Interview with blues harmonica wailer and forceful vocalist, Rob Stone – combines tough Chicago blues tradition with a swinging West Coast rhythmic drive.
How has the Blues music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Above all else, Blues music is about people––and the people I have come to know through music have influenced deeply. Music has given me an opportunity to travel around the world, to meet wonderful people everywhere I go, and experience cultures very different than mine. This has been an incredible gift. In all of my journeys, I have formed great friendships and learned that no matter where we come from, people are more similar than different. I always appreciate the opportunity to connect with people and learn from them––and I am grateful that I get to do it because of music.
How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started and what has remained the same?
Since I began playing professionally about 30 years ago, I have changed a lot – mostly in terms of my approach to playing and performing. I still love blues music and most of my influences have remained. But, rather than emulate the style of my heroes, I continually try to find my own voice, while still being true to the lessons I have learned from my musical mentors. I never stop learning.
Do you have any stories about the making of new album in Japan? What touched you from the local scene?
Every time I go to Japan there are stories! With this particular album, Hiroshi and Elena and I had a lot of fun, but it was a very tight schedule. We recorded everything in two days, in two different cities. Before the recording sessions we had never played any of the songs we recorded except for one rehearsal. We rehearsed in a small studio below a bowling alley, and took a break to go eat a grilled fish called nodoguro—it was amazing! I love meeting and getting to know all the blues musicians, fans, and club owners all over Japan.
Are there any specific memorable moments with people that you’ve performed with either live or in the studio?
Every time I perform or record, there are countless special memories and moments. I will always remember playing with Dave Myers, Willie Smith, Big Jay McNeely, Pinetop Perkins, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Aaron Moore, Henry Gray, and so many others who are no longer living. I think about those special opportunities a lot and I am very thankful that they took the time to teach me things––and that I was able to learn so much about music and life from these great people.
What are your hopes and fears for the future of the Blues? What would you like to change in the musical world?
I hope blues will never evolve so much that it completely loses the direct connection to traditional styles. I worry sometimes that music is changing from something that must be experienced live into something that can be manipulated online. I worry that it has become so challenging to earn a living playing live music. If I could change anything, it would be that people once again feel that paying for music (both live and recorded) is worth their hard-earned money.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?
My favorite thing about blues music is that it is really all about finding the good in life even when life isn’t so good. “Looking up from down,” someone once said. So I suppose blues music has taught me to look beyond the bad days and difficult times in life in a hopeful, optimistic way.
What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN and SONGWRITER?
I don’t know that I am a good bluesman or songwriter. But all of my experiences have an impact on my playing, singing and songwriting. Everyone has challenges, regrets and hard moments in their lives––I think that is what makes blues music so relatable to so many people.
From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues? What is the best advice ever given you?
I don’t know that there are many secrets to blues. The biggest secret is really no secret at all: be yourself and play music that feels true and honest o you.
Which is the most interesting period in your life?
It has all been interesting. Having a chance to know and record with Dave Myers was incredibly interesting and valuable to me. Playing in other countries like Spain and Japan has been incredibly interesting—both in terms of learning about other cultures and meeting new people.
What would you say characterizes Chicago blues scene in comparison to other local US circuits?
First of all, there are tons of blues clubs that feature blues music exclusively. Most other scenes only have one or two clubs that are completely dedicated to blues. Usually they showcase multiple genres of music––and may have a night or two dedicated to blues. In Chicago, the musicians all know one another, and everyone goes out to the clubs to see each other perform and sit in. When I was starting out with my own band, I always found it amazing that musicians like Eddie Shaw, Dave Myers, Koko Taylor, Sam Lay, and others came out to show their support. It is a scene filled with national acts and. Even today, you can go out to clubs and see great world-renowned players like Billy Boy Arnold, Billy Branch, Willie Hayes, Kenny Smith, Lurrie Bell, Lil’ Ed, and too many others to list just hanging out, playing, and sitting in with each other. When someone passes away or needs help with hospital bills, the community comes together to help. The Chicago Blues scene is a very special community unlike any other.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
Too many to list. But the most important one is: Honor and respect those who came before you, but be true to yourself.
What are some of the most memorable jams you’ve had? Which meetings have been the most important experiences?
I feel lucky to have been around all of these great musicians and so many others and they have all taught me a lot of important things about life and music. I think what I find most memorable about all of them is their perseverance. They never stopped playing music no matter how hard it was to make a living. I also think that music kept them all young at heart.
Do you know why the sound of harmonica is connected to the Blues? What are the secrets of blues harp?
The harmonica really allows for a lot of expression because it has a very vocal-like quality to it. This, I think, creates an emotional response for listeners. There really aren’t any secrets––many people think there is a secret amplifier or harmonica or microphone. But the only secret is to practice a lot and listen to lots of players!
Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES
Because it connects with people on an emotional level and gives expression to pain and joys that we all feel in our lives. I wish for blues music to stay alive without ever losing its own roots.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
I’d like to go to Chicago in the early 1950s and see Little Walter perform with the Aces––Louis Myers, Dave Myers and Fred Below!
Interview by Michael Limnios / Photos by Toby Jacobs