Blues interview with blues guitarist and oncologist Dr. J.B. Blues. An interview by email in writing.
JazzBluesNews.com: – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music. How exactly did your adventure take off? When did you realize that this was a passion you could make a living out of?
Dr. J.B. Blues: – I was born in a small town in Germany. My father was an excellent violin player, so I grew up surrounded by classical music. I remember listening to Beethovens violin concerto every day as a child. Sadly my father died when I was only 13 years old. After this event I started playing trumpet and my aim was to become a classic trumpet player. Around 16 I became a solo trumpeter in a symphonic orchestra (German Westpfälzisches Symponic Orchestra) and I performed baroque music, trumpet concertos and Bach Oratorias. My love for the guitar started around age 14 and very soon my brother Frank and myself we founded a TOP 40 cover band. By the way Frank is a great “Joe Cocker cover singer”. I wanted to study music and become a professional musician, but as I had very good grades in school my mother said I should study medicine, what I finally did. Music continued to be part of my life and I never gave up my dream that one day I will produce a record.
JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
Dr. JBB: – When I started playing guitar at age fourteen, I was a huge Carlos Santana fan, I loved his guitar sound. But I couldn’t afford a Gibson Les Paul, so I played an Ibanez “Les Paul” model. In this time I liked to use a lot of effects like delay, reverb, chorus and I played a lot of rock music with much distortion as one did in the 80’S and 90’s. With time my guitar style was getting more and more bluesy. I decided to play a Fender Stratocaster model and I noticed that I can play more expressively with a Stratocaster and as time went by my love for the “twang and dirt” sound of a Stratocaster grew, especially when playing blues and I liked the way you can form your guitar tone with your fingers. And later I used less effects and less distortion. I studied intensively the style of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. I just love the style and sound of Stevie Ray, he is the one who influenced me the most. Today I am playing my beloved Fender Stratocaster Rory Gallagher model tuned in e-flat, like Stevie did. Tuning in e-flat gives the Stratocaster a much bigger to huger sound without losing the “twang”. On my debut album “ Bluesy Sky over Paris” I used an original Marshall 1962 combo “Bluesbreaker’’ amp, the same kind of amp was used by Eric Clapton with John Mayall and the Bluesbrakers on the album “Beano”. Modern digital technic is also on my map. The sound on “ Bluesy Sky over Paris” is a mix of the 1962 Bluesbraker with a digital device, a Fractal Audio FM3. On my record I also mixed different amps of the FM3 (Marshall JCM 800, Marshall Super Lead Plexi 1959, Fender Deluxe Verb, Soldano 100 Lead…) with the real amp, the 1962 Bluesbreaker. For “Tin Pan Alley” for example I mixed the Fender Deluxe with the Bluesbraker and I used a mix with the Soldano on “Cause We Ended As Lovers”. This is how I found my my own sound for the album. It was recorded by Tristan Abgrall at L Áuditorium Studios Paris and mastered by John Davis (“ Led Zeppelin Remasters”) at Metropolis Studios London.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
Dr. JBB: – Most of the time I practice with my Rory Gallagher Stratocaster without an amp and without effects, just the guitar as it is. If one has a good sound and technic in this way, one will have a good sound once amplified. Step by step I learned to use my fingers to form the guitar sound. And I practice with rhythm backups to improve the timing. This is very important especially for studio recordings. Of course I listen to a lot of songs of blues legends like B.B. King, Albert Collins, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan to learn about the harmonies and licks they use and eventually I integrate this knowledge to my playing.
JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?
Dr. JBB: – When I was young, I played rock and I used a “sweet” distorted sound. But with time I recognized that blues is the best way to transport emotions and I learned, that less is more. When you are young you love sweet sparkle wines like an Asti Spumante when you grow older you love dry vintage champagnes like a Dom Perignon. The same about music. The style, taste and sound changes with age.
JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
Dr. JBB: – My time for music is restricted so I have to have a plan. Awareness of what is, is my way of preparation both spiritual and musical. First I prepare the structure of the songs. Then I record the rhythm sections. The most important is, that I perform all solo parts spontaneously during recording. If you want to perform great the moment and the mood counts. I recorded “Little Wing” on the 25th of October but I wasn’t aware of the fact that Jimi Hendrix recorded it on the 25th of October, just some years before me…
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2022: Dr. J.B. Blues – Bluesy Sky Over Paris, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
Dr. JBB: – With my debut album “Bluesy Sky over Paris” I realized a dream. I recorded my favourite songs in my own way. The songs developed spontaneously through the recording after years of preparation. They were recorded at the right time, in the right place and in the right way, from my point of view. And I am very happy that the album captured top honors at the recent Music Awards (Akademia Music Awards Los Angeles , Intercontinental Music Awards Los Angeles, Global Music Awards La Jolla). I am working on something but for the moment it’s still growing inside of me so I won’t talk about it, I am sure you understand.
JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?
Dr. JBB: – To make a long story short I live in Germany and Paris. This way I had the opportunity to meet two great French bluesmen Christophe Garreau (bass) and Guillaume Destarac (drums), a veteran rhythm section who’ve recorded several CDs with Paul Personne and Fred Chapellier, two of the most beloved artists in the French blues scene. It was a pleasure to work with these two great musicians. Tristan Abgrall recorded and mixed this set at L’Auditorium Studios in Paris and also played keyboards on the record. It was mastered at Metropolis Studios in London under the supervision of John Davis, who’s best known for remastering early Led Zeppelin releases. I am very happy with the sound of the CD. The album received the American Tracks Music Award Los Angeles 2022 for best studio sound.
JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
Dr. JBB: – Intellect is technic and soul is emotion. The balance is something very personal. Emotions are the most important part for me. Beethoven said: you can play a wrong note, but you should never play without emotions. And a agree totally with this.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
Dr. JBB: – I don’t really think about it. I think in arts its natural that people want something emotional. We are humans that long for spirituality whatever this is for each one personally. I am very happy that people like the music I make and that young people are drawn to it, that don’t necessarily know so much about blues. My song version of “Little Wing” reached number one on INDIETOPCHARTS in June 2022 and fact is, I am the only blues musician listed.
JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?
Dr. JBB: – Over the years I performed some `bluesrock against cancer` charity concerts. And on one of those charity concerts in 2019 I played Stevie Ray Vaughans “Scuttle Buttin” a lot faster than the original, and the original was already very fast… Of course I recorded this song also on my album “Bluesy Sky over Paris”,but I didn’t get to the speed of light that I had on that particular concert in 2019.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in blues when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
Dr. JBB: – Its a great joy and a little bit crazy to get all this fantastic response for my debut album “Bluesy Sky over Paris “ and particularly for “Little Wing”. Its awesome to create music and people actually listening to it. Honestly, I did not expect such a response. Even people who never listened to blues, listen to my music. It probably is that way because it’s a step away from classic blues-rock to a kind blues-rock-pop and therefore reaches more people. You get young people interested in what you do when you do it with real interest in something you love. Nowadays as a blues musician it is also important to produce music videos to reach young people. The video for „Little Wing“ for example was directed by 20 years old Frida Beineix and dedicated to her father ‘Diva’ and ‘Betty Blue’ director Jean- Jacques Beineix. I was delighted that the video got such an excellent resonance on YouTube in such a short time. And that it won different prices internationally, such as the Akademia Music Awards Los Angeles 2022 for best music video alternative rock.
JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
Dr. JBB: – Oh huge subject, but to make it short: be good, do good and have fun doing what you do.
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
Dr. JBB: – Nothing is to be changed, just our way of looking on reality might need a change and adjustment.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
Dr. JBB: – You probably know by now but frankly, I am old school. I listen to everything that is not coming out of a synthesizer.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
Dr. JBB: – I am not a politician with a message. Therefore I am just hoping that people get whatever they need from my music to feel good about themselves and others.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
Dr. JBB: – Oh, such a nice thought. Well, yes probably being able to meet Stevie at the concert at El Mocambo and Jimi in Woodstock of course …
JBN: – So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…
Dr. JBB: – Where from do you have all this philosophical interest to your questions?
JBN: – I’ve recorded with jazz and blues legends like Barry Harris, Chick Corea, BB King, Lucky Peterson, Dave Holland, John Patitucci, many… You can also add it, I think it will be interesting.
JBN: – At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?
Dr. JBB: – Once again with expectations you lose the possibility of surprise. You never know what this interview can bring. In any case it was fun and I say thank you for your interest and thank you to Luisa Held Management in Berlin for encouraging me to do it.
Interview by Simon Sargsyan