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Talkin' Blues

Susan Tedeschi: Dreams and Legends

By Published: June 7, 2010
Mike Bloomfield, Ronnie Earl and Songwriting

AAJ: In a recent interview, Dylan spoke about the guitarist Michael Bloomfield
Michael Bloomfield
1943 - 1981
guitar, electric
and said he was perhaps the finest overall guitarist he had ever worked with. Were you ever a Bloomfield fan growing up?

ST: Yeah, for sure. Actually, Al Kooper turned me on to Mike Bloomfield. I met Al early on in my career, we were down in Memphis taking part in a competition doing this concert for the King Biscuit Festival over in Helena, Ark. Adrienne [Hayes], my guitarist at the time, and I got to hang out with Al Kooper all day, and he turned me on to a bunch of Mike Bloomfield's stuff.

AAJ: Your fellow New Englander, Ronnie Earl, has a similar skill set. Did your paths cross back in the day?

ST: Oh, Ronnie's great. Sure, I know Ronnie. Actually, he and Adrienne used to date. We were very close with Ronnie, he's fabulous. He's one of those people who is a little eccentric and has his ups and downs, but as a guitarist, he's great, especially for blues. He's the master of the Strat, he can really get a lot of tones out of it; he can play Magic Sam, you name it.

AAJ: What's impressive is that he can play an entire concert of instrumental blues, but he has that rare ability to play soulful blues with the finesse of a jazz guitarist and the energy of a rock guitarist.

ST: Exactly—that's a good way to say it. He's like a jazz player with rock energy, and he can play blues all night and keep you interested.

I just saw him last year and I hadn't seen him in a while. It was really good to see him and he's doing really well. And my old guitar guy that I used to use in Boston is playing in his band now, I just saw him the other day and he told me that he's fabulous and really sounding great these days. It's good to hear that Ronnie is still playing because he's so talented.

AAJ: Doyle's been quoted as saying that although he loves the blues, as a song writer his attempts at writing blues tend to come off corny so he goes more in a rock direction. On your last CD, Back to the River (Verve, 2008), your blues composition, "Can't Sleep at Night," sounds like it could have come from Little Walter
Little Walter
Little Walter
1930 - 1968
or Willie Dixon
Willie Dixon
Willie Dixon
1915 - 1992
bass, acoustic
, that's an excellent blues song. You're really at home in the blues, aren't you?

ST: I am. It just comes naturally and I don't know why, I'm from a small town in Massachusetts. It's weird, but Gospel and blues is my home base. And there's also a style of guitar that comes easily to me that I don't play out—that's jump swing blues. That's actually my favorite guitar style and I'm most comfortable with that, but I've never really recorded anything with it. But I hope to someday.

AAJ: I think that's one really nice thing you guys have going for you with your new band—your fan base accepts jazz, blues, vintage soul, Gospel or rock. That makes it nice, as artists you have a large palette and aren't forced into one niche.

ST: Exactly, that is great. And it makes it nice because everybody writes in this band, from the drummers on up. Everybody brings something to the table, so that means it's always going to sound a bit different and there's going to be a lot of variety.

Not just stylistically, but as writers, people just tend to write a certain way. Our friend Col. Bruce Hampton likes to say, everybody has seven songs, even if you write 2,000 there are really only seven songs. Like there's something about an Alan Toussaint song, or a Willie Nelson song, you know what I mean?

AAJ: Exactly. I guess the classic example would be John Lennon
John Lennon
John Lennon
1940 - 1980
and McCartney, each had his own feel and approach to songwriting.

Speaking of songwriting, you got to work with Tony Joe White—he's so Southern, it's seems he's got Spanish moss hanging from his vocal chords. His songs are often like little short stories, like "Willie And Laura Mae Jones", you know the one with the chorus "That was another place and another time." He's remarkable.

ST: He is a remarkable guy and a wonderful songwriter. It was an honor to be able to write with him. He's just a grown-up little kid like me. We were just pluggin' in amps and jammin' and he showed me all his guitars and stuff like wah-wah pedals. And stylistically, he's such a funky musician.

Like you said, he's a natural storyteller like Bob Dylan or John Prine, you know it just pours out of him. When we wrote "Back to the River," first we came up with the riff and the groove. Then he asked what I wanted to write about and I didn't know, so he asked me to tell him about my family. So I told him about my kids, and painted a picture of my life in Jacksonville and talked about being on the road. He knew how to craft the song, it was about being on the road and longing to get back to the river where I live. It's amazing, you tell him something and he turns it into this bad ass song.

I'd love to get Derek, Doyle and I together with Tony Joe. I think that would be incredible.

AAJ: Where did the song "Midnight in Harlem" come from?

ST: Mike Mattison wrote that. He'd had it for a while and Derek knew about it, but they just hadn't found the right arrangement. When we were rehearsing this band we changed it up and it just really clicked. I instantly thought it was such a gorgeous song and I said, "Mike, are you sure you don't mind me singing your song?" [Laughing] He said something like, "Shut up! Just sing the song." He's a sweetheart.

AAJ: "Back Where I Started," from Already Free (Sony, 2009), is a personal favorite. That's such a beautiful song, and everything about it just came together, like a magical summer night. When you first heard it, was it a finished product, or did you put your mark on it?

ST: Derek wrote that song with the kids climbing on him. He just didn't have any words, and instrumentally it was so beautiful I just didn't have the heart to try and write something over it. And then Warren Haynes
Warren Haynes
Warren Haynes

came over to the house and we were trying to write some stuff. He heard it and went back to his hotel room, and the next morning he came back and said he had been dreaming about it and he came up with all these verses. He wrote all the lyrics in one night. I heard the lyrics when Warren sang it for us and it was great. Derek liked it, but he thought it needed a female voice. So I sang it and there it was.

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