Andy Watts still has the blues

His latest release, Supergroove, spells out where he’s at.

ANDY WATTS: This album is dedicated to Tel Aviv. It is the pulse of the country. (photo credit: ILYA KUTOSOV)
ANDY WATTS: This album is dedicated to Tel Aviv. It is the pulse of the country.
(photo credit: ILYA KUTOSOV)
There’s nothing like letting it all hang out once in a while, especially if your stock-in-trade happens to be of the musical variety. And that goes doubly if it’s the blues you’re into, and the grungier side of it into the bargain.
Andy Watts has been doing just that for quite a while now. And if paying your dues is a prerequisite for getting a handle on convincing blues delivery, the Swedish-born Israeli guitarist appears to have accrued the necessary life experience to get the job done.
His latest release, Supergroove, spells out where he’s at. Then again, he says he prefers not to dot too many “i”s and cross too many “t”s. “I like to touch on the gray areas,” he explains. “I don’t like things that are too obvious.”
What is evident is that he got himself a high-powered high-octane crew on board for the venture. Trumpeter Gregory Rivkin, who is normally associated with the jazzier side of the tracks, contributes significantly to the sonic bottom line and there are a number of heavyweights from the US blues scene in the Supergroove lineup too.
One such is Kenny Neal, a second-generation New Orleans-born Grammy-nominated bluesman, who coproduced the album along with Watts, while fellow Grammy Award nominee, septuagenarian vocalist Joe Louis Walker fronts the fourth track, “Burning Deep.”
Famed American harmonica player and vocalist Rick Estrin also chipped in with a number called “Living Hand to Mouth,” performed on the record by Jamaican-born Tel Aviv-based singer Roy Young. Estrin was also partly responsible for getting the whole shebang on the road in the first place. “I had Rick over here, in Israel, for three fantastic shows,” Watts explains. “That was back in December 2018.”
That sparked the idea for Supergroove, although it proved to be a gradually evolving work, with Watts not overly pressed to get the finished product out there, on the radio, in record stores or on the stage. “I took my time. I didn’t rush it. This is slow food, not fast food,” he laughs. “I wanted everything to come together smoothly.”
So, what is a Swedish-born Israeli doing get down and dirty with the blues? For starters, according to Watts, close to four decades living in Tel Aviv helps push one along in the desired creative and vibe direction. “That’s why we took the cover photos down in Florentin (in south Tel Aviv),” he explains. “There’s a great energy there, with all the graffiti and all of that.”
There is, he says, plenty of the raw side of life for any bluesman worth their salt to feed off for their creative pursuit. “I always believe that music is a healer, and it seems to be that the Middle East is a good place, and will always be a source of inspiration to write blues – unfortunately,” he adds with a wry laugh.
WATTS BELIEVES that recognition of the tensions and conflict that appear to be endemic to this part of the world, help to spur him on and get the good blues word out there, as far and wide as he possibly can. “This album is dedicated to Tel Aviv. It is the pulse of the country. I want people to know it was made in Israel, and that this is a normal country, and there’s more to this place than Israelis and Palestinians trying to kill each other.” Amen to that sentiment.
Supergroove is finding receptive audiences elsewhere too, and has achieved pretty lofty chart placings in the States and Europe. It climbed to number six on the Roots Music Report Blues Charts in the US and has spent over three months on the charts, and it made the top ten of the IBBA Blues Charts in the UK.
While Watts feeds off the creative genius of a wide array of artists, including the likes of stateside giants Jimi Hendrix and Albert King, he says he has a preference for the British take on the genre. “I think British blues is a little bit more sophisticated.”
One of his heroes, from this side of the pond, gets a salute with the album closer, “Supernatural,” which references iconic London-born bluesman Peter Green’s 1966 number “The Supernatural.”  “He was an early influence for me, my first great source of inspiration,” says Watts. “The last track on my album is a tribute to Green, not a copy-paste cover. It is not an easy song to take on, but I wanted to show my appreciation for Peter Green.”
Judging by the range of sounds, textures and energy levels across the 10 cuts on Supergroove, Watts is, indeed, fueled by a whole host of mentors and vibes. The opening title track is a real burner with Watts going hell-for-leather, with the rough and ready mood extending into Watts’s score “Straight Shooting Woman,” fronted by veteran Israeli blues-laced rock singer Danny Shoshan, seasoned with a somewhat more lyrical mind-set.
Things really get cooking on “Burning Deep,” another original, as Watts leads off with a Peter Green-impacted solo before Walker takes the listener to the core of the blues, supported by some lush underpinning by the instrumental sextet. And there is more in the way of gritty vocal delivery on “Blues of the Month Club,” courtesy of American singer Eliza Neals.
Watts says he was keen to cast his stylistic net as far and wide as possible, and there are touches of funk, soul and rock sewn into the base blues fabric. There is also a tight nod in the direction of early 70s Israeli psychedelic outfit Jericho, with Shoshan returning to do the business on “Don’t You Let Me Down.”
With five originals in the album lineup, the hefty input of the folks from the States, and the more than capable local band members, Supergroove adds credence to claims that Watts is Israel’s current chief ambassador to the blues.