and Poland.  Fingers are crossed!  
I am excited about playing any new place.  I hope music and art will continue to take me down that road and I hope I can help folks feel better for a bit in the process.
I also will have an art show in Aarschot, Belgium in May 2016 at a Cultural Center for the city.  
I am just about to release a vinyl only LP called "Deep River".  I am planning to record again possibly this coming Fall for a Spring 2016 release.

When I return to the states I am doing a run with The Hangdog Hearts to the East Coast.  And then I will head West on my own to California.  I return to the Midwest August 9-12 for Farmageddon Music Festival in Wisconsin and then Muddy Roots Music Festival in Cookville TN Labor Day weekend 2015

RS:: Thanks for your time, Lou! Best of luck in the new year

18 June 2015


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River Of Gennargentu (the nom de blues of Sardinia's Lore Tuccio) is
proof once again that blues music is an international language, and in the right hands and the right voice it can be made new again while staying true to the original (whatever that is.)

The music of Jesse Mae Hemphill, R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and of course the masters that came before them, live on in the music of the River Of Gennargentu, but there's differences.  Ghosts of African desert poly-tones brush past dancing Romas while electric Appalachians and the hill country people of north Mississippi meet the mountain and ocean people of Sardinia for a late night ramble. I keep saying it, and you know it's true: It's all connected.

It's subtle, intriguing stuff this River Of Gennargentu. I needed to know more. Fortunately, Mr. Tuccio was willing to chat with me. You'll find an interview below the music player::

RS (Rick Saunders) :: Tell me about your music, Lore. How long have you been playing? Sounds like you dig that North Mississippi hill country drone of Junior Kimbrough, but mixed with other sounds, too. Tell me who's influenced you, and how you discovered it.

LT (Lore Tuccio) :: I play since I was 14 (I am now 36 ) I started in mid 90's playing guitar in metal, punk and noise bands with friends, and experimenting kind of noisy electronic music with cassette tapes and turntables. I'm influenced by DIY punk ethic, but I listen a lot of music: genres is not so important, good music is important, in fact. 

Some years ago (about 2007) I bumped into primal blues, and has been an authentic revelation: primitive blues talks with your soul. My first influences were Son House, Bukka White, Rosa Lee Hill,  Skip James, Robert Pete Williams, Big Joe Williams, and the North Mississippi Hill Country scene, of course. So, I started playing the blues and building my own instruments: cigar box guitars, percussions, etc...

Then in 2011 I met this guy, we have friends in common, he listened some recordings of mine and proposed to play together: we formed Black Lodge Juke Joint, a raw punk/ blues duo, made two self-produced records and played in festivals, squats, pubs, houses parties, street's corners...

Now after years of moves around Italy and several changes in my life,  I'm returned to the small town where I'm grown, in central Sardinia, near Gennargentu Mountains, a place with beautiful natural landscapes, really into the wild some month ago I recorded the EP as you know, and that's all!

I forgot to tell you that in addition to the Delta and North Mississippi Hill Country (RL Burnside, Kimbrough, Jessie Mae Hemphill, Robert Belfour, etc.) is a  very important influence for me African blues (Ali Farka Toure, Tinariwen, Boubakar Traore, and more)! Also , people who come to my gigs says he feels even influence the Sardinian music , and that's good !

RS:: What/where is the River of Gennagentu? What's its significance to you?

LT:: About this, Taloro is a river that flows from the mountains of Gennargentu , so I chose the name is a tribute to my land and this people...You know , Sardinia is a sparsely populated region ( one of the least populated in Europe, 1.5 million inhabitants ), where the economic crisis feels a lot , going around playing I saw that people immediately understand the blues , is a music that fits in these times and places...

RS:: What's the music scene like for you? Do you play mostly around Sardinia or do you travel?

LT:: The blues scene in Sardinia is alive , there are a lot of individuals and bands that play : I can think of King Howl quartet, and Donnie, also Hola La Poyana , Sunsweet Blues Revenge , Francesco Piu, and many others , each with their own personal style... 

For now I played mainly in Sardinia , but I'm starting to run across Italy , the last time I played in Rome at Mojo Fest 2015 .. then this summer there is some good chance to play in Germany.

RS:: I was wondering if you were into the desert blues scene, considering your close proximity to Tunisia. That's interesting. I did a little research on Sardinia last night and listened to some guys playing the Launedas and that drone sound it makes reminded me of your sound.

