Interview with Sean Chambers: Blues is not only music, it’s a feeling: Video, Photos

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Interview with acclaimed blues-rock guitarist Sean Chambers, one of the finest guitarists in the world right now

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

I can relate more to the Blues & Rock Counterculture than the mainstream, and it has made me feel like I have a place where I fit in. I am comfortable touring and playing and sharing the music I love. I’ve always wanted to play music since I was a kid. Playing music has taken me around the world, and has given me the opportunity to meet some amazing people, see some amazing places, and experience some great culture I would have otherwise probably never have gotten the chance to experience. So, it has been a very positive experience and a great ride as well so far.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

Coming from a middle-class family growing up in Florida, and discovering the blues around 15 years old, I would describe my sound as a mixture between blues, and a bit of Rock n Roll. My philosophy on music is to play what you feel, and what comes from the heart. I realize how much music means to people, so I try to keep things real. I don’t write to try and get a hit song, or win an award. It’s just about the music to me. My creative drive comes from experiences in my past, from recent experiences and sometimes just ideas that I might come up with on the guitar. Sometimes a catchy melody or lyric might run through my head and that will end up inspiring a song.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues and what does the blues mean to you?

Blues can mean so many different things to people. To me, it’s an inspirational music. It’s the way I express myself. This music, has taken me around the world. It has allowed me to meet and perform with some of my greatest influences. It has really been good to me. I enjoy every minute of it. So, I guess it means everything to me!

Was there something specific you experienced that made you recording a album tribute to Hubert Sumlin?

This album is a tribute to my mentor, and friend, the late great Hubert Sumlin. Back in 1998, I got a call asking if my band and I would be interested in backing up Hubert at ‘Blues Stock’ in Memphis. Of course, I was honored and said yes. The band and I woodshedded the songs for a month or so and went to play with Hubert for the first time in October of 1998. It was a magical night for me, and the chemistry between us and Hubert worked really well. After that show, Hubert asked if we would become his full-time group. My band and I continued to play and tour with Hubert for over four years. I look back on that time with Hubert as my ‘college education in the blues’. ‘That’s What I’m Talkin About’ was a phrase that Hubert used to say a lot, so we thought it would be a fitting name for this album. Ben Elliott, who engineered and produced the album, sadly passed away suddenly shortly after this session, and it would turn out to be his last project. The picture in the album package of Ben and I behind the mixing board was the last one of us, as we listened back to the tracks we had just recorded, hoping that Hubert would be proud. My previous two albums, Trouble & Whiskey and Welcome To My Blues were also recorded with Ben Elliott. He was a great friend and partner in the business and will be sorely missed by everyone that knew and worked with him. I will always be grateful to both Hubert Sumlin and Ben Elliott and will never forget all the work we did together, as well as all the lessons that I learned from them both. The music will always live on, and I hope that you enjoy this album as much as we enjoyed making it.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

The first time I met B.B King comes to mind. Later on when I was a bit older, I had the opportunity to meet and play with Hubert Sumlin, and I realized how humble and truly genuine the original blues guys really were. While I was the guitarist and band leader for Hubert Sumlin, I got to meet and play with so many of the real blues guys, and originators of this music, like James Cotton, Magic Slim, Pinetop Perkins, Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, Robert Lockwood JR. “Honeyboy” Edwards and more. I think Hubert gave me the best advice. He told me to “always play your heart out for the people, whether there are 5 people in the crowd, or 5,000 people.” Either way he said, “They worked all week and paid for the ticket to the show so we have to give them our best.” Hubert and I also made a promise to each other that we would both keep playing the blues as long as we could; he said “You know why? Because we won’t always be able to do it, so let’s keep it going as long as we can.” That always resonates in my heart and mind. This is a gift, to share the music and we shouldn’t take it for granted.

Are there any memorable moments with people that you’ve performed with either live or in the studio?

