Interview of Eric Bibb by Monica Yasher

Posted on 3/24/2010 by Monica Yasher

(Pittsburgh, PA) Today we meet up with Eric Bibb. Usually the blues is pretty, well, blue. When you listen to Eric, you don't feel blue. He takes you to a place that is quite nice. His songs have been inspirational to many, which is no surprise, since Eric used the term inspirational several times when I spoke with him.

Eric seems to be a proud New Yorker who hails from a musical family. He didn't have any regrets leaving an ivy league school and venturing off to Europe with many of the blues greats behind him in America. That's the beauty of growing up in a musical family where you are introduced to great artists during the early days of your life.

Eric is an international performer and songwriter. His latest release, "Booker's Guitar", is his latest passion. Please check his tour dates and see if he is coming to your town. You will not be disappointed. Let's see what Eric had to share:

Monica: Hello Eric.

Eric: Hi Monica.

M: How are you?

E: Very well. How are you?

M: Ok!

E: Good.

M: I was reading all of your background, so that we could have a really great interview. You have a lot going on, and I had to really think how to structure this interview. Let’s start with your CD.

E: Good.

M: As a songwriter, I know that you had this overall theme that you wanted to tackle this piece of art with. How hard is it to have an established theme, and write a dozen or so songs that can support the theme you have in mind? How hard was that?

E: I didn’t find it difficult. I found it exciting. I think the idea of having a theme in the beginning that is fairly lose, in the sense that I knew that I just wanted to feel like they reflected a certain time and place, a certain era, a certain kind of setting. Aside from that, I wasn’t really constrained. I just tried to relax and let things come to me. When the ideas did come, I tried to figure out if they fit in this project. And, if they did, I would barrel ahead. And if they didn’t, put the idea in a notebook and set it aside. You know?

M: Yeah I know!

E: I really thought that there were quite a few things that I could talk about. I could talk about traveling or the road. I could talk about relationships with other people, though that wasn’t the big thing. The main thing was to focus on what it would be to be a musician in the time of Booker White, and what kind of experiences would come his way.

M: I saw that you were from Canada?

E: No, Actually. I’m born and raised in NY. (He stated proudly!)

M: Were you? OK. I also thought that you left for Paris at the age of nineteen? Am I right?

E: Yes.

M: Now that you have had the experiences of your career, do you have any regrets that you had all of these great blues icons in your backyard, and you went to Paris?

E: The funny thing is that I met many of my heroes growing up before I even left the states. Aside from that, I also met many of them in Europe. I never thought I was removed from the source of my inspiration. In fact, I felt like I was less alienated by what was going on in New York, which was so much. Musically where do you start. Musically there was so much going on.

When I was in Stockholm, for example, I met a friend who had a record store who had probably the most extensive collection of pre-war blues that I ever needed. I had a chance to really dive into that, with a focus that I’m not sure I would have had if I would have remained in New York. So in terms of finding a contrition for my blues education, I didn’t really feel that I was too far from the source.

M: Thank you.

E: For example, I met a wonderful friend from Louisville, Kentucky, my Dad’s hometown, in Paris. Micky Baker. A great blues and jazz guitar player. And, Micky was somebody, who kind of for a while, was a mentor for me, and really got me to dive deep into what Robert Johnson was about. As I said, I somehow managed to find my teachers, even if I wasn’t in the states.

M: It seems that many of the blues artists I have interviewed, have a common thread of going back through the blues. They would go back ten years and decide it wasn’t enough. And, then they would go back even further. Robert Johnson is the root for so many.

E: I think he was a figure for a lot of reasons. He really captured the imaginations of a lot of people. He was in that pre-war era. He was somebody who had been around and been influenced by some of the founding fathers of country blues, Son House, and people like that. I saw Son House when I was fourteen at the Newport Folk Festival. To be able to see live and actually touch base with some of the people who were really phenomenal figures in this business, was so inspiring.

