Posts Tagged ‘Howlin’ Wolf’

Conversation: Artist and guitarist Dirk Kruithof (Pt1, Jan/Feb 2016)

Posted: February 24, 2016 in Conversation
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In early January 2016, my fellow guitarist and artist Dirk Kruithof suggested we initiate a ‘convo’ – a conversation via email just shooting the shit about things that interest us.

Dirk is a schooled (but not too schooled!) visual artist and a far more abstract-thinking guitarist than me. I am an autodidact in most stuff I do and a pretty straight blues-jazz guitarist. We also are of different generations with a gulf of years between us.

We are alike enough yet different enough to make this interesting. I jumped at it.

I will be putting up our continuing CONVO in monthly parts for as long as it goes.

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JH: So Dirk, we are both visual artists and both guitarists. Who started you off in guitar and in Art?

 

DK: So we are, as was the great Django Reinhardt!

Well I had a Primary school teacher who brought in an acoustic guitar and sung us David Bowie‘s ‘Space Oddity’ once – which made a major impression on me in 3rd class. Both the song and the instrument. I didn’t really take up guitar ’till quite a bit later, (I was around 16 years old) but that definitely planted a seed as something I’d like to do when I ‘grew up’. Before guitar was a year of Violin lessons in year 7 which I loathed!

But it was my older Brother who had the electric guitar that I first started messing around on. It was a little cheap hockshop thing and I’d go try to make sounds with it when he wasn’t home, eventually he saw how obsessed I was and let me hang onto it as he wasn’t as committed.

I also had a friend who showed me a few chords, including open D, and as things progressed I gradually got better and tried to copy anything I could from listening to recordings and the radio, or looking at books with tablature as I don’t read music. I was totally into Rock music and the guitar: Led Zeppelin and Hendrix were my idols. I also really loved the guitar work in the song Diamond Dogs that I heard on the radio. (triple m ?) Bowies recent death has really affected me.

Regarding art my Mum is a painter, so I’d say I got that from her, and I’ve been drawing on and off as long as I can remember.

My first art memories are that I’d like drawing imaginary creatures, mostly monsters in bright texta colours, but then I’d be afraid they’d come to life when I went to bed. Come to think of it Im still making brightly coloured monsters of some sort. Seeing books on Van Gogh and Francis Bacon were some of my early artistic influences.

I know you’re a big Bowie fan, – he always had such amazing unique guitarists, and all quite different from each other. I find as I get older many of my earlier influences or obsessions drop away while others remain as strong or get stronger. For me artists like Beefheart and Bowie are stayers.

Apart from Bowie do you have a long-term favourite piece of music, or piece of visual art or writing you keep coming back to?

I wonder if sentimentality plays a large part, or do the things that ‘stick’ with us have something else – we see more in them each time, or they’re capable of changing with us maybe. ?

 

JH: Dirk, with me it was Hendrix – totally besotted! It was that he could conjure WORLDS out of his music. This was before I ever took drugs – when I finally did, I thought “I have been here before”. I had already felt that delicious dislocate thru Hendrix’s music and all those great prog rock LP covers.

And that is the ART that grabbed me – as a boy it was Marvel Comics – Jack Kirby, Gil Kane and Steve Ditko – then as a young teen it was the art of Roger Dean and the Hipgnosis team that adorned the Yes and Pink Floyd album covers. CD covers are just too small to do anything with, but 12″ x 12″ – wow! especially as the double gatefold. (handy for seeding grass and rolling joints). I discovered the great ‘proper’ artists through all this awesome 70s graphic design. – Picasso, Dali, Miró, Bacon, particular dig Aussie Brett Whiteley.

Bowie of course took me away and gave me a reason for living during my awful private school years. Saved my life, Mr Bowie! All of his guitarists have had a big impact, but as an arranger myself, i dug Mick Ronson as he seemed to apply a composer/arranger’s ‘shaping’ to his solos. The coda of ‘Moonage Daydream’ is as lovely as the song’s melody.

They say that the music you love when you are 17 is the music you will love your whole life. I wonder if that is also true of art and literature and film?

Apart from Bowie, I do keep coming back to the Beatles, esp the creative tornado they were from ‘Rubber Soul’ onwards. I was not a Beatlemania kid – missed by a few years – but no one can deny their impact and genius (whatever that word means).

Another stayer in my life is the Hungarian composer Béla Bartok – my jazz guitar teacher in the 70s, John Robinson, opened my head right up with 20th century classical music. Stravinsky knocked me sideways but Bartok seems to resonate something deep in me – maybe my Euro heritage. I can taste the pine needles and the animal fur and the log fires in his music.

How about you? What got its hooks deep into you?

 

DK: Yes Hendrix — So many guitarists of all ages cite him as THE big influence, he’s an absolute untouchable and I’m no fan of the stratocaster in general. I grew up on him too. He reinvented the electric guitar and guitar music. Ive never been much of a pot smoker except my first year outta high school was the year I crammed a lifetime of it in, I was working a depressing job as a cashier at Clancys supermarket and Hendrix and Miles Davis were a big soundtrack to that time in my life. Electric Ladyland and In a Silent Way especially. I love Miles Davis.

Picasso, Stravinksy and Bartok are fantastic indeed , love ’em too — whats your European background btw?

Picasso was a major influence on Basquiat, also one of my favs.

I think as a 17 year old re-discovering Punk and its related musics had a profound impact on me that’s still having aftershocks. I’d heard Sex Pistols and Devo in primary school through my brother, and I loved the nihilism, energy and humour, the simplicity and weirdness and romanticised the idea of the anarchic outsider or rebel.

But Dead Kennedys were the one band who saved me in high school. The break-neck tempos, rawness and absolutely impolite opinionated extremism of it appealed totally, the seeming connection to Politics and what was happening in the world made alot of the old music I’d been into seem incredibly introverted, out of touch, unnecessarily clever and indulgent. That music was very anti-censorship and cheeky, and somehow also connected on that level to stuff like Zappa which I grew up with as my Dad listened to him.

And the humour of the best stuff that gets lumped into the Punk label, bad-taste, sarcastic and iconoclastic – I was hooked.

'Skull of j.m.b.' 2000. D.Kruithof

‘Skull of j.m.b.’ 2000. D.Kruithof

I think the stuff that stuck with me that I still listen to from that era is possibly more hybrid than strictly Punk, I still love The Fall, The Slits, Public Image LTD, The Birthday Party, Sonic Youth. Spiky guitar stuff. Captain Beefheart is an all-time favourite.

Many of the Punk bands cited Bowie and Beefheart as influences and I feel it.

Then just after high-school along came Beck (Hansen, not Jeff !).

Loved his oddball-ness, and complete mix of styles – noise hiphop folk pop etc etc. A really melodic songwriter too underneath all the gunk who had the ability like Bowie to completely change sound from album to album.

Lyrically a stream of consciousness: bizarre violent surrealism deflated in the next stanza by a dorky one-liner, next to something heart-felt. Was it all a big put-on.

I somehow connect him to Tom Waits who Is also one of my favs.

Shit the list is too exhaustive!!, next came Ornette Coleman and Free-Jazz, Be-bop, Monk and Django Reinhardt, Gypsy Music.

All that stuff is totally hooked into me for life.

I wanted to ask about your working method and thoughts on the creative process. — With your visual art, do you have a routine or regular place or time you work on it, and what do you think of the idea of ‘Inspiration’ ? — do you get influenced by new things or do you feel more self-directed and self-contained.

Im feeling increasingly that things like social media are somehow influencing my Paintings.

 

JH: Jesus, how could I have forgotten Miles Davis. I remember his album LIVE/EVIL utterly shocked me to the core. It was so audacious and wild. Still one I go back to when I want to shake out the kundalini.

My European background is English on my father’s side and German on my Mum’s. Went to Germany in 2009 and felt like I was ‘Home’ – there is a theory of ‘race memory’: I really resonated with the place.

My working methods are simple: find a chink of time in my day and go for it! I never a seem to need to wait for the muse or inspiration. All I need is time. Maybe if I had all the time in the world I would dry up. Ha ha.

That said, whenever I see an exhibition that thrills me – like Francis Bacon a couple of years back – I do get an extra jolt of energy. Oddly, tumultuous or joyous or significant events on my life never seem to inspire me to action. You say social media influences your paintings – maybe I am also being influenced by these external forces without ever having realised it. But when I am making something, I am really not thinking about anything but the work at hand. It’s sort of meditative.

