WIB Interview: Jon Amor

In and Out of the Blues

An interview with Jon Amor

Words: Vincent Abbate

(Author’s note: Exactly one year ago tomorrow, on November 28th 2018, British musician Jon Amor released the brilliant and eclectic Colour In The Sky – an essential album that is perhaps his finest collection of songs to date. In the interview we conducted a few weeks later, Jon provided deep insight into his songwriting. He also opened up about the personal challenges he was facing while making the record. But a bout of procrastination and the unforeseen circumstances of a tumultuous winter caused me to shelve the article. Colour In The Sky deserves better than that! And perhaps some of you missed it. So today, with my apologies to Jon, I give you our interview.)

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Since this blog and its companion book series are called Who Is Blues, I’ll pose the dreaded question: Is Jon Amor blues?

Sure he is. As guitarist and singer, he’s been in some of the best blues bands to come out of Great Britain during the past three decades. Amor is a founding member of The Hoax, who enjoyed a run of critically acclaimed albums in the 1990s and whose raw, edgy sound was last heard in 2014 on their full-length B.B. King tribute Recession Blues. He also tours off-and-on with a pair of blues “supergroup” projects, DVL and The Boom Band. Moreover, with two excellent (and highly recommended) releases from his own Jon Amor Blues Group between 2011 and 2012, he demonstrated – like few others have – that electric blues can be rooted in decades-old traditions without carrying the stench of mothballs.

By constrast, on his occasional solo releases he works comfortably both alongside and well outside the blues genre. Those records are where this talented gent tests the limits of his songwriting muscle. As a lifelong devotee of the blues, Amor bemoans the lack of well-rounded artists on today’s scene, and rightfully so. “Too often, lyric and melody are treated as if they are just filling time between guitar solos,” he observes in the Q&A that follows.

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WIB Interview: Six Questions on Rock ‘N’ Roll: A Tribute To Chuck Berry

Mike Zito

Six Questions on Rock ‘N’ Roll: A Tribute To Chuck Berry

Words: Vincent Abbate

When introducing Chuck Berry on the Mike Douglas Show in 1972, former Beatle John Lennon stated, “If you tried to give rock and roll another name, you might call it Chuck Berry.” Though it appears the line was written for him, there’s no denying Berry’s influence on Lennon, Paul McCartney, Keith Richards and just about anyone else who has picked up an electric guitar during the past 70 years.

With his newest album Rock ‘N’ Roll: A Tribute to Chuck Berry, bluesman Mike Zito – like Berry a native of St. Louis, Missouri – reveals his profound love and admiration for Berry’s musical legacy. The 20-track collection of classic rock’n’roll songs was two years in the making, as the singer and guitarist sought to celebrate the late musical legend in grand style by inviting A-list guitarists to re-interpret Berry’s songs. Credited to “Mike Zito & Friends,” the album’s roster of guest artists includes Joe Bonamassa, Walter Trout, Eric Gales, Tommy Castro, Robben Ford, Sonny Landreth, Luther Dickinson, Joanna Connor, Albert Castiglia, Anders Osborne and even Chuck’s grandson, Charles Berry III.

It’s good to have friends.

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WIB Interview: Dudley Taft (Pt. 2)

Keep It Weird

An interview with Dudley Taft (Pt. 2)

Words: Vincent Abbate

After Part 1 of our interview went live on Who Is Blues in mid-September, bluesrocker Dudley Taft closed out a successful European run with his trio before returning to his home base in Cincinnati, Ohio. There, he’s performed at the Blink Festival, appeared on local television and been nominated for a Cincinnati Entertainment Award as Best Blues Artist. Simple Life, the album he released on September 6th, has been hovering in the upper reaches of various roots music charts and getting favorable reviews in the press. All in all, the positives outweigh the challenges he encountered while touring around Europe, which included a blown amp, shoddy foot pedals and a touring van that came to a hair-raising halt on a busy stretch of Autobahn.

Bassist Kasey Williams, an Ohioan, and British drummer Darby Todd, both of whom were sharing that ride with Taft, play a more active role in the second and final part of our interview. As the evening wore on, tongues got looser and our conversation became somewhat more scattered. There was less talk about the new album, more about the blues, playing live and making music in general. When the smoke cleared, the opinions expressed by this trio of seasoned musicians underscored my overriding impression of Dudley Taft: He puts the song first and doesn’t give a tinker’s dam about categories.

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WIB Interview: Dudley Taft (Pt. 1)

Keep It Weird

An interview with Dudley Taft

Words: Vincent Abbate

Last time I checked, Dudley Taft was still waiting to be invited on one of those fancy schmancy blues cruises. You know – those overblown guitar orgies at sea that seem to be popping up all over the place.* Six albums into his solo career, the singer/guitarist still hasn’t become part of that exclusive back-patting mutual admiration society. And perhaps his “outside the box” approach means he never will. For now at least, he’s a lone wolf – an outsider who may or may not be looking in.

(*Note to Joe: I’d be happy to accept your invitation to the next cruise. Anything from the “mid-ship balcony” category upward will do.)

Yet with each new release, a few more people do seem to be picking up on what the persevering, axe-wielding longbeard from Cincinnati is putting down. Among today’s blues-rockers, Dudley Taft has a fairly unique skillset.

