The blues has a special place in my life. Some people who are into blues have a purist, hardcore approach to it, sometimes even being intolerant to other styles. That was certainly never my case – as a kid I listened as much to Bach, Björk or Michael Jackson as I did to Albert Collins or B. B. King. However, when I decided to try my luck as a musician, the blues came along as an incredible chance to actually make a living playing music. In 1998 I had quit my academic studies in Denmark to give music a chance, but still had to do various daytime jobs to make ends meet. Suddenly I get a phone call from an old friend to come to France to join the band of an old blues bass player from Memphis, Joe Turner, who had played with the best in the blues world. I jumped on the opportunity and moved to France, and spent the next 5-6 year playing in various French and American blues bands in Paris.
I think becoming a professional musician has a vague similarity to becoming a pilot, though the analogy only goes so far – a wrong note never put anyone’s lives at risk (except maybe your own if you were playing in Albert King’s band, he was known to pull a gun on his musicians on stage if he wasn’t happy with what they were doing). A pilot has to go through a certain theoretic training to know how things work, but the only way to learn the craft is to spend thousands of hours actually doing it. An aspiring musician can have a solid theoretic grasp of things and might have spent a long time by himself practicing his instrument, but to become a decent musician you have to spend literally thousands of hours actually playing with other musicians, and preferably in front of an audience. The blues was my way of getting the necessary amount of hours behind the instrument, on top of being a style that I always loved. It’s a style based on rhythm, feeling and melody, so the lessons learned in the blues realm are easily transposed to other styles.
These days I rarely get to play a blues gig, but whenever the chance comes along I never hesitate. Fred Chapellier is an old friend from my days on the blues circuit, an incredible guitar player with a great feel and a fluid, versatile, inventive playing style. Since we first met he has come a long way, and has built a solid career as a blues frontman, as well as backing up several iconic artists, including Jacques Dutronc. In January I got to record a live album with Fred and his band in Alsace, it was recently released, and you can check it out here or on iTunes. Someone in the audience recorded a couple of bootleg videos of the show, below is Fred’s original instrumental “B Shuffle”. I’m playing again tonight with Fred in Paris at the New Morning for the release of the live record.