Erja Lyytinen Interview Tuesday 17th June 2014


Give Me Elmore !

The Finnish guitar ace and singer has released a tribute set to Elmore James, having mentioned the project to our man last time they met – time to find out about it…..

JLTT: Hello Erja , how are you? You are in Finland ?

EJ: I’m doing very well thank you very much, Pete. Well, this year has been very different from any of my previous years of my life ever !

( Taunting) – I wonder why?

In many ways… as you well know, I became a mother in January to twins. I basically only stayed home about two months and then we hit the road here in Finland. We did around twenty gigs around Finland and then Sweden and now we are playing festivals and travelling around Europe as well. It’s an unusual situation for me to be a mum on the road

Do you take the children with you?

Yeah I had my children here in Finland for like the first month. We had like five gigs a week and I took the girls with me. We did have a nanny with us so she was taking care of them when I was doing soundcheck or the gig. Yeah it was a big challenge staying up late in the night and then trying to do your best in the show. It takes quite a lot of energy….

You do then admire people who have done that. You realise how they did it. I think Diana Ross took her kids on tour …she had help and everything but you have more respect for these people. You think ‘Yeah I realise now it’s not easy. It’s not a piece of cake. It is difficult.

No piece of cake !

But hey, you love your music – what are you gonna do?

Exactly. The good thing is I have two boys so for the whole last year they’ve had to hear a lot of music. I was playing a lot of gigs and then I went into the studio so they’ve been hearing a lot of blues

That’s better than the Smurfs and other stuff really. I saw Roger Innis again a couple of weeks ago and he was playing bass to help Laurence Jones and that was nice to see him. They were over with him on a show with Coco Montoya over at The Boom Boom Club. Roger looks very fit and well and he is on this album of yours isn’t he? This new one….

Roger yeah of course. Roger Innis and Miri and Davide. This is our third year together and previously we’ve done one CD together that was the ‘Forbidden Fruit’ CD

I did review that and I did love some of the songs on that because then you played for us at The Bulls Head. That was a great album

Yeah. Looking back on it, I can see why people liked that…of course, you always like and hate your albums but I do think there’s some really nice songs in that album

I agree and to me it’s always the unusual songs I keep playing over and over. The ones with the unusual chords and I’m always drawn to those because in my own bands’ I’m trying to play my own interesting stuff, to have different rhythms and keys to play all the time

Yeah I do agree with you totally. Looking back at my musical craft and all of the albums I’ve done, it’s a huge variation of different styles Some people like it and some people don’t like it very much because people say I’m a blues artist and that’s my main thing really. But I like to mix a lot of styles into my blues that I do. For me, that works the best and it’s really hard just to stick to the one style! (Laughs) I went to music school so I’ve studied with different teachers so every single year I have different harmonies in my head. Sometimes, I make some kinds of movements that don’t fit in the basic blues category but for me, if it fits with the song then it has its right there


The way I think of it, you are a singer-songwriter who can play blues

Ok yeah. I always want to make songs and I love to play guitar!

We see every Tarja ( Turunen) tour and last time she made a record called ‘Colours’ and people said ‘Oh this isn’t all metal.’ I thought ‘Well, good for you.’ She’s an operatic singer as well as symphonic metal why should she make the same record every time?

(Laughs) That’s right. Whether she is a painter or a dancer always develop yourself. We should always look to the future and go forward…I have to say, you have to learn from the old stuff though and that’s what I’m trying to do with the blues. That’s one of the reasons why the new album is tribute album for Elmore James

That’s interesting because that’s the natural place we’re going now. Now the record has got a couple of your songs nodding to Elmore and then presumably I don’t know if these are your favourites or whether those are the songs you thought you could do something of your own with

Some of the tracks are really my favourites which I’ve played for years. So I heard this compilation CD back in 1990 and I found some of these songs from there. I started to play It Hurts Me Too and we still play that song in our live sets. It has all the elements of the great blues song with a great guitar riff which is the corner

Jeff Beck plays slide and he doesn’t use open tunings, he plays with a slide off standard tuning. But even in standard tuning you’ve got the open G because of the D G and the B, if you play those strings and you’ve got a G Major chord going upwards

That’s right yeah.