LT:: Hey thanks for your considerations Rick! I would love to, I do not believe to be part of the desert blues, although there are cultural aspects that will probably bring us closer ( both Sardinian and Tuareg peoples are traditionally shepherds) Your mention of the launeddas made me think of one thing : here in Barbagia is a musical tradition that has much in common with fife & drum of North Mississippi, and here you play the drum (tumbarinu) and the fife (pipiolu) !

RS:: What sort of guitars do you use, and amps? Do you work strictly solo now?

LS:: I change often gear (among the various things I do to get some money there is the repair of musical instruments, before selling them happen to keep them for a while ), but now i'm using mostly my old Eko Navajo and FBT G.60 amp, and 6 string my cigar box guitar.

Taloro is recorded only with acoustic instruments: CBG, acoustic guitar, resonator guitar. During the recording sessions there was a microphone in front of me, so that together capture voice and instrument, one take, no overdubbing, in the simplest way possible. And yes, for now I play solo.

RS:: Anything else people should know about you or your music? Any new releases or big gigs coming up?

LT:: By the end of June  the Talk About Records decided to release the reissue of Taloro: that will contain two previously unreleased tracks dating back to the first recording sessions of the EP (2008 ): the hard disk of my computer where I recorded at the time it broke , and recently I found some tracks escaped to that mess, these will be included in the reissue. It will be in limited edition and hand-numbered . Then start summer tour , which will touch Sardinia, Italy and Germany...I hope I have answered all, if you have other questions just ask , thanks Rick !

RS:: Thanks for your time, Lore! 

14 April 2015

CHiCKEN SNAKE - Unholy Rollers

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   Have y'all heard the new Chicken Snake album? It's called Unholy
Rollers. Chicken Snake rocks the best of the blues of The Cramps and the Gun Club, the book love of X and Nick Cave, the ghosts of Jesse Mae Hemphill, John Lee Hooker, Bo Diddley, and Junior Kimbrough, the cooked and crooked roots of Iggy and The Stooges, Johnny Dowd, Beefheart, Handsome Family, and of course the legendary Hasil Adkins! Chicken Snake combines it in their own original black and white (with technicolor swamp) New Orleans southern gothic style, that rocks as hard as it arts.

   Like a thing in the dark that's brusquely brushed past you, something chilling, thrilling, like the back of your ears touched by some dusty and kudzu covered Charlie Feathers and early Dr. John albums, Chicken Snake play dirty rock and roll pot boilers, part hard wink of evil juju blues bonfire in the middle of nowhere, and part late-night party on the covered patio, fetching beer out the iced down back of a hot rodded Ranchero.

   Jerry Teel (guitar/vocals - Ex-Boss Hog, Honeymoon Killers, Knoxville Girls) and Pauline Teel
(vocals and terrific photographer ) are partners in life and rock, and they make a terrific team, visually and sonically complimenting each other, and with the backup of Josh Lee Hooker on guitar, and Jessica Melain on drums they make for a seriously tough and interesting unit.

 Jerry Teel's historia de la rock music guitar tone is confident, sexy and stabbing, and his production on this album sounds sweet and sticky, but crunchy like a PBJ with extra nuts, muscadine jelly, sweet onions, and fried hot peppers. Pauline sings like the gal next door, but she's got a mess of razors and an ass-pocket of whiskey ready to go. It's brass-knuckle creeptastic '68 Elvis from the crypt blues and roll without pretension. Raw, honest, blood, sweat and murder, bad luck and trouble. Chicken Snake takes the often shiny, pillowed, and potpourried History of American Roots Music and drags its precious ass face-first through underground Louisiana swamps, across the dirty south's alleys and backwoods, stands it upright on stage and shines a hot, sweaty light on it...then makes it dance.

You need this. Get it. Vinyl album only via: teelmusic at gmail dot com

11 April 2015

Who The Hell Is C.C. Adcock?

Who The Hell is C.C. Adcock?
One self-titled album in 1994 and another in 2004 called Lafayette Marquis. Both albums are dirty mojo bags stuffed to over flow with south texass blues and backwoods sleazy swamp town one swangin' blue light house party boogie.

Lafayette Marquis
branches down to throw on some textureized filthy mid-period ZZTtopian remixish  night tripper-esque voodoo sexy steamy spook funk. Growing up in S.W. Louisiana, years spent as a touring guitarist behind Bo Diddley and Buckwheat Zydeco is bound to skew yr ears to something different and different is a good word to start with when speaking of the music of C.C. Adcock.

