To be a real bluesman you just gotta get down and dirty.
There is something almost primordial about the blues, which feeds off, and appeals to, the most basic of instincts and emotions.
Andy Watts clearly gets that, in bucket loads.
Just a few moments into his new release, Blues on Fire
, and you are left in doubt whatsoever that Watts has the spark in his veins. “Here, in the Middle East everything is on fire, including the blues,” says the Swedish-born guitarist, who has called Israel home for over 35 years. "Even so, you got to put in your shift if you want to get the vibes out there, and produce music that moves people.
“It’s like anything in life – your relationships with your friends, your wife, anyone, if you don’t feed the flames it’s not going to move forward. That’s the whole basic idea of the song.”
The number in question is the title track of the new album, which features iconic American blues musician Joe Louis Walker, who recently toured here, on vocals. The track opens in the sultriest of moods, supported by thudding drums and bass, and Watts weighing in with some delectable licks on electric guitar.
Having a C3 Hammond organ in the mix, played by Eyal Klein, helps to thicken and enrich the textural mix no end. Walker won’t be around for the forthcoming album launch gigs – Bar Giora in Tel Aviv on April 27 (9 p.m.), Shablul, Tel Aviv May 3 (9 p.m.), HaEzor in Tel Aviv on May 16 (10 p.m.), followed by The Beat in Haifa on July 5 (9:30 p.m.) and the Zappa Club in Herzliya on July 11 (doors open 8:15 p.m., show starts 10 p.m.).
Watts has paid his blues dues.
He has played on his fair share of recorded material, but this his debut as frontman. And a pretty convincing curtain raiser it is, too.
He dips into numerous facets of the blues, from balladic outings to funk, numbers with a definite soul core to them, and there are nods to some of Watts’s idols, with “Looking for Somebody” written by stellar British bluesman Peter Green, and a compelling cover of Jimi Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” with veteran local harmonic player and singer Dov Hammer on vocals.
Eclectic nature notwithstanding, the album takes us on a journey through the blues, and you always know where you are. “Even though I used a lot of musicians I have been working with over the years, I didn’t want it to feel schizophrenic,” Watts notes. “There is still a musical connection between the songs, and the attitude. That is the most important thing for me, that you somehow feel there is a red line running through the record that you can follow. I feel I managed that, but I am not the one to say that,” he laughs.
My guess is Watts’s audiences, and listeners, will get that too.
Watts says he always had at least one ear trained on the real world outside the recording studio, and that he tries to never lose touch with the people he wants to draw to his work. “I thought to myself that if I’m driving somewhere, and it’s midnight, out on the road and you put the car radio on, what would you like to hear? I think ‘Riviera Paradise’ would be a good choice.”
The said number was written by late great guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughan, who died in a helicopter accident at the age of 35. Watt’s arrangement of "Riviera Paradise" has a jazzy feel to it too, with Gregory Rivkin doing the honors on trumpet.
“‘Looking for Somebody’ would also be a good choice for midnight listening on the radio, because it is a bit mysterious in the opening. Of course it’s a take on the Peter Green song but I wanted it to be a bit mysterious with some cool clean nice flow, and not stressed or overplayed. I promised myself to use the talent. I wanted to give my fellow musicians artistic freedom and get the best out of them, and then you go with the flow.”
Watt’s “fellow musicians” on the project include some of the leaders of the local blues community, such as veteran guitarist-vocalist Roni Peterson, seasoned singer Roy Young and guitarist Danny Shoshan. The latter had the great privilege of jamming with Hendrix shortly before he died in 1970 so, in a way, the new Watts album is something of a link with the legendary American bluesman.
Going with the flow in the name of the Watts’s game throughout. “I do everything from my head. I probably break a lot of rules but rules are made to be broken. But it works.”
It certainly does.
FEEDING THE flame: Andy Watts. (Ilya Kutosov)