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WIB Interview: Mike Zito

The Man from MARZ

An interview with Mike Zito

Words: Vincent Abbate / Photos: Marcella auf der Heide

Meet producer Mike Zito. Oh, I know: We all love to watch Mike get onstage and tear down the house with one of his reliably staggering performances. A charming dude who is only underrated as a guitarist and singer because his songwriting is so good – what’s not to like?

But for the past decade or so, the St. Louis native and 2018 BMA-winner as Rock Blues Artist of the Year has been moonlighting at the mixing desk. When the head of the Germany-based Ruf Records label, Thomas Ruf, asked him to come to Berlin and supervise a trio of young, fairly inexperienced female artists during the making of an album called Girls With Guitars, Zito jumped at the chance. He followed that up by producing one of those three axe-toting ladies, Samantha Fish, on her first two solo records for the same label. Fish has since become one of the blues’ hottest properties. Knowing that he had a hand in getting that particular ball rolling, Zito can look back with a certain fatherly pride.

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WIB Interview: Black Market III

Outside The Box

An interview with Scottie Blinn

of Black Market III

Words: Vincent Abbate / Photos: Josh Rose, Nick Abadilla

Honest, gritty and effective. Those are some of the words that leap to mind listening to Dashboard Jesus, the latest musical offering from Black Market III. The album reflects the sensibilities of these San Diego stalwarts, who trust in the value of hard work and choose blue-collar edginess over Hollywood flash.

The trio revolves around singer/guitarist Scottie Blinn and singer/bassist Roxy Coverdale – partners in life and in music. Blinn was bit by the blues bug at age 16, after catching a performance by Stevie Ray Vaughan at a local open air festival. But rather than become one of a hundred thousand SRV copycats, Blinn latched on as a sideman with another native of Texas, Tomcat Courtney, who grew up on the music of Lightnin’ Hopkins and T-Bone Walker. This elder statesman of the San Diego blues scene, now 89 years old, led him deep into the heart of the traditional, down-home blues.

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WIB Interview: Sue Foley

The No Bullshit Factor

An interview with Sue Foley

Words: Vincent Abbate

Sue Foley is in a good place.

Even though I’ve had a few and she hasn’t – “I’d really love a beer, but don’t want to start drinking yet” – she’s the one who’s in high spirits during our pre-show interview, laughing about life and being back on the road in Europe after a long hiatus. Hot on the heels of The Ice Queen, her first solo album since 2006’s New Used Car, the Ottawa native is a renewed presence on the international blues scene. She refuses to think of it as a comeback.

“That sounds so depressing. It’s not like I went anywhere!”

Let’s consider that for a moment.

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WIB Interview: Erja Lyytinen

Strong Stories

An interview with Erja Lyytinen

Words: Vincent Abbate

It’s a half-hour before showtime and Erja Lyytinen is about to take care of the last, most vital bit of business before taking the stage.

Loosening up the left hand? Overrated.

Doing vocal exercises? You’re joking.

It’s her make-up that demands attention. It’s time to get made up. She looks fine just as she is – more than that, really – but nowadays, fine and $2.75 will get you a ride on the New York subway. For better or worse, styling is part of Lyytinen’s job description; she wouldn’t dream of standing unmasked under the bright lights any more than Gene Simmons or Paul Stanley would. The vocal warm-ups can wait.

“When I walk downstairs later, I’ll hum a little bit.”

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Sideman Special: Doug Corcoran (Pt. 2)

Under The Spell Of JD McPherson

An interview with Doug Corcoran (Pt. 2)

Words: Vincent Abbate / Photos: Amanda Devitt

Having traveled in blues circles for over 20 years now, I’ve seen the different ways musicians react to the purist attitude held by many long-time blues enthusiasts: They either conform, stick to their creative guns, move on to another genre or pack it in completely. While conversing with multi-instrumentalist Doug Corcoran for the better part of an hour, I learned something. Rockabilly fans can be every bit as conservative.

There’s a difference, though: On the style-conscious rockabilly scene, purism has as much to do with having the right image as with the music itself.

“The really hardcore rockabillies don’t care how good the music is. It’s more about if the band wears the right things. Are they playing vintage instruments? Do they have an upright bass? It’s more about what it looks like, does it fit their lifestyle.”

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Sideman Special: Doug Corcoran (Pt. 1)

Under The Spell Of JD McPherson

An interview with Doug Corcoran

Words: Vincent Abbate / Photos: Jimmy Sutton, Amanda Devitt

Some musicians crave the spotlight. They’re born to raise hell, jump security barriers and take twenty-foot leaps into the crowd. Others just show up and do their jobs without any fanfare. Saxophonist Richard Oppenheim, who has blown his horn alongside Otis Rush, Johnny Winter, Marvin Gaye and dozens of others, put it this way: “There’s a certain comfort in being a sideman. (…) Basically I shut up and play.”

Chicago product Doug Corcoran would likely echo that sentiment. Though his steady hand on guitar and occasional saxophone flourishes are integral to the ever-evolving, neo-rockabilly sound of JD McPherson’s five-piece band, Corcoran is a stoic figure onstage who shuns extraneous motion. In conversation, he’s deliberate and self-effacing. “JD’s a lot harder to get an interview with. I think there’s about six hoops you have to jump through.” It’s almost as if he’s apologizing for being the one doing the talking – without actually saying “So you’re stuck with me.”

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