Robert Johnson’s music was something that just captured everyone’s attention. He was such a brilliant musician. He wasn’t the first to play in that style, but he was somebody who held it to a very high level of artistry. It was something you couldn’t ignore. Of course, his records were released some time back, and they have been remastered and you can hear them properly. He was a mysterious figure that everybody was captivated by.

M: Yeah. I agree. You just spoke of the mystic of Robert Johnson. What matters most to you in the development of your CD? The songwriting? Having the right people around you to develop it? What was the one thing you went in and said I have to do WHAT?

E: The important thing for me was to make it personal to my country blues heroes and to that whole culture, but in my own voice and my own words. The trick is to find how to be honest with your own muse, and at the same time let people know this belongs to a condition of the people that have gone before you. You try to put yourself in these shoes and try to put yourself in the head of people you admired and that lived in another era. I tried to imagine what they would be experiencing in expressing it and to get into their language. and you can’t be false about it. You can’t pretend you're somebody else. You have to somehow marry your own experience to other people that is believable. That’s the challenge.

M: Ok. Apparently you did it. You have great reviews out there. This is about BB King’s cousin, right?

E: Booker White is the older cousin of BB King. Yes.

M: Has BB King offered you any feedback on your work?

E: I met BB King at an award ceremony in Stockholm Sweden. I had a chance to play for him and the King of Sweden at the same moment. The song, ’Tell Riley’ that is on the record, “Booker’s guitar“. The song, ’Tell Riley’, is about both BB King and his older cousin, Bukka White.

M: Oh wow.

E: Yes. He was very gracious. Very encouraging. Just a wonderful man. So I was very happy to have had that opportunity.

M: Even though you were happy, were you nervous?

E: Oh Yeah. Oh Yeah. It was live television and I met him the day before at a reception. I had a chance to chat with him. But the performance was live television and the King of Sweden was sitting about ten feet in front of me and BB King, the other king, sitting ten feet to my right on stage. So yeah, it was a pretty hot, deep moment. But it worked out!

M: I bet! I can see that you began the undertakings of attending an ivy league school and you went, “I don’t think this is for me!” So for those aspiring artists, upcoming artists, obviously you have a lot more going on than your music. How important is it to have that business savvy or business sense in the music industry today?

E: It is very important. Particularly with the industry constantly changing so rapidly. The playing field is not what it was even two years ago. I think you have to be up in current events in the music industry. I think you have to really decide what you really want to do, aside from being a musician and being successful. You have to figure out what you want to really contribute. What do you want to say? It’s not an easy road to walk. I think it takes a lot of stubbornness, will power, and stamina to last in this industry. I think it is a lot easier if you are very clear about what you want to do. It helps, as you say, to be aware of the business of the industry. If you have a dream and it is an unrealistic dream, you could spend a lot of time being frustrated. If you are aware of what is going on out there, then you have a chance to adjust your goals to what’s really achievable in the real world. Having said that, I think anybody with a dream who really has a lot of passion, commitment, and has their eyes open, will eventually be successful. If you aren’t too worried about how and when, and your just willing to keep going on, sooner or later something is going to happen. I think. That’s my experience.

M: I see that you put out a lot of CD’s. I also notice they came fairly close together. You are not sitting three or five years for the next material. It seems that you have to be, I guess with today’s technology, it is expected that you put out a CD fairly quickly, which can be tough.

E: It is easier today with the recording technology that is available. It’s not such a daunting affair to find a decent studio. What you need is the inspiration to come up with material. I don’t just do it to do it. I find that, I guess you can call me prolific, but I write a lot. I write continually on the road, and I find that writing and recording is a really satisfying counterbalance to the rigors of touring. It’s relaxing to me to write a song. It’s relaxing to me to record, and it keeps me inspired to do that in between a very strenuous touring schedule.

M: Wow. That’s very inspirational. I’m always told that it’s very difficult to write when one is on the road. For you, it seems to be the opposite. It’s home. It probably takes you home. You have an extensive touring schedule.