When did your work take that pop art, urban turn? You mention Basquiat – your work brought him to mind the first time I saw it.

 

DK: Ahh great, yeah I was in Berlin for a couple of weeks in 2010 doing a few gigs,

I liked it too but didnt get to see nearly enough of the place.

Amongst other places went to Amsterdam (Dad’s side of the fam is Dutch) and London (Mum’s side English).

Im a big fan of the Chuck Close quote which is along the lines of ‘ Inspiration is for amateurs, the rest of us just get on with it‘ ! , I also try not to overthink it and yeah theres never enough time anyway to wait around for inspiration (whatever that is) . Just getting to work creates its own forward momentum.

I like the idea of ‘Flow Theory’ where you’re in a state of concentration, or extreme attention to something youre creating , when you are truly doing what you’re most interested in and are at your most ‘you’ and nothing else seems to matter in that moment

I studied a fine art diploma at TAFE 1999-2001 so I guess since then the Urban and Pop thing has been continually snowballing in my own work — I was an absolute Basquiat obsessive , plus I did a few major assignments on Abstract Expressionism and Pop and that’s really stuck and become a foundation for me — a lot of American stuff , also Rauschenberg, and then I got really into using Text and Words in my painting around 2001 (Christopher Wool became a big influence).

Im not sure exactly how the use of Words in my work is going to pan out, we seem to be reaching the Peak Text Art era, its kinda everywhere and overkill but Im still having fun with it.

Been looking at alot of Max Beckman lately to see how he used colour, trying to learn how to use all the colours together and still make it work.

 

JH: Yes, overthinking is not good. But I guess until one gets happy in one’s own artistic skin, then one tends to ‘look before you leap’ a little too much!

I remember learning jazz guitar theory and then playing all my weird modes and resolutions in the disco wedding band I was in at the time. Yep, that is a quick and harsh way to learn about ‘context’ – ha ha.

I like that idea of ‘flow theory’ – cool! and very true, we all work to get to that point, don’t we?

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Journal pages – John Hardaker, 2010

I need to remind you that you are dealing with a person who is very much self-taught with everything (and a living embodiment of the truism “The self-taught man has a fool for a teacher…” ha ha). Apart from a year of intense jazz guitar and two years graphic design at TAFE (my course was the certificate – nothing creative: just turning out paste-up drones for the, at that time, very labour intensive, pre-computer art and design studios). Everything else I have just picked up – constantly curious, always on the lookout.

I also need to remind you that you are dealing with a man looking at turning 60 in one year. So if i repeat myself, you will understand.

Max Beckmann? You know, he would be around number 356 on a list of artists I would look to for colour. Interesting – I really must go back to Beckmann. I usually got caught up in the power of his images and the great drawing. What have you got out of looking at Beckmann’s colours?

 

DK: Ha ha I havent noticed any repetition from you yet !

I was accused of it recently, I think it was alcohol related and Id forgotten I’d said the same kinda stuff to the same person one too many times after a drink!

Autodidacticism is great (like big words are), — Im fairly comfortable with the fact I’ve never had a guitar lesson. Ive thought about learning to sight- read music many times but it seems a seriously daunting prospect…

Hopefully I’m too old and set in my ways to have to start with all that. Ha yeah the Locrian, Phrygian disco wedding band! Sounds enticing. I did a stint with memorising the modes a long time ago, I think most of its still up there somewhere if I really had to use it.

So, Yeah Max Beckmann for colour seems strange right, may be its a bit like listening to Bob Dylan strictly for the sound of his voice!?

Its the late 40’s and 1950 period of his I guess Im thinking of, he got into flatter brighter colour with less tonal shading, and white , and black outlines and contrast.

Ive been using heaps of colours together in the one picture but the result seemed to be kind of weak and same-ish, all that colour together added up to a big fat monotone paradoxically — Im wanting a dramatic contrast maybe introducing black and white as well as the colours will help with that.

I guess your years of TAFE – although you werent doing particularly creative things, or having much freedom – was a real discipline in all the formal elements that would have some kind of helpful effect on your own artwork later? The collages of yours I’ve seen are great, they dont look ‘graphic-designy’ to me either (not that theres anything wrong with that!!!!) Have to add, Im a huge fan of Kurt Schwitters too.

Someone told me I should’ve been a signwriter after coming to one of my exhibitions once, wasnt quite sure how to take that !

For some reason just thought of something I read by John Cage, where he says something like: You know its modern art if you spill a can of paint on the picture and it looks like it belongs there.

Seen any good movies? I saw Hateful Eight, classic Tarantino ultraviolent and unexpected plot twists and all his favourite devices, I quite liked it.

 

JH: Thanx for your kudos re my collages – I really dig doing them. They are an extension of my journals (almost finished number 39!!) and yet, they still lack the freedom of my journals. At some point I seem to realise someone else will be looking at this so I self-consciously make it ART. Whereas in my journals I will for example (as I did this week) paste in a folded out Tabasco sauce box, just a flat meaningless piece of packaging – I think it’s beautiful. Whereas with my canvas art, I would then add some art element to it to make it Art.

I wish I was a brave as Robert Rauschenberg. Have you seen his ‘Cardboard’ series? Just flattened junk boxes picked up off the street. Beautiful! But then he was always like that – never afraid for his work to look like the beautiful junk it was, to show its origins quite nakedly. Apprently, he was envious of Jasper Johns for becoming popular quicker, but John’s stuff looked like Art from the outset – all sealed off and ‘finished’, whereas RR’s looked like the wind could blow it way at any moment. I love his work and he, and of course Schwitters, are my heroes. Schwitters, oddly found a happy medium between the two – his work looks ‘finished’ and yet doesn’t betray its origins – beauty in a bus ticket. Maybe its a European thing versus a brash American thing.

Your work has that collagey effect – which is why I was drawn to it: your painted pieces pull in a lot of great pop cultural elements and seem very relevant because of that. Getting back to the text thing: I love your use of text. Stuart Davis used to do those things where the names of bars and cigarettes would be part of the pic as much as a person or a tree. Picasso too, a violin with a fag pack and (I love this) fake printed woodgrain. Picasso really was doing amazing shit always way out front. What do you think of Picasso? – a lot of latter generations don’t dig him. Might be the mysoginistic thing (which is a whole other trip/conversation). I would be interested in your thoughts.

Movies? I don’t watch a lot of TV or movies. Teevee can be audiovisual lobotomy and the Hollywood movie formulaic thing really bores me. Bombastic crap where, you will notice, the reward for taking the proper moral path is always money and success (the opposite of cool Euro movies where the reward for taking the proper moral path usually ends up in more misery – YAY!). Tarantino sort of came out of the art movie tradition. Pulp Fiction I adore; Kill Bill I hated (under that lovely stylistic skin was – guess what? – more lovely stylistic skin!), Reservoir Dogs I didn’t dig – but I saw it on the heels of Pulp Fiction, so not a smart move: watched it the other night on Netflix and I liked it. Always pays to go back and reassess from different points in life, I think. Must check Django and The Hateful 8.

Have you ever seen Jodorowsky‘s El Topo (1970)? Makes Tarantino look like Walt Disney.

 

DK: Yes indeed Rauschenbergs boxes are great. They give you the chance to really take time to SEE them in the gallery environment , I too love that ‘Beautiful Junk’ aesthetic .

My workspace is full of bits of card, newspapers , etc all kinds of empemeral crap, Bits and pieces that then creep into the work. Sometimes copied or modified for my paintings. I like trying to put as much of ‘the real world’ as I can in there.

I appreciate Johns but not as much, though he has some knockout pieces. Schwitters is probably my favourite of the 3, and just the sheer amount of stuff he produced is astounding.

I’m assuming You’ve seen the work of Jacques Villeglé? – saw some of his 1960’s large scale torn-paper works in the Pompidou in Paris years ago , Fantastic stuff that looks like he just dragged the street into the gallery. Still looks to me as fresh as if it was made yesterday.

I do like Picasso a lot, especially his late period. It seems like whatever new painting I see, Picasso was already one of the first there with the idea.

I Saw an AGNSW Picasso show a few years back, the work was displayed in chronological order of production about 8 rooms of work, and the last 2 rooms especially really hit me… They were the best – the wildest, free-est and most child-like and expressive to my eyes, like he was doing it just for himself, no-one to impress. And great colour and spontaneity.

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‘Sunset’ Acrylic on Calico. D.Kruithof 2015

I like that his Paintings are autobiographical in many ways but don’t necessarily look like it (they’re not tedious to look at). Basquiat and Bacon (amongst hoardes) took alot from him too.

