Music vet and New Times scribe Lee Zimmerman offers his insights, opinions, and observations about the local scene. This week: A local shade of blues.
There's an old axiom that suggests all good things come to those that wait. Or something like that. But when the wait is 30 years, you have to wonder just how far that meaning can stretch.
At age 70, Bill Blue is certainly seasoned, and given his surname, clearly tempered by blues of any sort. He learned his craft playing alongside some of the genre's most legendary performers. Most notably, Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup, the man responsible for penning "That's Alright Mama," one of Elvis Presley's biggest hits. Blue later went on to share the stage with folks like ZZ Top, the Allman Brothers, Albert King, Johnny Winter, and Hank Williams Jr. Mostly though, he's played the local haunts of his native Key West, which he still does six nights a week.
Still, it's been thirty years since Blue's offered up an album, a wait that's come to an end with the release of Mojolation, a set of songs produced by Key West transplant Ian Shaw at his Warmfuzz Studios in Key West. An encapsulation of both the sound and spirit of this tireless troubadour, it boasts an authenticity that can only come from a true blues practitioner. We recently chatted with Mr. Blue and asked him to talk about his long overdue return.
New Times: Why was this album so long in coming?
Bill Blue: A few reasons. Up until recently, there haven't been enough really great musicians in Key West to make the album I wanted to make. Also, it's hard to get musicians down here to rehearse, because everyone is too busy playing gigs. Until recently, there's been really nowhere to record here. Only Jimmy Buffett has a studio, but that's his private studio, not really available to Key West locals. So until Ian (Shaw) came along and gave me the opportunity to do it, it wasn't really something that was easy to do.
What was it like to be back in the studio?
It's changed a lot from how it used to be, I'm used to analog. It was good to play with some new people than I normally don't play with. Ian brought in people like UK guitarist Matt Backer (ABC, Bananarama, Julian Lennon) and the horn section, so we probably ended up with something very different than if we'd used only my regular band of Key West musicians.
How did you connect with Ian Shaw?
I first met Ian because we both live on houseboats in Key West, and we'd bump into each other on the dock. Then Ian started coming to my gigs at the Green Parrot, so we hung out and chatted a bit and got acquainted. And then Ian suggested that we make a record together.
What have you been doing all this time?
I've been playing lots locally. Once in a while, I'd go and play in Europe, but I was settling into the Old Man and the Sea routine. I got married, and I was really tired of the road, and it was easier to just stay here and play. When I first came here, I had a residency at Sloppy Joe's for years. Then my band became the first to ever play the Green Parrot, and that venue, which touring bands come from all over the US to gig at, has become my kind of spiritual home.
Any thoughts on the current crop of blues musicians?
They're all great, but if you look at the Blues Awards, it's the same people winning each year. It would be good if there was some new blood.
What are your plans from this point on?
The record has been received so well, and it's the best record I've ever done, so I want to go out and support it as much as I can. I'm playing at Riverhawk Rhythm Festival, not far from Tampa on the 8th and 9th of November, and we'll have to see what opportunities the record opens up for me from that point on.
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