“Snooks has got it all, including possibly the coolest name in blues history” (Slide guitarist Martin Harley)
Snooks Eaglin was born Fird Eaglin Jr. around 1936, and lost his sight shortly after his first birthday. Nevertheless, he taught himself to play guitar as a child by listening to the radio and by the time he was 10, he was singing and playing in local Baptist churches. When he was 11, he won a talent contest at a radio station with his version of 12th Street Rag and then dropped out of school three years later to become a professional musician.
He was a talented guitarist, singer and performer, being dubbed the “human jukebox” for his ability to play a vast range of songs, rarely sticking to a set list and regularly taking requests from his audience. Eaglin often claimed his repertoire included 2,500 songs!
On the guitar Eaglin could play finger-picking blues, jazz, R&B or Hendrix-like rock. He’d amaze people by playing melody, bass and chords, seemingly all at once. Keyboardist /producer Ron Levy said, “He can play any song just off the top of his head. If he can think about it and hear it in his head, he can play it perfectly.” Levy goes on to recount how at a party “Snooks was sitting in the corner playing, and he sounded great. But after a while I noticed that he was missing a couple strings on his guitar but it didn’t seem to make any difference. He still sounded great!”
Eaglin recorded and toured inconsistently over his long 50-year career, but his first recordings, released by Folkways in 1959 as New Orleans Street Singer, showcase Eaglin’s prodigious talent both in terms of his guitar chops and his vocal performance.
These recordings were made by folklorist Harry Oster, who had found the 22-year-old Eaglin playing in the streets of New Orleans. If club or studio work was sparse, Eaglin would often would play on the street for tourists in the French Quarter. Although Eaglin had played in a band for many years, in these recordings he plays in an acoustic blues style, just him and his guitar. Eaglin proves himself to be an exceptionally accomplished guitarist, with a sophisticated, metronomic strumming style perforated by complex and fast runs. His singing, although a bit reminiscent of Ray Charles, is all his own – it’s laid back, a bit throaty, a bit soulful and thoroughly captivating.
There are 16 tracks on the album, a combination of traditional blues songs and covers of R&B songs of the period. It kicks off with a jaunty version of Careless Love, followed up by the slow blues of Come Back Baby, written and recorded by singer and pianist Walter Davis in 1940, but made popular shortly before Eaglin recorded this album by Ray Charles on his debut album in 1956.
The album has a lovely balance with slow songs and songs you could dance to, and throughout, even with songs like St. James Infirmary or Trouble in Mind, there’s a positive, upbeat feel to it all, fuelled by Eaglin’s much-to-be-admired guitar work.
His guitar chops are especially on display on the instrumental number High Society, which features some amazingly fast runs up and down the fretboard.
There’s one serious song on the album. I Got My Questionnaire, later covered as Uncle Sam Blues by Jefferson Airplane, about a man called up to go to a war not of his own choosing. Pretty topical then – and now.
Said Uncle Sam ain’t no woman But he sure can take your man Well, they got him in the service Doin’ somethin’ he don’t understand
The album finishes with the upbeat Look Down That Lonesome Road. Eaglin’s rhythmic strumming and nicely phrased vocals will leave you with a smile on your face.
Eaglin’s Seventh Day Adventist faith loomed large in his life. His seventh day observance kept him from playing on from Friday evening to Saturday night, and he wouldn’t perform on religious holidays either, winning him admirers for sticking to his convictions. He recorded and performed gospel songs throughout his life – check out the moving I Must See Jesus.
By all accounts, he was both a delight and a marvel to see perform. New Orleans guitarist Camile Baudoin has said, “When Snooks plays, that’s all I can do is laugh, makes me feel so good. Nobody plays like Snooks Eaglin. Nobody.”
Snooks Eaglin passed away in 2009, so we don’t have the privilege of seeing him perform live. But we have recordings like The New Orleans Street Singer where we get to hear his musical genius.
