May 27, 2024

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Interview with Gráinne Duffy: And that love conquers all: Video, new CD cover

Interview with Ireland’s blues rock musician Gráinne Duffy. An interview by email in writing. – First, let’s start out with where you grew up, and what got you interested in music.  How exactly did your adventure take off? 

Gráinne Duffy: –Well thank you for having me here firstly. I grew up in a small town in Co. Monaghan Ireland, Catleblayney. It was a key town in the Irish culture of Showbands and home to the star of that circuit, Big Tom, considered by some the Irish Johnny Cash. I was exposed to good musicianship through this and in the town there was a good culture among my age group of playing music, going to gigs and trying to be part of the musical culture in general. My elder sisters were keen music lovers too and together we formed a band, doing a rocked up Corrs thing, playing rock style covers by bands like Free, Led Zeppelin, The Stones etc. This was like an early education, but a baptism of fire as I learned on the job, at the gig if you like. Which was good and bad. Monaghan was also home to a leading blues festival, The Harvest Time Festival, which was primarily a blues festival and hosted my hero Peter Green and that was a really important early experience in music for me. Watching the band perform at the festival was instrumental in forming a big impression on me and from there I began to pursue music as my life passion. I played for a few years in the family band, then went to college, did a music degree which was mostly classical based as there were no contemporary courses available in Ireland at the time. Then my then partner, now husband Paul Sherry, bought me some studio recording time as a present and I started writing songs for the booked session and that was literally the start of my career as Grainne Duffy. When I released my self-titled debut album in 2007 and started sending albums to the local and festivals and getting bookings, I realised I could try and pursue this professionally.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Festivals 2023

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

GD: – I began mainly writing very rootsy blues and rock tinged songs inspired by those who influenced me most like The Allman Brothers, early Fleetwood Mac and Bonnie Raitt. Being out on the road has helped me learn how to build up a set, having peaks and dips in the setlist and also what kind of songs the audience really enjoy the most in my repertoire. The albums after my debut went from being more rock infused to a slightly country rock song to the newest soon to be released album. I think I have developed my sound by developing my songwriting and this album really feels like a move towards the best blend of blues and soft rock and melody that I have accomplished yet. The best way to develop for me is to try and keep listening and learning all the time. Recently I spent a long time learning about the very early female blues artists like Memphis Minnie, Rosetta Tharpe, Victoria Spivey and many more for a PhD I did on the blues and that really helped in my education and understanding of blues guitar styles and song lyrics.

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

GD: – I have to admit, my rudimentary practice in terms of practicing scales, licks and chops has been less part of my daily routine now. I tend to try to work on setlists and develop my songwriting more often. I will work on lyrics, structure and sounds, like guitar sounds and getting a groove I like playing in.

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

GD: – Yes, I most certainly have and change is a good and normal thing I believe. I like to try and keep moving a little forward as much as I can as it keeps you fresh and motivated. Yet I try to keep my roots stable too and return to some key influences, songs or books that inspired me at the very start so I stay in touch with the early inspiration for becoming a musician.

JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?

GD: – Well I try to do something musical everyday, be it sing, play, write or most importantly actively listen everyday. But it can be hard with two small children at times. Yet, I think music is my meditation and I am not a soap watcher or regular T.V. programme person so when I have down time I like to go down little worm holes, like exploring all Bob Dylan, another hero of mine, albums or interviews and then that will lead to something else like Woody Guthrie or whatever and that really is my form of meditation. All of this is really important for me when I am not in a busy performing period. I use this time to soak up and assimilate as much knowledge as possible and hopefully some of it might take seed in a performance. In terms of before a gig, I do a warm up exercise for my voice and try to enjoy wherever I am and who I am with and let that feed into the performance so it is in the moment as much as possible and leave it all out on the stage for the audience.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2023: Gráinne Duffy – Dirt Woman Blues, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

GD: – This album was down in a very quick 4-5 day period. Myself and my husband, follow guitar player and songwriting collaborator, flew to San Diego and worked with an amazing team, Chris Goldsmith (Blind Boys of Alabama, Ben Harper) and Marc Ford (ex guitarist The Black Crowes) on co-production duties, Jimmy Hoyson engineering, Elijah Ford and JJ Johnson (bass and drums – Gary Clarke Jr and Tedeschi Trucks) and Sam Goldsmith, (studio assistant). We pretty much tracked all the songs in 3 days and did a day on the vocals of all 9 tracks and then there was a day of post production. I liked working this way with new people and in a fast style as it felt very much in the moment and I liked that and it felt good for this record. I love the blend of blues, soul and rock that we created and working in California with this team was really special for me. At the moment I am busy doing the promotion and touring for this album.

Buy from here – New CD 2023

Image of Dirt Woman Blues

JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?

GD: – The team was put together by Chris Goldsmith, the Co-producer. We had meetings via WhatsApp and he suggested the team to us and we were more than happy with them all as we are aware of their work collectively with The Black Crowes, Ben Harper, Gary Clarke Jr and Tedeschi Trucks among others. So that was basically how that came about.  

JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?

GD: – Lots of great musicians and gigs hold a special place for me. I think over the years I’ve been so blessed with great memories.

Doing the Mahindra festival with Billy Gibbons, getting to play Glastonbury twice, going and playing a festival in the North Pole, making the last record in California and in general getting to share my music with the world is the best memory of all.

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

GD: – Well that’s a difficult one but there is a harmonious balance you must try to achieve and it’s not always something you do or can. For me Bob Dylan surpasses this, he unites melody and harmony and those wise prophecies so eloquently. He’s the master craftsman. Just listen to him and that’s the answer to this question really.

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

GD: – Yes, that’s my job I believe. I try to leave everything behind me on the stage every time I play whether that’s happiness, sadness, joy or pain. You must try to connect and communicate that with your audience.

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

GD: – I play mainly blues but that’s the same in that case too. I try to bring something new to any older cover I do.  I think adding your originality or sound to it is one of the best ways to try and make those songs relevant and appealing to a younger audience.

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

GD: – Well I’m a spiritual or naturalist type of person. We are all connected to Mother Earth on this spiritual journey and the more you can connect with this in your life journey the more fulfilling your journey will be. I try to disconnect from the internet as much and when I can, stay in the real world and among real people and nature as much as possible.  

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

GD: – Emm not sure. Maybe that all music is represented equally in the mainstream. Less genre divides and more openness for artists to freely be any genre without classifications and labels like mainstream etc.

OUR US/EU Jazz and Blues Festivals 2023

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

GD: – Old blues, contemporary blues, some rock. Some old counties like Willie Nelson. Lots of different things really.  

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

GD: – Woodstock!

JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?

GD: – To try and feel all the emotions and life and let them out, happiness, sadness, anger, pain, joy. And that love conquers all.

JBN: – Do You like our questions? Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?

GD: – Yes, I actually do a free concert every year for Cancer for a charity called Crocus, my sister in law died Young of cancer so I do it in her honour. Great, very nice questions.  

Inerview by Simon Sarg

Note: You can express your consent and join our association, which will give you the opportunity to perform at our Jazz and Blues festivals, 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.

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