The thing that attracts me to Adcock's work is what I look for in the music that I love best and moves me most. That's mystery, freshness, and a twist. I want to hear what I haven't heard before and C.C. Adcock brings it. Adcock keeps one deluxe custom-made steel toe work boot firmly stepping to the future while the other dances and slides confidently in, out, and all around a dirty french alligator Louisian sexy swamp mud under a shiny white hot desert Texan sun draped in sweltering big black moonless Los Angeloan sharkskin traditions.

C.C.'s side band Lil' Band O' Gold with Steve Riley of Mamou Playboys played back up for Robert Plant on a Fats Domino Tribute. Read ThisBuy Lil' Band O' Gold from AMAZON

Check out this short film on Lil' Band O' Gold! it's called Promised Land.

23 December 2014


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Cover photo by the great Casey Weber
   Mudlow believes in the darkness, the nightshade of black and blues at twilight, and the tension of breath in the space between.

   They know the mystery of a song's mood brings about a sense of place. The song Minnesota Snow is such a song. You can feel the threat. The menace of blizzard winds. A blizzard of snow, or a tempest of violence? Or both. You're the witness.

"Let out some air from the tires, rock it back and forth, Needles on empty, heater's on full."

   That's a place nobody wants to be in, on-the-verge of lost desperation. All you can do is hope and pray you didn't really fuck it all up this time. It's an apt M.O. for most Mudlow songs. The world is gone shit side up y'all, but it ain't gonna always be that way baby, and it ain't ever gonna be without the boogie. It's nothing without that Mudlow style.

   Let's take it down to Stubb's Yard.

   This is where Mudlow drives us through their North Mississippi, their Texas, their Detroit demolition. This is high steppin', steel-toe sliding, finger tracing, hand clappin', face-slappin' downtown rock city boogie music. At 2:28 it's the shortest song of the three, but that's all it needs.

   The third joint of this set is Codename Toad.

   Something untoward is going on but hell, nothing's illegal until you get caught, right? It's a dirty rockin' thing having something to do with guns (a walnut grip Baretta by name) a mohair suit, a clear pint, plenty of cocaine, some weed and a shootout. It sounds like a breakneck, backroad trip from Peacehaven to Small Dole, down Devil's Dyke Road, to Shoreham and Saltdean. Listening to side one of ZZ Top's Tejas loud on repeat, taking that last midnight run...praying...Mr. State Trooper...

   It's a perfect example of a Mudlow song that could be the basis for a movie. Each song acts as a vignette of British crime, grime, and time. It's the Brighton breakdown of AC/DC'd dirty soul blues, hard loaded swagger, and a lot of whiskey, cigarettes and well-thumbed paperbacks.

   It's only been two years since Mudlow released their second album, Sawyer's Hope, but for some reason it seems longer to me. With each release, I get sucked into this Mudlow soundtrack for awhile, where the streets are usually wet and shining with street-lamp glare, everybody has a hard noir story, and the music is polished, flat black and chrome.

   This three song set is saxophone-free (a real switch for the band, which utilised the sax as a tone-setter) but does feature cello on the title track. Mudlow bassist and recording engineer Paul Pascoe's already quality sonics have been refined in those two years, and the sense of space, groove, and breath, always a Mudlow hallmark, is accentuated to the point that on headphones you'll think you're in the room. Pascoe's sense of tension and drama is put to use by Tobias Mudlow's funky, funky, country jazz punk city blues guitar, its strong, inventive plucking, crossed with a fine sense of mood really plays a great part in setting the band's sound apart. It's something that was there, but not apparent when the sax was used, often as a co-lead instrument. Matt Latcham is Mudlow's drummer. Solid, creative, and holding up the bottom while dancing across his drums with one hand in the pocket, the other on the gas. His funky foot locks in tight with the bass and guitar, and is crucial to the noir soundtrack feel of the Mudlow sound. Precise, economical, country yet funky.

   The Minnesota Snow ep is another exceptional release by a great band. It shows continued growth of depth, sonically, instrumentally, and lyrically. I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if I'm reading a collection of short stories by Tobias Mudlow at some point in the future. Whatever happens, this band will continue to evolve. It's personal blues-infected music with emotional heft, and a strong artistic vision.

   It's the music from the closing credits of your favorite movie. It's the song you listen to as you drive off the dock at the end of the chase scene, it's the song that plays as the sun rises over the weed-choked city cemetery, it's the sound you hear as you run through the concrete jungle of southern (UK) bars and clip-joints. Welcome back to Mudlow country. We've missed you.

   I understand this is to be the first in a series of digital releases, on the road to vinyl. I can't wait.