It is with great honour that Sierre Blues Festival welcomes Billy F. Gibbons as its first ambassador.
It is on the occasion of the Notodden Blues Festival (Norway) that the founder of ZZ TOP met Silvio Caldelari, President of the Sierre Blues Festival, and agreed to associate his name with this festival.
The famous Texan band, which this year is celebrating its 50th anniversary and has sold over 70 million albums, honoured us by taking part in the 2017 edition of the Sierre Blues Festival. The following year, which marked the 10th edition, Billy F. Gibbons returned to the Valais with the Supersonic Blues Machine project.
“It’s an idea I thought up after his last visit to Sierre in 2018 because his passion for Blues and music in general is matched only by his desire to respect, share with and meet other people, values to which the festival adheres and to which I personally adhere. In addition to this, he obviously enjoys spending time in the Valais where he has several personal friends. From there onwards we exchanged several messages… He takes this role as ambassador very seriously and we had a long conversation before he proudly accepted it” explains Silvio Caldelari, still very moved.
I didn’t think I would be accepted for this course, so when I found out that I was chosen, I thought it was too good to be true! I was so happy but very stressed at the same time because I had to organise the journey, make sure my bass guitar was well protected on the plane and learn 10 songs, all that in a very small amount of time.
Learning the songs wasn’t easy… Because at the Little Steven’s Blues School they use sheet music! They provided YouTube links instead and with the help of my father, I soon found the chords and I managed to learn the bases of all the songs on the bass guitar.
When I arrived in Oslo, I picked up my baggage and I met, at the airport, a student that I had previously contacted before my flight. And off we went! The country is really beautiful and very clean, but everything is very expensive in Norway.
Upon arriving at the school, everyone was very welcoming. We were quickly showed where we would be sleeping, I was lucky, I had a room to myself because I was the first and only girl at the start.
The second day, we were split into groups. I was placed with the three other students who had come thanks to the European Blues Union (three polish musicians: one harmonica player, one singer and a guitarist), and two Norwegians completed the group (another guitarist and a drummer).
At the start I felt like I didn’t belong amongst all this talent. But the other students in my group quickly reassured me and were very patient with me.
Each group had to choose two songs from the list we were given beforehand. We made our decision in a way that everyone in the group was comfortable with the songs chosen. Afterwards, we just had to play together! It was like we had been playing together for a long time and that we had known each other for years! Everything fit perfectly together.
After, we were asked to write our own song! Our two guitarists found a funky rhythm inspired by James Brown. The harmonica player found a melody, the drummer quickly followed and as soon as I found the right chords, I joined in too. We found the base of our song! The singer arrived a little later and she loved it! She then got inspired by our meeting and the funky rhythm to write the lyrics of the song and suggested we add some gospel at the end, and that’s what we did!
We were the first group to record in the Juke Joint studio with Banana (Lowell Levinger: musician in Little Steven and The Disciples of Soul). He gave us his opinions and tips for the song, we then added harmonies for the voice, the tambourine for the gospel part… And when we listened back to the track, it sounded very funky and professional.
We played twice on the Jailhouse stage (a little stage made for prisoners passionate about music and the blues). We played the day before the festival, but also for the first day of the festival because we replaced a group that couldn’t be there! Everyone loved what we did. I got many compliments, not only from the teachers, but from the people in the public too! Someone even pulled me in for a hug because he really liked what I do on the bass guitar. I was very touched to have such positive feedback. It helped me gain confidence and to realise that what I was doing was very good!
In conclusion, the course was an unforgettable experience. I loved learning new techniques and playing with new people. I learned a lot of things from the teachers and the other students. I met a lot of amazing people, I really appreciated passing time with the other students, teachers and guardians who I kept in contact with. I was very lucky to have the chance to record in the Juke Joint studio with Banana as our producer and to have met Stevie Van Zandt himself!
I am very satisfied with my experience during my course in Notodden, and I’d love to have the opportunity to go back next year (and I know the teachers would like to see me again because they told me!). I hope one day I will get the chance to show Notodden to my family!
I’d like to thank, one more time, France Blues and the European Blues Union for giving me this opportunity, this course and this journey I will never forget!
Board member Lucie Kalabova travelled to Santa Maria Island in Azores. She enjoyed an amazing festival as well as promoting the EBU there. Now she wants to share her impressions about her time there.
