NICHOLAS BARRON

media_slider-39730022You started as a youngster busking on the streets of Chicago: is there a telling memory that still informs you today?  I just wrote a song that’s on my new CD called “When The Fat Lady Sings” about following ones heart and dream. There is this line:  “dudes in 3 piece suits telling me they wished they was me cause I was following my heart and living my dream”. That’s a true story. That and playing the mostly southbound Black el stops and having it feel like Baptist church. I learned to sing  Black music from Black Folks singing with me and playing Electric Blues every weekend in the summer with my band on State street in downtown chicago and the huge crowds! That spark and immediacy are rare and profound!!!

What is your favorite new Nicholas Baron song and why? “When the fat lady sings” is my new “I’m not superman” which is the song I’m known for. It’s a true story. I found a way to be honest and poetic at the same time. It’s got a direct feel from Van Morrisons “Domino” and Rickie Lee jones “Chuck E’s in love”. It finally expresses my truth and is like a quick bio. I love language and beat poetry and this has that feel.

How do songs manifest themselves to you? They happen either effortlessly like  they were waiting for me to catch them like butterflies or intellectual endeavors where the words are like math and science. It happens all possible ways. Words or chorus first or music first or just chords.

Do you have a philosophy when it comes to the recording?  All my records have been somewhat different.  I like it to be organic and sound and feel live but have a sheen to it as well. I have to have a relaxed and honest environment.

What was the first real concert you ever attended and what impression did it have on you? I heard Jimmy cliff when I was 10 with my hippie parents at an outdoor concert. I remember the sky and the feel of it being live and soulful and folks dancing up a storm.

What is your approach to playing live and what is your vibe pre-show? It has recently changed and evolved . I am working on total relaxation and letting the audience come to me. I’ve been trying not to be big the whole time or loud. I’m going for a range of emotions and dynamics even in one song. I have the ability to be mellow and soft and then rise up like Otis Redding or James Brown. I warm up a bit vocally but mostly everything’s changed because I’m relaxing my mind and body when I play. It’s magic!

IMG_1424-BW_filtered_FWhat are your favorite 3 albums of all-time?  Van Morrison’s Astral Weeks , John Martyn’s Solid Air, Joni Mitchell’s Blue

What’s the best live performance you have seen by a Chicago artist? My dear friend Wes John is insanely great and has great songs and his band destroys!

Out of nowhere the Empress of the Universe beams you on board her ship and demands you write a song for her on the spot — any ideas?  All my songs are about the same things disguised as different characters. Love in all its forms, integration, and working through suffering to find resolution. World peace through the microcosm which is self love. Relax yourself before you tax yourself. – Nicholas Barron

MELVIN TAYLOR

L1010246_3bwWHAT WAS THE FIRST GUITAR YOU EVER OWNED AND WHAT WAS THE BEST THING YOU RECALL ABOUT IT?  

My very first guitar was given to me by my teacher, Father Duffacy at Saint Francis Cabrini.  I was 13. It was a white Kingston and he also gave me an amplifier. I couldn’t believe it – my family could not afford to buy me one.  What a wonderful, generous man.  I loved that guitar.  I polished it, slept with it… The best part about the guitar was that it was my very own.

ANY GUITARS YOU’VE HAD OVER THE YEARS THAT YOU WISH YOU STILL HAD NOW?

One guitar I wish I had now was a cherry red Gretch Country Gentleman. It was a reissue of 1967 Chet Adkins model.  I lost it when my basement flooded in 1998. I was on the road, out of town at the time.  It was completely ruined by the time home.

IN TERMS OF PLAIN OLD FEELING GOOD, DO YOU PREFER PLAYING GUITAR AT HOME ALONE, IN THE STUDIO OR LIVE ON STAGE?

For me there is nothing like performing live on stage.  I feed off of the energy the audience puts out and I throw it right back to them.

WHAT IS YOUR APPROACH TO MAKING NEW RECORDS? DOES THERE NEED TO BE A MUSICAL THEME FOR A GIVEN RELEASE OR DO YOU PREFER THE FREEDOM TO CHANGE IT UP THROUGHOUT?

When I started out I recorded for a label – my first 6 CD’s were done that way;  the producer sets the approach and theme for a release. The music turned out great but financially it did not work well for me.

melvinMy most recent CD’s, Beyond the Burning Guitar (2010), Sweet Taste of Guitar (2011), and Taylor Made (2013) I composed, recorded and produced on my own.  It gave me the freedom to record and present the music the way I want.  It had been almost 10 years since my last CD so there was lots of discussion with my management about how to proceed.  BTBG is all instrumental, 23 original songs plus my arrangement of Beethoven’s Fifth (Melvin Meets Beethoven).  The CD covers several styles of music including, jazz, latin, blues and classical. The idea was to feature my guitar playing.  I love ALL kinds of music and I’ve been blessed with my talent. I’ve never had a guitar lesson, no one taught me how to play; I would just hear a song and could play it.

