RUSS ‘Hitman’ Alexander – 20 Questions
Russ leads the New York-based Hitman Blues Band and they are not just popular in the US, touring the UK, Ireland and Europe as regularly as they can. Imagine a cross between Stan Webb and Jackie Mason and you’re getting close to Russ’ character ! The first time we met we played and sung together on stage and I would like to think that ever since I have been his friend. And he needs friends…
- Suggest two or three great drum intro’s to songs or instrumentals (any genre)
Sing Sing Sing (Benny Goodman version, not Louis Prima) the Live at Carnegie Hall version, although the original version was great too
50 Ways To Leave Your Lover – Paul Simon, Still Crazy After All These Years. Steve Gadd’s intro has become a staple for every goddamn drummer in the world, but it’s such a cool infectious riff!
- A favourite bassline on a dance recording? And why?
“You Can Call Me Al” – Paul Simon, “Graceland”. A groundbreaking tune, in that it turned a whole generation of listeners (and many bass players) on to slapping on electric bass, as opposed to rockabilly slap. Plus, the driving bass line that powers the whole song over the sparse drums makes it an irresistible tune. Bakithi Kumalo remains a powerhouse musician.
- Name a great recording including in the title 1/ Red 2/ White 3/ Blue (artist /title /source album for each please) and explain why chosen
1. Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes – Elvis Costello, “My Aim Is True” Costello, aside from writing incredibly catchy songs, really knows how to put pathos, love, rejection, hope, and ironic humor all into one short song.
2. White Room – Cream, “Wheels Of Fire”. Great tune musically, great (if a bit esoteric) lyrics. The imagery has made it a song covered by everyone from Waylon Jennings to Vassar Clements.
3. Blues for Alice – Charlie Parker, “Bird: The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve”. Strictly listed because you asked for something with “blue” in it, not that it’s better than other Parker tunes, but – it really gives a great example of his innovative playing. He incorporates many of his signature riffs on this. If you’re not familiar with his playing, here’s a tip: don’t try to pick out every note at first, or you’ll miss the forest for the trees. Just listen to the flow of his playing, the general musical and rhythmic shape of what he’s doing over the changes. You can pick it apart later, if you like, to see exactly how he got those notes! ( that’s as good a response as we’ve ever had on this series – PS)
- Name a TV series where the theme music was better than the actual shows and do you know who created or recorded it ?
Hawaii Five-O. Never liked the show, but the theme music was very cool. By the Ventures, of course!
- A recording that makes you laugh ….intentionally or otherwise! (artist/ track/source album)
Hello Mudda, Hello Fadda, by Allan Sherman. Of course, “Right Said Fred” (performed by Bernard Cribbins) made me laugh hysterically from the first time I heard it, as a kid, visiting relatives in England.
- Name an album or a couple of albums where the cover or artwork could have been better, in your humble opinion….give any thoughts around this
I never particularly liked the “Boston” album cover. Great album, cheap looking cover (IMHO). Tom Scholz was such an innovative guy, both musically and in electronics (when the “Rockman” came out, it was incredible). But if you REALLY want to see horrific album covers, go to http://www.stevecarter.com/albumcovers.htm
- David Bowie and Annie Lennox record a duet – what song do they sing? And who backs them?
Under Pressure, backed up by Queen at the Freddie Mercury tribute. Not my favourite version.
- An acoustic gem? What song/tune and who by? What’s the appeal?
“Can’t Find My Way Home”, by Traffic. It might as well be a blues song, a real focus on something everyone has experienced.
- Is there a song that both you and your Mum or Dad really like? Or liked?
“These Foolish Things” for my Mom and I. Probably a couple of hundred for my Dad and I, as our tastes in jazz overlapped.
- Name an actor or actress who made a listenable song recording – and what’s the appeal?
You’re kidding, right? (William Shatner, you hardheart !?- PS)
- Where are you planning to tour next ?
Right now we’re booked for a UK tour next June (2016), and may be doing some European dates as well. That will coincide with the new album, which I’m hoping to have to done by the end of 2015.
- Which of your own recordings show you at your most a/ aggressive b/ relaxed c/ confused?
A: Hammer Down B. This Too Shall Pass C. Don’t Know (Whose Life I’m Living)
- Which artist did you go to see perform with low expectations but ended up impressed? Where and when was this?
Train, at Jones Beach Theater in 2011 (I think)
- Where in the world in your opinion is live music best received? What venues appeal?
Depends on the venue. Small “sticky floor” pubs, in our experience, was in the UK, followed by Austria. Larger venues, where people are paying to get in, seem to be the same all over. They’re paying to see you, so they pay attention!
- Two tickets suddenly arrive for a live performance, they are for someone you have always wanted to see…….which act or artist ? And which numbers will be hoping to hear?
