Thursday, August 27, 2009
Keep Ta Boogie
Well, if it's Thursday, it must be Deep Blues Thursday, where we strip away the glossy sheen and wankery of soccer mom blues and give you a shot of hot swamp-stringed, mud-crusted Blues goodness.
As ever, this wouldn't exist without the loving hand of The Deep Blues Festival. Keep yr ears and eyes peeled for more info on that venture.
Today we've got the legendary Illinois John Fever. Why legendary? Well that's for you to determine when you check out the interview and tunes to follow. Oh, and they played with a feller you all know and love in a moment us non-Mississippians will rarely if ever experience again. Read on for more info on that.
Illinois John Fever play a kickin'n'stompin' brand of Hill Country Blues, all rhythm and loose-string, dead fish thwacked trap kit howl, whiskey soaked and soul saturated. We really dug these cats in the two instances we got to check 'out. They're a band you're gonna hear more about in the coming days, guaranteed.
Is there really a guy named Illinois John Fever? Can a man walk a crossroads without eating with a fork? What does Pussy Galore have to do with all this? Read on, dear reader, read on.
1. First off, tell us about yourselves. Who are you?
Lute Tucker and Bobber Hall started playing together in August of ’06 and brought Dustin Busch in last February. We play pre-electric/post-punk blues but playing all-acoustic is what sonically sets us apart from most acts, blues or otherwise. You could call it apocalypse blues, given its perverse meditations, but as for the mythology...well, we’ll let John get to that in a minute.
2. At the Deep Blues Festival, you were part of an iconic moment, providing guitar backing and rhythmic flourishes to an impromptu performance by T-Model Ford. Tell us about that moment. How did it come to pass?
It's easier bringing the music to the people than it is bringing the people out to the music. We also recognize the roots of this music come from casual settings—from the field, the porch, the afternoon picnic, from the tobacco barn, the living room, the street, etc.—and the importance of experiencing the music that way removes the imaginary line between performers and observers, encouraging the spontaneity of the moment for everybody. So we work hard staying versatile, playing everywhere between the club and the couch, and we came to Deep Blues ready to play as often as we could, wherever we were. That said, the first night was winding down and we'd grabbed our gear to busk in front of the Cabooze, but the manager put us in the beer garden instead. As for T-Model coming to check us out and then asking for a guitar, we were just doing our thing in the right place at the right time, and we're grateful he took us along for the ride. And there's a whole line of people to thank for setting that all up, starting with Chris Johnson. In a larger context, we all experience the inevitability of tradition—that the torches will pass onto those willing to bear them—and that this is really what Chris set into motion by creating the Deep Blues Festival, and in bring all of us together. That man is making history-in-action, you just watch.
3. You're based out of Iowa City. Whence comes the name "Illinois" John Fever. Who is John Fever? Are you feeling ill?
For the record, none of us goes by John Fever. He’s an archetype, a spirit conjured up. His real name is John McKinney, and we make space for him the way some folks set a place for Elijah, which is an appropriate comparison. As for the ILLINOIS, Lute Tucker earned that growing up in Chicago. But we use it in the tradition of setting bluesmen apart—not through personal nicknames but as regionally distinguished remarks in recording catalogs. So in his full suit, ILLINOIS JOHN FEVER reminds us that we aren’t authors of anything, that we are just transmitters of certain ideas, mere observers of the music.
4. Where do you draw inspiration? Who are your influences?
Scenes of carnage and fiery revolt are a good place to start. Severed fingers marked with voters’ ink. We celebrate just about anyone righteously standing up in the face of violence. We embrace the totality of the world despite being infinite souls trapped in limited bodies. We listen to a lot of Fred McDowell, Booker White, and Willie McTell, but we’ll listen to everything. This very moment, it’s the Pussy River Bawlers. We like John Jackson and stuff out of Virginia, and Georgia. “Monologue on Accidents” is a vibrant recording of John Lomax grilling Willie McTell on whether he’s ever recorded any “complaining songs.” At Parchman Farm, Lomax’s son Alan recorded D.W. ’Bama Stuart singing “I’m Going Home.” We’re struck by these. But we also love Funkadelic, Royal Trux, Violent Femmes, Big Black, and any afrofunk. Lute Tucker suggests everybody read anything by Chester Himes. Our favorite movie is REPO MAN, and we think sushi is delicious.
5. You're all relatively young, at least so far as Blues musicians go. Some would argue that you have to have lived a "full" life, whatever that means, to really understand the Blues. Do you feel that this is true, or do you find a universal in the form that can appeal along a broad spectrum of ages and experience?
Understanding the blues is about understanding human emotion. And it’s not so much having experienced one thing or another, but how you respond to the world as it presents itself. With the blues, this becomes personal expression. There’s other details—technical proficiency, adept lyrics, bad-ass street cred. But as with most matters of survival, the ability to respond to the on-going situation is most important. Playing live therefore becomes a living metaphor, and we can appreciate that as well as anybody.
6. How did you come to be involved in the Deep Blues Festival? What are your fondest memories of the Fest?
Friends attended the first year and we were lucky that Chris Johnson asked us to play the next. But we were especially happy returning in 2009—the deal with T-Model was a total cosmic fluke and it set us up for the best weekend of our lives. The highlight was playing outside the hotel Saturday night, jumping into a great big river of sound with seven-plus guitars, one dobro, multiple percussionists, multiple folks blowing harp, an old National getting played, and then Gabe wandering up barefoot and in his jammies, stomping clapping and hollering. Folks came from all over the world to engage in that moment, and that exchange of ideas is an important part of the music we appreciate and play.
7. What kind of audience do you hope to draw? What will it take to bring your brand of Blues to the masses?
Hippies with trust funds. As for the masses, David Geffen would have to put the $15-million on that horse.
8. What is the band's drink of choice?
In order of volumes consumed: water, coffee, PBR, any proper whiskey.
9. How many roads must a man walk down? And which roads should he take? Is there really a crossroads, or is it just a fork in the road?
There are as many crossroads as you are able to recognize. Our only problem on the road is our inability to recognize the multiplicity of the crossroads.
10. What's next for Illinois John Fever? Record? Tour? Pimp yourselves here.
We’ve always been writing new songs, and adding Dustin to our lineup has only increased that potential. And while the plan had been to record our first album, we’ve mostly been working on the new material. So that’s the new plan: write more songs, record more songs. But most important we’d like to keep making connections with like-minded folks supporting the kind of music we enjoy. You are a good example of such folks, and thanks for having us aboard.
The following tunes are from their cd "Our Own Pirated Idaho", which you can beg or plead for from the band at their website.
Illinois John Fever: Keep Ta Boogie If Ye Like (mp3)
Illinois John Fever: West Coast Blues (mp3)
Illinois John Fever: Wonderland Boogie (mp3)
Support your local rawk, man. It's better than a stadium.