Throughout my career I constantly heard producers, music critics, other musicians say, “pick one style, just one, and stay with That”.  I thought the idea was absurd and could get very boring. I did not want to limit myself.

Basically I created my own sound by combining elements from many areas of music and I think I have done it well. Once again with my latest release, Taylor Made (2013), the theme is exactly that.  The title explains the music on the CD – All kinds of music is who I am.

WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU WERE GOING TO PLAY GUITAR FOR A LIVING AND THERE WAS NO TURNING BACK?

Around age 11 or 12 I began performing on Maxwell Street in Chicago.  I would play with my Uncle Floyd and his friends. I did not even have my own guitar so I would play my uncle’s Fender Mustang. When people started crowding around us and throwing money in the tip jar – I knew right then there was no turning back.

WHAT’S THE BEST BLUES GUITAR SHOWDOWN YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN OR WITNESSED LIVE ON STAGE?

I think this answer will surprise you – the late 1980’s – I believe 1987, George Benson and Earl Klugh at Carnegie Hall of all places.  Fabulous blues by two exceptionally talented guitarists.

HOW DID THE HABIT OF TURNING YOUR AMP BACKWARDS ‘TO THE WALL’ COME ABOUT?

Good music and sound levels go hand in hand.  Lots of people think the louder the music the better – not true! Inexperience with sound engineering can ruin a show.  Sound levels of each band member need to blend.  Whether it’s a 3 piece band or a symphony orchestra.  When playing in a smaller club I often turn my amp to face backwards or away from the audience.  I don’t want to shatter their eardrums.

MelvinTaylorWHAT IS YOUR PERSONAL FAVORITE GUITAR(S) FOR THE CLEANER, MORE JAZZ INFLUENCED MATERIAL VERSES THE BLUESIER, MORE ROCKIN’ BONZO BLUES STUFF?

My personal favorite guitar is my Ibanez SA200.  I can play everything on this guitar – jazz, blues, rock. Now let me add that I modify ALL of my guitars, amps and pedals.  If someone goes out and buys the same brand names of equipment they will not get the same sound that I do.  Recently I’ve been beta testing ceramic wire for a company in Japan. Some day I hope to market my own line of guitars and equipment.

WHAT EARLY BLUES RECORDS HAD THE BIGGEST INFLUENCE ON YOU AS A YOUNGSTER AND DO YOU STILL LISTEN TO THEM TODAY?

Freddie King –  Hide Away. Jimmy Reed Shuffle. These 2 are at the top of my list. Remember I grew up in the 60’s and 70’s – EVERYTHING was going on. Motown, James Brown, Hendrix, Miles Davis, Wes Montgomery, Chet Atkins, Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder.   It was funk/soul, rock, jazz – an absolutely amazing time to be growing up and soaking in all this music especially for a young guitar player.

DO YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE BLUES TO PLAY THEM OR IS IT MORE A WAY OF LIFE THAN A STATE OF MIND?

When I think of guys who put blues on the map I would have to name Albert King, Pinetop, Sam ‘Lightnin’ Hopkins, Elmore James, Chester Burnett (Howlin’ Wolf) and Willie Dixon as major forces. The blues is a “feeling”.  Broken and in pain, sadness and misery. Unfortunately it WAS a way of life for these people. Many people have come to me to teach them to play the blues – I can teach them blues chords and blues licks but the real blues comes from deep within….MELVIN TAYLOR

JOANNA CONNOR

JoannaConnor1.0 – As a kid, was it the blues or rock & roll that grabbed your attention?

The first record I remember vividly was Louis Armstrong singing “Hello Dolly”… I can still remember trying to sing like him.  It was a hit on the radio.  The craziest thing is that I did the math and realized I was 2!  The first two albums to grab me between the ages of 4 and 7 were Taj Mahal’s Giant Step/The Ole Folks at Home and Sgt. Peppers.  I also loved Beethoven, Fiddler On The Roof, and James Brown.  Later came Hendrix, Zep the Rolling Stones. I saw Buddy Guy and Jr. Wells when I was 10 in 1972… . It blew me away.

2.0 – What was the first record you ever bought and how did it make you feel?

I don’t remember the first record I bought. I was poor growing up.  I remember the first one I stole… a 45 of Billy Preston… Nothing From Nothing… Ha! I loved the radio then. I loved soul and funk and Steely Dan and Joni Mitchell and jimmy Cliff and all kind of stuff.  Music was my escape, my world.  I spent hours every day dancing, singing, and playing air guitar in front of my parent’s Zenith stereo.

3.0 – What was your first guitar and do you still have it ?

My mom bought me a Sears classical guitar when I was 7.  I asked for ballet lessons. She gave me guitar lessons. Lord knows what happened to it.

4.0 – What was the first actual blues lead lick you learned, from what song?

I took blues guitar lessons from an amazing guy in Worcester named Ron Johnson when I was 14.  I played acoustic.  He turned me on to the early delta, piedmont, ragtime and slide stuff.  I think the first blues lick I learned was a Mississippi John Hurt tune.

