Blues: Straight from the Hart

Guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart performs in the Tel Aviv Blues Festival.

January 5, 2017 18:43
4 minute read.
Guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart

Guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart. (photo credit: CANDISE KOLA)

If genes play a big part in how your professional life pans out, Alvin Youngblood Hart lucked out. Although born in California, the 50something Grammy-winning bluesman has plenty of hereditary DNA from the Delta, the cradle of the blues down in Mississippi and, by all accounts, has put that familial platform to good use for the past 25 years or so. Hart will be here on Wednesday as part of this year’s Tel Aviv Blues Festival, when he plays a solo show at the Barby Club (8:30 p.m.).

Hart is no stranger to the road, and existential considerations meant that he got to see quite a lot of the US as a youngster.

“My parents’ job situation sort of demanded that we move all over the country,” he recalls, noting that he still had a solid base to hold on to. “All the while, we stayed close to our family home in Mississippi. My grandparents lived there, and no matter where we ended up, my grandparents’ place was always home for me. It’s now my parents’ home.”

Although it sounds like Hart’s early years were not exactly spent in the lap of luxury, having his forebears in the heart of the Deep South meant that the youngster got a firsthand handle on the right sort of musical vibes.

“I come from a musical family,” he notes. “Everyone except for my parents – which is really funny – were musically talented. My grandma used to play piano, her brother used to play piano and guitar, and my oldest brother is also a musician. My grandfather’s sister was actually a music teacher in the Chicago school system. I had a cousin called Sonny Knight who had a minor R&B hit, too.”

The latter refers to a number called “Confidential,” which did all right on the Billboard hit parade in 1956.

That’s a pretty impressive domestic backdrop for a youngster looking to get going in the musical domain, and many a current blues artist would be more than delighted to have had those vibes around them as they were growing up, but Hart says he didn’t get carried away with the historical element of the family ambience. “I didn’t have any sort of anthropological thing about all of that – I just liked the music, to hear it,” he states. “My parents liked the music, and the generation before them, and I liked it, too.”

In fact, Hart was largely a product of his time and the contemporary commercial music that he caught on the West Coast.

“I just became a music fan early on,” he says. “For my first 12 years I lived in the San Francisco Bay Area in the late 1960s, and I heard the things around me and how prominent the music scene there was back then. [Jewish promoter] Phil Graham had a strong influence on my development so far as my musical growth. I’d see the posters of the bills he’d organize, and it wasn’t like the usual nonsense. His philosophy was that he was going to give the kids the music they wanted.”

But there was a formative educational factor in the Graham approach.

“It’s like with your parents when they tell you that before you get dessert, you’ve got to eat what’s good for you,” laughs Hart.

Following the Graham lead provided Hart with an introduction to some sounds he might otherwise never have sampled.

“He had things like [jazz trumpeter] Miles Davis and [British rock supergroup] Cream on the same bill,” Hart continues. “That kind of thing was a big influence on me.”

By the time the youngster wrapped his ears around the groundbreaking sensibilities proffered by the likes of Davis and Cream, in addition to The Rolling Stones, The Beatles and bluesman Jimmy Reed, he had already begun to navigate his way around a guitar.

“My middle brother started taking guitar lessons when I was nine, so I started picking up his guitar and fooled around with a few things,” he recounts.

Hart got far more serious about his instrumental aspirations when he was 14 and came under the spell of such rock guitar luminaries as Eric Clapton and, in particular, Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

Hart did not favor one genre over another, and his output over the years has reflected that eclectic take.

“It was pretty much all the same to me. I sort of understood, at the time, that it is all part of the same thing. The first songs I learned on guitar were, sort of, Jimmy Reed and The Beatles, at the same time.

There was not much [musical] segregation going on in my brain.

I’d perform with some guys with a guitar, and it may have been a country band. I was just into music,” he says.

That continued to be the case as Hart made his way up the professional music ladder and, over the years, he has mixed it with the likes of legendary bluesman Pinetop Perkins. That gave Hart some insight into the way things were way back when.

“I heard lots of stories, and there was lots of drinking,” Hart recalls with a chuckle.

There has also been plenty in the way of rock-oriented sounds in Hart’s gigs and recorded material.

Hart’s first offering as leader, Big Mama’s Door, came out in 1996, and his 2003 release Down in the Alley was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album. Two years later, Hart received a Grammy for his contribution to Beautiful Dreamer – The Songs of Stephen Foster.

The Barby Club audience can look forward to getting the real deal on Wednesday night.

For tickets and more information about the Tel Aviv Blues Festival: and kvish61@

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