Interview with Blues harp player Li’l Ronnie – Ronnie Owens. 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?
Li’l Ronnie – Ronnie Owens: – I was born in 1949 and grew up in Richmond, VA. I was fortunate to be born into an artistic and musical family. (a blessing & a curse) Both sides of my family were very musical so it was always around, radio stereo etc.. My Mom’s brother was a professional musician, drummer in jazz bands (as well as U.S. Army band) He had his own swing / R&B big band. And for awhile they had a Saturday afternoon TV dance show. This was early 1950’s. I would go with him to the live shows and that did it you me, I was going to be a professional musician! I was 5 or 6 at the time so I didn’t give the making a living much thought.
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JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
RO: – Well the blues music from late 40’s and early 50’s is my ‘go to’ canvas. The more traditional blues has always been my base. There are many different styles of blues. From country / hillbilly blues too Chicago Urban blues, New Orleans/ gulf coast and the Texas/West coast blues that incorporated swing and jump blues stylings. The blues has a language and ‘feel’ one must learn, you have to go back before you can move forward. Incorporating this in my own songs helps keep the genre fresh and revalent to the times. Writing my own songs from my own experiences and observations has helped me develop my music in the blues landscape.
JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?
RO: – With life comes changes and changes will be reflected in your music. I try to write simple songs with a relatable story line. It’s surprising hard to write a really good simple song with emotion.
JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
RO: – We always play new songs in performances to give the song a chance to develop naturally. Songs need that organic influence you can only get from live audience. We also record ‘live’ in studio with minimal use of overdubs. We play it 2 or 3 times and pick the best version and move on.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2023: Li’l Ronnie and the Grand Dukes – Got It ‘Live’ From ‘05, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
RO: – It was the overall performance and sound quality that I was impressed with. Are shows always have a high level of improvisation. Of course having legendary producer/engineer, Jerry Hall, at the controls was most advantageous. The song are in the same order as recorded with no over-dups or redo’s. We’re currently working on a new studio recording with new material that we’ve stated to perform live. This will also be recorded mostly live in studio setup.
There could be talk or advertising your CD
JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?
RO: – The members of the band on live recording was my touring band. I always record with my touring band. That why it’s called ’a band’.
JBN: – What sort of feedback did you receive after it was released from musicians or your friends and family?
RO: – I would say most were very impressed but not surprised. As the CD reviews can attest to.
JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?
RO: – Wow to many too list! I was very fortunate to have been involved when many of the original blues masters were still performing. I’ve performed with or open for some of the biggest names and influences in the blues. More info on my web site. Don’t want start the name droppin’ here.
JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
RO: – Don’t over think the blues, the soul / feel of the music has to connect with the listener. More suited for the heart and gut than brain.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
RO: – I try my best and haven’t had anything thrown at me in a long time. If I didn’t think I was making that connection I’d retire.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
RO: – Well played blues and jazz can be a very interpretive music but as I’ve said earlier there is a ’language’ to this music that must be learned are more like absorbed in to body an soul.
JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
RO: – Well I don’t won’t to get too heavy but I connect’ Spirit’ with, love, happiness and the oneness of us all. Love is our super power and can be expressed in many ways. We know it when we hear it, feel it and see it.
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
RO: – I’d love to see more American roots music, all genres, taught and studied in public schools. At least the history and how styles are all connected.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
RO: – Although the blues is what I do I appreciated and listen to a lot of different genres. It just has to ‘move me’. Been listening to a lot of Bossa Nova lately.
JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
RO: – Early 1950’s, Chicago, the birth of Chicago Blues, country comes to the city. And or 1956 NYC, it was a paramount year for Jazz. 4 classic records released that year. Perhaps the greatest year in Jazz, recording wise.
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JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
RO: – Happiness and harmony among people. Nothing does it better than music and especially the Blues.
JBN: – Do You like our questions? So far, it’s been me asking you questions, now may I have a question from yourself…
RO: – Very good questions from folks that actually know and understands it.
JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?
RO: – Yes I’ve given a few and I’m always happy to help a good cause when time & schedule allows. I don’t reallt expect a whole lot from interview but very flattered to have been ask. Hopefully I can make some new friends and find a few folks that dig our music. I play because I have to.
JBN: – Is there anything that we didn’t talk about that you’d like to discuss?
RO: – Hell, I could talk about myself got hours. No, I think we covered it all except to let you all know we’d love to come play for ya sometime.
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Interview by Elléa Beauchêne