Track Listing (Folkways FA-2476, 1959) 01 Careless Love 02 Come Back Baby 03 High Society 04 Let Me Go Home Whiskey 05 Trouble in Mind 06 St. James Infirmary 07 I Got My Questionnaire 08 The Drifter Blues 09 Rock Island Line 10 Every Day I Have the Blues 11 Sophisticated Blues 12 See See Rider 13 One Scotch, One Bourbon, One Beer 14 A Thousand Miles Away From Home 15 I’m Looking for a Woman 16 Look Down That Lonesome Road
“You have a choice every day, you can be bummed out or you can be happy.”
Having a tough week? Feeling a bit down? Here’s a sure fire-remedy – click on the video below and catch Maria Muldaur singing with New Orleans band, Tuba Skinny, and feel your cares slip away as your smile gives way to a big grin and you suddenly find yourself on your feet dancing.
If you’re a roots music fan you’ll know Maria Muldaur from her many albums of blues, jazz and roots music over the last five decades; if not, you’ll surely know Maria’s big hit song from 1973, Midnight at the Oasis, with its sand dunes, camels and cactus. She’s still going strong, as upbeat and positive about life as ever, and has blessed us with a new album, recorded with Tuba Skinny, a group of traditional jazz musicians, entitled Let’s Get Happy Together.
Recorded in New Orleans last October during the dark days of the pandemic, but released as some semblance of normally seems to be returning (at least to America and Europe), Let’s Get Happy Together captures the note of hope we’re all looking for, not only in its title but in the exuberance and joy of the songs.
Maria Muldaur has had a stellar career, with a back catalogue of 43 albums, six Grammy nominations, multiple Blues Music Award nominations and a Lifetime Achievement Americana Trailblazer Award from the Americana Music Association in 2019. And that’s before we get to the hordes of fans all over the world.
The new album is one of the best you’ll hear this year and features twelve songs from the 1920s and 30s that Holger Petersen, the album’s executive producer and founder of Stony Plain Records, its label, says “is a historic project that pays reverence to many of the early New Orleans women of blues and jazz.”
Muldaur says that she hopes listeners “will be inspired to look up these wonderful artists yourself on YouTube and start exploring and enjoying the endless abundance of incredible music they left us.”
I got chatting by phone to Maria at her home in California about the album and about life in general. She was a breath of fresh air. I asked her, first of all, how the album came about, and she told me this remarkable story.
“Well,” she said, “a few years ago, I was shopping in a store in Woodstock, New York, and this wonderful, exuberant, toe-tapping music came over the speakers and it just sounded like the most wonderful vintage jazz. So, I remarked to the shop gal how cool it was that the local radio station would be playing this hip jazz. And she said, ‘Oh, that’s not the radio. That’s a band. That’s Tuba Skinny.’ Well, you know, I’ve studied that kind of music all my life, really immersed myself in it, since I was in a jug band back in the sixties, and I’d never heard of them. She said, well, they are a young band from New Orleans and they play on the streets. And I couldn’t believe that they were young because they were playing with such soulfulness and such authenticity. So I just was immediately smitten with their music.
“Long story short, she knows some of them. So she hooked me up with five of their albums and I became an ardent fan. It was like they were channeling not just the music itself, but the very atmosphere and aura and rhythms of life from that bygone era. It’s almost like going back in a time machine to a time when things were not as mechanized and digitalized and, you know, industrialized.
“It just makes you happy to listen to it! Well, anyway, I was making my last album two years ago in New Orleans where I was paying tribute to a wonderful New Orleans blues woman named Blue Lu Barker, who originally wrote and recorded a tune that’s been in my repertoire for almost 50 years, called Don’t You Feel My Leg. So I made it my business to go see Tuba Skinny every chance I got, whether they were playing on the street or in clubs. And eventually the washboard player recognized me. I didn’t go up and talk to them or anything – I just was there as a fan. And he said, is your name Maria? Maria Muldaur? I said, Yeah. And he couldn’t believe it!
“So I ended up sitting in with them a couple of times. And then in January of 2020, I was invited to come to New Orleans and do a special guest showcase of the International Folk Alliance, and I wondered if Tuba Skinny would play with me. So I got in touch with them. We had one quick rehearsal, and it immediately felt like going home because it just was a natural fit. Even though they were several generations younger than me, it’s clear we’ve all been drinking out of the same musical fountain.
