It’s seems crazy to push that all aside, but when your “day job” is making the music of Chris Thomas King, there are more important things at stake.
Days before performing at Vinyl Music Hall in his last Pensacola performance before DeLuna Fest, Chris Thomas King talked about his new album, how he approaches a guitar solo more for my column in the Pensacola News Journal.
Here is a link to the article and the full interview follows below.
*** Chris Thomas King Interview ***
MS: The last time we spoke in January, you were getting ready to go to Asia and we discussed your rededication to music. How has the new focus on music rewarded you?
CK: I’ve really been enjoying myself. Taking our music to the blues fans, we’ve been in a van going from club to club, juke joints, little small towns, we’ve played some major cities and stuff but for the most part we’ve been seeking out the most authentic blues experiences we could find and it’s been really rewarding. As far as Thailand, that was pretty eye-opening. That was my second visit to Thailand and Thailand now has a blues festival in Phuket. They brought me over for that. I went to some schools and shared some stories about the music. The blues is a worldwide thing, I just want to remind people that this is who I was and who I am before I became an actor. I was a blues musician first.
MS: In your eyes, how does the world see your music compared to America?
CK: When I’m outside America, people don’t always understand the stories because the lyrics become a little bit less important because-using Thailand as an example- very few people speak English. But the guitar playing, the musicianship, the emotion and the rhythm behind the music, those things are universal.
MS: Are you doing any other projects now? Is it strictly music?
CK: I’ve started a foundation. The Chris Thomas King Foundation and we’ve done a benefit concert. We plan to do some more to help some of the senior members of the blues community. And also an opportunity for me through the Chris Thomas King Foundation to raise money and awareness and also reach out to young kids and try to introduce them to the music and let them know that the blues is there and they can take that blues and mold it. I don’t go to kids and try to preach to them or talk down to them and tell them this is the blues and this is how it’s done. This is another choice, there’s hip hop out there, there’s rock, there’s classical music, there’s also blues and it’s just one of those choices that you can make, that you can take this music and shape it. You can do it traditionally or you can do it, whatever feel you want to do it and be the future of it. Through the Chris Thomas King Foundation, it allows me to give back and it allowed me to do some things that in my normal day-to-day business, I don’t normally get a chance to do.
MS: You mentioned hip hop, I got a good laugh when I read your website and you tweeted about how hip hop guys now are counting their record sales like they’re counting the stock market, the Dow Jones.
CK: Yeah, with hip-hop fans, they seemed to be obsessed with how many records the artists are selling and usually fans don’t really bother with that type of stuff. But yeah, Hip hop fans are brutal. They are brutal man.
MS: I read an article recently in Guitar World about the return of the guitar solo. In my opinion, it never left, but what does a guitar solo mean for you?
CK: For me as a guitarist, the guitar solo is a chance to let your guitar do the singing. It’s a chance for me to have an emotional burst, hopefully, that’s real musical, but at the same time, whatever I’m feeling at the moment I can express it through my instrument. And the guitar, unlike the piano which is more rigid, the guitar is so flexible, if you bend those strings and vibrate those notes-the way everybody bends and the way everybody vibrates is just a little bit different-your musical DNA comes to the forefront when you chose to solo and express yourself with your instrument. Your DNA really gets revealed when you’re soloing and bending and manipulating the strings on the guitar. It’s a real personal instrument and it gives off a real personal sound. At least to my ear, a lot of times you can tell the player by the tone of the guitar. When you hear a note by B.B. King, you just know it’s him or when you hear a note by Wes Montgomery, you just know that’s Wes Montgomery.
MS: When you’re in the studio, what is your approach to the solo? I know people do different things, but how does it work for you crafting that solo?
CK: On the stage, it’s more spontaneous; I may solo as long as I feel I need to say what I have to say musically or maybe as short as I need. You’re more improvising on stage. In the studio, it’s more of a process. A little bit scientific, you’re trying to create an illusion sometimes in the studio that you are on stage. You might be recording your music in a sterile environment like a recording studio, or you might be doing it in a bedroom or you might be doing it wherever. But a lot of times you’re going to add reverb, you’re going to add effects that make it sound like you’re recording it at Carnegie Hall or wherever. It’s more technical in the studio and at the same time, you’re playing a solo that people are going to hear over and over again. Every time they play that record, they’re going to hear that solo, so you have to put a lot of thought into it, or at least make sure it has a melodic and pleasing tone to it that people will want to hear a thousand times because every time they play that record, they’re going to hear that solo. So you better make sure that it’s very musical and pleasing to the ear.
MS: Speaking of songs, if you could put one song in a time capsule for future generations to hear, what would it be and why?
CK: Wow. That’s a tough question, man. You really asked a tough one there. One song…(pause) I don’t know. I have to think about that one. It’s hard to narrow it down to one song.
MS: Let me ask you about the new album. Is the album complete, is it done?
CK: My new album. Yeah. The final mix is done and we’re just getting it to the mastering stage of it. We’re expecting to have the album all wrapped up definitely by the end of the month and I’m hoping that it will be released in late August, early September.
MS: Are you playing any of the songs on the current tour?
CK: Yeah, we’re definitely going to put a few songs in there. One of the songs that’s on the album is, (I) recorded my first Jimi Hendrix track “When the Wind Cries Mary.” And some of the songs from the new album will be part of the set, but to be honest with you, we’re coming back to Pensacola more by popular demand as opposed to…because actually and ideally I would have like to come back to Pensacola later in the fall when the album is released. I’ll have a new set of songs to play for everyone, but everybody was vibing so much from the last time we were there that we’re back by popular demand and that’s a nice thing. People will hear more of the same, people will hear “Oh Brother” numbers, they’ll hear me doing “Antebellum Postcards” and they’ll also hear some of the new music too. This is probably our last time at the Vinyl this year, so the next time we play Pensacola will be DeLuna Fest.
MS: That’s right. I’m excited. Are Danny and Jeff going to join you on this tour?
MS: The question about the song…I was curious about what song you would you put in the time capsule?
CK: (laughs) I was hoping I wouldn’t have to answer.
MS: That’s fine, I’ll ask it again before DeLuna Fest. I’m always curious. Is there anything you want to add for the rest of the fans in Pensacola?
CK: You know-the time capsule-can I just say an album maybe?
MS: Oh yes.
CK: I think “Oh, Brother! Where Art Thou” soundtrack would make a nice time capsule. I think it captures American music, but I also think that those songs are times, “I’ll Fly Away” and “Lonesome Valley” some of those songs where African-American hymns from way back in the 1800’s. Those Antebellum Songs. And those songs got people through some really tough times and we think it’s tough today, but, believe me, it was a lot tougher 150 years ago. And those songs got people through and they’ve lasted and endured and they still have meaning and they make people still feel good. So I would say, put them in a time capsule and they’ll probably do the same 100 years from now for people.
I mean hopefully, who knows, downloading of mp3’s probably won’t exist in a hundred years, I’m sure, but however people listen to music a hundred years from now, maybe there will be some musicians that’ll take those songs, rearrange them, re-record them for their generation because when a song endures that long, you better check it out because that means there is something special about it.
– Michael L. Smith
Link to an additional gallery of the concert by the PNJ/GoPensacola.com crew