Guest Writing: Interview with Izzy and Chris

Posted on 11/06/2009 by Monica Yasher

NOTE: Due to the death of my father-in-law, the first part of the Robin Trower interview will be posted tomorrow, and we are sharing our guest writers today.

Today we have some great guest writers. They are my friends, Izzy and Chris. Chris is from Pittsburgh. and Izzy is from West Virginia. Izzy and Chris recently ranked among the top 20 on the roots chart, and have opened for acts like Robin Trower, Keb ‘Mo, and Buddy Guy just to name a few. I sent Izzy and Chris twenty questions. These guys are so special that they even answered the extra credit! Please buy their CD, since they have done such a great job! Let's see what these two have to say:

1) Can you remember the first time you met?

Chris: The first time we met was an open stage at the Thunderbird Café in Pittsburgh. Izzy walked in with 3 girls hanging all over him liked he owned the place. I remember thinking who does this skinny kid think he is. He got up on stage, sang a song and it sounded like a 70 year old black man. I knew then he was the real deal. A couple weeks later I went to an open stage he was hosting at another blues bar in Pittsburgh called Moondogs. We have been performing together ever since then.

2) How long did it take you to get together to create something and how did it go?
Chris: It was only a couple weeks after we met that we were playing gigs. I think Izzy was a little leery at first, since he had been a solo act for so long. Izzy had several bad experiences in the past with what he calls aggressive harp players. The first time we played out in public it actually went great. Our playing styles just seem to complement each other well.

4) What do you admire most about your associate?
Chris: Besides Izzy’s awesome talent, it is the fact he is probably the most humble musician I know. Even with all the success he has achieved, he is never satisfied with his playing and always trying to improve.
Izzy: Besides being a great harmonica player, Chris has become a good friend and always has my back no matter what the situation. I call him the Wheelman. He takes care of all the business, does all the driving, and can change a guitar string in about 20 seconds. I am pretty sure the guy never sleeps.

5) Who is the glue to the group and why?
Izzy: That would have to be Chris. After the death of Jason Gula, who was our manager/booking agent and ran the record label, Chris took over handling all the business, since Chris is the only one with a telephone and a computer.
Chris: Jason and 80/20 Music Entertainment gave us an opportunity that most musicians only dream of. I felt that I owed it to him to give it my best to continue what he started. I had to learn a lot in a very short time. I attended seminars on marketing, promotion and entertainment law and talked to anyone willing to share their knowledge of the business. I get asked a lot by other musicians how we get the big gigs. The truth is, I just ask. Sooner or later somebody eventually says yes. It helps to have a great resume but you can’t sit around and hope the phone rings. Luckily Betsie Brown, a publicist that runs the Blind Raccoon Agency in Memphis, agreed to work with us this past year . With her help we re-released the cd and it went to #17 this July on the Roots Music Charts. She was able to get us both national and international radio play which is extremely important if you want to tour. The exposure she has gotten us has been a huge help. Managing the act is basically another full time job for me. I take care of bookings, merchandise, cd duplication and distribution, accounting and contracts. Hopefully someday another record label and a booking/management agency will pick us up. But for now we just keep plugging away doing the best we can.

6) What’s your first performance memory?
Chris: It was a club in MKees Rock PA . I remember in the middle of a song, a harmonica player walked up and asked if he could sit in hoping to impress his date, who I noticed had been staring at Izzy all night.

7) What’s the worst thing that’s happened to you on stage?
Chris: That would have to be when we opened for Watermelon Slim. We had some technical problems. Let’s leave it at that.

8) What's your best moment on stage?
Chris: That is a hard one . We have had some great gigs these past two years. Floyd Fest was one of the most memorable. It was one of our first major festivals and we nailed it. It was not even a blues festival but one of the best crowd responses we ever had. We actually sold 45 cds after that performance.

9) Name a song that impacted your life in some way and tell us why?
Chris: Honestly I can’t say there is one particular song that impacted my life.
Izzy: It was not just a song but an entire album that impacted my life. I was in New Orleans and bought my Dad a Robert Johnson album as a gift. Once I heard that I knew blues was the direction I was headed.

10) What artists are you listening to right now?
Chris: While on the road we listen to all kinds of music. Izzy likes the older blues, Lightnin’ Hopkins or Mississippi John Hurt, and I like the more modern players like William Clarke, Kim Wilson, Keb Mo. We also listen to guys like Jack Johnson, Ben Harper and G-Love.

