May 27, 2024

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Interview with Doc Ventura: The blues is not about being sad: Video, new CD cover, Photos

Interview with Blues bassist and lead vocalist Doc Ventura of Delta By The Beach. 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?

Doc Ventura: – I was raised in Chicago, the backyard of the blues. I was fortunate enough to meet and talk to Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Eddie Taylor and Mississipi Fred Mcdowell. Naturally I was awe struck.

One of my friends had an older brother who was a big blues fan. When he wasn’t home we would scavenge through his record collection, playing Muddy Waters, Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf and most of the active Chicago luminaries. We also listened to blues rock, especially Cream, Canned Heat and Paul Butterfield and other hybridizers of the blues. I have been playing and writing songs since I was 12 years old, so I guess I sort of fell into it naturally, gigging in high school bands, leading up to the present.

Milo Sledge was raised on a farm and still works on a farm. Being close the country helps fuel passion for blues. Eddie Layman was born in Ohio and has been a professional drummer since the age of 14, travelling all over the world.

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

DV: – Well, attempting to be a working musician requires that you have some performance flexibility. Guitar is my main instrument. I have done all styles over the years but always hunkered around a base of blues and soul…working in those styles whenever I could in my solo gigs. I spent a long time working on fingerstyle guitar, based on Travis picking. In fact I have released four albums under my own name and they are all solo instrumental acoustic guitar records. My ‘Toyland’ Christmas album has been a steady seller over many a Christmas, I am proud of that one.

Fortunately in Delta by the Beach we are totally committed to blues and this is where I will stay. This is also the first time I’ve officially been a bass player. I was happy to make way for Milo to play guitar. To my surprise I had no problem adapting to it. I am very familiar with ‘bass logic’ having learned it to accompany myself on solo guitar.

Milo Sledge on harp and guitar and Eddie Layman on drums have a unique style and they have been the catalyst for the band, interpreting our original songs and giving them character.

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

DV: – I remain interested and active and practice every day. These days you can browse Youtube and always find something interesting to work on. Country licks, jazz progressions…it is a good way to pass the time. Strangely I rarely practice blues specifically. However, I do a weekly blues radio show called ‘Doc’s Delta Blues Lounge’ so I get a chance to listen to a lot of blues regularly.

On the other hand, Milo will be the first to tell you he NEVER practices LOL. Eddie is a drum teacher and works on his jazz chops every day.

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

DV: – I spent many years trying to figure out my personal style. I suspect this is very common. I was always devoted to blues, but one event caused a dramatic change. A couple of decades ago I discovered Mississippi. I made a ‘one time only’ visit to the mecca of the blues that has turned into a 20 year love affair.

I am involved in that scene and have learned much from personal contact with musicians like Big Jack Johnson of the Jellyroll Kings, Robert Kimbrough Sr., Duwayne Burnside, Robert Belfaur, Anthony ‘Big A’ Sherrod, Lucious Spiller. I once had the experience of watching a 14 year old Kingfish playing bass in Red’s juke joint one rainy night. I’ve heard he’s done quite well for himself since then!

I have a warm memory of some time I spent with T-Model Ford, just talking blues. If you shook his hand it was like being engulfed in a catcher’s mitt, both in terms of size and roughness. Those were country hands. More than anything, the delta country has permeated blues and you can see I’ve literally felt it!

To answer your question, after many years in this scene I woke up one day and realized I had my own style after years of being unsure about it. ‘Style’ is just the creative reaction to discovering your own limitations. You find a way to work around these, and I believe that turns into style. Having a limited vocal range, for example forces you to work within a box, and I think Mick Jagger did ok with what he has.

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

DV: – I find it is important for me to exercise my voice on the day of a gig or recording. I will warm up first thing in the morning. Then I usually sing in the car while I travel to the gig. I find the early morning warm-up locks in my vocal intonation for the rest of the day.

There is one vital step in preparation for the studio. When I have a new song I make a demo for the band. I never develop my demo’s too fully. I leave room for expansion and this band has the magic touch. We listen to the demo and about three takes later we have something we like that is worlds beyond the working demo.

My spiritual stamina is high. I have learned to take things in stride and keep my eyes on the prize. I believe life’s mission is to conquer feelings of fear, doubt and anger as we mature. I never like to see a grown up person having a temper tantrum or negative attitude. We must overcome these things!

If I feel that I am not centered I will listen to one of my own radio shows to remind me why I love the music.

JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2023: Delta By The Beach – Kris Kringle’s Krawl, how it was formed and what you are working on today.

DV: – We had fun creating this Christmas song. I have always been a fan of the Holidays. The chance to make our own contribution was more than I could resist. Also the decision to release on green vinyl gave a nostalgic emotional fulfillment. We loved recording it in a tiny loft above a big studio because the closeness of the room helped us to groove.

By comparison, our first album ‘The Single of the Month’ w as a restrospective of collection of twelve songs that we wrote, recorded and mastered and released, one per month. With ‘Kringle’ just having to only focuts on one recording was like taking a mini-vacation!.

We had a blast doing the cover art. We knew we wanted something amusing, but it’s hard to create that moment and I’m proud that we pulled it off.