“So anyway, we did the gig, it was wildly received and an old friend of mine, Holger Petersen happened to be there because he was getting a lifetime achievement award for having had a roots music show on the radio for 50 years in Canada. And over lunch the next day he asked me about doing an album with them. And I loved the idea. So that’s how this album came about.”
The album has songs originally done or written by Lil Hardin Armstrong, Louis Armstrong’s second wife, Dorothy Lamour, Frankie “Half Pint” Jaxon, Sweet Pea Spivey (sister of Victoria Spivey) and the delightfully named Goofus Five. The music is infectious and upbeat and the lyrics are clever, at times funny and uplifting. It’s music, I suggested to Maria, that stands the test of time.
“I would say that these songs were written in a time when things were more kind of heartfelt and genuine. And I go out of my way to choose songs that have relevance for me. Now, I figure if they resonate with me a hundred and some odd years later, then there’s a good chance they’ll resonate with my listeners. The very first day when Holger took me out to lunch. I got really excited about the project, and we said, well, what kind of songs will we have? And he started scrolling around. And we had the idea that a theme of the album could be paying tribute to women artists from New Orleans.
“And he came across Lil Hardin’s Let’s get Happy Together. Which we both found immediately appealing. I said that it should be the first song on the album – in fact it should be the title of the album. But little did we think that barely a month or two later, we’d all be locked down and put into hibernation? And so for the album to come out in May like it did it, just as people are starting to be vaccinated and come out of hibernation, it couldn’t be a more timely title.
“But that song was written over a hundred years ago, and it’s got very hip lyrics and is very lighthearted. I think people didn’t take themselves too seriously back in those days, because there’s all kinds of lighthearted, goofy songs. People weren’t expressing their inner anger. All my life I’ve gone for songs that have some kind of uplifting message.”
As you listen to this album, there’s a lot of positivity throughout. From talking to Maria you can’t help but suspect that these songs are reflective of her as a person.
“I’m disgustingly positive, some might say! The kids in the band say to me, ‘You’re always so upbeat, so cheerful!’ Why live here on this planet, if you’re not gonna at least attempt to be that? You have a choice every day, you can be bummed out or you can be happy. My motto is ‘No problems. Just solutions.’ That’s who I am as a person. And I always choose songs that reflect who I am as a person.
“After Midnight At The Oasis, they realized they had a possible hitmaker on their hands, and Warner Brothers were trying to duplicate that success, trying to figure out how to get that to happen again. So they brought me a song called You’re no Good [which the Swinging Blues Jeans had had a hit with in 1963]. And I listened to it and said, ‘Why in the world would I put that message out over the airways? Husbands are telling their wives they are no good; parents are telling their kids, they’re no good. Why would I amplify that message?’
“Well, my dear friend Linda Ronstadt had a huge hit with that about a year or so later, and took that all the way to the bank! But I never regretted it because I’m all about putting out a positive message.”
One of my favourite songs on Let’s Get Happy Together is Valaida Snow’s 1935 Swing You Sinners. Snow was a virtuoso jazz musician known as “Queen of the trumpet,” and hailed by Louis Armstrong as the “world’s second-best trumpet player.” The song celebrates faith as being something joyful and upbeat.
“If you’re going to have faith in God,” said Maria, “it might as well make you happy, right? Rather than, you know, cowering and graveling before some angry father God, just looking to punish you at every turn. That’s one kind of religion, but my religion is let’s get happy together!”
She told me she’s attended an African American church in her neighborhood for the last forty years where she enjoys the kind of worship that is always joyful and full of music. “And that song, I think, puts that across. It’s just swinging so hard for one thing, and without saying anything too religious, it basically says, when those old blues come around, you don’t have to wear a frown, just swing out, boys, and let the sweet tones ring!”
Even the blues, for which Maria Muldaur is well-known, shouldn’t be something downbeat and depressing. “The blues is always about surviving by the time you get to the end of it. ‘Trouble in mind, I’m blue but I won’t be blue always, the sun’s gonna shine in my back yard some day.’ That could sum up the theme of so many blues songs. It’s not about wallowing in self-pity. It’s about expressing your sorrow or your disappointment, but finding a way to transcend it. And that, to me, is the magic of the blues and why the blues will never go out of fashion.”