As far as Picasso the person — Yeah that really IS another conversation, Im constantly shocked or dissapointed with knowing too much about ‘The Greats’ (Beefheart the bully, ‘Prickasso’ etc etc)

 

JH: I read a lot of biography – mainly artists and musicians etc. And they are really not the nicest people – but as a friend once said (about Sinatra I think) “I don’t want to live with him, I only want to enjoy his music.” Like sportspeople or actors or I guess anyone who moves to the top, all else is sacrificed for their Art – family, lovers, children, responsibility. I think there is an awful lot of narcissism involved there, and in the case of someone like Beefheart, a measure of borderline mental illness, both exacerbated and accepted by the druggy times he lived and created in.

The messy lives of the “greats” don’t really disappoint me, as the older I get, the more I realise the truth of the Graham Greene quote: “Life is not black and white; it is black and grey.” (Hey, I’m big on the quotes today!). Everyone and everything is compromised to an extent; all my heroes sold out to some degree. The ones who have remained my great heroes are those who seemed to almost taunt their fans and their market, endangering their careers over and over again. Taking the risks that we expect from truly modern, cap-A Artists (and not having the balls to take in our own workaday lives).

Picasso, Miles Davis and yes, David Bowie to me are huge names that consistently pushed forward to the next thing, dragging us all behind them. They could have taken lethal missteps along the way, but they didn’t and in fact they became those rare and wonderful Artists who we all came to expect great and shocking innovation from with every new work. Picasso’s “Demoiselles”, collages, Neo-classic works, Miles’ “Live/Evil”, “Agartha”, even “Kind of Blue”, Bowie’s “Low” and “Young Americans” all come to mind. Still all surprisingly as shocking and fresh as the day they were made.

Of course there are many many artists who risk consistently (Rauschenberg) but the above three – being world beaters – seemed to happily risk toppling their high, high towers to chase that next impulse. Dylan is another. Career suicide seemed to be of no consequence.

Talking of careers, you are so active with your art. You have shows and exhibs and are really going at it. As someone who really hides my stuff in the cupboard, I really admire that. Do you see yourself as making it into a full-time career? Is that possible these days? I know with music it is almost impossible now. Where do you see your Art in the future?

 

DK: Yeah Im an avid Biography and Autobiography reader too — I really enjoy them.

Am revisting ‘Bowie , loving the alien’ (by Christopher Sandford) for the 2nd time — about 18 years after I first read it. Its definitely got its moments – I wonder how much of the info is hearsay with this particular writer. Its definitely warts and all. But then Im sure there are many books on Bowie, probably heaps more coming out now he’s died too…

Books on Kim Gordon, Patti Smith, Beefheart,Tom Waits and others Ive read recently too. And yeah of course – we dont have to live with these people, but just enjoy the ride as they appear on the written page. (Kim Gordon comes across as very un-rockstar and nice I must add .)

I love those Maverick artists that are unpredictable and strong-willed , but thats as it should be. You can kind of depend on their unpredictability. (Having said that I was not a big fan of Miles Davis’ ‘Doo-Bop’ ha hhhaaa)

Freedom, exploration , getting lost and doing what you want are some of the great luxurys of creativity. I think art is the one place you should feel free to be ‘an extremist’ and go far out on a limb. — Career Suicide is way preferable to Creative Suicide right? Although mostly those artists you’ve mentioned are at a level where they could commit it and still have some kind of a career afterwards, as they have a ‘name’.

OK I must check out Jodorowsky – My film knowledge is pretty limited, Music and Visual Art are more my thing (obviously!). I know Tarantino takes from everywhere and everyone, but I’m not always aware of all the sources.

Oh yeah making a living from music ?!?!!#@$*? I think I’ve only really done that for a couple of years out of about 25 and that involved alot of touring at that time !!! It was surviving more than living too.

Re: my own work, I’d say music is still slightly more stable and continuous for me ‘career-wise’ at present than art, but yeah I am really hoping to make more of a go of the Visual Art now too, — the last 5 years have been good as far as I’ve been exhibiting alot more, making more work that has some kind of continuity and getting a little momentum and confidence.

Mostly its been artist-run galleries and small shows, though I did do the Other Art Fair last year which was a new angle for me. (thanks for coming to that btw). I really have no idea how it will progress to a Career as much as I’d love that, but I do intend to keep having more shows in the future. I’m just drawn to making stuff, and the whole process suits my temperament, happy to work alone and self-directed and then I enjoy the feedback when people come and see the finished product.

Would you consider/ have you shown those Collages of yours in a Gallery ? I really like ’em.

 

JH: I have read the Beefheart and Kim Gordon and Patti Smith books. Kim Gordon seemed (as you say) a real sweetie. The Patti Smith I found great but her voice is so un-American and arty-flowery. I think she is in thrall to the European thing. Sort of surprised me, since her music is so tough.

I loved Dylan’s ‘Chronicles’ – his writing voice is really hard-edge and street and modern-American. I am not surprised, but at the same time, I didn’t expect it to be so ‘Beat’ and hip. The book I was surprised by was Viv Albertine‘s “Clothes Clothes Clothes Music Music Music Boys Boys Boys” (great title eh?) – she was from the wiry punk reggae band the Slits (one of the all-time best punk band names). She writes like (I imagine) she talks – direct, funny, conspiratorial, unfussy, unprecious. Flew thru that one.

Must borrow the Bowie biog at some stage. I have oddly never ever read a Bowie book – even though I find his music and persona utterly fascinating. Am I afraid I won’t like the unprotected and unself-curated man? Will his feet be more clay than I want to know? Ignorance is bliss; curiosity killed the cat. What the hell.

Good to hear you are having a good crack at the art thing. I went to a show that a mate of mine, Glenn Locklee participated in on Abercrombie St and I was really heartened to walk past a number of small galleries on the same street. It sparks me up to see people risking and making and shining a light in the ever-predicted dark. Every day – with art and music – there is the relentless doom and gloom barrage on the ol’ social media, often sadly justified – but venues closing rarely means the city’s creative energy dims. People keep at it, they need to scratch that itch – always the best, and most life-affirming reason for any art to be made. The balance, when it goes from being a non-career (I hate the work ‘hobby’: so dismissive of someone’s burning desire to create and speak; it ain’t fuckin stamp-collecting) to being a career, is to hold your integrity. A cliché i know – but the eternal battle, so maybe not a cliché after all.

I have always thought when one becomes a professional, it is still a good idea to be mindful of the fact that the word ‘amateur’ derives from the French, amour: to love, and not from the American sense: to not make money from. Ha ha. I am really glad that I never tried to make a living solely from music; I think it might have soured me towards the one art form that has never ever let me down.

Exhibit my own work? I have been included in a couple of emerging artist shows at Artsite, but since than have not done much. Being a (very very) late bloomer with this I really have no idea how its machinery works, but I am learning. For all those years I was satisfied to just work away on my journals and then Annalise Morrow suggested I do something outside of them. It is fun, but I need to be freer and more brave. the main thing is to DO.

The funny thing is, my visual art bears little to no relation to my music. Or maybe on some organisational level it does – I seem to gravitate towards arrangement of existing music into new forms over composition from out of the air. maybe there is a collage aesthetic at work there. Hmmmmm… I feel my music is pretty straight – blues, rock etc; never anything as beautifully noise-based as your Forenzics project.

Do you see direct correlations between your music and paintings?

 

DK: Hey perhaps we should do an Art show together sometime, could work thematically seeing as we are both Collagists / Musicians ?. Been wanting to exhibit some of my works on paper too, think our stuff’d work together. Could be fun.

Oh The Slits — yes love ’em , discovered them in high school — still own and love their first album ‘Cut’. A refreshing sound for ‘punk’ with the female reggae dub influence quite different to the anglo boys club of most punk. Ill swap you one Bowie for one Slits book! One of them (maybe Viv?) was John Lydon/Johnny Rotten‘s godmother too. I read Lydons ‘no Blacks, no Dogs, no Irish’ yonks ago, very good. He has another book out too.

And Bowie comes across in the book I’m reading as being pretty much un-knowable , a contradiction, a cypher, off the planet but strangely grounded and savvy too. Also a strange mix of self confident and insecure, and a bit of a sex maniac!. (but not unlikeable) — perhaps that elasticity of personality is part of the reason he was so creative. Ive seen interviews with him where he says he wants to avoid self-analysis ‘cos he feels it would get in the way of his creativity.