11) Who are you influences?
Chris: As a harp player, I of course, have to include Little Walter, Kim Wilson, William Clarke, George Harmonica Smith, James Cotton and Sonny Terry. However my biggest influence was actually Greg “Fingers Taylor”. I have known him for several years and he has helped me a lot in developing my own style and sound.
Izzy: My influences include Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Howling Wolf . I think it is important to listen and learn from the old blues masters, but it is just as important to develop your own style. Too many acoustic blues acts sound the same. We work hard to be unique.

12) What have you done recently that has been a positive impact on your musical journey?
Chris: Making the top 20 on the Roots music chart, and getting both national and international airplay this past summer has been a huge help for our career. We have been main stage performers at several major festivals, opened for some blues legends, and have had the chance to travel throughout the country

13) Tell me about the songwriting on your latest CD? Did the songs come easy or was it a struggle?
Chris: All but one song were written by Izzy. All songs are based on real live experiences. Izzy has an uncanny ability to instantly turn a story into a song. Steady Rollin Daddy was actually written in the studio because the record label wanted another track.

14) What’s your favorite gear? Could you tell us about your endorsements?
Chris: I was signed as an endorser for the Seydel harmonica company right after our CD was released. I play their 1847 models which has stainless steel reeds. I love the tone and responsiveness of them. Out of the box they are the best harp I have ever played. I have actually never had a reed go bad on a 1847 in over a year. .
Izzy: I play an Alvarez Yairi guitar and uses Di Adddario strings. We also have a Alvarez Artists Series as a backup.
Chris: If you have ever seen Izzy live you know he breaks quite a few strings during a performance.

15) At what age did you know that you should be following a musical path in your life?
Chris: I actually began taking piano lessons at the age of 7, but did not start playing harmonica seriously until I was in my 30s. I wanted to be a guitar player but my teacher recommended I try another instrument. Best advice I ever got. It was not until about 2 years ago when 3 record label executives walked into Shags bar in Follansbee WV and offered us a record deal that I ever thought music might become a career.
Izzy: I began playing guitar at age 9. I was about 17 when I realized that music was going to be what I did for living. I started playing clubs around that same time and music has been my main source of income ever since.

16) Did you ever want to quit doing music?
Chris: No we never wanted to quit music. Playing the festivals, traveling around the country and making cds is great and we hope it never ends. However playing music is something we will always enjoy and will always be a part of our lives. The music business part at times can become very discouraging. We have been very lucky to have some great people helping us out but you have to have a tough skin to survive and succeed in this business. It is a very competitive business full of obstacles and a lot of people looking to take advantage of you. However it is still the best job in the world. Playing for a living, you can’t beat it with a stick.

17) What would you like people to say about your music?
Chris: We just want people to say “They could really play”. We were talking on the way back from a gig the other day. Although we have only been doing this together for two years we both agreed that if it all ended tomorrow we have had a great run.

18) Does songwriting come easy to you are is it hard work?
Izzy: Song writing has always come easily for me.
Chris: Izzy does not only play the blues but he lives them. How he has survived this long is a mystery to me. However the stuff he has been through makes for some great blues songs.

19) How long does it take you to develop a song?
Izzy: It varies. We can be sitting at a bar or driving home from a gig discussing some event and it immediately becomes a new song. Arranging the music is what usually takes some time. Every time we play a new song we try new things with it until we come up with the version that just seems to sound right. Some times that happens right away sometimes it takes weeks. We have a steady Wed night gig which we use to fine tune songs.

20) What’s next for you?
Chris: We have begun traveling much more regionally and nationally. In Jan we will be in Memphis performing at the Blind Raccoon Agency’s show case in front of a lot of industry people. We also hope to have our next cd out next summer.

Extra Credit Question:
20) What else do you want to tell me?
Chris: We would like to thank our families, friends and fans for supporting us these last two years. We are very fortunate to be working steadily which is due to some great people believing in us and a lot of great fans that continue to come out to the shows. Also if anyone is interested our cd is available on line at and

If you enjoyed reading about this blues acoustic act, you may enjoy this one:
Chris Smither

Thank you for reading American Blues News!

Copyright © 2009 Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photo Copyright © 2009 Maureen Ciedro. All Rights Reserved.

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