We have been working on a new album for quite a while, some say too long! We recorded about 20 original songs and have picked the best dozen. We have played festivals and travelled to Mississippi a few times and were greatly inspired by the current ‘liveing blues’ scene there. We like artists like Jesse Cotton Stone who are forging a much heavier blues sound, influenced naturally by some rock sensibility. I say ‘naturally’ because the younger generation of blues musicians have grown up with the blue-rock hybridization as a fact, not a theory. We have absorbed this and were able to evolve our sound toward some rawer stuff. Of course, we still fall back into playing some California West Coast styles. After all it is our natural habitat. Local players such as the great R.J. Mischo and Frank ‘Paris Slim’ Goldwasser joined us on some cuts and that keeps us grounded in our regional pocket as well as exploring modern Delta.

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

DV: – My 20 years of trawling through Mississippi left me with a mountain of photos and videos of blues artists. I decided to develop a one-time-only show at our local Performing Arts venue. It was my retrospective photo tour through the state, accompanied by some live performance examples.

I tried to find guys that had the feeling. There was one player in the area that always struck me as being marinated in the Mississippi country blues style, without ostentatious artifacts. Milo Sledge was my first selection for the show band.

Our first choice for a drummer wasn’t able to do it so he recommended Eddie Layman who had just hit town after 30 years as an expatriate playing jazz in Singapore! He had played the famous Chitlin’ circuit, backed several Hammond B3 shufflers so he was in right away. He can name and play at least a dozen or more types of shuffles among other things. Muddy Waters always preferred a jazz drummer for blues and so do I.

So, the one-time-only band decided to stay together and that is Delta by the Beach.

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

DV: – Many more than I have time and space to share! They range from the sublime to the ridiculous. On the sublime side, I’d say opening for Canned Heat was a major moment. The ridiculous ones usually involve the occasional gig devoid of spectators. That’s every musicians nightmare.

Taking the stage at Ground Zero Club in Clarksdale, Mississippi was another profound experience. From the first note we felt the audience was with us and knew where we were coming from. It was an uplifting experience. Unfortunately not every audience is not as clued in and we usually have to work harder to establish ourselves.

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

DV: – That’s a tough one. Isn’t everyone trying to figure that one out most of the time? In the sport of golf they say there are twenty four components to a good swing and if you think of any one of them you are screwed. The same thing is true with soul. If you’ve developed it, it’s just there and you shouldn’t have to think about it.

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

DV: – Absolutely. We play for the audience, not just to please ourselves. If we are happy with the music the audience usually is too. Familiar sounding moments, so-called clichés, are actually just shorthand to reach your audience, give them a place to jump on the merry-go-round. I’m talking about including a familiar sounding harp break or turnaround that people can relate to. We never try too hard to be different because we feel it can alienate a crowd that came to be entertained with a night of blues. Despite this, people tell us we are different from any other blues act!

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

DV: – Make them sound real and alive and sincere. Good music is good music and there is a niche audience for everything these days. Schools are still churning out great young musicians that are well versed in the American songbook. Jazz had a brief heyday as dance music in the late 40’s but since then it has always been somewhat of struggle to gain a mass hold on the public. I guess it continues.

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

DV: – Coltrane was a genius. It’s hard to keep up with him spiritually. For me the purpose of life is to gain equilibrium by disposing of fear and not being buffeted to and fro. Keep yourself interested in what is around. Canned Heat’s legendary drummer Fito De La Parra has become a good friend of the band. He is our hero. After 60 years of touring he will still drag his equipment out of his house to play with our band at a happy hour at some dive in his spare time. Now that is true love of music and life!

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

DV: – More blues fans please!

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

DV: – Along with the founding fathers that I play on my radio show I like the young country modern players…not referring to ‘guitar hero blues’ that is so commonly thought of as blues today. I don’t really care for that. I listen to Robert Kimbrough Sr., any of the Burnside family and my good friend Lucious Spiller most often. Anything with roots in country blues sounds good to me.

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

DV: – Pepper’s Lounge in Chicago 1972! Or, Tutwiller Railroad Station 1905 to see who it was that W.C. Handy heard playing that day he officially ‘discovered’ the blues.

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

DV: – The blues is not about being sad, it is about release it is about being happy and reconciled to reality. My goal is to play for people who may LIKE blues and try to inspire folks LOVE them.

JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…

DV: – How have you seen blues and aspiring blues musicians change over the decades?

JBN: – It’s a bit difficult to answer your question in general, because not all Blues musicians have changed uniformly, many in a very bad way and direction, some wonderfully. I’m a supporter of traditional Blues, and I don’t tolerate pop elements in wonderful music like Blues, Jazz too.

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

DV: – Not on purpose LOL! Actually, we have done some charity events and Milo regularly supports and performs for a major Christmas fund raiser in the area.

I hope this interview has been interesting for blues fans. Perhaps there are a few piquant thoughts about the band and music in general that I’ve shared. More than anything, I am excited to have a chance to help build and communicate with the very widely dispersed worldwide blues audience. There are a lot of great bands and musicians out there today. I hope some blues devotees will make space for us in their consciousness.

JBN: – By editorial։ Since its inception in 2012, JazzBluesNews.com has become the leading Jazz and Blues platform in Europe, United States, Asia, Latin America, Australia, Nordic countries, Afro – Eurasia.

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Above photo by photographer Aiysha Sipe; Interview by Elléa Beauchêne

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