Living (that I haven’t ever seen live, which cuts it down quite a bit):
The Rolling Stones. Nope, never saw them live. Either I was gigging, or I couldn’t afford the tickets, or whatever – just never actually got to see them. I would want to hear the entire “Exile On Main Street” album, “December’s Children” B side, and all of “Beggar’s Banquet”.
Has a radio DJ anywhere (and any era) ever impressed you and if so why?
Jazz DJ Phil Schaap. He has such an incredible knowledge of the history of each recording, his enthusiasm for what he spins is so evident, he really draws you in.
- Can you dance? Do you dance? How do your family rate your dancing?
I don’t dance. I have pretty much no sense of body rhythm. When my girls were very young, I danced with them in the living room. My (ex)wife said “Girls, you see what Daddy is doing? Don’t do that.” As it turned out, both my daughters are excellent dancers, so they must have taken the advice to heart!
- Everytime I get a ‘Best Of…’ of anybody, there’s a song or two missing that I wish had been included….can you think of an instance of this ? what are the missing items that you would like to have seen included ?
“Best Of” Charlie Parker albums seem to have either Diz or Miles, but not really both. Not sure why. It would be great to have a comprehensive DVD that has the whole lot. By and large, most Best Of albums I’ve seen do a pretty good job.
- Two or three songs with great actual endings (not fades) by The Who or The Beatles? Or both acts !
Beatles: Day In The Life, Obla Di Obla Da (just like it, makes me smile). Who: Baba O’ Riley (which I had to learn, on guitar, when I was much younger because we didn’t have a violinist or a synth)
- Your favourite song or instrumental (any genre) with the title including the word ‘Seven’? Explain your choice
I don’t have absolute “favourites”, but I’ve always loved “Seventh Son” (Willie Dixon, done by Willie Mabon) because the lyrics echo all the boasting the blues is famous for, and it’s phrased so well. Instrumentally, “7 Come 11”, by Benny Goodman featuring Charlie Christian, one of my all time favourite guitarists.
- Suggest a song that reminds you of your childhood – and why might this be?
A lot of Beatles tunes from the cartoon series, which ran here in New York from ’65 through whenever. Being the son of a jazz musician, I heard a lot of songs when I was a kid and, liking lyrics, learned a lot of them. So lots of jazz standards remind me of my childhood. Plus songs like “Mr. Bojangles”, show tunes from “Fiddler On The Rood” and “West Side Story” (both of which I learned all the lyrics for because I liked them) – just a ton of stuff. No one song brings me back more than another, though. Some have specific memories, others just general.
For rhythm guitar which makes and models do it for you?
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve found I don’t much care. However, I’ve found that certain guitars do well with certain amps – and it’s very guitar and amp dependent. So Strat A might sound great out of a Marshall combo amp, but Strat B sounds like garbage, and they might be the same year and model.
I don’t know why, but it seems to be undeniably true. These days, I play a Gibson SG my wife bought me, which is light and feels pretty good. I put in Zac Wilder pickups on the advice of a friend, and it sounds nice and ballsy when I need it to be, and sweet when I need that.
Which horn sections influence your arrangements? I dig Tower of Power and BST
I like the Blues Brothers horns, along with Chicago, BST, Electric Flag, Louie Jordan (of course). A lot of bands, come to think of it. I’m not real big into arranging horns, pretty basic stuff when I do it. I often will come up with the basic motif, then ask my trumpet player (Eric Altarac) or keyboardist (Michael Snyder) to harmonize it. I have to make sure it’s not too “pretty” if that doesn’t go with the song, and that it’s rhythmically compatible. I mean, you wouldn’t want “Only The Beginning “ horns (the end part) to be played over “Born Under A Bad Sign”!
- Are there any slide guitar players you found inspiring ? On what recordings?
Duane, of course. And Elmore. And you can’t do better than Johnny Winter. Andy Aledort has a great video course out called “Slide Guitar Power” from Truefire.com. If I had been able to study that when I was younger, I could have saved a lot of time!
- If you had a chance to record a vocal duet which female artist would you prefer? Any particular song in mind?
Pink, because she writes great lyrics and has an amazing voice. Either “We’re Gonna Make It” or “They All Laughed”
- There is a touch of Jack Benny in your stage chat …why does it travel so well? Some artists don’t create that verbal bridge.
That’s funny, because I’m much more of a Marxist (Groucho) than a Jack Benny fan. And Danny Kaye! But it started with my realizing that most people don’t know me, don’t know my music, and it’s hard to concentrate on somebody’s lyrics when they’re singing live and you don’t know what the song is about. So it’s all geared to preparing listeners for what they’re about to hear, so (hopefully) they can follow it better and enjoy it more. And if I can make them laugh, it puts them in a more receptive mood. I’ve gotten criticism in some quarters for talking too much on stage, while others like it. So I’ve compromised – I try and keep patter for each song down to 45 seconds or less, usually around 30 seconds. And, I try to keep the band playing a vamp behind the patter so it’s not just me talking, although that isn’t always possible or desirable.
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