One week before a special concert that featured Betsy Badwater as the opening act, the King of 21st Century Blues answered a few questions for my Music Matters column in the Pensacola News Journal.
In the holiday spirit, King also told the story of the Christmas day that his father, Baton Rouge blues legend Tabby Thomas, gave him his first guitar.
MS: I saw you at DeLuna Fest and I thought; “Man,I won’t get a chance to see Chris Thomas King until next year, but then I looked online and I saw Holiday concert. It’s billed as a holiday show at Vinyl, but tell me more about what we can expect.
CTK: You’re going to get a pretty typical Chris Thomas King show that we normally do. It will be about Christmas time, which is what the club requested and some of the fans requested. You’ll hear a few classic Christmas renditions.
MS: Can you give any hints or do you want to keep it a surprise?
CTK: People want to hear things like, you know we won’t get too classical because obviously coming from a blues perspective, a song like “Please Come Home From Christmas” is something that we always do around this time when we have a show. That’s a Charles Brown classic. And there will be some others. It’ll be kind of a joyful, soulful bluesy Christmas rendition, but it won’t be out of character really to more classical Christmas song.
MS: Are there any special Christmas memories that you have?
CTK: (laughs) Yeah. The first one that comes to mind is when I got my first guitar as a kid. Must’ve been, I don’t know, maybe…I had been playing on my dad’s guitar and he was tired of coming home from work and seeing me breaking strings and things like that so he decided that he would give me a little guitar for Christmas. I don’t even think they make them anymore, but it was a Kent guitar and it was kind of a copy of a Stratocaster which is what I play now. That was a very nice Christmas.
MS: Do you still have that guitar?
CTK: Oh no. It was basically a starter guitar kind of thing. It would be nice to have around the house, but no, I don’t have it.
MS: How was DeLuna Fest in your opinion as far as your performance and the festival in general?
CTK: As far as the festival in general, I hadn’t been there before, only hearing about it only a year or so ago. It’s a relatively new festival from what I understand, but it’s the kind of festival I would attend on my own-I’m not…it’s one thing to be onstage performing and it’s another thing to be in the crowd experiencing a festival, but I’m not a huge festival go-er. I wouldn’t attend on my own as a spectator like a Bonnaroo or something like that because I’m not the kind of camp out kind of guy or at least not anymore. But this is something that is the band’s that they had, the nice variety that they had and it was easy to get from to stage to stage to see the acts you wanted to see. I thought it was great, it was pretty nice on the beach there. It’s one of those festivals that I would attend whether I was performing or not.
MS: I had a great time watching you. I stood there and thought about it, “I’m listening to you play, I’m right by the beach and I thought ‘Wow. That’s pretty amazing.’
CTK: Yeah and the other bands were kind of well behaved for the festival because sometimes sets are longer or they don’t start on time, but you really get-the stage that I was performing- the only odd thing is that when we were due to go onstage, there was a band across the way performing and as soon as one band stopped the other started, that’s how it was set up, but a lot of times the sets don’t always end on time. But this one was only maybe five or 10 minutes off.
MS: What are you looking forward to this Christmas? Are you playing Christmas night? You’re a busy man.
CTK: Yeah, well I’m on tour right now talking to you in Portland, Oregon and I’m playing in a theatre here tonight. I’m heading up into the Seattle area and the last show is Saturday. I’m on a tour now and I probably won’t be able to do anything but get Louisiana and repack some bags and head on out to Florida. The Vinyl show is the last performance of the year, so we’re just all gonna’ let it all hang out, you know. It’s been a great year for us; we’ve turned a lot of new fans on, not only to my music, but to the blues in general because a lot of my fans, a lot of people come out to hear, they’re not necessarily blues fans, they coming out because they like something that I’ve done in the movies or something I’ve done on a recording. This blues genre, we don’t want to see it fade away and I’m still carrying the torch for that genre of music. I’m still standing on the shoulders of a lot of guys that came before me, women that came before me as well, and so I think we’ve had a good year going around the country and turning people on and reintroducing them to this music and we’re looking forward to next year being even stronger reaching even more people…I mean, I’ve reached a lot of people through movies, I’ve reached thousands of people through my recordings, but reaching people live, touching people in a live setting is where it’s real intimate and the audience really gets to get an insight on who I am as an artist and I get the feedback and that’s mostly positive. It’s a nice thing.
MS: Is there one moment that stands out in your mind where you felt that more than any other time this year?
CTK: Headlining at the New Orleans Blues Festival earlier this year because it’s right downtown. It was my first time performing at that festival and it was only the third time that I performed in Louisiana this year. I’ve only performed in Louisiana about three times now in 2012 and that one performance was, it was something that was…just…I don’t know, it was just something really special about it. We were under the lights in the center of the city and as far as I could look people were rocking to the music and the band itself-we’ve been on the road a lot- we have our great nights and we have our nights where we should, like a great team, just-even if you win, you just feel you could have played better, you know, but this night here, everything came together; music, atmosphere, audience and the fact that I was at home performing for what was only the third time in 2012. It was exciting and it was a special night. But that night stands out.
MS: What are you looking forward to in 2013?
CTK: I’m hoping to get-there’s a couple of projects that are in the early stages-I’m developing something, a role for me in a film that will kind of bring me back to acting a little bit and I’m actually working on some scoring a little animation piece right now. So those two things I’m looking to get a little bit more involved. I’ll be attending a film festival and things like that, but also I’m going to be continuing to take this music not just through the years, but I’m going to get a little bit more international in 2013.
MS: Always busy.
CTK: It’s nice to have some projects and people inviting you to perform here and there. In the past, I used to spend a year and a half on acting, just going from film project to film project and I wasn’t touring at all. And then after “It’s a Cold Ass World” came out, I got on the road with my band a little bit, the last couple of years and then I wouldn’t pursue film projects, but right now, I think 2013, I’m going to try and balance the two and not just be so focused on one or the other. Some days I would say my music is suffering because I’m not totally focused on it. You can be a jack of all trades and a master of none and I wanted to give my music all of my attention so that it can be appreciated and so that it can reach. I don’t want to half do it-so to speak-so I didn’t want to pursue anything that would sidetrack, but now I’m going to try to see if I can do the balance, you know. We’ll see how it goes.
MS: Is there anything else you would like the fans to know before the show at Vinyl Music Hall in Pensacola?
CTK: Well, I would say that we were invited by the staff to come and play this holiday party and it only came about recently. We weren’t expecting really to be back in the Vinyl until Spring, so I would say, people bring their good vibe and we’ll all get together, drink a little toast and start bringing in the New Year. Just try to have a nice old party. Hopefully this will be a party that’s enjoyable for everybody.
– Michael L. Smith