And he really had alot of bad contracts and business deals early on with managers and what not. Even after the Ziggy Stardust album he still only had something like 30 pounds left in the bank. I Read a book on Tom Waits a while back who too was another great enigma.

But back to Beefheart — I really started to dislike him! Which concerned me cos theres the danger it may taint my joy of the brilliance of his music.

I hadn’t thought about the origin of the word ‘Amateur’ – thats good to keep in mind. I am a fan of many of the amateur art forms — outsider art and punk , dada, free jazz, art brut. All kinds of raw and weird shit that just has to be expressed no matter if theres a polite audience , or money etc.

I find it hard to make a direct connection between my own music and art too, — People have said my paintings are rhythmic, I guess I can see that, and Im often (not always) listening to music as I make it. I went through a stage in my 20s where I was interested in synaesthesia and trying to make a painting based on a particular piece of music, but I found it quite limiting to do it so literally , and got over it pretty quickly!

Forenzics is totally improvised and a collective group process, where my paintings are usually fairly composed .

Im more conscious of the influence or correlation of the music I listen to, often while working , seeping in as opposed to the music I play myself. I would like my paintings to embody some of the rawness, energy and attitude of some of my favourite musics.

For example I’d like my paintings to look like a song by ‘The Fall‘ sounds,( I spent many a painting listening to them as I workded) — kind of frenetic and scrappy, a rant, rhythmic and critical and cryptic all at once. And the mix of textures like their production, lo-fidelity and high fidelity in the one painting. Reverbs wet and drippy or powdery and dry like different types of paint.

Other theories about artist styles are based on the influence of our cultural backgrounds. Someone recently said my work looked ‘very Dutch’. So maybe its the Madcap/drollness of the Dutch meets the smugness of the English ?!!?!

 

JH: I would LOVE to do that, get a Kruithof/Hardaker show up – I see a lot of similarities between our styles, approaches and attitudes in our visual work. OK, let’s def put that one on the agenda for 2016. I think these days (was it ever any different for unknowns?) you gotta do it yourself – I have been toying with the idea for a while but I haven’t really had the mojo to take it further. You’re on!

I would love to loan you the Viv Albertine/Slits book but it is on my Kindle and I can’t see any way to take it off and give it to you. Maybe there’s a hack – hell! you’re a young dude, you should know how to hack into anything! Ha ha.

It pisses me off in a way – maybe it is a trade-off for the books being so cheap and downloadable out of the air – but it pisses me off that I can’t loan them out as I could a paper (analogue) real book. God, I always loved the times when you would walk into a friend’s place with an armload of books under one arm and an armload of albums under the other, then you would walk out with the same two armloads, but now of borrowed books and albums. People used to need a wheelbarrow when they staggered out of my place some nights (didn’t get half of that stuff back but that it not really the point – it was a kind of cultural Communism: from each according to their ability to each according to their need. Ha ha).

I would love to check the Bowie tome some time. Since his death al I have heard about is his charming manner and his interest in anyone’s work he met. Very self-effacing etc. I do think though that that sort of noncommittal politeness is a shield – a kind of charm offensive in a way – “I’ll disarm them before they can get at me”. (I use it myself when faced with someone or some situation I just want to go away, I think we all do). Lou Reed just shut people out with rudeness, Warhol with that arch-ironic innocent-act. Bowie seems to have been enormously in control of everything at all times – look at the music that he pushed through with pure will; no wonder he did “Heroes” in German! And you can imagine some of the parasitical pirañas artists at his level have to deal with; factor a hypersensitive poet’s soul into that and yes, a shield of some sort is imperative!

I am reading a book right now about Robert Lowell the American poet and he talks about two kinds of poetry, “The cooked and the raw”. This came about when, in the late 50’s he, as an academic established poet felt threatened by the new wild Beat poetry of Ginsberg and Corso etc. It says a lot that he didn’t hide behind his academic kudos but felt as if he needed to really check out what the young firebrands were doing, even though their language was anathema to his classic sensibilities.

“The cooked” (that is, the calmly thought out and highly technically finished) “and the raw” (that is, the instinctively expressed and raw-boned and rough in execution) can be of course applied to anything. You are of the post-punk generation, I am of the pre-punk generation (in a huge generalisation, but for discussion’s sake). The Fall shocks me as I am sure Steely Dan or the jazzier Santana bore you. Punk really drove a wedge between the cooked and the raw and seems to have set up a background radiation to everything since. What is it about Punk (art/music/literature/design/language) that thrilled you so? I know the clichés but I rarely get the chance to ask someone who avoids clichés.

 

DK: Ok great , that’s exciting, lets make it happen — lets keep our eyes out for a space to show. Yeah it’ll have to be a d.i.y. affair, so long as we have decent lighting I’m ok with being flexible about a venue. Im pretty much all over the shop at the mo’ till the middle of the year with my Painting show, gigs and various Dad duties etc, but I’ll def keep it in mind and on the lookout , if it suits You we can do something in the second half of the year.? We could call the show THE CONVO.

No worries re the Slits book, Im still exclusively a paper book reader (so far) and Im sure I can find a copy of it around the place — Id say you’re more tech savvy than me , Im yet to use kindle! Am a ‘late-adopter’ as they say. I’ll be the guy who gets the barcode/ ID implant in his arm 5 years after everyone else…

Oh yeah how hilarious is Lou Reed (Too Rude) in some of those old interviews, very effective at keeping them painfully short !!!

I’ll get that Bowie book to you soon too, almost finished it.

Ive heard about ‘The cooked and the raw’, never read it myself. Sounds like a good read . I really like the idea, — it can be applied to so many modern (and earlier) artforms I guess – from Impressionism , fauvism onwards to punk, certain types of hip-hop etc.

In some ways thats what so many ‘new’ forms appear to do isnt it, to break away from the established in that raw impulsive way, though obviously those new forms ‘Beat Poetry’ etc often become their own version of the classics in time.

Punk / Post-Punk has certainly had so much air-time now historically speaking, its almost become an influence on everything and anything , a very broad and kind of meaningless (confused) term. And yes so many Cliches involved too, a rebellion that became a uniform for many!.

I was listening to Santana (I still quite like ‘Abraxas’) Mahavishnu, Pink Floyd and Steely Dan (!!) around the time I found Punk, and was a weird teen who loved that variety in listening to seemingly mutually-exclusive stuff.

Over a few years the punk related stuff became a MUCH larger and more important influence, and has remained with me more strongly, I think partly because it feels like I ‘discovered it ‘ myself as opposed the ‘inherited’ it ( the Zappa, Zeppelin, and others I got from my Dad and Brother).

And now chucking on The Fall when I paint is kinda the equivalent of having a Coffee in the morning, so familiar and ritualistic. The Fall are the best because they are the most unique, artistic, literary or poetic, sci-fi and weird cryptic stream-of-consciousness band of the Punk era. Their mid-period era they are a seriously mean machine, the link from Velvet Underground to Sonic Youth to a weird gonzo-journalist type reportage. Punk is now Nostalgic for me even ? Oh No. !!!

The other thing I responded to as a young impressionable was the feeling of ‘danger’ and confrontation of Punk, — I heard a live Iggy Pop/ Stooges album and he’s saying stuff on the mic to a really hostile crowd who are heckling him, stuff like ‘You’re paying 5 dollars and Im making 300 so screw ya, ya jealous cocksuckers!‘ or ‘Your girlfriend still loves me’ .

The album was really funny and kinda desperate, and just raw and real stuff you’d never get on ‘Live at Pompeii’, or ‘Song remains the same’ say. The performer and audience communicating so directly. I suppose its more Romanticism as opposed to Classicism. The Cinema Verite quality of punk appeals to me, — you can see the structure, the raw bones and the struggle of the process are right there on the surface as part of the work, not out of view and made into a perfect object.

The best of it feels unbalanced, unpredictable and energised. Embracing and turning all the negative emotions and anger and frustration and absurdities of life into a positive — into ART, it’s an idea I LOVE. I think of my own artwork sometimes as ‘Wallowing’ in certain negatives, but it’s bringing something to life.

Thats how alot of that Punk stuff felt like to me, though now I do think most art has a fair degree of Illusion , you can eggagerate those features and maybe they are not so ‘genuine’ after all. But Punk was aware of that too, — sometimes dealing in an ironic cartoon-like quality that exploited itself.

Oh I just had a thought … My Dad loves Bob Dylan obsessively and of course I had to rebel from that ! — though maybe Dylan was punk too when he first went electric.

