JESSE BREWSTER

jessetieguitarblazin_nobkWhat is your favorite moment on your last record Wrecking Ball at the Concert Hall?

That’s a tough one. The theme of that record is big sounding Americana tracks countered with heartfelt ballads. I think working on “God Fearin’ Man” was a blast, but there were some really tender moments too, especially on songs like “Sometime” and “Sorry Ain’t Enough”.

You’re taking a new approach to your latest release March of Tracks, it must be liberating in some ways and yet daunting in others?

Man, it’s a departure as far as the process of making a record goes. On the last album much of it was tracked live, with the same 5 people. Now I’m using a multitude of players, studios, engineers and gear, and it’s been incredible. I’ve been hand picking my favorite West Coast players for each song that plays to their individual strengths. Being able to focus 100% on one song at a time is so refreshing. There is the ever present and motivating factor of my own self-imposed deadlines (new song released 1st Tues. of every month) which can be a little stressful. But it’s also a response to the demand for single songs- don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of albums and will make more in the traditional way in the future, but this time I want to get my music out there in the most effective way, and have gotten a great response so far. What was daunting was the idea of starting work on a 12 song album that people wouldn’t be able to hear any of for 6 to 9 months. Ah the world of instant gratification!

How’s it going so far; do you already have the future tracks mapped in order?

Right now I do have a rough order, and am trying to be conscious of the tempo and style of each release. I want to be sure to mix it up and not, for example, release all the big up-tempo stuff up front so that all I’m left with is ballads. The other struggle is that any time I’m recording (and I think many artists would agree with this) I hit a creative stride with new material. So who knows, some of the stuff I’m writing right now could still make the record.

When you start writing a song, what comes first for you?

As a guitarist and sideman for years before I starting performing and touring as a lead singer/songwriter, that’s where things usually begin. I’ll find a progression that inspires me in some way, and 90% of the time the feel leads me to the subject matter. That being said, on occasion I do start with a theme and work from that side.

How do you know when a song is done and ready for recording?

That’s a great question, and something I think a lot of songwriters struggle with. As I’ve self-produced most my songs, I usually have a pretty good idea of when they’re ready to track. For songs that I send out to my players I try to give them a decent demo without getting to specific, because I like to allow people to approach their own parts creatively. But working with a producer is also a great way to finish that last 15% of a song, and something I hope to do more of.

JesseBWhat’s the state of rock & roll in California?

I think there’s a ton of amazing music out there, and it never ceases to amaze me how often I discover new incredible bands who are miles from where I live. So from that standpoint it’s as prominent as ever. From the industry side that’s a different story, I think with the internet era, people are less drawn to genres now than they are to good (sometimes not so good), catchy songs. That’s why every 15 year-old has 1000 songs on their iPhone from 1000 different artists. The way we as artists make out living has also changed, with an emphasis on licensing and placements becoming a more the norm.

Is there anything left of San Francisco of the 60’s?

Yes, and they’re all still performing! Every band who had a hit in the 60’s is still doing it, and they’re drawing all the same folks that came to their shows way back when. The boomers are the demo that can consistently afford to go out and see shows. Overall here though there’s a great collective support system in place of local artists, not as dog-eat-dog as other markets I’ve seen. I think it’s a great place to live and to foster your creativity, but I don’t see much opportunity here. I can’t think of many bands who have gotten really huge coming out of SF since Counting Crows or Train.

What were the first 3 records you ever bought and how do they rank today?

I’m not sure if they were the first 3, but I remember getting vinyl of Bob Marley Live, Willie Nelson and The Eagles.  All of which still measure up pretty strong compared to the music of the last 30 years

When did you start playing guitar and what was the first song you really got into to the point where you owned it?

I had a couple of false starts. At 7 or so I learned a couple chords, then again at 9 I picked it up again and went through a Bob Dylan songbook and learned “Don’t Think Twice”. I had a pretty good foundation when I kicked into higher gear at 12

By an amazing breakthrough in technology, you are to be awarded a role as a rock & roll deity with an expanded life span of 250 years (congrats) but, as a condition, you are forced to choose between electric or acoustic guitar from here on: would you be able to face the anguish?

