Interview with Debbie Bond: The blues is certainly a genre of music but with fuzzy edges! Video, Photos

Interview with singer/songwriter and blues activist, Debbie Bond – inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame.

How has the Blues music (and blues people) influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Have the good fortune of having been mentored by some of the Alabama older statesmen and women of the blues who have influenced my music, view of the blues world and my life journey. I ended up in Alabama because I was so impressed by the outstanding blues culture here that was over looked. I was 23 years when in 1980 I connected with late great Johnny Shines (who traveled with Robert Johnson). Johnny was living here near me in Holt and he took me under his wing. We shared a band off and on through the last decade of his life. He definitely opened up my mind to the challenges of the blues music business. He set a great example in so many was and sure gave it his all every time he played. Johnny Shines was very taken for granted in his own hometown while at the same time being a world renown blues legend. None of these musicians played the blues for fame and fortune – that they certainly deserved. Being a musician is a calling. He was a proud man. He was a world class musician who came from nothing. That kind of resilience and dedication is something to witness. I stayed in Alabama because of my unique exposure to these awesome artists.

I was Eddie Kirkland’s second guitar player on many shows. He and I worked together as part of a State Of Alabama/Georgia Arts Council mentoring apprenticeship project. We did many shows and blues in the schools’ performances together. Eddie gave me great insight too on life on the road. He also gave it his all through the thick and thin. Neither of these extraordinary talents got the recognition they were due. I loved Eddie’s creative originality. Johnny was a traditionalist while Eddie was always thinking outside the box in a very wild and wonderful way. Every performance they played as if it were their first and last – gave it all they had, heart and soul. They showed me the magic of music to transcend and communicate our common humanity. They showed me the meaning of blues power. Willie King was probably the biggest influence of them all. I was Willie’s guitar player for the last seven years of his life. I got to tour Europe with him three times backing Willie King and played everything from big time festivals, backwoods house parties, family reunions in a field to real deal juke joints. Again, Willie gave it his all whether it was to a hand full of people in a field or a couple of thousand fans at the Cognac Blues Festival in France. He said the blues was medicine for the soul. It has certainly been that for me. It is my life. Expressing my life experiences in song has always been a huge therapeutic outlet! The musical magic that happens when people come together to groove and move to music has made my life worth living. Music brings us together telling our stories, and all the emotions involved – sadness, gladness, sorrow, joy and pain. It’s a mystery and magic for sure. Healing hearts, lifting spirits, opening minds, that’s what the blues is all about. Willie King, they called the Bob Marley of the blues. His music was all about this. I was so blessed to have traveled and worked with him so much. He pushed me hard and I appreciate his influence beyond measure. With Willie King in a Juke Joint. With Willie King at the Cognac Blues Festival. Of course, in terms of world views, being in Alabama and my musical life and friendships being immersed in the black community has given me deep insight into the legacy of racism in America – and in turn that has influenced my music and songwriting.

How do you describe “Blues Without Borders” sound and songbook?

I feel “Blues Without Borders,” is an apt title in so many ways. Blues music is borderless. The blues tells our common stories. It defies everything that divides us, again pointing to our common humanity, individually and globally.  I remain a relentless optimist and believe it to be the truth.  Weather we can really come together in our global common interest is yet to be seen. We humans have a horrible track record! We are clearly capable of so much more. So, the title track has this sentiment of unity. It’s a taste of world blues music. Along with the song Winds of Change, which is more about the climate crisis and our sad greedy relationship with nature. Another other way the title is appropriate is because our songwriting is so influenced by many threads in the American blues song book. I truly love soul music – from Memphis, to Muscle Shoal, to the current soul blues life blood streaming through the veins of contemporary blues. I love and listen to a wide range of music, and it has affected our music of course and my blues is a bit borderless. I had a Nigerian stepfather. I lived in West Africa as a child. African music also touched me deeply. I feel like the song, Blues Without Borders, has some of those influences too. I think if I lived near some West African musicians there would have been even more guest spots on that song!  If feel the song writing on the recording covers a lot of ground – from very traditional blues, jazz to soul blues – so it’s contemporary borderless blues!

Do you have any stories about the making of new album?

The project has many stories. Many pandemic related! It was a huge challenge to accomplish this recording due to the pandemic. We had started recording here in Alabama when the pandemic hit. Our UK drummer Micky Barker was here tracking. We managed to complete his parts and managed to get him back home on a plane in the nick of time! Being in lock down, instigated a great learning challenge. I am so lucky that my partner in life and music, Rick, is up for that kind of thing! Rick is British, plays harmonica, keys, keyboard bass, co-writes songs with me…and now a recording wizard. Our home studio had to expand as well as Rick’s recording skills – for example, he really because proficient at using pro-tools and editing. The process was slow going. We were also extremely lucky to be able to work remotely with musicians both here in the US and in Europe. It was tracked here in Alabama, including Muscle Shoals as well, tracking, mixing and mastering in the UK! We had to navigate, lock down, quarantines, exposure to covid, –  tragically one of my guests singers lost her husband to covid during the pandemic. A project that would have taken three weeks took a year to complete. Maybe it’s better for it? It feel it received an attention to detail that would never have happened in normal circumstances. I really am very thankful, grateful, that it was completed against the odds. It featured some of my favorite musicians here in Alabama and the musicians that I tour with in the UK. Bringing those worlds together means the world to me!

