This is an interview of me conducted in Spring 2009 by Sean McCarthy of the Auckland Blues Society:
In this interview I chat to a guy I am pleased to call a personal friend... Adam Blake, who is the guitar player with Errol Linton’s Blues Vibe, a writer, journalist and teacher.
After learning to operate the record player before the age of 2, and despite being dragged kicking and screaming to see a Hard Day's Night at the age of 4, Adam has also played bass with Natacha Atlas (the pseudo-Arabic diva) and sitar with Cornershop.
When I resided in the UK Adam tried his best to teach me something about playing blues bass, and every hour with Adam was always part music lesson - part history lesson.
ANBTB: Hi Adam, great to talk to you, thanks for making the time. How's business?
A.B: No complaints! I’m teaching in two schools and I have a bunch of private students. Plus, I’m working on Errol’s long overdue 3rd album, also about to do a UK tour with Cornershop to promote their new album (“Judy Sucks A Lemon For Breakfast”) and I have a nice live album in the can from my pyschedelic space-rock band, Lunar Dunes, that’s waiting to be mixed. Busy, busy!
ANBTB: I mentioned above that you have played bass and sitar can you give me a run-down of any other various weird and wonderful instruments you play?
A.B: I tinkle with Tibetan Singing Bowls sometimes.
ANBTB: I read your short bio on http://www.rocksbackpages.com and it says that after you got the record “Rocking Goose” by Johnny and the Hurricanes you got full tilt into music, leaving school at 17 to become a musician. Growing up in the late 60s and 70s, who were some of the bands and artists that got you hooked?
A.B: Well I was literally a babe in arms when I got given “Rocking Goose”! It’s a great record. Sounds just as good now as it ever did. But it was The Beatles, The Beatles all the way. They got me into music. Everything came through them. My dad used to buy all the Beatles records as they came out in the 60s. He was one of those guys that The Beatles “got” – he liked jazz and classical, and The Beatles. It was a big event in our flat when dad would come home with the new Beatles lp.
ANBTB: The Beatles or The Stones...?
A.B: Ha ha! I didn’t get into The Stones until I was at least ten. “Brown Sugar” was one of the first records I bought with my own money.
ANTB: Tell us a bit about Errol Linton Blues Vibe, it's not your typical blues band...
A.B: I think Errol is fairly unique in the way he combines Jamaican music with the blues. It’s a completely natural blend for him and we just go right along with it. I always liked reggae but it took me awhile to learn to play it halfway convincingly. It looks easy but it isn’t. I suppose you could say the same about the blues.
ANTB: Errol is a fantastic harp player. You both have a love for Sonny Boy Williamson (aka Rice Miller) was he the common denominator that hooked you two up?
A.B: Yes actually he was. First time I heard Errol was from a distance. I thought someone was playing a Sonny Boy record that I hadn’t heard – and of course it was Errol. I knew I wanted to play with him immediately.
ANTB: I recall you tell me that you once jammed with Clarence 'Gatemouth' Brown, which must have been a cool experience. Of the all blues players you have played with over the years, any special favourites?
A.B: The Gatemouth Brown thing was surreal. It was in Japan and I was jet lagged to hell and off my head on whiskey and painkillers as I’d done my back in. Gate got all of the musicians involved to get up and do a little solo with him. I kept thinking I must be dreaming. But apart from him, I played with Henry Gray once, Howlin’ Wolf’s old piano player. That was through Errol and Richard Rhoden who were backing him up. They invited me up on stage and Henry immediately left the stage. Ha ha! I did a number and then halfway through the second he crept back on. I’d obviously passed the audition.
ANBTB: Is there anyone in particular you'd like to play with?
A.B: Aaah, they’re all dead. B.B King, I guess. Maybe Ernest Ranglin.
ANBTB: You must have seen considerable changes in the London gig scene since you first got going. Would you say things have generally got better, worse or just different?
A.B: Oh much worse, I’m afraid. There used to be so many more places to play. And the stupid new music licensing laws have made it so much more difficult for anyone wanting to promote live music.
ANBTB: On a good day, what would you say is the best bit about being a working blues musician in London?
A.B: Getting paid and seeing pretty girls dancing to your music.
ANBTB: And on a bad day, what’s the worst thing about it?
A.B: Not getting paid, and no-one dancing.
ANBTB: During our lessons you always actively encouraged me to open my ears and mind, but how has your attitude towards blues changed over time? Do you still get the same things from the music or has it altered and/or grown as you've gotten older?
A.B: It starts when you fall in love with the blues. Then the blues is something you grow up with, grow into and accept into your life. Having said that, I don’t want to live the blues life, it’s way too hard. Besides, I’m white and middle-class. I have a choice. But one’s love and understanding and respect for the culture of the blues deepens as you get older. I still love the music just as much as I ever did.
ANBTB: What do you think is the state of Blues music right now?
A.B: I think the blues has been dead as a vital Black American cultural force since the mid-60s. But the music goes on and each subsequent generation has a small percentage of people who get into it – to varying different levels. It’s a bit like Classical Music in that way: there’s a small but loyal core audience for it
ANBTB: Do you notice a difference between different parts of the UK? Abroad?
A.B: In the UK they like blues more up North. It’s tougher and they like tough music. They see it as unpretentious and they like to see themselves in that way. Scotland too, unsurprisingly. We haven’t played much abroad so it’s hard to say. The Eastern Europeans love it!
ANBTB: Much is made about the question of authenticity in blues... you know... whether so and so, and such and such is authentic or knew or learned from someone in particular. How much weight do you give it?
A.B: It either comes from the heart or it doesn’t.
ANBTB: How about the 'authenticity' of us 'white boys' playing the blues?
A.B: My opinion? The blues is black music and it doesn’t matter how good you are, how well you play, how sincere your blues are – you will always be just another white guy playing blues. You know it in your heart and so does everybody else. And THAT’S the White Boy Blues. But you do it because you love it, and that’s enough.
ANBTB: How do you see the blues evolving in the future? Any new blues artists you’ve been listening to?
A.B: I think, I hope, that the fashion for flashy playing is over. But new players? C’mon, are you kidding me? I still haven’t finished listening to Little Walter.
ANBTB: Any words of advice for aspiring musicians?
A.B: Listen to the music of the guys who inspired the music of the guys who inspire you.
ANBTB: Any plans for a new Blues Vibe album soon, or anything else in the pipe line?
A.B: Yes, yes, yes. Some nice stuff in the can already. Watch this space!