So are you a Bob Dylan fan ? , I know he’s important to alot of people

 

JH: Dylan? You reckon you are a late adopter? I only got into Dylan maybe 4 years ago, age 55!

Even though he was a cultural beacon of his age and a superstar of my early teenage I never paid much mind to him. I was a jazz geek, one of those guys who ‘don’t ever really listen to the words’ (which is why i could stomach my relentless diet of Prog and jazz-fusion – mainly lyrics written by Scientologists, academics or space-cadets… aaaaargh). Of course he was in and out of my life – an artist as ubiquitous as him seemed to always bob up (pardon the pun) either on radio or magazines, teevee etc. (His conversion to born-again Christianity in the mid-70s was front page news – it seemed the earth itself had tilted from its axis – funny, i bought his best ‘Christian’ album two days ago, Slow Train Coming and away from all the brouhaha it is a great, funky blues album.)

Also, Dylan’s true impact was felt in the mid-Sixties, so he was a little early for me – Dylan was of the Hippie counterculture, Bowie and T. Rex were my guys. Bowie transmitted all the righteous info, the news fit to read, the arcane secrets, the permissions, the proper highway signs etc to me, just as Dylan had done to his Sixties tribes.

Journal pages, John Hardaker 2009

Journal pages, John Hardaker 2009

In one of those weird cultural ‘wrinkles’ which the 21st century seems to have more and more of every day, my son got me into Dylan after hearing the 1964 song ‘The Times They are A-Changing’ on the soundtrack of the 2009 superhero movie, Watchmen. He seemed attracted to the rawness and immediacy, the lo-fi and the radicalism of this song – all very Punk attributes. He asked me who it was – and i told him, and he got into a lot of the early Dylan albums. My son finds a lot of the music of his time plastic and cook-cutter.

So it set me on a path to Dylan and I really became absorbed in the ‘Blonde On Blonde’ stuff – but there are 2 distinct Dylans: the surrealist poet and the earthy folkie: and unlike most artists bands who have 2 distinct periods, set chronologically (Pink Floyd, Stones), Dylan seems to mix and match thru his career. Which kinda keeps it interesting. And I listen to the lyrics.

What I also found I liked about this music was its rootsiness – and I horrified myself. For years I had been decrying that clichéd arc whereby at a certain age, we all get all woodsy and acoustic and folky and rootsy. Jesus, even David Johansen of the NY Dolls went acoustic! To me, it was a symptom of becoming a scared old man (or woman) and retreating to some imagined hippie arcadia away from all the fast-digital pace of modern life. I abhorred it, it was fake-nostalgic and plain weak. And yet, here was I doing it.

Am I pining for an imagined paradise of combi vans, cannabis and muesli? I doubt it, but the older I get, the more I move away from technicality and more into groove and feel. And direct emotional input – i think that is the thing. But Mark Rothko can be direct emotional input as well as Howlin’ Wolf, so the feast is still a wide table.

The current blues and roots scene to me though is overloaded with fake-authenticity – Blind Boy This and Blind Boy That, all wrapped in faux-faded leather and (the stupidest of the stupidest) factory-relic’d guitars.

Am I being ornery? After all, every scene (even pure fine arts) has its showbiz aspect. And we wouldn’t be true to ourselves if we didn’t admit that some of the greatest names of 20th century art (and/or their dealers) milked that showbiz aspect for all it was worth – Dali, Pollock, Warhol (although he obviously turned it in on itself), Koons. What think you?

 

DK: Ah yeah T-Rex ! The Slider was one of the first cassettes I remember buying in Primary school. (around 1982 or so) Still have it and still love it ! (and it still plays suprisingly well on my found-on-the-streets-of-darlo ghetto blaster that sits in my painting room ). There’s an American singer I came across recently, Ty Segal who’se been doing kind of garage-y rock versions of T-Rex, I quite like it (suprisingly) – and more so quite like his own stuff too. He somehow manages that rare thing of having a quite retro (psych?) sound but not sucking.

I’m pretty sure my Dad owned everything Dylan ever did, I remember all those albums you’ve mentioned. Ive listened to a few things over the years, maybe one day I’ll really make an effort to properly discover him.

I also don’t mind some rootsy acoustic stuff — generally I find if theres a few influences in there and its not all too earnest and one-dimensional (overly fake authentic) I can cope. Have been listening to Micah P. Hinson quite a bit lately I think he’s quite good.

I know exactly what you mean about fake nostalgia music and all that weathered guitars shit, ‘authentic roots’, its pretty ridiculous… The problem I find with a lot of that stuff is its so damn humourless, dull and generic. And bland. The best singer/songwriters to me at least have some personality in there, whatever style it is.

I agree with your Son that theres alot of cookie cutter crap about, but its probably always been the case at any point in time.

I dont mind the showbiz aspect at all if its done by an artist whose work I like: You have to get it out there and get known somehow. I s’pose with publicity and image etc. its the old ‘not what you do its the way you do it’ thing that comes into play… I also think if I like a particular work or Artist, I tolerate things of that ‘showbiz’ nature thatd probably bother me in another artist / work that I don’t like!

I think its part of the job to have strong opinions about music if you’re interested in it. Im guilty of it plenty. Just looked up ‘Ornery’ and the dictionary says it stems from ‘Ordinary’, (not sure if theres a point in that observation in this context btw).

Will have to check out the David Johansen acoustic stuff now you mention it.

Btw speaking of ‘roots’ music — I’ve read ‘Here comes everybody’ , a great book by the Accordionist of The Pogues (forgotten his name now) about his time in the band. Fan or not (I’m a fan) I think its a good read.

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I have seen recently departed blues grandmaster B B King live in concert twice in my life. The experiences were separated by almost forty years in time and by an unmeasurable distance in spirit.

The first time was at Sydney’s 70’s concert-box-du-jour, the Hordern Pavilion. It was 1976 and B B King was riding high on a crest of fame and massive popularity. The Rolling Stones – respectful blues lovers to a man, and riding pretty high in the early 70s themselves – had asked him to open shows for them across a 1969 US tour. Despite having been a working musician since 1949, King found himself suddenly massively popular among young rock music lovers.

And no surprise. He came across as an accessible, enormously charismatic and easily loveable face of the Blues. Unlike the rawness of Muddy Waters or the downright frightening (if tongue in cheek) hoodoo of Howlin’ Wolf – both of whom found new white audiences in King’s wake – BB was regal, proud and calmly righteous.

B.B._King_3011710047

Unlike the dangerous sexuality of John Lee Hooker, King’s sexuality was slow, sweet and erotic; not the dominant, subjugating act of many a Blues lyric but a true lovers’ twinning of souls. This was reinforced by the emblematic call-and-response of King’s singing voice and that of his guitar, Lucille.

King would declaim, plead, beg forgiveness, argue, seduce and Lucille would answer – high, sweet, needling in anger or in pleasure. Deep pleasure. The legions of (mostly white) blues guitar heroes that followed King missed this point almost to a man. Their guitar interjections were entirely unrelated to the conversational, dramatic flow of the tune and lyrics. Rather than entwining with their Lucilles they happily and noisily masturbated away into the void, oblivious to her needs. (Not all: Duane Allman got it; so did Mike Bloomfield).

The 1976 concert showed King to be a consummate professional. This was urban blues, not grimy collared country blues. This was bowtie suits, a crack band (Sonny Freeman’s show band, from King’s Live at Cook County Jail album) and chunks of well-rehearsed schtick. Which by no means took anything at all away from the blazing performances and time-stopping atmosphere of the show. It had the stop-watch precision of an Atlantic Records Soul review, but it also had B B King, whose sincerity, big big heart and humility filled the room, your head, the whole night, for that two hours.

It is remembered by 70’s Sydney rock fans as the concert where B B King collapsed. Halfway through the show, he sat down, wiped his brow with a handkerchief and apologised to us all, saying he just could not go on. He had been relentless touring the world and it had taken its toll; he needed to rest. Not a one of us called for our money back; the talk outside afterwards, in the fragrant haze of post concert spliffs, was concerned for his health. We loved him and hoped he would be ok.

I saw B B King again at the 2011 Byron Bay Bluesfest. He was the reason I had gone to Byron that year: to pay my respects to the man who made me want to play the guitar all those years ago. I also had wanted to be like him: a strong man, not brutal and physically powerful, but a man with a gentle yet unbreakable strength of spirit.

