Thursday, February 2, 2012

Son Jack Jr. and Michael Wilde to Open for Chuck Berry at Blueberry Hill

It took prodding from Bob Lohr in St. Louis for me to learn about the Seattle Blues duo Son Jack Jr. and Michael Wilde.  Now I'm traveling two thousand miles to see them perform.  The two will open for Chuck Berry on February 15, 2012, at Blueberry Hill.  They each took time to respond to some questions.

Are you excited to be opening for Chuck Berry next month?  How did it come about?
Son Jack: Hellz yes! It’s beyond a dream come true actually as Chuck Berry is the reason I first picked up a guitar in 1972!
Michael:  We are extremely honored and excited to be opening for Chuck Berry.

Son Jack: The story of how the gig came up defies logic in numerous regards.  Believe it or not, the first “domino” was when I walked into the wrong meeting room at work and struck up a conversation with  a couple of guys that were inside, one of whom, Robert Koester, was originally from St Louis.  About a week later I ran into him again and he asked me for some recommendations on somewhere to take a visitor out that night.  It just so happens we had a show that night (opening for Matt Schofield at the Triple Door) so I mentioned it thinking they probably wouldn’t make it.  Lo and behold not only did they make it but they sat right up front and loved the show.  Over the course of the next few weeks we chatted more and he mentioned that he’d recently been friended on Facebook by Bob Lohr and had written to Bob about my music. We joked about me writing to Bob to inquire about a show and eventually I did thinking “what heck – nothing ventured, nothing gained."  Bob was incredibly gracious and utterly  instrumental in connecting us with the Duck Room who in turn were just the nicest people to work with. 

Is Chuck someone who influenced your music at all?
Son Jack: Immensely.  I taught myself guitar listening to his records (yep, Vinyl) and damn near wore out the needle trying to get Johnny B Goode down.  Even today, when I’m just playing for relaxation I will play that, Too Much Monkey Business or one of my favorites of his – Brown Eyed Handsome Man.  Always a good work out.
Michael: I grew up in the 60’s/70’s and was not aware of the depth of Chuck Berry’s contribution until I dug a little deeper into the past. The first tune of his I remember hearing was “My Ding-A-Ling”, hardly one of his best tunes. The next was “Johnny Be Goode”. That was another matter entirely.  Like many other white musicians who came to love R&B, early Rock and the Blues, I learned about the great blues artists from popular  bands that covered them, such as The Beatles, Led Zepelin, Allman Brothers, Paul Butterfield and the Rolling Stones. It was the Rolling Stones who made me aware of Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry. When I would find a tune that the Stones covered by one of these giants, I would seek out the original recording. Gradually I began forming an awareness of the music that led to Rock and Roll. Chuck Berry was a bridge between those worlds. The fact that Chuck recorded at Chess Records is evidence of that beginning.   Chuck Berry took country, R&B and Blues and created something unique. He came up with an alchemy that has left an indelible mark on American Popular Music. As we look back we now can see how strong his influence has been on countless musicians. He is a living legend and we are lucky to have him amongst us.

Son, If I understand it, you’re from Great Britain.  How did you wind up in Seattle?  Any important stops in between?
Oh, nothing too exotic to tell here – I transferred over with my job as I worked for a US company over there and the chance to spend time working in US was another long term goal I’d had for many years.  I’d originally planned to spend 2-3 years and then return to the UK.  That was 15 years ago and this is now definitely home J.

You seem especially influenced by music from the Mississippi Delta-- and it looks like you’ve played there.  Can you talk about that?
I’ll admit that it took me a little while to develop a taste for delta blues but when it did finally bite it bit hard and I found myself getting immersed not only in the music but also the history of the area and civil rights.  With delta blues especially, the two are so inextricably intertwined and understanding one helps you appreciate the other so much more I think.
We’ve been very fortunate to play in the South in various clubs in both Memphis and Clarksdale over the past few years and hope to do that again soon.  We competed at the International Blues Challenge twice (2009 & 2010) which was a blast and made so many great friends and met so many amazing and interesting people.  In addition, we’ve played at the Ground Zero in Clarksdale and at Red’s Lounge round the corner.  The experience and reception you get down there is very different from the Seattle crowd and I was always acutely aware that we were playing in the heartland where it all started and where standards and expectations are incredibly high.  Yes, certainly a bit nerve racking.

Can you tell us about others who have had a big influence on your music or your playing?  Have you had the opportunity to work with them?
These days I’m happily and deliberately myopic in my listening tastes – pretty much delta and hill country blues.  With that of course the key influences are RL Burnside, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson, etc – you get the idea.  More contemporary players that I watch are T-Model Ford and Robert Balfour.  We opened for Charlie Musselwhite last year which was an incredible honour – he’s a true gentleman and I don’t need to talk to his musicality I’m sure.  Over the years I’ve also jammed with Honeyboy Edwards, Louisiana Red, John Cephas, and John Dee Holeman to name a few.  All treasured memories and sadly many of them have since passed on.  Michael has shared the stage with Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin, Lee Oskar, Jody Williams, Coco Montoya, Charlie Musslewhite, Candy Kane, Paul Delay, John Nemeth and others. 

Will you bring a band to St. Louis?  Solo show?  Duo?
We’re coming as a duo for this show as we figured it would be a better contrast plus it’s way easier to coordinate J.  We’re going to play acoustic and that often turns people off as it conjures up an image of a sleepy, almost reverend “woke up this morning”” kind of groove.  We on the other hand play it the way we believe it was meant to be played – energetic and entertaining juke joint grooves.  People often remark that our sound is akin to a band which I consider a compliment.

Where can people find your records?
Best place is in person at a show J.  Other than that we are pretty much everywhere online as we sell physical and digital via, iTunes, Rhapsody, etc etc

Will you tell us more about your Blueberry HIll experience afterwards?  Readers would love to know what it’s like from the performer’s perspective.
You bet - we would be delighted and honored to! 

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