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James Blood Ulmer: There is Another Place to Go

Paul Olson By

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AAJ: It's a breakthrough.

JBU: That's what I'm telling you.

AAJ: So this is how you're gigging?

JBU: I'm trying, yeah. I'm doing as many gigs as I can do that way, the ones where I'm doing blues. I don't always do that. I do some gigs that are blues gigs, where we're playing at a blues club. So with that kind of club, I want to start using these guys; I don't really want to play solo. I'll play solo sometime, if I think it's necessary, but basically I want to get a band on that style, with that freedom of solo. That'll be the next place to go.

AAJ: Yeah, that sounds like the next place.

JBU: There is another place to go. People think we can't, but we can go further. People just have to stop restricting each other, tying each other up with these instruments. So I think the guitar has a chance to make one more step. We just played on this festival, Meltdown, the Patti Smith Meltdown. The last day, they did a Jimi Hendrix thing, and everybody played Jimi Hendrix music. I took that group and played two Jimi Hendrix songs: "I Don't Know and "Machine Gun. And man, it was amazing, how it sounded without having the bass on it. The way I was playing the guitar— Jimi Hendrix didn't play the guitar that way because he didn't play the bass and the rhythm and all that shit at once. But it seemed to me that Charlie was playing the top; he was where the guitar usually would be. And the guitar was playing something that the guitar don't usually play.

AAJ: Because you're down below him.

JB: Right.

AAJ: Well, you have to record this group.

JBU: I want to record it so bad. The last guy who did it—Muddy Waters kind of took a band and put it on that solo style. The Chicago blues band is Muddy Waters' invention, you know.

AAJ: Yeah, electric blues.

JBU: Right. And that same thing can happen again. But without that electric bass guitar. I'm telling you, there's another kind of freedom in there.

AAJ: Well, you've already innovated so much, and it sounds like you're still going forward, making styles up. Before we end, I love the solo flute you tacked on as an unlisted track at the end of the Birthright CD. What made you put that on the record?

AAJ: Well, you see, the secret of my whole thing is the flute, because I always use the flute to do everything. The flute signifies everything for me to do. I have to play it on the flute. If I can play it on the flute, I'm in business. I have to check it out with the flute. What I keep with me all the time is my flute and my harmonica.

AAJ: So if you have a song you're writing, you try it out on the flute?

JBU: Oh, yeah. I write a lot of things on the flute. All the melodies. "High Yellow : I checked it out on the flute. Play it on the guitar, then play it on the flute to finalize what it's going to be.

AAJ: In terms of melody, you can't fake it on the flute.

JBU: Yeah, yeah. And I use the flute because it's easier to read with the flute than with the guitar, too! For me, anyway; when I have to read notes, I read them on the flute.


Selected discography as a leader:

Birthright (Hyena, 2005)
No Escape from the Blues(Hyena, 2003)
Blueblood (Innerhythmic, 2001)
Memphis Blood (Label M, 2001)
Forbidden Blues (DIW, 1998)
Music Speaks Louder Than Words: Plays the Music of Ornette Coleman (Koch, 1997)
Harmolodic Guitar with Strings (DIW, 1993)
Blues Preacher (DIW, 1992)
Black and Blues (DIW, 1990)
Blues All Night (In+Out, 1989)
Phalanx (Moers Music, 1986)
Odyssey (Columbia, 1983)
Black Rock (Columbia, 1982)
Free Lancing (Columbia, 1981)
Tales of Captain Black (DIW, 1978)
Revealing (In+Out, 1977)

Photo Credit
Alan Nahigian


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