Talking to Maria Muldaur is a ray of sunshine. Like Rory Block, whom I spoke to a while back, who told me that at 70, she was “just getting going,” and whom Maria referred to as “her little sister,” Maria told me that, “I certainly don’t feel like I’m slowing down very much.” She’ll keep on making great music “as long as I can find some kind of music that interests me.”
I wondered as she looks back over her career, all the albums, all the awards, all the accolades, what stands out for her, what is she most proud off?
“Well of course I just always followed my passion or philosophy – Joseph Campbell used to call it following your bliss. That’s what I’ve done without ever thinking about the commercial success that might or might not be involved in a particular endeavor. It’s been all about the music. When I look back, I’ve been so blessed to work, to record, and to perform with so many of my own musical heroes. Everyone from Doc Watson to Ry Cooder to Dr. John, to Mavis Staples, to Bonnie Raitt. Working with Benny Carter in an all-star big band was certainly the thrill of a young singer’s life, as was singing a duet with Hoagy Carmichael. And singing a duet with Ralph Stanley was an out of body experience.”
And then Maria told me this great story about her 2008 album Yes We Can! for which she had formed a “peace choir” of women’s voices.
“I had originally thought of it as a protest album about the issues that were going on in the day. Then I remembered that I actually didn’t like protest music! I liked the causes they were espousing, but I didn’t like the music itself. So I quickly changed the idea to turn it into a pro-peace album. And the first song I thought of was Yes, We Can, which was an Allen Toussaint song that had been a Pointer Sisters hit around the same time as Midnight at the Oasis.
“So I formed a choir of women who have raised their voices for peace and social justice. It included Bonnie Raitt, Joan Baez, Odetta, Jane Fonda, Phoebe Snow, Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir – and that names just a few. And so I put together this really cool album, and someone who worked in the studio where we were mixing said, you know, there’s a guy running for president and he’s using, ‘Yes we can,’ as his slogan, you should send him that song. I said, ‘yeah right, some guy running for president is gonna listen to my song!’ And then two weeks later, someone else was in the studio and said the same thing. But I wasn’t interested – because I was planning to vote for Hillary – this was early in that election year.
“But I ended up sending the album through someone I knew who could get it to him and expected nothing at all. A week later I got a handwritten letter from Obama himself thanking me for the song and saying it perfectly fit the spirit of his campaign. And he was going to have it played at his rallies and speeches. I thought, you know, I have mail on my desk I haven’t answered in four years and this guy took time out personally thank me! I ended up voting for him of course. So that’s something I’m really, really proud of.”
Now you can’t talk to Maria Muldaur without asking about that song – Midnight at the Oasis. Does she still enjoy performing it?
“I do. That song put me on top, not just in the States, but all over the world, for some strange reason. It’s a song about a camel! But, first of all, it’s a very hip song musically. A lot of jazz artists have covered it over the years because it has really hip jazz chord changes. And it’s a song that’s enjoyable to play. It almost kind of plays itself and I can improvise on it every night. God forbid if my biggest hit had been some three-chord song! So I’m just grateful every day for it; it’s a delightful song to sing.
“And as if that weren’t enough, when we get to that song, which we do almost at the very end of set, we see people in the audience, couples grabbing hands and giving each other knowing looks. Because for some reason, that song, so I’m told, was the soundtrack to many a love and lust, and it brings back hot sexy memories! So I’m happy to have provided something like that; it’s a song I’ll forever be grateful for.”
Having said that, we’re all grateful that Maria Muldaur hasn’t rested on her laurels – not at any stage over the past fifty years. And here she is, still making great music that entertains and uplifts. Quite rightly she’s very proud of Let’s Get Happy Together, which may be her best work yet. Her good friend Bonnie Raitt certainly thinks so.
That being the case, she says, “I must be still slowly but surely improving my skills as a singer. So, I’ll just keep doing it until nobody wants to hear it anymore!”
As long as Maria Muldaur keeps on making music, we want to hear it.