At Bluesfest, looking dangerously overweight, and appearing aged even beyond his 85 years, King was helped on after a twenty minute warmup by his band. For a further twenty minutes the King of The Blues struggled to sing and play his guitar. Despite flashes of the old strength and fire, B B was sadly off-game. The enlarged close-ups of his face on the screens both sides of the stage were meant to show his face in contortions of feeling and passion but they showed only frustration and eons of weariness around his eyes.

We are in an age now when any artist who has managed to stay alive for more than fifty years is a legend, an icon and a living treasure. Gleaming Halls of Fame are full of them. The down side of course is that, at an age when most humans are allowed to slow down and rest, these legendary artists are whipped around the world doing show after show. B B King’s recent controversies concerning his manager’s mishandling of his illness cast that meal-ticket circus mentality in a harsh white light.

B B King is at rest now. He has died and the world is hushed with mourning. The level and sincerity of the mourning – across demographics far from the Blues or even music itself – is as befits a Mandela or a Marley or a John Lennon.

What better testimony to the beauty of the man that he has transcended a music birthed in the dirt and pain of slave plantations to focus the world’s love like a lens. That is a beautiful man.

Published May 2015 on megaphoneoz.com and theorangepress.net

“Big Blind” Ray Lechminka is one of the towering characters of the Sydney blues and roots scene. His larger-than-life presence – both physically and musically – is reminiscent of a time when giants such as Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson roamed the earth, blowing down tall trees and even taller women with a mighty blast from a Marine Band blues-harp.

Big Blind Ray may not quite yet be of that immortal stature, but I for one would not want to be in his path when he blows his harmonica, son. His Trio’s self-titled debut – Big Blind Ray Trio –  has captured that raw power and just plain workin’-mojo across eight chooglin’ tracks.

Together with guitarist Karl “P. Hound” Mardon and livewire drummer Rebecca Clarke, Lechminka has cooked up a feast for fans of the Blues, ancient and modern. From opener ‘Hipshake’ – the Slim Harpo raver made famous by the Rolling Stones on Exile on Main Street – through essentials such as Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightning’ and Willie Dixon‘s totemic ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, the Big Blind Ray Trio cooks with all pots on. Originals ‘Keep Myself Close’ and ‘Mereki’ – written with guest guitarist Cam Kinsey – fit seamlessly with the classics; the band obviously eat and breathe this music.

big blind ray2

Recorded at Katoomba’s Soundheaven and Sydney’s Nut’n’Butter, and mixed by simpatico mixer Michael Wheatley, the resulting album catches a nice balance between live vibe (with this music moreso than almost any other, if the vibe ain’t there, don’t bother) and sharp playing. big blind ray3

And, thank God and Muddy, Lechminka doesn’t seem to have a purist bone in his big body – mixed in are Tony Joe White‘s wry ‘Polk Salad Annie’ (nuzzled along by Serge Coniglione‘s Fender bass) and The Stones’ ‘Ventilator Blues’ – along with ‘Hipshake’, a nod to their 70s golden-period (not to mention the ‘secret track’ at the end of closer ‘Goin’ Down South’, a moody take on Sticky Fingers‘ ‘You Got To Move’, Sydney via London via Mississippi Fred McDowell).

It’s all good, big-hearted stuff. If you like the Blues, if you like the more current take on the form, or the ancient tales retold loud and proud, you will love Big Blind Ray Trio.

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Prior to posting this review I asked Ray Lechminka a handful of questions. Here are his responses.

The Orange Press: The Trio sounds very raw and lean – was it a conscious decision to travel light without a bass player?

Big Blind Ray: Very much so. Apart from the obvious aspect of having one less mouth to feed – musically I felt the need to work on a project that omitted the bass as a way of developing a sonic framework that was sympathetic to this. I think we have managed to successfully pull this off and in turn further develop our individual style. I was also very much inspired by the sounds of the North Mississippi Hill Country Blues style and the modern interpretations that spawned from this movement.

TOP: Your material draws from the best – Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon and even second generation white bluesmen such as The Rolling Stones and Tony Joe White – do you think the past was a golden period for The Blues?

BBR: I think so yes. The songs that we picked to record on the album were the acid test as to whether we could take our simple line up and make it work in a modern context without losing the sensibility of the old style.

TOP: What do you think it is about Blues-based music that seems to still get people jumping for joy?

BBR: For me, discovering the Blues was like returning back to a source – THE source if you will of Western Pop and Rock based music. When I listen to the Blues it feels like I’ve come home musically and that brings me joy. There has certainly been a resurgence in the sound over the past few years and perhaps the new blood out there spearheading and embracing this old sound are experiencing something similar to what I did and still continue to feel.

TOP: Will we be seeing more originals creeping into The Big Blind Ray Trio’s set over time?

BBR:  For sure! We are writing new material and hope to record again round this time next year with all original content. But it’s no race. As much as we want to be regarded for originality as well as keeping the old sound alive, writing good songs is paramount and particularly writing original music that incorporates the sound of my instrument (Harmonica) within a context that isn’t just straight out 12 bar blues matters to me.

TOP: What are your thoughts on the state of The Blues today?

BBR:  I think the Blues is alive and well. If anything there has been a resurgence of the genre locally over the past few years and it doesn’t show any signs of slowing down and that excites me.

TOP: What are your thoughts on mainstream music in general today?

BBR:  There is a lot of great popular music out there. I won’t delve into my guilty Pop pleasures but hey – I’m sure we can all agree on this: What makes music so beautiful is that there is something for everybody and if you find you connect with a song and it brings you joy then who am I to cast judgement as to whether that is in good or bad taste and who are you to do the same?

 

Published October 2013 on theorangepress.net

Soaking up the rootsy atmosphere at this year’s Byron Bay Bluesfest (often to saturation point), I began thinking on music and the notion of authenticity. To be honest, I began to get a little irked by the relentless barrage of worn leather, road-dusted denim and sweat-ravaged Strats used in the style-language of this music.

Ben Harper, modern roots superstar

Ben Harper, modern roots superstar

There is a division of Fender Guitars, the iconic US manufacturer of the Stratocaster whose job it is to create a patina of age and wear on factory-new instruments. The ‘Road Worn’ range comes complete with distressed paintwork, rusted hardware and, apparently, built-in ‘history’. It really is a bunch of bullshit in anyone’s language, but of course they sell like hotcakes (or maybe out-of-date cheeseburgers).

The unstoppable Buddy Guy, generation-spanning blues guitar master

The unstoppable Buddy Guy, generation-spanning blues guitar master

And I often wonder if the same can be said of the very notion of ‘realness’ in 21st century Roots music.

Roots music – like World Music, a catch-all term invented by marketing/media to weave a saleable genre out of multiple disparate threads – comprises Blues, the less airbrushed forms of Country and the more earthbound elements of Jazz. A prerequisite seems to be that it appeals to everyday people and usually conjures up either elation or deep emotion – ‘good times’ or ‘blues’. Roots also prides itself on its ‘realness’.

I love Roots music deeply and its innovators and artists – both old and new – I hold in the highest regard. But is Roots music any more real than any other form of music? Is it any more real than Punk, or Hip-Hop, or Black Metal?

If a music’s level of ‘realness’ can be measured by the importance it has in a person’s life then the music of Dance-Rave people is easily as important as Roots – they live their musical culture minute by minute. If the question of history comes up – the longevity and historical development of a music in years – then J. S. Bach is the rootsiest muthafucka on da block.

If the idea of authenticity is where ‘realness’ comes from – music woven like veins or DNA helices into the fabric of a culture, inextricably – then I direct you back to the above para about Fender USA’s factory-made ‘soul’. These days, ‘rawness’ and authenticity can be bolted on, as skilfully and easily as a (factory-)‘rusted’ Strat tailpiece.

And it appears to be something Roots fans are all too ready to believe. Maybe because there is so much plastic fakery about, we imbue the lesser fakes with at least some hope of Truth.

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With these cogitations swirling in my mind, I decided to ask some people, way wiser than I, for their thoughts on Roots, ‘road-worn’ and realness. They are Johnny Cass, blues-guitarist and vocalist extraordinaire, DJ/producer Marc Scully, known to Australian dance-music fans as Omegaman and Jim Woff, man-about-town and bass-player with Sydney band Crow.

Titan of the blues, the larger-than-life Howlin' Wolf

Titan of the blues, the larger-than-life Howlin’ Wolf

Here are their responses:

What does the term ‘roots’ music mean to you?

