Not gonna lie, it took me until about 4 years ago to REALLY get into the blues. Growing up, I just kind of thought “the blues” was this thing that sounded like BB King. While BB is a phenomenal guitar player, the music just never really did much for me. In high school I listened to Stevie Ray Vaughan because that seemed to be the cool thing to do at the time, but again never really bonded with the music. When I turned 21 I’d go to bars, and again thought “the blues” was what I now call “Generic White Boy Blues.” Excessive solos, boring rhythm section, Fender Strat tone, etc. I always knew it was an important genre in the history of music, but just thought it wasn’t for me.
Fast forward to January of 2008. I was in a band called The Early Effect with James Gould that we started in 2005 I believe, and we would try so hard to make interesting songs. I had always wanted to make music like that of the late 60s & early 70s, which to me is the golden age, and our music just didn’t sound like that. It would bother me and I would try to have us copy little things from that era, but it was still lacking that soul that I was looking for. I started to really analyze why our music sounded different, and why we sounded the way we did. I play the drums, and I tend to have a similar style as my influences and the music I’m listening to in general. You tend to pick up some of the characteristics of the music you listen to in your own playing. Same goes for other instruments. So I thought…those guys were probably doing the same thing! Who were THEIR influences? What were THEY listening to while making that music I love? So I did some research on the guys that really defined the sound of the band they played in, and immediately found some common ground in the influences of my influences. They ALL listened to the blues music before them, and copied it A LOT with their own music. Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Keith Richards, John Fogerty, Eric Clapton, Pete Townshend, Robby Krieger just to name a few. I was finding the same names over and over: Son House, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Big Bill Broonzy, BB King (yes, I know, but these are all guitar players’ influences, and he is a great guitar player), Blind Willie Johnson, Bukka White, Charley Patton, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Leadbelly, Little Walter, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James, Willie Dixon, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry…again, just to name a few. There HAS to be something to this stuff if they are ALL listening to the same guys!
The next step was to get that influence in my band, which I knew would take a while to really be legit. I wanted to actually change the way I hear music and “cleanse” my mind, so I decided I’m gonna go buy a bunch of CDs and ONLY listen to this stuff for a month. I asked James and Chris if they wanted to give it a shot as well (this was pre-Fattenin’ Frogs), and was glad they were interested since that would make this a much cheaper experiment. I was extremely disciplined and would literally change the channel on the T.V. if there was music playing on a commercial that was not part of the experiment. It changed my life to say the least. The reason I didn’t think I liked the blues before was because I hadn’t ever heard much DELTA blues. The listening month became a year and then some because I got so into it, and now the music that I discovered is some of my favorite music of all time.
I decided to revise my experiment and do a sort of chronological thing. Start with delta blues, then dig into the rockabilly/R&B/rock & roll stuff of the 50s (Fats Domino, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis, Johnny Cash, etc), then keep moving into the 60s and get into the British Invasion bands (The Animals, The Beatles, Herman’s Hermits, Them, The Moody Blues, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, The Zombies, The Who, etc) and stop around 1972. I wanted to get my mind in the state of the 60s/early 70s musicians and only expose myself to the music they were exposed to, so once I made it to 1972 and felt good about the music I discovered, I’d listen to ONLY that music. I did this for a LONG time, and if I came across an album that I really wasn’t into, I’d listen to it once through for educational purposes and just move on. Let me tell you…listening to bands like Led Zeppelin or the Beatles after going through that was one of the greatest things ever. It was like rediscovering them in a whole new way. You hear things you didn’t hear before, you like songs you didn’t use to care for, and you like the songs you liked before even more.
During this music listening experiment, James and I were doing a lot of jamming, and it was a complete success. We found that missing element in our jams and were excited to get writing. Unfortunately, the other members of the band weren’t on the same page anymore, so that band broke up…but it was for the better. James and I have still been jamming and trying to find a singer for our project The Goodbye Waves, James later started the country-rock band The Federales, Chris and I started The Fattenin’ Frogs with Berek Awend, and the three of us are together with Gabe Douglas in The 4onthefloor.
This was almost a “brainwashing” experiment, but to me, it was one of the best things I’ve ever done. So if you like a band or genre of music, don’t hesitate to look up the music that influenced that band or genre. You’ll be glad you did.
Mark – Drums