Bruce Springsteen and his Seeger Sessions Band kicked off their tour on April 30, 2006 at the New Orleans Jazz Fest, with a stirring version of Oh Mary Don’t You Weep. It was a mere eight months after Katrina had devastated the city and, in a performance hailed by a local critic as the most emotional musical experience of her life, Springsteen sought to inject some hope into the city with his collection of spirituals and roots songs.
This opening song is an old spiritual, a slave song, that heralds the theme of liberation and new beginnings. The recurring phrase “Pharoah’s army got drown-ded” recalls the Old Testament story of the children of Israel escaping slavery in Egypt in the Exodus. This was a story that had captured the imagination of people who were enslaved or disenfranchised (it was an important song during the Civil Rights movement). Black slaves resisted the bondage they suffered in a whole range of ways.
One of these was the sort of religion they developed, a Christianity that was not just that of their masters. Theirs was a faith where freedom and liberation were vigorously affirmed and one where black humanity was affirmed, despite everything that slavery and white people said. The songs sung were often coded messages of hope and resistance. Their God was the God of history, who works and intervenes in our world to bring change and transformation. A God who brings life from the dead.
The other recurring phrase in the song is “Oh Mary don’t you weep, don’t you mourn,” which for me refers to Mary Magdalene, who stood weeping at the tomb of Jesus that first Easter morning. She had lost her friend and his body was nowhere to be found. Her weeping and mourning is dispelled, however, by meeting someone she thought was the gardener, but who turned out to be Jesus, risen from the dead. It’s remarkable, that in a world where a woman’s testimony was thought unreliable and not viable in a courtroom, the gospel writers were willing to record the women as the first witnesses of the resurrection – not something you’d do, if you were trying to pass off a story.
The resurrection is right at the heart of Easter, and at the heart of Christian faith. In fact, there’s no point in faith at all, if it’s not. If it didn’t happen, as Paul, Christianity’s first exponent and himself a witness of a risen Jesus, said, then, we might as well just eat, drink and be merry. Christian faith doesn’t make any sense without the resurrection.
But with it, suddenly there are possibilities. Christian faith says that, because Jesus is risen, there is to be a new creation – the evil and the injustice we see in our world is not the last word. Pharaoh’s army got drown-ded all right; the challenge is to find the promised land, to be people who bring life from the deadness around us by living out, and seeking the love, peace and justice of, God’s new creation right now.
Finally, here’s Kenny Meeks’s great Easter song, which draws out the personal hope of Easter, which stretches beyond this life.
“Whether he’s wailing a Freddy King inspired blues ballad, stomping out low down and dirty blues, or getting down with a super funky New Orleans groove, Bryan Lee is gonna grab your soul and squeeze it till you scream in blues ecstasy.” – Duke Robillard
BMA Award winner and Grammy Nominee, Bryan Lee, has had a lifetime in the blues. In his mid-seventies, the bluesman, who lost his sight at the age of 8, is still playing consistently and has just released a new album, Sanctuary. His vocal and guitar playing powers are still very much in evidence in a very fine collection of unabashed gospel blues. A long-time resident and performer in New Orleans, with a Chicago blues guitar style which channels Luther Allison, Albert King and Albert Collins, Bryan now resides close to the beach in south Florida, but his musical enthusiasm and passion for the blues is undiminished.
The new album Sanctuary is a top-notch blues album, well produced, recorded and mastered by Steve Hamilton, and, as well as a classy band, features the wonderful, gospel vocals of Deirdre Fellner. There’s a detectable funky, New Orleans feel throughout, from the opener Fight for the Light onward, and Lee’s and Marc Spagone’s guitar work sparkles. Lee lays out his stall pretty early, telling us in Jesus Gave Me the Blues, that the blues is a gift from his saviour – even though he’s “getting low down and dirty.” There’s humour as well – in U-Haul which gets materialism in firmly in his sights, he sings, “I never saw no U-Haul behind a hearse.” You gotta hold on to things lightly. He follows this them again in Mr. Big – where the guy has the big house, fancy car, a Fortune 500 company – “but you ain’t happy.”
The album concludes with two songs recorded with the Adam Douglas band some time ago, but which make a fitting inclusion in Sanctuary. The Lord’s Prayer is as you’ve never heard it before in church – a blues version, but with a distinctive gospel feel, and reverently sung by Lee.