How started the thought of “Let Freedom Ring”? How does the late great Dr. Martin Luther King affect your inspiration?

I live in Alabama where Dr. King chose to spear-head the civil rights movement, for voting rights, school integration, and exposing the violent systemic racism. I began the song on his birthday one year. I completed it just before going in the studio. One of those songs that sat on ice unfinished that I re-erected for this project. His legacy is everywhere I go. What a powerful courageous leader he was with his philosophy of non-violent resistance and preaching the power of love. What scary times he lived in and what forces of evil he had the courage to resist and lead others peacefully toward change. He gave his life for the cause – he was murdered in the middle of his struggle in Memphis. Of course, the year of the pandemic, with Trump as president, we experienced frightening rise in open racism, the murder of George Floyd and the exposure of racist police violence, and the Black Lives Matters movement – a movement that became global. Opened the world eyes to how far we still have to go for positive change. This climate during the pandemic was certainly part of the soup stock in which this album cooked and was recorded. Of course, the song is a tribute to Dr. King and his message – that we can’t give up his dream.

Where does your creative drive come from? What do you hope people continue to take away from your songs?

I guess I am a very emotional person and music is my outlet.  I love music, I love the blues.  I hope for those who connect to my songs it will sooth a few souls and lift a few spirits. Even at times make you laugh. I like to think there is something for everyone on the record. There are the heart ache heart break songs – as well as love songs, humorous songs about love and life…and then the songs that talk about things on a more serious global level. I do feel life is short – that drives me too. I am thankful to be out here doing this at my age! There’s a bit of the “get it while you can,” drive! Savor this time, commune through music while you can. I love the community feeling that music offers. Bringing people together in a positive way.

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

Music and art are always moving. The artists who created the blues of the past lived very different lives from those today. It is truly mind blowing this awesome music that came out of such hard times, deprivation, struggle, racism, and so on. WOW. One of America’s greatest art forms was created by people who were among most overlooked, oppressed, discriminated against and terrorized. I think blues music is so powerful in it’s power to transcend, overcome and speak truth. It has revolutionized the worlds music. It is in a constant evolution. We can only look back and treasure this gift to the world in amazement. I try to learn from the tradition and legacy, but the blues is alive and well and reflects the lives of people who are creating it now. Everyone has their story there is so much great music out there right now. I am thankful to be a little fish in a big blues sea of super talented big and little fishes. The blues of the past was born out of some seriously austere conditions. We need to keep moving forward and evolving into, I hope, a better world and watch the music evolving too.

On a financial front, I hope we figure out a way for musicians and songwriters to be better compensated for their work – especially in regard to the digital age and the challenges that has presented to us. In the past there were another set of reasons why it was hard for blues musicians to get their due…and now we have a whole new set of reasons. The digital age has also meant so many more of us can record and make music and even work internationally like we did to make this record – but then we all get short changed because the music is so easy to copy, share and stream.

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

To be myself. We are all unique as artists – can’t be anyone else. To try and learn from others but tell my own story and do my own thing. Ultimately, we have to do our own thing. Find our own way. Follow are hearts, while paying the bills, and stay sain in a pretty insane world! Love is the only thing in the end that matters. Try to treat each other the way we want to be treated. I don’t know what I would do or where I would be without music. That and love. I have also learned what an incredible place Alabama is for it’s rich blues culture and dismayed that it is still so over looked. Everyday there is as much blues going on here as places like Mississippi, but it is still overlooked. We all keep working on that. I founded the Alabama Blues Project for that reason. To promote and preserve the states blues culture. The ABP has impacted thousands of children every year exposing them to the rich blues culture of this state.

Do you consider the Blues a specific music genre or do you think it’s a state of mind? How do you want to affect people?

The blues is certainly a genre of music but with fuzzy edges! Of course, it is hard to define. Blues, soul, jazz, r&b, rock, funk, Americana all blend together – and make variations on the gumbo soup! I want to touch people, make them think, and lift their spirits.  Make them want to dance! Dance out their blues. Loose their blues! Like Willie said – let the blues be medicine for the soul.

What would you say characterizes European blues scene in comparison to US? What are the differences and similarities?

Of course, American and European blues has a lot in common and you find all the variations on the theme in both places. They have influenced each other back and forth over the decades. That said, I do find UK blues so much more rocky than American blues as a generalization. If you look who wins their receptive blues competitions, I would say that is a theme. There are outstanding blues musicians all over the world. I love that.

Interview by Michael Limnios / Photos by Adam Kennedy

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