Johnny Cass: A derivative type of music. Just like the roots of a tree, genres of music grow from a base and then branch out into other genres.

Marc Scully: To me its about tradition – blues, country, reggae etc – some acoustic element, a certain heartfelt rawness, echoing back where it all began… back to basics…. at a grass roots level

Jim Woff:  Someone once asked Thelonious Monk what he thought of folk music, he replied “all music is folk music”.  The rural blues of the twenties and thirties sprout country and jazz, while the blues itself mutated countless ways using the same three or less chords. If we’re talking about how “roots” earnt it’s inverted commas, that seemed a 21st century thing. Good when it was Gillian Welch, not so hot when it was hippies with dreads and acoustic guitars and rich parents. The soundtrack to O Brother Where Art Thou was significant.

Does ‘roots’ music need to have a historical/traditional element to it?

Cass: Yes. The term roots has been overused and has lost its definition.To understand Roots music you must know its history and the struggles of the people of that time.  To keep true to it meaning ‘roots’ music must have strong similarities to the roots genre it claims to be from. Those elements would be chord progressions, tonal qualities of instruments and melody.

Scully: I think so, an element of nostalgia and instrumentation is required, a nod to the past, you would not be playing a certain style if it weren’t for what came before you, something that inspired you to dig deeper, caught your ear in the first place – something styles don’t need re-inventing.

Woff:  I think so. The historic/traditional aspect doesn’t necessarily have to be old, electronic music has a relatively short history for example. The work of the German bands in the seventies is a “roots” music, it’s been incredibly influential.

Can the idea of ‘roots’ be applied to any form of music?

Cass: No. I don’t really think you can say that roots can be applied to Classical music. Roots music was spawned from the urban areas, city streets and small towns and communities. It was a way for the people to express themselves, Roots music was not born from the Aristocracy it was born from the worker, the farmer, the musicians on the street.

Scully: As long as there’s a traditional element, having said that really I can’t see glitch, dubstep or techno being termed ‘Roots’ music.

Woff:  Cave men blowing flutes, wandering minstrels on lutes, spreading the gossip and news from town to town… it’s all free reign, go nuts. I wish more people were as good as Beethoven but you can’t have everything.

Gillian Welch, folk-country artist whose music resonates with older forms

Gillian Welch, folk-country artist whose music resonates with older forms

Does the ‘roots’-iness of musics such as Country and Blues make them any more ‘real’?

Cass: I think the rawness of those musics keep it real. Acoustic forms are the most real. Those instruments don’t lie. The combination of flesh, wood and emotion really take aim at hearts. As the listener or the musician there is no room to hide. There is no wall of sound to get lost in, the message gets through, its more personal.

Scully: To me, yes… some artists can sound quite contrived, be real = be true. Raw, back to basics music played by real musicians – doesn’t have to be flash.

Woff:  Those early recordings… Louis Armstrong… Hank Williams… the Blind men of the blues, Willie Johnson, Lemon Jefferson, WiIllie McTell… Duke Ellington… all rather real. You could appropriate their sound but it wouldn’t be real. You have to make your own sound to be real.

Does the ‘roots’ factor of music such as Blues hold back its future development and evolution?

Cass: Musically, maybe. Lyrically, no. Roots music evolves into new genres as it branches out. The most pure form of the genre will always be respected. What may end up happening is roots music won’t be performed as much. Without the support of mainstream it becomes harder for roots genres to exist. Only purists will hold onto its legacy.

Scully: Not as long as artists still carry a torch in salute of what came before them, you have to acknowledge the past, the birth of a style – without that, there is no future.

Woff:  I’d argue that jazz hit the wall in the eighties but I’m sure there’d be plenty to take issue with that. Blues has never changed but it’s influence is a musical universe. From a young Jagger and Richards listening to Muddy Waters through Tom Waits reeling in Howlin’ Wolf to Nick Cave obsessing over John Lee Hooker, it’s all pervasive. Country hasn’t changed much.

What are your feelings on current ‘roots’ music in particular and the wider art/product of music in general?

Cass: Reality talent shows concern me. Their lack of integrity make music take the back seat. Those shows are not about the music, and they are not about the performer, they are about getting the most viewers and exploiting people’s dreams, disabilities and personal crisis. I understand that it gets some musicians a chance they would not normally get, but it’s fleeting. Viewers that sit at home and don’t experience the live factor of music. That is the real feeling of music. Watching music being made in real time in front of you, is like having your food cooked to order. It tastes better and feels better. That goes for music too.

The Coen Brothers' 2000 movie, O Brother Where Art Thou? invigorated interest in bluegrass music

The Coen Brothers’ 2000 movie, O Brother Where Art Thou? invigorated interest in bluegrass music

Scully: Some of the modern roots artists can sound a little contrived… that goes for all styles. You are either true to your art or you are following musical trends. Way too many producers out there that know how to use a music software program and call themselves artists… Be yourself, learn how to play an instrument, you don’t have to be the best at it, as long as you are passionate about what you do.

Woff:  “Roots” was a Noughties thing, wasn’t it? The good ones will continue to grow while the imposters are already considering another career path.

The twin pillars of modern blues are Chester Burnett and McKinley Morganfield – better known to blues fans and the wider world as Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters. Both artists had their origins in country blues but their intense creativity, charisma and force-of-nature blues power helped progress The Blues rapidly into its modern electric form.

Howlin’ Wolf was a giant in every way: physically huge and big-hearted, he seemed to enjoy putting the willies up his audience, albeit with a large spoonful of humour. Muddy Waters was almost the opposite in character, exuding a much cooler, more worldly and magisterial air – an almost regal presence in person and on record.

muddy poster

Muddy Water’s music – as well as hugely influencing Led Zeppelin, the Rolling Stones and all the British Blues Boom bands (and all the bands they influenced) – continues to resonate through to today’s music, blues or otherwise. Its honesty, wit and dignity keeps it sounding as fresh as the first time Muddy and his rusty-throated Telecaster lit up Chicago in the early 1950s.

Sydney’s white-bread Double Bay is about as far as you can get from Muddy Waters’ Chicago. Its one saving grace, The Blue Beat jazz and blues venue hosted a tribute to Muddy – with pretty much the crème of Australian blues paying tribute. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything.

Johnny Cass – he of the cowboy hat and groovy Guild thru EC Fender – opened with ‘Blow Wind Blow’ – a nice ease in before the voodoo sex-brag of the Willie Dixon-penned ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ (“I got a black cat bone/I got a Mojo too/I got a John The Conquerer root/I’m gonna mess with you…” – chilling stuff).

But before we all got too hot and bothered, slide-guitarist Jeremy Edwards relaxed the groove with a pair of drummerless tunes – ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’ and ‘Long Distance Call’ – the drummerless rhythm (bass player Tim Curnick providing a smooth subtle groove) adding a lonesome surrealist vibe to the music – Blue Beat was now a ghetto street in an eternal night of reverbed guitar. ‘Good Morning Little Schoolgirl’’s lyrics added to the dreamlike trip – “I’m going to buy me an airplane/And fly all over your town”.muddy2

Piano boogie-man and Oz blooz grandmaster, Don Hopkins gave us rockin’ full-band versions of ‘Rolling and Tumblin’’ et al and the women at the bar couldn’t keep still. His preaching style suited Muddy’s declamatory delivery down to the ground.

I don’t know if it was the man, the song or the full moon, but when Kevin Bennett took the stage to deliver his version (of the Allman Brothers’ version of Muddy’s version) of ‘Can’t Lose What You Never Had’, the whole thing went up a notch. That’s the magic of the Blues – the musicians are working with such slender elements that it only takes a little more spark and the thing can go through the roof (even in Double Bay). On ‘Why Are People Like That?’ (which is still a good question), the “guitar weaving” of Bennett and Jeremy Edwards was up there with that of Keef and Ron Wood.

Harp wizard Ian Collard gave us a loping and snake-hipped ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ – the sound of a blues harp played through a distorted guitar amp has to be one of the most marrow-chilling in all of music, and Collard does it so well. His long-time confrere, slide-master and Backslider Dom Turner gave us a winking ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’ – cutting up the rhythm with switched-on drummer Curtis Martin – before leading the full band through ‘Country Blues’.

muddy1After the break the full band filled the stage for a gospel-style ‘Take Sick and Die’, Reverend Turner presiding over a choir of guitarists. The choir’s response (“It done broke down!”) to Don Hopkin’s call of ‘What’s The Matter With The Mill?’ was a little more raucous as befits the sexual double-and-triple entendres of the song.

