Interview with Blues guitarist Iain Black. 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?
Iain Black: – It started with radio and Top of the Pops on British TV in the seventies. There wasn’t much music in the house. I used to get in trouble for spending any money I had on records! But I loved it, so nothing was going to stop me. I got a job and bought a guitar and amp when I was thirteen, and formed a band with some school friends. I started writing songs from the start. It’s always been important to me to be doing original music. I played with a few bands in the area, on the east coast of Scotland. I went to my first gig at fourteen – AC/DC at the Glasgow Apollo. It completely blew me away, and that was me hooked! I knew then, for sure, that music was what I wanted to do. As soon as I completed my studies in Scotland, I got a bus to London.
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?
IB: – It’s always been blues-based music for me, natural sounds, and great vocals, with good melodies, nice. My early influences would be Free, and Paul Kossoff, BB King, Angus Young, Carlos Santana, Jimi Hendrix, and then later the Stones, the Black Crowes, and also soul artists like Aretha Franklin and the Staple Singers. I only became a full-time musician a few years ago, so I spend much more time on practicing and development now I play a few hours every day. I’ve been working more on different scales, learning new riffs and styles online, and focusing a lot on getting the right accuracy and emotion in string bends and vibrato. I also spent a lot of time working on my sound, trying out different amps, speakers and effects to get something that really worked for me.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
IB: – Everything starts with stretching and warm-up exercises, then some scales, and some solo improvisation, working on bends and vibrato, practicing our set, working on new compositions. During the pandemic lockdown, we built up multi-track demos of all our tunes, so now we each practice at home with the rest of the band on computer, at the correct bpm. We no longer practice just to a metronome!
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JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
IB: – That’s a fantastic question! You have to have sufficient knowledge and intellect as your foundation, your raw material, and then the soul is essential in the execution and putting that into practice, where your heart and fingers combine to express an emotion. That must have soul! For me, music is a language, with which the musician communicates an emotion to the audience, the listener. For us, the process normally starts with composition. That’s more intellectual, as you’re building a framework, a foundation. I usually start with a chord progression and riffs for an intro, verse and chorus, and I write a first draft of lyrics. Almost immediately, you’re into the soul side of things, as you work out how the basic groove of the tune, how I might express the riffs and chords, and how the lyrics will convey the music to, and influence, the audience.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
IB: – I hope we achieve that. We cover quite a dynamic range of blues. We rock out big time, and we also do soulful, blues ballads. It’s good to take an audience on a journey through a lot of emotions in a single show. And it’s great if we can achieve that. The audience is essential at a show. They’re half the show. If we can get crowd into it, that works for everybody’s enjoyment, and we play better!
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
IB: – The Blues definitely faces the same challenges. I think the best way is not to stagnate into old stereotypes. Recognize what was great about the greats. Understand their soul and what’s going on between the notes. Keep everything fresh and interesting. And most importantly, maintain the quality.
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JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
IB: – I suppose more recognition that music is art, not money.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
IB: – I listen a lot to the Staple Singers, old-school I know, but inspirational – musicianship, vocal performances, arrangements, lyrics, groove. They were the perfect balance of intellect and soul. I’ve seen Mavis perform a couple of times, and she, and her band, have still got it!
JBN: – Do You like our questions?
IB: – Well, first I’d like to thank you for your great questions and your great website.
JBN: – Merry Christmas!
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Interview by Simon Sarg