Calep Emphrey Interview by Abby Owen

Posted on 4/24/2010 by Abby Owen

I spoke with Calep Emphrey, B B King's former drummer, by telephone one Saturday morning in March, and found him to be charming and very happy with his new life of cooking, hunting & fishing...when he can find the time between studio recording, teaching and jamming on the drums! He was drummer for B B King for years, and has so much experience in the music biz, I just started with the most obvious question...

AO: I Know you’ve been drummer for B B King for 30-odd years…

CE: Thirty-one years.

AO: Tell us a little bit about that, if you like...some of the famous people you’ve played with as his drummer.

CE: I’ve worked with all the Kings in the business. Freddy King, Albert King & B B King. I’ve worked with Little Milton Campbell, I did some gigs with Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown.

AO: Little Milton was your first band, right?

CE: Yeah. Out on the road.

AO: You stopped last year, 2009? What was the reason?

CE: It was a couple of years ago. I’ve been on the road for forty years. I felt it was time I come in and be with my family.

AO: So, pretty much just retiring?

CE: Yeah. Semi-retiring. I have my own group started now. ‘Calep Emphrey’s Blues Project’

AO: There in Greenville Mississippi?

CE: Yeah.

AO: I read where you’ve been doing some teaching there as well.

CE: Yeah. I’m teaching kids at home. Private lessons.

AO: How’s that going for you?

CE: It’s going real good.

AO: That must be exciting to have the new generation in your hands like that.

CE: Absolutely…trying to pass on the tradition.

AO: Great! That’s wonderful. I hear you like to cook? Is that true?

CE: Yes it is! I’ve got a passion for cooking & fishing & hunting.

AO: Alright! All those relaxing things…a little more relaxing than playing drums on stage I’ll bet.

CE: (laughs) Absolutely!

AO: Speaking of playing the drums, tell us about this album you’ve recently released.

CE: ‘Handcuffed To The Blues’

AO: And how many tracks are on that?

CE: Eight I think.

AO: Out of those eight, what’s your favorite track?

CE: ‘Just Your Fool’

AO: What makes that one especially favorite to you?

CE: It was written by Little Walter…he’s out of Texas. I’ve always liked that song. To me it was a ‘hit that never did hit’.

AO: What made you come up with the title to ‘Handcuffed To The Blues’?

CE: A guy out in California wrote that song, thinking that would be really catchy, y’know, if people see that ‘Handcuffed to the Blues’.

AO: What song posed the greatest challenge to the recording?

CE: None.

Calep is pictured here with his musicians, singer Tammy Faye Gibson, Guitarist Lonnie Dotson, Barry Bayes on Bass, and the Owners of Flyindog Records Kenneth Dunn & Executive Director Peter "Chip" Lazauskas.

AO: So they all came pretty easily then?

CE: Yeah.

AO: What would you consider your strengths in your career of playing drums. What makes you stand out?

CE: Well, I’m known for playing the left handed shuffle, which a lot of drummers can’t do.

AO: Oh, I didn’t know that. Then, let me ask you this. What do you feel is your weakness. What are some of the things you want to work on?

CE: I don’t have any weakness! (laughs)

AO: (laughing) That’s a GREAT answer!

CE: I’ll play anything.

AO: What do you think are the differences between Blues players today and say, 30 years ago? Is there much of a difference?

CE : Yes there is. Blues players nowadays want to make it too busy. To me, playing less is more.

AO: Understood.

CE: You know what I mean?

AO: Yeah.

CE: These young guys nowadays want to be all over everywhere. Simplicity.

AO: Simplicity is the key.

CE: Absolutely. I found that out when B B did the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. You know he had great musicians. They could read a fly. But when it come to the Blues playing, something simple, they couldn’t do it. You ever heard of Keb Mo?

AO: Yes.

CE: I went to Delta State University to see him, and they had a really good Jazz band, so he hired those guys to play behind him. They were really good at that Jazz, doing all that other stuff, but when it came to the Blues, they couldn’t cut it.

AO: It’s something you have to have a feel for I guess.

CE: Yes you do. I think nowadays these young kids don’t listen to the simplicity. For instance, my favorite drummer was Al Jackson at Stax Records. Matter of fact, I just got a video on him. I let my students look and listen to that. All that guy did was play, and stay in ‘The Pocket’.

AO: That’s what delivers the song. Yeah.

CE: Yeah, stay in the pocket.

AO: Are there any new Blues artists, that you’ve listened to lately, that you enjoy?...that maybe have that thing?

CE: No. That thing. That’s in the past. My students. I’ve got this one little boy, he’s nine years old. He’s really good.

AO: Nine years old? What’s his name? Maybe we’ll see it on the marquees soon.

CE: Byron Johnson

AO: Byron Johnson, nine years old. We’ll keep a look-out for him.

CE: He’s gonna be the man.

AO: Alright! Well, is there anything else you’d like your fans to know about?

CE: I am available for drum lessons. I can go anyplace, anytime.

AO: All over the country?

CE: All over the world. I’ve been in 90 countries already.

AO: Cool. So all they have to do is fly you there, and you’re the man.

CE: I’m the man!

Copyright © 2010 - Abby Owen. All Rights Reserved. Photos courtesy of Flyindog Records. All rights reserved.

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