Get up close and personal with Mr Black & Blues ahead of his upcoming Blues Train shows...
Mr Black & Blues
Melbourne, Victoria and London, England
Michael Pollitt... and whoever else is hangin around...
Eric Bibb getting drunk with Tom Waits and being told to straighten up by the ghost of Howlin Wolf in a Clarksdale back alley.
How did you first get started?
I was a late starter I guess. I started playing guitar when I was 19 and fell in love instantly. I always loved rock’n’roll from Elvis through to Jon Spencer and when you start following the roots of Rock you’re on a freight train headed straight for the heart of the blues. I was completely self-taught by ear listening to Max Crawdaddy on RRR on Thursday nights got me deep into the blues masters and I was hooked. I took off to London and played a bunch of sessions and started experimenting with my own bands and stayed 10 years. In 2006 broke I broke my neck in a surfing accident which meant twelve months recovery in a full neck brace and the loss of the use of my left hand for almost a year. My doctors told me the best thing I could do to get the use of my hand back was to play my guitar and they didn’t have to ask me twice. Slowly music gifted me the use of my hand again. During that process I found the inspiration for the Mr Black & Blues project and began writing the material that would form the debut album, The Morning Light. The name Mr Black & Blues was delivered to me during a night in the studio who heard about my accident and said I was not Mr Blues, but Mr Black & Blues. In early 2007 I set up Breakneck Records and began to organize and promote shows at venues around London. The regular Sunday Breakneck Records sessions at the Old Blue Last became home turf for me as house band and I featured my friends including David Ross Macdonald from the Waifs, and Charlie Winston. I also set up a new “burlesque and blues joint” to be known as the Virginia Creepers Rockin Blues Club and featured the new full band lineup with Lorne Stockman on harmonica, Miles Danso on upright bass, and Zeke Manyika on drums as house band.
By late 2007 the material was really starting to come to life and the house band spots were augmented by regular live shows. I then took the decision to lay the tracks down and approached Liam of Toerag Studio in London. Toerag boasts the original EMI REDD desk from Abbey Road used to record Sergeant Pepper. The White Stripes debut, Elephant, which won a Grammy for best production in 2005 recorded at Toerag, was the benchmark and we got cracking over three weekends. From not knowing if I would be able to play again just 12 months earlier to having a record from Toerag was a dream. I came home to Australia in late 2009 and signed a Distribution Agreement between my label and John Durr’s Black Market Music following deals already penned with Rough Trade, and Spitz Records in the UK. I then set off on an Australian and UK tour in 2010 with brother in‐law and legendary John Butler Trio drummer, Jason McGann, and got some support from the Melbourne Blues Society and airplay on PBS and RRR. I am now just putting the finishing touches on the second record and looking forward to hitting the road!
What made you want to become a musician?
Deep reverential pathological love of music... and discovering I could.
I got thrown into doing a gig on an island near Thailand and the solo show evolved from there. That gig was petrifying because it was the first time I played solo.
What are some of your influences?
I always loved Jon Spencer, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Led Zepplin then Max Crawdaddy introduced me to Chris Wilson, Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, RL Burnside, Howlin Wolf, Clapton, Derek Trucks.. more recently its bands like Eileen Jewel and Lanie Lane and Tom Waits with that blues infused material that crosses boundaries that is really grabbing me by the ears.
Favourite artist and song?
An impossible question... Gaffer together Wail by Jon Spencer and Guru Man Blues by Eric Bibb and we’re getting close.
Who do you look up to as artists?
Anyone who is true to themselves. My local hero’s were Geoff Achison and Jeff Lang to begin with and more recently having met Chris Wilson, Jimi Hocking, Sweet Felecia, Andrea Marr, Stringybark McDowell I really respect those guys as real artists and great people. You gotta respect what Jack White and Tom Waits hove done in their careers but my all-time hero is Chester Arthur Burnett.. better known as Howlin Wolf ..first man to drive himself out of the delta. Taught himself to read and write at the age of 50. Whatever problem you got, and we all have em, Wolf taught me there is no problem too great and its never too late!
Who would be your dream collaboration?
An album with Tom Waits co-produced by T-bone Walker and backed by all my friends.
Describe your best gig
Having Chris Wilson sit in on my set on the Mighty Blues Train just before Christmas – he is a mighty man and we damn near tore the carriage apart
Describe your worst gig
That time a Bobs Country Bunker when I was booked as Mr Black & Bluegrass.. no seriously playing gigs is pretty much on the same level as breathing for me.. they are the flashes of light between everything else. Even when gear breaks, you gotta learn to handle that onstage with grace and humour. I don’t care if its two people or twenty-thousand I play every show like its Glastonbury main stage and just tune into myself and have fun. If it feels good on the inside chances are it’s pretty good on the outside too.
Describe your strangest gig
Flying to Perth and playing same night that home-grown hero’s Empire of the Sun were playing a free concert in the park. I played to a completely empty bar at the insistence of the manager.. I rocked that empty house down.
Describe your hardest gig
My first “big” show was support Chain at the Perth Blues club playing to a packed house of about 500 people. I got there about two hours early to check out the huge empty room with low light and dark carpet and I took my time to soak it in. With about an hour till show time I started to restring my guitar. On the third string a vital screw on my old 1940’s National resonator decided it has had enough of this ride and just pinged off the headstock into the distance never to be seen again. Right at that moment Phil Manning came striding out from backstage, stuck out his hand, and said “Hi, I’m Phil”. As he said this he looked a little closer at the mix of terror and amazement in my face, then at my guitar which was obviously not right, and he said “we’d better fix that or you’re in a world of trouble”. He spent about half an hour on his hands and knees with me looking for the missing screw that held the tuning peg together but we had no luck. With 30mins to go we declared the screw lost and we started going through every piece of gear between us looking for something that would hold the tuners together. With about 8 mins to go I found something on a DI that looked like it might hold. With 3 mins to show I had it in place and holding…just.. and began to restring the rest of the guitar. Damn thing slipped about five times but standing side of stage I could hear President Rick Steele doing the intro windup and my last string on the bad tuner “boinged” into place.. “and here’s Mr Black & Blues”.. spotlight, breathe, smile.. walk on.. and rock out. Thanks Phil, you’re a true gentleman.
What are you working on now?
Record number two is almost done and will be out shortly. I plan on touring nationally and in the UK to launch it middle of the year and I be recording record number 3 which is already written as soon as I can! I’m trying to get over to Memphis to see if I can record at Sun.. lets see how that pans out.
Tell us about your latest release
The second record has a working title of Phoenix Rises and will feature about ten tracks all recorded by Jason McGann and I in a beautiful old house in Colac owned by Tony Forbes who features on the record on Banjo and guitar. Tony was the closest thing I ever had to a teacher back in the day. We would go visit, arrive about 1pm and still be up playing together when everyone else had packed up and gone to bed. The record also featured Ben Franz from the Waifs and various other projects on upright bass. We recorded it all ourselves and are just applying the final touches to the mix with Colin Wynne at 30 Mill Studios. This record has been a long time coming and has been a real labour of love working with Tony, Jason, and Ben who are all such talented guys. It has a few covers but it’s the originals I’m most proud of. I cant wait to get it out and see what happens next.
Mr Black and Blues performs throughout the remainder of the season. The Morning Light is out nationally via http://www.blackmarketmusic.com.au/blackblues.html.