Interview with Bluesman, guitarist Tony Wessels. 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?
Tony Wessels: – I grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. Music interested me from an early age. I remember singing Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay for our 2nd grade class. I never approached music as a way to make a living. I worked for corporate America for 30+ years and practiced playing bass and singing at home, in the evening. I also went out, often, to play and sing at open jam nights around Atlanta (work transferred me from Cincinnati to Atlanta in 2000).
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JBN: – How has your sound evolved over time? What have you been doing to find and develop your own sound?
TW: – I really try to wed what I play on bass to what I sing. I think that comes out in the music.
JBN: – What routine practices or exercises have you developed to maintain and improve your current musical proficiency, in terms of both rhythm and harmony?
TW: – I think the ongoing effort of matching my vocals to what I play on bass, at home, is how I try to maintain and improve my musical proficiency.
JBN: – Have you changed through the years? Any charges or overall evolution? And if so why?
TW: – As I’ve aged, I have a greater appreciation for older, and I would say underappreciated, blues. I’ve got a two CD set from Blind Willie Johnson that’s just great. I also dig Peetie Wheatstraw and have done covers of songs from both artists. Most of the blues we hear today is, in my opinion, borderline rock and roll (include me, too, of being guilty of that) and I enjoy hearing some of the old stuff.
JBN: – How do you prepare for your recordings and performances to help you maintain both spiritual and musical stamina?
TW: – Other than when I go to open jams, I’m primarily a studio player. My prep work for going in studio to record one of my songs is dedicated prep work on bass and vocals for the song/songs to be recorded. No matter how well prepared I am, I still have a lot of nervous energy when recording; I feel it just typing these words. I marvel at those who make it look like a walk on the beach.
JBN: – What do you love most about your new album 2023: Tony Wessels and The Revolvers – Reloaded, how it was formed and what you are working on today.
TW: – What do I love most about Reloaded? It’s our second CD (our prior CD, Loners Ball, was released in 2017) but I still marvel at the fact that so many moving pieces came together to make what I think is a pretty good product.
JBN: – How did you select the musicians who play on the album?
TW: – Selecting the musicians provided the basis for The Revolvers part of the band’s name. I played bass and provided the vocals on all tracks. Stevie Vegas, my right-hand man on both CD’s, played percussion on almost every track. Stevie and I went in studio and laid down the foundation (bass, percussion and scratch vocals) for each song. I then decided what instrument to add next and who I wanted to have play that instrument. I sent an MP3 of the bass, percussion and scratch vocals to that musician with no instruction on what to play other than it was going to be a blues CD. I had played with all of the musicians or had seen them perform but I had no idea what they were going to play until they came in studio to record their part. The musicians loved the freedom of this approach and there were very few instances where I asked them to play something different. Some of the songs went in very different directions from what I had envisioned but it worked. I followed this approach for every instrument used in the music. I ended up using 18 different musicians in making Reloaded and with that many people rotating in and out of the project they became, The Revolvers.
JBN: – Can you share any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions over the years?
TW: – I used to go to open jams and get up on stage and, just me and my bass, play music. I know that’s weird, and no one does that, but I did. Most of time I’d get compliments after my set but sometimes folks would be scratching their head. I don’t own a gun and I’ve never shot anyone, but I wrote a song called, I Shot My Baby. I played it one time at an open mic and I recall that most of the women in the bar looked at me with disdain. However, a few of the women looked at me like they were intrigued. That struck me as odd.
JBN: – In your opinion, what’s the balance in music between intellect and soul?
TW: – I think you need to have both but I think soul is more important. We’ve all heard folks play who are technically proficient. When it has soul, you feel it.
JBN: – There’s a two-way relationship between audience and artist; are you okay with delivering people the emotion they long for?
TW: – I’ve been told that our music creates a lot of imagery. I like that. I think the emotion we put into the music invites that.
JBN: – How can we get young people interested in jazz when most of standard tunes are half a century old?
TW: – I love the lingo heard in old songs. In Death Letter, Son House refers to a cooling board. I had no idea what that was but apparently, after death, the body was sometimes laid out on a cooling board. I think I read, somewhere, that Lincoln was laid on a cooling board. When talking with young friends, I’ll share things like that with the hope that it might stir interest in things other than the present.
JBN: – John Coltrane once said that music was his spirit. How do you perceive the spirit and the meaning of life?
TW: – Recently, I found of version of Blind William Johnson’s song, What Is The Sole Of A Man, performed by David Lindley. In that song, the soul of a man is nothing but a burning light. I like that. Life? Life is a home movie.
JBN: – If you could change one single thing in the musical world and that would become reality, what would that be?
TW: – It’s tough for an independent, like me, to get a foothold. It’s hard to be objective about your own music but I think we put out a pretty good sound. I’m not foolish enough to think it’s anywhere as good as the other artists referred to in this interview but I think it’s comparable to the other blues music that gets air time.
JBN: – Whom do you find yourself listening to these days?
TW: – Ry Cooder has long been a favorite of mine (just ask my youngest son, Ry). Agnostic Mountain Choir is interesting. Muddy Waters always works his way in there. Pops Staples and The Staple Singers are solid. I’ve also been digging Doc Watson lately.
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JBN: – Let’s take a trip with a time machine: where and why would you really want to go?
TW: – My dad died when I was 11 years old. I’d love to go back to before his death, learn more about him and give him a big hug.
JBN: – What is the message you choose to bring through your music?
TW: – While blues certainly incorporates hardship, I think it’s mostly emotion, good or bad. I guess that’s the message I’d like to bring through my music.
JBN: – Have you ever given a free concert during your entire concert career? At the bottom line, what are your expectations from our interview?
TW: – I guess you could say every open mic I’ve attended is a free concert. As to the interview, I’m not sure what to expect. I do, however, want to say thank you for letting me share thoughts with you, and with whoever reads this.
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Interview by Elléa Beauchêne