E: Do I? It depends on how busy I am. I often find that on a day off, instead of watching TV, I may have a nice idea in my notebook that has been jotted down. I will take some time to see if it will go anywhere. It is so gratifying when a song comes. You can’t force it. If you’re really in your muse, something can happen, and two hours later there is a new friend in your life.

M: Yeah. I agree! What do you think about when you play? I haven’t had the pleasure of seeing you perform live personally. I have watched a few you tube videos. What are you thinking about when you perform? It seems that the music flows all through you when you perform.

E: Yeah, That is true. I really want to be right where I am at that moment in time. I really want to be living what I am singing about. Feeling it and connecting at the same time. The funny thing, I want to stay focused on what I am singing and playing so that I do it in a way that is musically where I want to be. It’s also about sending some energy out into the audience, because I’m not sitting there playing for myself or standing there playing for myself. I really wanted to make a connection. I try to look around a little bit. I try to not to always have my eyes closed, but to connect. Yeah. I can’t say what I’m doing. But I really try to be in the moment, that’s for sure.

M: I would say you are successful. I feel it. That’s for sure. It appears you appear with a full band and play acoustic. What are the differences to you and preference?

E: Well, I love playing with my band. I have a quartet that I play with sometimes.

Mostly I am performing as a solo or a duo, where I work with a harmonica player who played on the record. I like all of them. I wouldn’t want to do just the one. But, if I had to choose, I would perform solo over the band. The one man band concept has always been my guiding inspiration. I’ve always admired that whole idea of accompanying yourself, and being able to make a full sound, and perform a song with accompaniment that sounds fairly rich. That’s been my goal. That’s what I have always tried to do. I have to say if I had to choose between being a band leader or a solo artist, I would probably vote for the solo.

M: OK. I’m a fan of acoustic. You listen to those guitars and every guitar sounds different with the wood you know, it just sounds so cool.

E: Yeah.

M: Is there anything you wanted to share with me that I didn’t ask you?

E: I just want to say that I am really happy that the response to this new record, “Booker’s Guitar” has been really consistently wonderful for me. Not only have people been thinking the album is a good album, which is always gratifying. But, people seem to really get what I wanted to do, which is make a personal tribute to a wonderful tradition. And at the same time, as I said, my own sincere take on it without me trying to sound like and copy my heroes, but making it clear that I have been influenced by them. I’m really happy that people, critics, and fans so far have really gotten that, and have really recognized it. And that is what I was wanting to do. And we did it, and we like the result.

M: Great!

E: Very gratifying.

M: I don’t know if your publicist shared with you, but I did an article at Christmas. You were my Christmas theme. It talked about how you so affected a person in his life with your music. The person said he was having such a tough time. His wife wasn’t well. He wasn’t well, but they went on this trip and heard your song. Your song is what got them through life at that time.

E: Wow.

M: I don’t know if this was shared with you. It was so inspiring to me that I did your youtube video of you doing, it’s a beautiful song. Thank you for touching people as you do.

E: Thank you. That is really encouraging and I’m just really happy to be doing what I am doing, and getting the feedback that I have gotten. What I am doing is valuable to other people, not just entertainment value, but as you say, just helping people deal with difficult situations. That is to me a great gift to share, and I don’t take all the credit for it. I feel that I have been assisted and guided and helped along the way. All along the way by lots of other sources that are difficult to describe. It feels like the whole thing is kind of bigger than me and my whole career. I’m very happy to do that for people, to make a difference.

M: It sounds like you are following your life’s path. Things come sort of easy. Not totally easy…

E: You are right. You don’t have to struggle for it. Sometimes you just feel as if you are in the zone. You are being met by all kinds of wonderful forces that you can and can not see.

M: The song that I mentioned was 'Connected'.

E: I loved writing that song. Please send those people my love and I’m very happy to share it.

M: Thank you Eric.

E: Thank you.

If you liked reading this acoustic artist, you may enjoy reading Harry Manx, a maple awards recipient for best acoustic artist of the year.

Copyright © 2010 Copyright Monica L. Yasher. All Rights Reserved.
Photograph Copyright © 2010 Nelson Onofre. All Rights Reserved.

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
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