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!!!.
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How’s the Townshend windmill these days?  I don’t deploy the windmill much these days. The stages I am playing are too crowded and the ceilings generally too low. I will bring it out if it feels right at some point, I suppose.

What was your first rock concert and what do you remember most about it? Jethro Tull, Chicago Stadium, October 1978. I remember the awe of being at my first giant rock show, the haze that hovered above the crowd, Frisbees and toilet paper rolls flying everywhere before the show. The tickets were $8.50, the bootleg t-shirts were five bucks, Uriah Heep opened, and my friend Al and I drove his family’s VW Bug to the show, taking Milwaukee Avenue from Park Ridge, for some reason. Someone threw an egg and hit Tull’s drummer in the face. The music was an indistinguishable, reverberating collision of sounds. The seats were in another county. It was great.

What’s the craziest thing that has ever happened to you on the road? I was driving a Sprinter Van full of Poi Dogs down the coast in California the day after a gig in Mendocino (where my ashes are to be scattered), and en route to San Francisco, where we had a gig that night at the incredible American Music Hall. We had a tire blowout the day before and were riding on a spare, that may or may not have been put on with care and precision. Anyway, I was driving and there came an agitated grumbling from the driver’s side rear wheel, the one that had been changed the day before. It was rather unsettling and began to grow more pronounced. I was beginning my move towards the exit ramp when the wheel pried itself loose and came off. I kept control and steered us off to the shoulder, riding on three wheels and a howling axle. It was a crazy seven seconds or so of chaos and odd personal clarity. We scraped safely to a stop on the shoulder, trying to figure out just what the hell had happened, and like the punchline frame in a cartoon, the wheel came rolling lazily and wobbily to a stop in the grassy median that separated both sides of the highway. There should have been some lazy banjo music accompanying the unhurried comical rolling wheel as it seemed to poke around, looking for a good spot to lie down. But we were all safe.

We got out of the van and called Triple A and started milling around on the side of the road. I shot some video for YouTube which is out there somewhere. The really unbelievable part of the trip started then. A couple who had seen us in Mendocino the night before recognized us as they passed us, then turned around and came back to see if they could help. They were driving a small pickup truck, and they called a local friend to see if they could borrow their van. They returned with their extra vehicle, and the Triple A tow truck driver defied all his rules and grabbed our van, and filled up his truck with band members (who knew tow trucks had back seats?) and took us as far as he could, which was to a gas station just outside the SF city limits. We then crammed all of the band members and our gear and suitcases in into the van and pickup truck and made it to the gig on time. We loaded in, and then sat down to eat our free meal and a much needed pint of beer, and I remember looking at Rick and Max and saying “What the fuck just happened?” (watch Dag Julin’s Tour Movies)

There was a brand new van waiting for us the next day, as the rental company was there in SF. It worked out, only through the most cosmically fortunate set of circumstances imaginable. I have forgotten the name of the couple, but they were amazing. It was one of the friendliest acts I’ve ever been the beneficiary of.

As a guitarist, how did you adapt from playing with a band like The Slugs to joining a much larger stage band like Poi Dog Pondering?  The main thing I had to do was listen and just not blast heavy chords through the whole tune. I still play too loudly, unfortunately, but I have learned to get out of the way and say more, musically, with less.

The stage seems a very comfortable place for you, do you have any advice for happy onstage trails?  Just be right there in the room at that moment.

Does being a copywriter-by-day make it harder or easier to write lyrics?  I don’t know if I’ve ever taken lessons from either side of my writing lives and integrated them. I know that there are times when I tend to write rhythmically or with rhyme in my copywriting gigs, but only if it works. I wrote a thing for a Perry Mason promo that went “A crime, a clue, a suspect or two…” which I suppose could be a result of songwriting.

Who is in Expo’76 and what tunes do you guys do?  Expo’76 is myself on guitar and vocals (and posters and master set list), Kenny Goodman on keys, John Carpender on drums and Ralph Baumel on bass. We are often augmented by at least two of the Total Pro Horns: Max Crawford, Dave Smith and Justin Amolsch. We cover a lot of ground, from Duke Ellington to Nick Lowe; from Oscar Brown Jr. to Neil Sedaka. It’s tremendous fun.

When the call about the Dag Juhlin All-Star Band World Tour comes in, what super-star legends, dead or alive, are backing you up?  Georgie Fame (organ), Toots Thielmans (harmonica), Tommy Ardolino & Joey Spampinato (NRBQ; on drums and bass), Scott MacCaughey (Minus 5, REM, Young Fresh Fellows, etc., guitar/bartender). I would just hold everyone’s coats while they played.

Your making a road trip…..what’s on the Juhlin playlist these days?  In the car it’s been the most recent Beastie Boys album; the Beatles first album Please Please Me, which is my favorite Beatles album; Bruce Springsteen’s The Promise, that 2CD set of ‘Darkness’ extras, and Duke Ellington’s Far East Suite. At family dinner time it’s often Count Basie; when I am on the train it’s usually Segovia or a weird electronic thing; and when I am going to sleep it’s usually The Everly Brothers.

Upon arrival at the Pearly Gates you are surprised to learn old Saint Peter likes to rock, what say ye?  I just say “So, Pete. Any requests? Waddya wanna hear?”