Down at the Crossroads chatted to Bryan about his life in the blues and the new album. He was upbeat, excited about the release of Sanctuary and about life in general.
DATC: Bryan, congratulations on the new album. I’ve been listening to it these past few days, and it’s great, catchy tunes, great musicianship and arrangements. We’ll have a chat about it in a minute. But first of all, Bryan, you’ve had a lifetime in the blues. Tell us about how you got started all those years ago – who inspired you?
BL: I guess in the beginning, the early 50s when I was about 10 years old, I started getting into my folks’ music. I heard Chuck Berry and right away, it was like, “if I could play guitar like that!” And then I heard Little Richard, and I was, “man, I wanna sing like that!” And that kind of drew me into the blues a little bit, but the thing that did it completely – I was 17 years old, and we were getting a new drummer into our band, and we went over to his house. And he played Freddie King’s Hideaway, and we were just knocked out! And then we listened to the B side and it was a slow blues called I Love the Woman. I just fell in love with it and I said, “man, that’s where I wanna go.”
So I went down to the record store looking for Freddie King and found a couple of 45s, and the guy working there sold me an album with Hideaway on it. And I really got into that record – that first song…[breaks into song]…man I was hooked. I’ve heard Wolf and BB and all these guys, but Freddie King is the one that connects to me.
Along the way I got to be good friends with Albert King – he was always nice. I recorded an album way back in 1984 that had four Albert King songs on it, and he came to New Orleans, so I went to see him and gave him a copy of the album. And he listened to it and appreciated what I had done with his tunes. That’s really cool.
But through my 20s my shows were getting bluesier and bluesier and I started getting into trouble with the club owners, who only wanted to hear Top 40 music. But then we had that era when the Allman Brothers hit, and it kinda helped for the blues guys to get their foot in the door.
But, you know, I travelled that old lonesome highway, because that’s what I wanted to do. If you love it, man, you do it.
DATC: What is it about this music that has keep you playing it all these years?
BL: As I get more into the music, the blues gets better with age. It’s the understanding of it. It’s not the devil’s music. You can go to, say, Sao Paulo, Brazil, a very large city, and you get 40,000 people answering you with “hey, hey, the blues is all right”…The blues is a universal language. B B King said it’s places, people and things. It goes to our make up in our soul. You can’t just sit there, you gotta move!
And some guys have that knack. I could listen to T-Bone Walker all day. And probably one of my favourite guitar players of all is Matt Guitar Murphy. I got to be friends with him over the last years of his life. I met him back in 1976 when I opened up for the James Cotton Band and Matt was the guitar player. And he was such a gracious guy. Same with James. James and I were really good friends. There’s something in these people, It’s their soul, that’s what it’s about. You gotta feel it, it’s in your soul.
And you can overcome so much in your life with the power of the blues. And that’s why I made this album, to try and make people understand – Jesus gave us the music. It’s pain, it’s sorrow, but it’s also laughter and success. You gotta fight for the light, you can’t just let darkness break you down. God gave you your life and you gotta respect that. To me, music is the thing that will lift you and will bring you to church and will bring you through stuff.
DATC: And of course, Bryan, your new album, Sanctuary, is an album of gospel blues. And you pull no punches – you’re very explicit about your faith. You say in The Gift, “I’m an old bluesman.” And then you say “Jesus has straightened me out.” Tell us a bit about your journey in faith, how this bluesman found faith.
BL: Well, there was a short time in my life, probably about two years, when I rejected organized religion completely. But I was raised as a Catholic, and we were working in a bar in New Orleans in the early 90s, and we’d have a lot of conventions in the city, there were always people in town. And every evening after dinner, they’d be looking for entertainment. So we would fill the house. Anyway, I met this woman one Friday night, and she was from Seattle, Washington. And she said, Bryan, “I’ve been in town since Monday and I discovered you on Tuesday, and have come every night since” – and she told me she was going to go to the St Louis Cathedral on Sunday and she invited me to go with her.
So we went to church and when I walked up to communion, I knew that was where I was meant to be. And I was like, “Jesus, thank you for not forgetting me.” And she and I had dinner and had a wonderful discussion about things, and we became friends. But she was the one that brought me back to church.