5.0 – What’s the blues scene like today in Chicago versus when you originally moved here?

The blues scene now is still jamming in terms of the clubs being packed and bands performing but it is a pale 3rd string version of when I first moved here talent and skill wise.

6.0 – As a blue guitarist, are there still classic ‘showdowns’ that determine a pegging order among and between the players?

It’s a boys club. It’s like high school. The cool table in the cafe.  They are all peacocks.  The king in my opinion right now is Carl Weathersby.  There are always battles here.  Each guy thinks they are the champ!

7.0 – How do you retain vitality playing a form of music that is nearly a hundred years old, if not older?

I always played the blues in my own way when I went on my own, mixing all of my influences in what I did. I was never a purist. It always stays fresh for me that way.

JoannaConner8.0 – Which release of yours do you feel is most representative of what you are all about?

Big Girl Blues.

9.0 – Do you enjoy writing lyrics and titles or is that ‘work’ part of the song writing equation?

I almost always  hear the groove first. With Big Girl Blues I wrote the words first.  My second love in life is literature.  I have been a huge reader my whole life. I have written a lot of poetry. I find song writing a chore however and only write for projects… I don’t know why.

10.0 – What gets you off more live: when you know you are singing really well or playing guitar at your best?

Playing the guitar is my passion. It takes me out of myself and also drives me into my soul.  Singing can be cathartic but I have to sing 4 to 5 hours a night and it is physically very taxing, and more of a chore.

See Joanna Connor’s 2013 tour schedule at SongKick

MAGIC SLIM

What are the plans for Magic Slim & The Teardrops in 2012?

I have been cast in an independent production movie about a blues man from Mississippi who gets involved with the ghost and two young musical prodigies. I am actually playing the lead role and will be performing as an actor for the first time in my life. The shooting starts next month and the movie will be called “We B Kings”. I also plan to record a new record in the next several months with a heavy emphasis on my guitar playing. Of course I will still be touring both here and abroad as much as possible and playing as many festivals as we can line up.

Where did your love of the blues begin and what was the first tune you ever learned on the guitar?  

My earliest recollection of blues is John Lee Hooker playing “Boogie Chillin” on his first album and I believe my first guitar attempts were Jimmy Reed licks. I then began to listen to blues on Nashville radio which included BB(King), (Little)Walter and Muddy(Waters). I then became good friends with Magic Sam who later christened me Magic Slim.

It’s often said that technical ability is the enemy of the best blues and rock & roll, why is that?  

Blues is not written on paper and isn’t technical music. Blues must be played with feeling and from the heart. If you concentrate too much on the technical, you can’t reach the public with feelings and emotion.

How do you play a song like ‘Mustang Sally’ every night and yet keep it feeling fresh? 

I keep my shows fresh by playing lots of different songs. I know several thousand blues tunes. Even though I get in a groove with certain tunes and tend to play them frequently before an audience, I rarely play a song the same way twice and am always adding new licks or extra licks to an arrangement.

You have played with so many great drummers over the years, is it true that no two are the same?  

Yes it is true that no two drummers play exactly the same. I prefer a drummer with a really solid heavy beat. Our band technical rider requests an extra snare be available because my drummers have been known to break a few.

Does it take a little time to lock in with new players or is it their job to find your groove at this point?  

It takes a little time to lock in with new players but I’ve always used highly talented guys who share my feelings for blues and they catch on fast. I tell my sidemen what I want and remind them if they are not on my groove and I rarely have to say anything at all with my present band. They know my stuff as well as I do and we are all pretty tight.

7.0 – What comes to mind when you think about the Chicago blues scene in the 70’s?  

When I look back on the Chicago blues scene of the 70s, I think about how many really great players there were and how at that time I felt I wasn’t as good as many of them. They were tougher than I was then but I would sure like to go head-to-head with any of them now. Right now I feel pretty tough myself.

What is the quintessential difference, if any, between ‘the Chicago blues’ and other streams within the genre?  

I like all kinds of blues but I’ve always preferred the style and tempo of Chicago blues. It just feels grittier and more down in the alley for me.

Has your philosophy about playing live changed at all over the years and what goes through your mind before going on?  

At this stage of my career I feel much more confident than in the earlier years and although I always enjoyed going head-to-head with the other blues guys, I now go on with a kick ass, take no prisoners approach where I leave everything I’ve got out there each performance. I never worry what the next guy is going to do. I just want to do the best I can when they call my name.

So many today consider you a national treasure and a living legend, how does that make you feel? 

It makes me feel good when people say nice things about me and my playing. I have spent a lot of time trying to learn how to play blues and each year I feel like I know little more than I did last year and it’s nice when people like what I do. I have been trying a long time and it seems to be working. I am thankful that my health and my energy level allow me to play at my best levels ever. Next year I plan to be a little bit better than I am now.