Absolutely, probably too many to name. I remember the first time I opened up for B.B King. After the show the band and I were waiting in line outside his bus to meet him. They would let 4 or 5 people at a time on the bus for 5 mins or so to get autographs, and say hi to him. We were in the middle of the line when a guy from his crew came off the bus and asked us if we were in the opening band? When I answered yes, he said B.B would like you to go to the end of the line so he can spend extra time with you once everyone is gone. We were floored. We spent about 30 mins on the bus hanging out and talking with him. He was extremely genuine, friendly, and complimentary of our set that night. I wanted an autograph before we left but all I had on me was my wallet, so I asked him to sign my driver’s license. Once he signed it, he gave it back to me and said “you are now officially licensed to play the blues.” I thought that was so great and off the cuff on his part. I still have that license to this day. Another person I need to name is Ben Elliott, who passed away in 2020 just after I recorded this album with him. He was my producer, label owner and great friend. I recorded my last three albums with him, including my new album “That’s What I’m Talkin About” (A tribute to Hubert Sumlin) I learned so much from Ben working in the studio. He was a guitar guy, and had a great ear. He knew how to get the best out of me in the studio. He was truly excited about the music, and that made me even more excited about it. I knew that this new album would be a tribute to Hubert Sumlin, but I never thought that it would turn out to also be a tribute to Ben Elliott.

What do you miss most nowadays from the music of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

I think I miss the spontaneity, the realness, and the fact that a lot of the older music of the past was original, or at least it seemed that way to me. Music nowadays, not all music, but a lot of it seems contrived and over produced. There was a rawness to the older music. If you listen to Muddy Waters or Howlin’ Wolf, just to name a couple as an example, it was raw and not necessarily perfect, but that was part of the magic of it. One or two takes in the studio. My hope is that real music and people playing their instruments on stage never goes away. Also, being a blues lover and player, I hope that young people in the future have the means to be exposed to the blues at a young age, and will appreciate the music and the origins from which it came, as well as how, where and why it started.

Why do you think that Hubert Sumlin’s Blues and style continues to generate such a devoted following?

I would have to say, possibly because he influenced so many of the popular artists that we grew up listening to, who inspired us and still do. Artists like Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and the list goes on forever. For years there were certain songs that I thought the band, or the artist I was listening to wrote, then I found out they were playing someone else’s song, or using the lick they wrote for a certain song. People are still realizing, holy shit, Eric Clapton didn’t write that, Hubert Sumlin did, as an example.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

To always give the people your all. Play from the heart. Be genuine and humble, even if you are tired and road weary, it’s part of the gig. It’s a gift that we are blessed to be able to share this music, not everyone can say that, so I have learned not to take it for granted.

What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the Blues to affect people?

Blues is not only music, it’s a feeling. Some people assume they don’t like the Blues, but then they’ll be at a gig and come up and say “I never thought I liked the Blues, but damn I love the Blues and what I’m hearing tonight.” Blues may not be as popular as it once was, but I don’t think it’s dying, either. There are some great young players out there. When someone hears a song and it makes the hair on their arms stand up, they feel it and never forget that. That’s what the Blues does to people who get it. It grabs you. As a player, sometimes it’s not what you play, but what you don’t play. The Blues breathes and has life.

What are your opinion about the famous quote “The Blues is Easy to Play, But Hard to Feel”, as Jimi Hendrix said?

I like that saying a lot. I don’t think it is always easy for everyone to play. But I do think, it is all about the way you feel. As long as you are expressing yourself in your music, then you are doing it right in my opinion. You may not feel like you have the blues every day, but blues music is a great outlet in which to express yourself. Some of us, have the blues more than others. Some people play happy blues, some play a sadder version of the blues. It’s all about feeling at the end of the day… Either way, play the blues and it will make you feel better. And, if you can start making other people feel better through your music too, then you’re really on the right track.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?

Good question. I would say back to a day where Robert Johnson played a gig somewhere in Mississippi, back in the day. I would love to be a fly on the wall at one of those original juke joints, or a person sitting in the crowd if I could. I did some shows with “Honeyboy” Edwards when I was with Hubert, he was close with Robert Johnson and he told me some stories…What a time they had back then!

Interview by Michael Limnios / Photos by Arnie Goodman, Alain Broeckx & Jim Kirk

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