Each festival has a certain appeal, charm and quality, for both the artistic part, the energy, stories and memories it creates and for things it ignites and makes grow from there. Santa Maria Island is a very unique place in the middle of the Atlantic ocean and it’s Santa Maria Blues festival is a very unique event, for many reasons. Here’s to mention a few from this year’s, which was the 16th edition, held on a gorgeous site on the island’s shore on July 18, 19, 20.
Santa Maria Blues was three nights of stellar skies and blues by some of the greatest artists of the day. The festival was kicked off on Thursday night by Delta Blues Riders, a Portugese band who also represented Portugal earlier this year at the European Blues Challenge, which was organized by the same SMB crew and held at Ponta Delgada, Açores. The second part of the night’s line-up belonged to Kyla Brox Quartet, this year’s winner of the European Blues Challenge and this lady with her band owned the stage and the crowd completely with their world class performance.
The second night started with an excellent set by a legendary, four times Blues Music Award winner, Joe Louis Walker. Looking back at his more than half a century long music career he says “I’d like to be known for my life long belief and faith in music and in blues. Sometimes I learned more from the failures than I did from success. That made me stronger and made me desire adventure. It helped me to find and develop my style.” Joe Louis Walker left the stage to a huge applause and was followed by non the less great set and big bang by Shaggy dogs, a band from France who brought and entertained the crowd with a very much fun mix of blues and rock’n’roll.
The final night of Santa Maria Blues opened with a set from Gwyn Ashton, a british musician, who’s played in 32 countries around the world and who also opened for Joe Louis Walker’s concert in Prague, Czech Republic, last year. It is Gwyn, who says in one of his strongest songs “the road is my religion” and his set was a great, intimate one man show and had the audience’s full attention rightfully. The following was a Houston Texas native, Annika Chambers with her great band, including her Canadian fiancée Paul DesLauriers on guitar. She was just beaming and the Texas thing she brought was amazing, high energy, upbeat and sassy sound that got everybody up and dancing, she had a strong connection with the crowd and brought us all together just the way great music can. The last but not least was no one less than the true legend, the “blues boss”, Mr.Kenny Wayne with his boogie-woogie piano and his excellent band. That was all about love and passion for music, much fun and great energy brough about by this piano master and such a brilliant way to close the festival.
Apart from all the great live music, each night was complemented by excellent dj sets, to keep the crowd together and on our feet till the sunrise. During the day there is much to see and explore around the site of the festival, to swim in the ocean at one of the island’s beautiful sand beaches or in the seaside pools, to enjoy some great views and just soak up all the timeless beauty, calm and peacefulness of the island.
Much appreciation and respect to the organizers, to the whole Santa Maria Blues crew, who do an outstanding job, taking care of all the logistics and people who come to the festival. This year’s total of visitors in the three days was 6.388, which basically doubles the population of the island. Most of the crowd comes from the biggest island of Açores, Sao Miguel and the rest of the islands, from the Portugese mainland as well as other European countries and from the United States as well. The festival visitors are offered some delicious local food, traditional Santa Maria soups, meat or vegetable stews, traditional Portugese sandwiches bifanas, salads, home made deserts offered by the residents or the famous Santa Maria melons. There are numerous bars and drink stalls on and around the site. The accomodation on the island is limited, so early booking is adviced, there are comfortable hotels available, private cottages for rent or a nice camping site near the festival grounds. All together this makes for a great and truly unique experience, those who have been, return, and for those who have not been yet, Santa Maria Blues is something not to be missed in the future. Obrigada, Santa Maria Blues. Long live the blues!
Young French bass player Charlotte Gutteridge flew to Oslo to reach Notodden to attend Little Steven’s Blues School, thanks to a partnership between France Blues, the European Blues Union and Notodden Blues Festival. She wanted to send us her first comments:
“I’m in a band with three Polish, a singer, a guitarist and a harmonica player, and two Norwegians, another guitarist and a drummer. Our group is called Barbara And The Strangers. Before the workshop, we were asked to work 10 tunes. Among these 10, we chose one to make a cover at our own sauce. It’s Hoochie Coochie Man by Muddy Waters!
We also wrote a tune in a funky James Brown’ style, we added a little gospel at the end. The title? “Funky Vibe”, and we are the first group to record in the Juke Joint Studio, guided by the wonderful Banana, Little Steven & The Disciples of Soul’s musician!
We have already learned many things, the importance of each instrument and the importance of singing, the different ways of playing the Blues, the evolution of Blues over the years … And we learned how to write a piece of Blues.
In the beginning, I did not feel up to it because the musicians present here have a lot of talent. But little by little, I show what I can do and the teachers gave me skills. I think they’re happy to see that I can play what they ask me on the first try.
