Black Stone Cherry – Cherry Picking The Blues

The band’s lead singer and guitarist Chris Robertson speaks with our Pete about the group’s high energy six-track EP of classic blues numbers…

Harry Reese

 

JLTT : Early morning for you, matey?

CR : Yeeeaaah..we’re just on the road this week and doing a number of shows here and there

Hey Chris we’ve seen you at The Borderline, Carnival of Madness, Ramblin’ Man Fair and each time it is pretty evident that you guys come from the Blues and from folk, too as well rock’n’roll..

OK,well thank you and you are right, on that – it’s all elemental to the band sound that we have put together, to express ourselves. It all found its way to Kentucky!

The EP is interesting because I have been around a while and saw all four acts you have chosen here for songs play live..some died many years ago but they left a huge impression on me..shook hands with three of ‘em..what drew you to them?

That’s incredible! Really, that is! Well as regards Howlin’ Wolf..now to me he is such a great and moreover very powerful singer and reigns at the heart of what the Blues means to me. Along with Muddy Waters he is so central to what Blues music IS! The way he sang those songs, put them over, brought true meaning to every phrase that came out of him. And just his whole larger-than-life persona just resonates through his recordings

When I saw him here he was backed by The Groundhogs and he sang the whole set to a petite blonde sitting in a window sill two yards from him!

Wow, that’s amazing,man! How cool that must have been

Built For Comfort, here – I have done Wolf tribute shows and that’s always in because it is so funny

Oh it’s an incredible song. In all respects especially the punch of it, y’know. I love all of Wolf’s classic songs. The Chess label songs..but there’s also an album called ‘This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album, He Doesn’t Like It’ where the musicians are like from another planet, they are so good

Ah yes, white cover in the States and a black laminated cover over here..it is hated by blues purists but I love it, the Morris Jennings’ drumming alone is sensational

It’s the one I like the best and the voice is recorded so well, too – so rich in sound

Well we spent an afternoon talking about that with Marshall Chess..Muddy’s one in that style was his biggest seller! The young Marshall was present in the studio

The guitar work, the flute..in the Blues it’s probably the most psychedelic-sounding record you’ll ever hear but the Wolf voice is king. At every point on it!

Now your performance here..and throughout the EP..you have kind of met the songs halfway, in that it is distinctively BSC but there’s a twist from what you might normally do

It’s just our way of respecting the influence within what our group does and the way it plays..we decided to do this thing and not copy the songs as they were but to try to create our very own take on each song we selected. That led to the choices, that wish to be us, too. Even a slight variation on a chord can take the song somewhere new if you are careful with it. So to make them now ‘ours’ and avoid any kind of straight cover that was as you say the whole intention.

Yeah and on Built I really like what I would call the pastoral passage where it gets quite mellow..almost late SRV sounding

Yes! That was kind of a thing..see, we have been playing that one for years on stage but when it came to record it, we wanted to play with the dynamic range and bring it down and up again. I am superglad that we did that. As it worked out so well.

Champagne and Reefer I first heard live by Muddy and Otis Spann, good choice. I like the slide on this, it sounds really good.

Thank you, Pete ! that was something that we weren’t 100 % sure about doing. It’s as you can hear pretty different to the way the original was played.

Your voice is spot-on, here Chris – it’s a very good key for you, on this cut

Thank you. I think maybe the way we used to do things we weren’t taking the chances we might do these days..the more we get to know about production and arranging, I guess we have the confidence more.

Getting to what I term the heart of the song is more important than the final arrangement, the latter can’t carry the song though it can embellish.

I agree 100%, the core song performance must rule, mustn’t it ? For anything to get home. It’s not like other genres of music, the Blues. A song has to connect, be real and relevant in the Blues. If it doesn’t have heart or soul there just is no point approaching it.

Funnily enough, that very song, when the Stones last played the O2 was the one they asked Bill Wyman to guest on…

That’s amazing! Awesome…

Ok, Freddie King ‘Palace Of The King’ – I like this number as it’s a good story song, isn’t it?

Yeah, off Texas Cannonball – arguably one of the greatest players AND singers the world has ever had ! He made a living playing rock’n’roll before he came through in his own right. I always wanted to play like Freddie King. Now I never set out to sing, it just came about as I got dumped with the job ! of singing. He is a master guitar player of course but what a voice he had ! one of the best

The song I’d recommend is called Woman Across The River

Ha! Well, Pete when we were looking Freddie songs to do we were between Ain’t No Sunshine, Palace and Woman Across The River! End of the day I guess Palace had that drive thing…we decided to go with that. But you’re close there, man!

When I saw Freddie here he was backed by Killing Floor, who had Mick Clarke as guitarist and Bill Thorndycraft and Lou Martin a great piano player, went on to play with Rory Gallagher… did Remington Ride

Did he do Ain’t No Sunshine?

No that was a little before those recordings..he had toured with Chicken Shack in the US and fixed their truck when it broke down! The headliner mends your engine! Hoochie Coochie Man, great dirty riff BUT here every average band does it

So we put the horns on there and then the harmonica..we have been doing that since before we ever had a record deal. There’s a touch of Mannish Boy in there too and that Muddy Waters Hard Again album is just such an inspirational disc and so well-produced by Johnny Winter, so lively ! There’s something so fresh about that record, you can’t resist it…Hoochie we just wanted to do the song right but come up with something to put into it, as us, I guess

I do Muddy’s Bottom Of The Sea from After The Rain..for similar reasons to yours. I never met Albert King though I know Charlie Wood his keyboard man but I did see him at what was Hammersmith Odeon with J Geils Band on the bill..

(Laughs) God these memories of yours are choking me, man! What a night out!

Indeed. An irresistible riff, Born Under A Bad Sign

Man, that is just the ticket! When we started talking about this project the first thing we said was that we just had to do Born ! Came from a soundcheck where I just started playing the figure, those eleven notes or whatever and everyone just kicked on in! It just makes you move your hips ….

It’s your best vocal on the record. It’s a hard song to end. To wrap up. I was playing this live a few weeks back and only got the boys to finish by throwing in the Sunshine Of Your Love riff and turning to the drummer to knock it through…

It has – like Goin’ Down -something the crowd will really groove to!

The slide on I Want To Be Loved sounds very Elmore James, it makes it

Well thank you, it’s funny – I hadn’t played slide in a very long time. When we recorded it, I played it straight the first time. I happened to have a suitable guitar in the studio with me, thought I would give it a try. You are only the second person to mention Elmore.

In summary, you’ve not duplicated the originals, you have let your own sensibilities guide your approach to the compositions..I do feel you have met the songs halfway

Thanks, it does take us back to what we all grew up on but from the perspective of what BSC is now..but hey the coolest thing for us is that we have a lot of young fans. And those fans are asking about the artists we have opted to interpret here. We find ourselves suggesting albums they might want to check out. So like you, writing about music like you do, it DOES have an influence..maybe more than you realise…..

Pete Sargeant



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(Many thanks Chris of Black Stone Cherry and Lee at Mascot Label Group UK for help with this article)

All Photos including Feature Image Credited to Harry Reese

Black Stone Cherry’s new EP ‘Black To Blues’ is out now on Mascot Label Group.

You can purchase the EP from Amazon UK here: http://amzn.to/2xHc9yV

In addition, you can read our review of ‘Black To Blues’ here: http://bit.ly/2ibDkQb

For more information visit the band’s official website here: http://bit.ly/20sQRla

Black Stone Cherry