And I realised that it has been not too much over 50 years since Muddy Waters sang ‘What’s The Matter With The Mill?’ to an audience who were close enough to farm life to understand the lyric. He was living history, mapping the lunatic forward hurtle of 20th Century life, astride an electric Fender just to keep up.

The Blue Beat crowd may or may not have related to the lyric, but on some level everyone relates to the Blues and they loved every note put out by this frankly remarkable line-up of musicians. For myself, I had a wide grin as I left Blue Beat – now, where do I find a John The Conquerer root in Double Bay at this time of night?

Photos by Katja Liebing www.bluemoonphotography.me

Published December 2012 on theorangepress.net

Often in modern popular music – especially that of the blues and roots flavour – the city of the music’s origin can become, in a way, another member of the band. It can become a silent but also very loud member, as the city’s voice, spirit and mojo can colour the music as much as any of the living, breathing human members involved. That city could be New York, London or Chicago – but more often than not that city is (yes, we are talking about voice, spirit and mojo) New Orleans.nola-1-267

Funk godfathers, The Meters, were that rare thing – a ‘muso’ band that gained huge everyday popularity from the start. Astounding musicians individually, they conjured an easy yet hard-hitting groove style which epitomised that Holy Grail of musicians: ‘loose-yet-tight’ (if you have to ask what that means you will, sadly, never know). Their hits, such as 1969’s ‘Cissy Strut’ and 1970’s ‘Look-Ka Py Py’ were instantly influential among musicians and yet equally a hit with people on the dancefloor as well (and greatly loved by hip-hop samplers such as LL Cool J, Run DMC, NWA and, well… everybody). This is down to a large degree to The Meters’ New Orleans origins – it seems an unwritten law of any music that emanates from the city known as ‘The Big Easy’ that if the people don’t dig it, it ain’t worth a fig. This applies to artists from Fats Domino through to Dr John The Night Tripper and today’s Trombone Shorty and jazz trumpeter Christian Scott.

On 5th May this year, the original Meters – keys man and vocalist Art Neville, guitarist Leo Nocentelli, bassist George Porter Jr., and drummer (the wonderfully named) Zigaboo Modeliste – reunited for a concert at New Orleans’ club Howlin’ Wolf. This was one of only a handful of times the original Meters had got together since splitting in 1977. (Apparently tickets to the Howlin’ Wolf show sold out in an hour and a half). I just want to say, God bless the person who decided to turn on the tape machine – the resulting Live Album is a gem.

fm-1-251The band tear into opener ‘Fire On The Bayou’, originally from the 1975 album of the same name, as if they have never been away. The four just love to play together – the vibe oozes from the speakers. Art Neville jokingly refers to the gig as “senior citizen funk” (adding that in five years it will be “food stamp funk”) but there is nothing remotely creaky or stiff-jointed about The Meters tonight.

In fact, this is the toughest i think i have ever heard them sound. Nocentelli’s guitar is cranked and his solos are, as Buddy Guy used to say “so funky you can taste it”. Modeliste is utterly in the pocket and together with George Porter Jr – especially on a churning groove such as ‘He Bite Me (The Dragon)’ or the iconic ‘Cissy Strut’ – prove yet again why they were the most imitated funk rhythm section of the 70s.

Once the band get on a groove they don’t want to let go. The three-song medley that begins with the laidback ‘Africa’, turning into ‘Look-Ka Py Py’ and then morphing into ‘Funky Miracle’ is 22:17 of pure, undiluted funky joy. Hits like ‘Hey Pocky A-Way’ seem to turn the band on like the first time they jammed it in rehearsal (‘Hey Pocky A-Way’ stretches to a hot and sweaty nine-minutes-plus) and the closer ‘People Say’ goes to seventeen-and-a-half minutes – you can feel that The Meters just don’t want to let go.

The live recording is beautifully LIVE in every way – living, breathing, dancing its ass off – with nice verité touches like not editing back the band’s stage announcements and intros. You really feel as if you were there. The Meters don’t care about taste or restraint or any of that anaemic jazz-funk knitting – they invented this music and they will play it as heavy and dirty as they like.

The Meters Live at Howlin’ Wolf Album is available from https://www.munckmusic.com/wms/jazzfest/index.html

Check Katja Liebing’s fantastic gallery of shots from the actual Howlin’ Wolf gig here

Photos by Katja Liebing http://www.bluemoonphotography.me/#home

Published December 2012 on theorangepress.net

 

 

Like both the Blues and modern Jazz before it, the genre of Blues-Rock found its perfect expression in the early 1970’s. Heavied up by British rockers such as Cream’s Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and the hyperkinetic Jeff Beck, the highly innovative music of Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon paved the way for Heavy Metal and all forms of Hard Rock (including, whether they like it or not, Punk Rock).

And, like both the Blues and modern Jazz, Blues-Rock has its evangelists – those artists who, through single-mindedness or outright religious zeal, feel it is their mission to bring the Righteous Word to their hungry flock. US guitar classicist, Joe Bonamassa travels the world, missionary-like, wielding his Les Paul like a fiery cross, his blazing sermons lighting up congregations at all points of the compass.

 

 

 

On October 5, Bonamassa’s church was Sydney’s State Theatre, as gaudily rococo a house of worship as there ever has been. After a wonderful and too-short warm-up by the Wizard of Katoomba, Claude Hay (his one-man band trip would be mere sleight-of-hand if not for his warm and entirely-engaging musicality), Bonamassa sat down with a stool and an acoustic guitar and we were his.

Joined by drummer Tal Bergman on conga set, he took us through covers of Bad Company’s ‘Seagull’ and originals such as the title track to his last album ‘Driving Towards The Daylight’. The acoustic set concluded with some jaw-dropping bluegrass flash which would have shook every guitar player in the audience (and there were many – later in the set Joe B asked us to identify ourselves and a forest of callus-fingered hands shot into the air).

But as sweet and earthy as the acoustic set was, we had come for the Power and the Glory, and when Bonamassa plugged his (signature, no less) Les Paul into an unholy trinity of 100w Marshall amps it was Heaven, of a sort.

Playing through the menacing Zep-blues of ‘Slow Train’ and the funk-noir of the title track to 2011’s excellent ‘Dust Bowl’, Bonamassa delivered the sermon we had heard so many times before, and would rush to hear again for many years to come.

Bonamassa covered all the bases – the gorgeous Gary Moore cover, ‘Midnight Blues’, which showed the subtle, multi-coloured blues voice behind the heavy rocker, and brought to mind the spiritual genius Peter Green, an influence on Gary Moore and Carlos Santana; the worldly Jeff Beck group blues ‘Blues Deluxe’ which featured his vocal, completely underrated and over-shadowed by his guitar-playing, but, like SRV, an integral part of his appeal; the delicious ‘Sloe Gin’, Tim Curry’s boozer-poem and a JB live staple since his 2007 album of the same name.

Bonamassa’s take on Mose Allison’s wry ‘Young Man Blues’ (via The Who) took his road-toughened band into guitar jam territory – with bass player Carmine Rojas trading some toe-to-toe riffage with JB. Electrifying shit, whichever way you slice it.

But it was not all tooth-and-claw blues and spitting Les Paul magma; Bonamassa can be a truly beautiful player, easily putting aside the histrionics and flash for sweet and soulful lines, making his instrument truly ‘sing’ with all the nuance and warmth that that suggests. The long, mountain-misty intro to ‘Mountain Time’, accompanied only by the keyboard strings of Sydney’s own (and JB touring stalwart) Rick Mellick brought to mind Jeff Beck’s more cosmic flights and took us all higher in every sense.

What, of course makes Joe Bonamassa so exciting is that he is part of the long line of electric guitar players – Hendrix, Van Halen, Ritchie Blackmore – who revel in making a great big guitar noise. The encore of ZZ Top’s ‘Just Got Paid’ mixed in all sorts of big fun rock guitar, from its ‘Ain’t Superstitious’ (Jeff Beck) intro to snatches of Billy Cobham’s ‘Stratus’ (a tip of the hat to Tommy Bolin) and huge chunks of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Dazed and Confused’.

To those who wanted a rock guitar masterclass, they got it; to those who wanted unadulterated rock par excellence, they got it; for those (such as your correspondent) who wanted a window into an era when the guitar ruled the known world, they got it. Joe Bonasmassa cannot be beaten, whichever rules he plays under.

 

Photo by John Snelson/Get Shot Magazine

 

Published October 2012 on liveguide.com.au