That would be tough. I think I’d have to go with the acoustic, because that’s where 80% of the songs I write begin. Even the hardest hitting, slamming electric guitar driven tunes were usually started in my dining room on an acoustic. Also then if I’m still alive and kicking after the next major war or calamity, I won’t have to worry about finding a place to plug into in the post-apocalyptic hellscape!  :)

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SUGAR BLUE

cd_sugarblueportraitWhat’s the first song you recall moving you as a kid?  The first song that I remember moving me was a tune by Lester Young called ‘PC Blues’, I heard it at home on my mothers HiFi. When she saw that I liked it she put on a tune by Lionel Hampton called ‘Flying Home’, from that moment I knew I wanted to play music!
How did the harmonica become your musical weapon of choice when so many others were picking up a guitar instead?  My aunt gave me a harmonica when I was about 12 or 13 years old and I loved it from the first. It was a friend that succored me in times of strife and a joy in happier times. It seemed that everybody and their brothers were playing guitar in the sixties, I wanted an instrument that was melodious and full of the warmth that only the breath can bring to the music. Harmonica is like the voice in that it can bring the pathos and passion to a piece of music like no other instrument can, it can set a mood so beautifully.
 
You have your own voice on the harp, was that something that came easy early on for you or did you have to work to develop it?  When I began to play I wanted to sound just like Little Walter and Sonny Boy Rice Miller but I was also very much moved by cats like Miles Davis, Lester Young, BB King and Charlie Christian. It seemed to me that the thing these players had in common was a mellifluous fluidity combined with a meticulous sense of time and gifted phrasing. I have tried to emulate and not imitate these masters. A great drummer, Michael Silva ( band leader for Sammy Davis Jr. )  told me that If you don’t sound like yourself you bring little or nothing to the table and you won’t get invited to dinner a second time!
Is there a simple, helpful trick to playing harp that first timers miss when attempting to play it for the first time?  The only ‘trick’ for lack of another word that is useful in learning to play harmonica or any other instrument is to listen to the masters, memorize, internalize, recreate and…. listen, listen, listen! Practice creatively, play passionately and if the music is in you it will come out.
Do you find yourself adding harp to everything you hear and, like cowbell, should there be more of it?  There are some tunes that need harp and some tunes that need more harp….than cowbell!
Of all the records you have played on or released yourself, what tracks or performances are you most proud of today?  I enjoyed playing on Mr. Willie Dixon’s Hidden Charm‘s recordings very much, the recordings with the Stones, Dylan, Brownie McGhee, Stan Getz, Hiram Bullock, Lonnie Brooks, Son Seals… As for my own recordings, I am very partial to a CD I cut that’s distributed by Alligator Records called In Your Eyes, I think that there are some great tunes there that are cutting edge still today though they were written and tracked in the 90’s. Code Blue is one of my more recent efforts and the material on it has been critiqued as classic from the first track to the last. I also like very much Threshold and Raw Sugar. If you have an inquisitive ear and progressive taste you will enjoy the aural journey these recordings will take you on and I believe you will enjoy the trip! I didn’t mention Blue Blazes above because it includes mostly cover tunes but I do like it as well.

When you think about the long history of the blues, do you have a favorite decade in terms of releases?  I love this music called The Blues, from Charlie Patton to Charlie Parker, from Miles Davis to Muddy Waters and all that came of the nameless progenitors that were before them and all that will come after. Because it is the history and voice of Black American art and experience which I am exceedingly proud and privileged to be a continuation of. I think that Willie Dixon may have said it best, “The Blues are the roots and the rest of the music are the fruits.” From The Blues to Jazz, through Rock to Reggae, from fusion to hip hop and music around the world that has been sired and inspired by those three supposedly simple chords, I love the Blues, every facet, every movement and every moment. It is the sound of the soul and spirit of my people.

Did the advent of funk and then disco in the 70’s have an influence on you or the Chicago blues scene overall?  Disco ain’t nothin’ but a shuffle turned inside out baby and we have Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie to thank for that, one of the great drummers of our times! Funk was around and being played a long time before it was called funk, a recombinant of jazz and blues with an urban swagger, struttin’ and cuttin’ like a straight razor!
SB%20&%20Keith%20RichardsHow did your relationship with the Stones come about when Mick Jagger was already considered a bitchin’ harp player in his own right?   In actuality I met the Stones indirectly through a recording I did with Louisiana Red called ‘Red, Funk and Blue’ that Keith Richards had heard a year or two before the Some Girls sessions in Paris. Keith told me that I was the most precise and skillful harp player he’d heard on record in recent times, so when we were introduced in Paris he’d already heard me play. When we hit in the studio the music flowed like a river in one take and it was in the groove , the rest is rock and roll history as they say!
If you could hop in a time machine to any day in your life, where might you revisit as a fly on the wall to relive a memory?  I would revisit the day at the Salle Playel theatre in Paris, France where Count Basie and Ella Fitzgerald were playing. They invited me to join them on stage to play C Jam Blues with them, it was the one day in my musical life that I didn’t bring an instrument with me! I always, always carry an instrument with me now no matter where I go!!!.
Please visit Sugar online at www.Sugar-Blue.com