Where did you first hear ‘The Sky is Crying’? It was kind of adopted by Stevie Ray Vaughan wasn’t it?

For me, actually I always enjoyed playing that song, it’s special. ‘The Sky is Crying’ is very well known as his version and of course I have listened to that version as well. When I was learning the song, what usually happens to me when I play covers I start to make them as my own. So if I hear some chord change I might add something a bit different. Minor chords here and there, perhaps….it gives even more mellow feeling to the song. It’s about heartbreak and you see your man or woman walking down the road with another man or woman. You’re crying and ‘the sky is crying’, it has nice metaphors. The lyrics have nice metaphors, it’s a great song

Believe me Erja, I do this all the time. If I’m gonna resolve in a B7 in a song you can bet your life I’ll play a C ninth and then I’ll hit the B7 because I want that little bit of movement in there and that little bit of what you’re not expecting.

Yeah that’s right..! Different routes

You can have your B7, audience, but I’m gonna get there via C9.. See, cover’s not a good word. You do a version of a song I think that is more accurate of what you do. You don’t do covers because you’re not saying ‘I’m gonna reproduce Elmore James tracks.’ Same keys, same tempo.’

You can’t replace anybody. How well you try to replace somebody and sing the way they sing, it will always have a filter and it will always go through your filter. It’s really hard to try to do it the exact same way. So with this album, I decided I’ll try to do some transcriptions of some of the solos and try to do some links the way he did it. Then just let it go through my filter so it would not sound copied.

I agree. I had the same conversation a few weeks with Kenny Wayne Shepherd because he loves Muddy Waters like you love Elmore. He says ‘When I play a Muddy Waters song, my fingers won’t let me reproduce it I just wanna let the Muddy come out through my fingers. That way, I feel I’m not just a jukebox.’

Yeah exactly. Every player is unique and Elmore James was unique and king of the slide guitar! So he inspired this album and I feel I am helping people know who he was ,.. what he did, musically

There’s something about Elmore I’ve gotta tell you – have you heard Jimi Hendrix do ‘Bleeding Heart’?

Actually I haven’t but I saw that he was a huge Elmore James fan


He loved Elmore James. His favourite guitar player was Terry Kath from Chicago Transit Authority and Buddy Guy. But Jimi loved Elmore James and he did ‘Bleeding Heart’ at some of the shows and I saw him once and he did ‘Catfish Blues’. But the next night apparently he did ‘Bleeding Heart’ with The Experience. ALSO ! There was a comedy act here called The Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band and they did a song called ‘Can Blue Men Play the Whites?’ It was a parody of Fleetwood Mac doing Elmore James..

Now this I HAVE to hear !! ( we fix this later, in London – PS)

If I talk to you, Dani Wilde or Joanne (Shaw Taylor) or Samantha (Fish) all of you ladies seem to look up to Bonnie Raitt.

Yeah of course. She’s the queen! She’s been around a long time and she was one of thefinest guitar players I ever heard in my life. I was playing in a guitar trio with another guy and he said ‘You’re gonna love this. She plays slide and writes songs like the ones you write.’ I said ‘Ok. Let’s check her out.’ I liked her immediately and she has great songs and she kind of sounds young

I think she used to hang around with Fred McDowell and Victoria one of your skills, you can actually take an audience somewhere as you do play softly and bring it back up…

Yeah. You have to give different emotions for the people. I think an audience goes through their own emotions, they explore themselves whilst their listening to your aches and storytelling. It’s kind of a therapy session!

Good stuff. Just quickly, when you go out and do some more live shows presumably you can pick some Elmore James songs to sprinkle in there. What are you gonna do?

We’ve been playing all of the songs we’ve done on the album. So it’s a big variations of songs and we did alter some of the styles of the songs, for instance ‘Got To Move Me’, we changed the style of the song…come and see us play, again Pete !


Pete Sargeant

Erja Lyttinen’s new album ‘The Sky is Crying’ is out now

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