June 14, 2024

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Interview with Ryan Lee Crosby: The true Blues is timeless: Video

Interview with Blues guitarist Ryan Lee Crosby. 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? 

Ryan Lee Crosby: – I was interested in music from a young age. My first memory is from 3 years old, of a guitar my Mom had in the basement. She didn’t play… It belonged to an old boyfriend of hers. That guitar was used extensively on my first album in 2004, but then got lost during a chaotic period that followed.

We had music in the house – my mom loved the Beatles and she introduced me to Bob Dylan’s early recordings. My dad liked soul singers like Sam and Dave and Otis Redding, as well as singer/songwriters like Neil Young. Paul Simon was someone I connected to early, when I was 6 or 7. (Much of my love of blues has been cultivated outside of my family).

I come from a line of entertainers on my mom’s side and educators on my father’s side. I live my life now in the middle as a musician and independent music teacher. On my mom’s side, my great grandfather worked in movies during the golden age of Hollywood… my great grandmother was a dancer and my grandmother was a singer. My grandmother got me into watching movies as a kid and I heard a lot of music in movies that spoke me to deeply early on. John Lee Hooker, the Ramones and the Velvet Underground were all artists I first heard in films… and that was a big part of what shaped the way I relate to music.

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For me, it was never something I realized I could make a living from (although I am beyond fortunate to do so), it has always just been something that I have to do. I could not live without music as the center of my life.

JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?

RLC: – On the surface, my sound has changed a lot in the 22 years that I’ve been a working musician. I started fronting a post-punk trio, then moved into writing acoustic songs and then coming back to producing rock music, before settling into finger style blues, which has been my primary focus for the last ten years… and what I expect to stay centered around.

In 2012, when I first heard the Bentonia blues, as played by Skip James… and the North Mississippi style of Robert Belfour, I knew there was something there for me to devote my life to… and I have developed my relationship to this music through touring and teaching, as well as making 2-3 trips to Mississippi each year to spend time learning from and playing with musicians like Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and R.L. Boyce in Como. The more I get to hear them and play with them, the more my own relationship to the music matures.

Although my music may have appeared to change on the surface quite a bit, as time goes by I feel there is much that stays the same. Themes of illness and healing, loss and recovery, a presence of ghosts and spirits all weave their way through the songs, because they are the themes and stories of my life. And there are universal musical aspects that have always been there, which transcend genre – syncopated rhythms, droning minor harmonies, improvised melodies, and dynamic vocals have all been in and out of my sound going back to my earliest days of playing post-punk rock music.

I try to continually develop my sound by noticing what is consistent, even as things seem to change… and by affirming who and what influences me, as well as paying attention to the conditions of my life, which includes feeling my feelings as I go through each day.

JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?

RLC: – Over the last couple of years, much of the time I use for practice has gone to transcribing music by some of my favorite artists, many of whom don’t have their music in print. Musicians like Skip James, Jack Owens, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, R.L. Boyce, Rosa Lee Hill and Jessie Mae Hemphill, all of whom currently inspire and influence me. I also use practice time to sing and play scales, to improvise and play along with records.

JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?

RLC: – I have made some significant lifestyle changes in the last decade. I gave up drinking and smoking nine years ago and eat a primarily vegetarian diet. I also meditate regularly, which has had a positive influence on how I relate to music. Additionally, I write in a journal every single morning and that helps me stayed focused and centered.

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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?

RLC: – The intellect supports the soul. Both are necessary, along with heart. The soul has a yearning, a vision… and the intellect helps realize that vision. The heart is the filter through which communication passes through.

JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?

RLC: – I am not sure that I can speak to what people long for… but I do believe we all long for many of the same things – love, connection, to be seen and understood… for relief from suffering… to feel safe and at peace… and I know that music provides many of those things for me. I try to pass that forward in whatever way I can, with a sense of gratitude and purpose. It is my intention to pass forward what I can as a musician and teacher.

JBN: – How can we get young people interested in blues when most of standard tunes are half a century old?

RLC: – The true Blues is timeless, because it’s an expression of the human spirit and of the joys and sorrows inherent in being alive. Anyone with an open mind and heart can relate to the essence of the blues. I think that if people can hear the truth of the music, they will connect to it. A lot of the great standards (I’m thinking of songs like “Hard Time Killing Floor,” “Shake ‘Em On Down,” and “Boogie Chillen,”) go back even further than half a century… Although there’s certainly a wave of wonderful, more contemporary standards like RL Burnside’s “Going Down South,” Junior Kimbrough’s “All Night Long,” Jessie Mae Hemphill’s “Train Train” and Jimmy “Duck” Holmes’ version of “Catfish Blues.”

At least, if these aren’t considered standards yet, I feel they should be! I think part of the work in getting young people interested is simply showing and telling them about this great music – that it exists and that it’s the root. And another part of it is the musicians’ work of digging deep, listening and playing the repertoire, as well as talking about the culture and history. There is a wave of very talented people doing this – Jontavious Willis, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Marquise Knox, Jerron Paxton, Rhiannon Giddens, Adia Victoria, Amythyst Kiah and Resa Gibbs are just a few who come to mind off the top of my head. But these folks are more than a next wave, they have been around a while… and are all fully committed, accomplished and inspiring artists.

JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?

RLC: – Each of us contains a spirit and has a capacity for spiritual life because we are a part of something greater than ourselves, something divine. Music is an expression of the divine and the natural order of the universe. As living beings, we exist in rhythm, we seek to be in harmony, and there is a kind of melody in how we think and relate as our lives unfold.

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Spirit is something we can’t generally see, but we can feel. The spirit of something greater communicates with us constantly and music is one way of receiving that communication and participating in the conversation. Through this dialogue, we have an opportunity to learn and grow and evolve, which I believe is part of the purpose and meaning of life. Another meaning of life is to love. Music helps us realize this purpose and meaning, as well.

JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?

RLC: – That musicians of all kinds would be supported well, in fair and sustainable practices – by the culture, by the business, by the audience, by one another.

JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?

RLC: – In the morning I tend to listen to African musicians like Boubacar Traoré, Ballaké Sissoko, Toumani Diabaté, Ali Farka Touré and Derek Gripper. I also enjoy Gregorian chant and Indian classical music at the start of the day. In the afternoon and evening, I might listen to John Lee Hooker, Jimmy “Duck” Holmes, Skip James or Jessie Mae Hemphill.

JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?

RLC: – I have been fortunate to see, hear and in some cases learn directly from some of the musicians who speak to me on a soul level, enough so that I feel quite fine about staying in the present. I would, however, wish to go back to a time when vintage instruments and tape recorders weren’t so expensive… as long as I could bring them back to the present with me!

JBN: – It is surprising that you are such a good and interesting interlocutor, but unfortunately you do not value the role of the media in your activities. However, it is the result of not having enough intelligence.

Note: https://jazzbluesnews.com/2023/03/19/useu-jazz-blues-association-festivals/ You can express your consent and join our association, which will give you the opportunity to perform at our Jazz and Blues festivals in Europe and Boston, naturally receiving an appropriate royalty. We cover all expenses. The objectives of the interview are: How to introduce yourself, your activities, thoughts and intellect, and make new discoveries for our US/EU Jazz & Blues Association, which organizes festivals, concerts and meetings in Boston and various European countries, why not for you too!! You can read more about the association here. https://jazzbluesnews.com/2022/11/19/useujba/

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