But you don’t just be a good person on Sunday. You gotta be a good person 7 days a week, 24/7. But that’s hard to do, with all the trials and tribulations you might have to go through. Even the rich man has got lots of problems.
DATC: You lost your eyesight when you were a boy. How difficult was it for you to get started playing guitar and start performing and then forge a career?
BL: Well…like most young people I was fearless. So, I’d be up on stage, and to me the place was always full, and people looking at me in a funny way, I don’t see it! I had an advantage!
I remember one night I was walking home. And I had a three-piece suit on, with a fancy tie, and I’m walking home, with a cane in my right hand, and all of a sudden, somebody yells at me, “Stop, stop! Blind man, stop!” So I stopped, and this woman comes up to me and says, “Where is your bucket?” I said, “My bucket?” And she said, “Well you’re blind, you have to have a bucket, I want to put something in your bucket.”
So I said, “Ma’am, that’s all right, give it to the Salvation Army, or the church. I don’t need it, as you can see, I’m working, I’m a musician.” And then she was like, “Aw, shucks.” She’d seen this blind man and thought she better do this man a favour. And I got helped across streets I didn’t want to cross, and up steps I didn’t want to go up. But things like this just always used to make me smile. I think now that people are more aware, it’s not so much like that now.
DATC: You’ve a song on this album Don’t Take My Blindness for a Weakness – you don’t downplay the difficulties, but you sound as if you’ve become very strong through it.
BL: Yes. You got it Gary! It might take me a little bit longer than you, but I will get there. I’ve been playing music since I was 13 years old, and I’m 75 now. I’ve travelled all around the world. I got a chance to play the Montreal Jazz Festival this year – 5th or 6th time I’ve done it – and oh, it was so much fun! People say at my age you shouldn’t do a lot of travel – but I want to get my message out.
This is what I’ve discovered through the years – if we were all blind, we wouldn’t have all these prejudices, we wouldn’t have all this hatred and stuff. Human beings would have to come together and help each other. So, who’s blind? For me, if I’ve got a choice between eyesight and insight, I’ll take insight every time.
DATC: Bryan, tell us about The Lord’s Prayer. How did that song come about?
BL: I was doing a festival in Norway in an island called Svalbard. This week is their dark season festival, it’s basically a blues festival. It was a 5-day festival, with quite a few bands. On the last day, the woman who organized the festival picked two groups to play in the church to close the festival. So she asked me if I would work with the Adam Douglas group. So we got together, and they were just a killer band – they could take a Michael Jackson song and make it sound like the blues! Well, the night before the rehearsal, I went to bed, fell asleep and had a dream about the Lord’s Prayer, the arrangement, the chords changes and all. And when I got up the next morning, it still was in my head – lot of time, that doesn’t happen – normally you dream a song but when you wake up you don’t remember it. So I went to the rehearsal and they asked me what I wanted to do. So I went through the chord changes with the band and they said, that’s great, let’s do it.
So we did it in the church, and we also did the other one, Jesus is My Lord and Savior, Then after the festival we went back to Oslo and we had about two days, so Adam said to me, “we should record those two songs.” So we went into the recording studio and we did ‘em! And we hugged each other afterwards and said, you know, we’re gonna have to finish this some day. And we all hoped we could get back together somehow in the future – but that never happened.
So in 2017, I just decided that if I don’t record this record, I’ll feel like I cheated the good Lord. Because I had promised him this album, for all the good music he’s put in our soul, and the ability to entertain people and to communicate with an audience. I can rip up an audience, you know! I tell stories, but I don’t think about what I’m going to say. I call the first three tunes and then after that, it’s what happens happens!
DATC: It’s a great album, Bryan – the arrangements and the musicianship are all wonderful.
Bryan: Out of my brain and out of my soul! And I’m not through – I’ve an idea for another album, and another album beyond that. And I used to do 300 dates a year, now, not so many as that. But it’s quality, not quantity!
It’s a day at a time, one step at a time. And Jesus is there – we just need to go to that place of sanctuary, where it’s real still, it’s real quiet, where you can really touch the good Lord and find answers to your problems.