I am really happy to be here and to participate in this extraordinary school!.
Will Hemy, one of the students granted this year by the EBU at Pinetop Perkins Foundation workshop in Clarksdale, has sent us a short article about his experience there:
In June 2019 I spent three days in Clarksdale, Mississippi at the Pinetop Perkins Foundation camp. This was made possible by the generosity of the scholarship provided to me by the European Blues Union that subsidized my stay at the Shack Up Inn, the cost of the workshop and contributed towards my travel. Again, I would like to extend my gratitude for this.
Clarksdale is, for any blues fan, an experience itself. There was a surreal element to being in the place I’d heard repeated so many times in so many songs, and in the place where the greats such as Son House and Robert Johnson (to name a few) had cut their teeth. The Shack Up Inn only added to this, although, whilst the times have changed, the same blues-soaked atmosphere still remained.
The first night upon arrival was the first jam session and general ‘get-to-know’. Thus, from the first few hours in the camp it was straight into playing music. This, I thought, aptly set the tone for the rest of the camp. Essentially, total blues immersion; intensive but also a fantastic experience. The camp really was a musical environment where everyone was on the same foot. No-one was trying to compete, people were supportive of all skill levels and everyone was really easy to get along with. This sentiment remained throughout the entire experience and was (and importantly, is) a valuable and central aspect of the Pinetop Perkins Foundation workshop.
The next three/two days consisted of two three hour workshops in the morning and evening, and culminated in a jam session in the commissary every night. The amount I learned in three days was amazing, and it never felt laborious. The tuition really was stellar, and covered a wide array of styles and techniques of blues guitar. Fiona Boyes took us through a vast array of material, from Delta blues and the fingerpicking to the hill country trance style grooves, 8-bar blues through to a rumba. Not only was this what to play, but also different ways the blues could be played – something Fiona really opened my eyes to, and also as an ‘antidote’ to elements in blues that can easily stagnate. A highlight was the slide playing, which was a central focus of our group. Fiona brought out her cigar box guitars, all with different strings and tunings for us to try out some slide stuff on, which really gave me insight into the different approaches to my slide playing.
This was punctuated by lessons and visits from other musicians. Bob Margolin regularly stopped by to impart some cool wisdoms or stories from the upper echelons of blues music. On top of this, his advice on how to play notes and how different approaches to the small things that could easily pass your mind provided more depth to approaching the guitar. Anson Funderburgh stopped in on the last workshop and gave us a Texas blues powerhouse lesson and approaches to soloing, as well as a having a chat about guitars and the music industry. The interns, Jaymes and Radka took the class when Fiona was supervising other group, and added to the teaching. In both cases, they really knew their stuff and continued to uphold the high standards at the camp. To all, I would like to extend my thanks for sitting down and spending time with us and imparting valuable knowledge.
The capstone was the final showcase at Ground Zero Blues Club. This gave everyone a chance to consolidate (in front of a live audience) what they’d learned. Based on what I learned, I went onto the stage feeling confident enough to play lead slide guitar despite never having done it before. It was in this that I realised how much I’d really learned in such a short space of time. Leaving the final showcase, for the most part, everyone said their goodbyes. I came away feeling part of an international blues community and with many new friends that I’d met only three days ago, some of whom I saw again in Memphis and Tulsa.
I hope this article has provided some insight into the Pinetop Perkins Foundation workshop, and the fantastic experience it can provide. Again, I’d like to thank the EBU and all who made this trip a possibility for me
The Finnish national Blues Challenge, jointly organized by the Finnish Blues Society and the Puistoblues Festival, took place on Friday 28 June. The 16 Finnish EBU Active Members had first selected the four finalists out of 15 bands who had originally come forward to enter the competition. Five invited judges, all proficient experts in music, then made the final selection: The winning band, Lumberjacks, will represent Finland at the 10th anniversary European Blues Challenge, EBC-2020, in Zaanstad next April. The band’s main tour-de-forces are strong vocals and hefty Blues content of their music. The EBU Vice-president, Pertti Nurmi, and Finland’s national contact, Aimo Ollikainen, were in charge of counting the votes and taking care that the EBC rules were followed.
For the second year in a row the Vallemaggia Magic Blues Festival is hosting the European Blues Night on August 7th 2019!
Such a pleasure for European Blues Union to see some of the bands of past European Blues Challenge all together on stage! And many other festivals start programming European Blues!!