Mike Bram, A Man Of Many Talents - by J. Blake

Posted on 5/11/2010 by J. Blake

(New York, NY)

In recent years Mike Bram has become a highly sought-after stage and session drummer, touring the world as musical director for 2010 Grammy Winner Jason Mraz and backing such notable blues talent as 2007 Blues Music Award nominee David Gross and 2008 Blues Music Award nominee Gina Sicilia. He has performed with everyone from Willie Nelson, Joss Stone and John Popper to blues greats like Mark Hummel, Steve Guyger and Watermelon Slim; and played on some of the planet’s biggest stages.

When he’s not on the road, he calls New York home and it is here in the Big Apple that he makes his way around the club scene; playing his harmonica and singing the blues, fronting his own band The Alternators. As a bluesman, his two studio albums (LEROY and the self-titled MIKE BRAM & THE ALTERNATORS) have been played on blues radio programs worldwide. More recently he’s been recording with Dave Gross, Dennis Grueling, Bob Margolin and Watermelon Slim for an upcoming Sean Costello Tribute Album.

He is a man that has worn many musical hats throughout his career, but at just 33 years-old, he shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon. He may not be a household name in the blues community yet, but he is definitely someone to keep an eye on.

I recently had a chance to sit down with my old college chum, as he took a break from preparing for an all night blues gig at Lucille’s Bar & Grill, located in B.B. King’s Blues Club in the heart of Time Square. We discussed life on the road, his somewhat recent passion for the blues, his writing process, and his plans for a third solo album.

J. Blake: Back when we first met, it didn’t really seem like you were that into the blues. I’m interested in finding out how this love and the desire to pursue this kind of music came about.

Mike Bram: Well, while you and I were in school, I was a jazz major. I feel like there is a connection rhythmically between a jazz drummer and a ‘traditional’ blues drummer, not to mention a similarity in the music itself. The line is kind of blurry. Even though you’d find T-Bone Walker in the blues category, some of his stuff really has a swinging big band jazz feel.

So there is a connection between the music and then when we graduated college I ended up doing some gigs with Jeff Hartwell as his drummer and that’s a southern rock kind of band. Between playing blues in his style and also being the drummer at his weekly open (blues) jam sessions, it inspired me to dig deeper into the actual tradition of the music; kind of like I was doing with jazz music in college. Doing the research and going back to listen to the early records; I did the same thing for the blues once I started playing the jam sessions. So going back from the things that we might hear, like Clapton and the Allman Brothers and then going back to where it came from.

Harmonica specifically, playing drums behind guys at the jam sessions, that were playing harmonica and kind of making a good sound out of it and I thought “if I have a musical ear, I’m sure I can just pick it up and at least make a good sound out of it.” I really loved the way it sounded through a bullet mic and I figured I’d just give it a whirl and then I just got addicted to it.

JB: Did you find it to be that easy?

MB: I picked it up pretty quickly. Now that is not to say that I still don’t have very far to go. There is so much to learn, but my initial learning; those initial 6 months seemed like it was a quick learning curve, where I could actually learn enough and sound good enough to play in front of people in a short amount of time. Then the research that I did, actually going out and seeing the real deal guys, clued me in to what I really wanted and what I needed to go for.

It takes years to get a real tone. I listened back to some of the earlier things I did when I first started playing harmonica and I didn’t have it together. It took years to get the tongue blocking technique down and things like that, but I was playing in front of people relatively quickly. Playing the drums at the jam sessions allowed me to be able to sit in on harmonica for a couple of sets and I just built it up from there.

JB: With your album (the self-titled MIKE BRAM & THE ALTERNATORS), I know you’ve also taken to writing your own original blues.

MB: Yeah, but you know that really goes in phases? At the time when I recorded that particular album, I had written a handful of tunes in a short amount of time. I don’t know how it happened. I think some of them are actually pretty good and some of them are kind of standard; I don’t want to say cliché, but they are standard blues. There are a couple there though, that I think are kind of clever; that I became attached to. There were like 10 or 12 songs that I just wrote real quickly. I don’t know how it happened. I’d just be up late at night, come home from a gig and just still have music going on in my head and I’d just come up with some idea or a ‘catch phrase’ and then build on it.

You know I’ve really only written a few things since then? So that kind of inspiration hasn’t really struck me much since, but I’m going to try and record a new album, hopefully, by the end of this year with a few originals and a few covers. But yeah, writing was just kind of a fluke thing and I try to pursue it sometimes, but when you’re actually trying to pursue writing a song, for me anyway, it doesn’t seem to work out. You need an idea first, that kind of helps it write itself. Which is how I felt when I wrote those songs; which I think was back in 2006.

JB: Since then, you’ve become quite the accomplished stage and session drummer. What has it been like touring the world?

MB: Well that was an amazing opportunity. It wasn’t blues, but I love and listen to all different styles of music. So the opportunity to play in front of, sometimes, 50 thousand people…what can you really say? You kind of have to pinch yourself. You ask yourself “is this really happening?” You have many moments of reflection, being up on stage, whether it was a thousand people or 50 thousand people. There were many moments where I remembered playing in the little clubs with sawdust on the floor. You know what I mean? It was amazing, I would just think about things like band class and stuff like that; all the different steps along the way. I felt very fortunate. I know there are a lot of people that play music and try to make a living at it. Very few of them get to see that. I am very fortunate.

JB: Any immediate plans to get back on the road as a drummer or are you going to stick around and play the blues for awhile?

MB: No immediate plans. Really what we’re waiting on is…we’ll see the next batch of tunes that Jason (Mraz) writes and he’ll be going back into the studio and hopefully I’ll be involved in that. Basically it depends on what happens with the next record; if he has enough songs to make a record and then when all that is taken care of, then you go out and support it.

JB: You mentioned you are planning to record another album of your own soon. What’s the real goal for you and the blues?

MB: For the blues thing, I’m freelancing. I like to play gigs with other people. I try to do as much work as I can with my friend Dave Gross. I am doing stuff with the Chris O’Leary Band. My own personal thing, I want to record another album that documents where I’m at now. My harmonica playing and singing have gone certain places since my last record in 2006. I want to get a snapshot of where that is at now and also have it produced by Dave Gross. He gets a really amazing vintage sound in the studio. He knows how to get the real raw tones and make them sound vintage, but also modern at the same time…if that is even possible. So I’m going to do some covers and some originals and use Dave’s knowledge of tones and sounds to help me make it a little bit different.

I also want to do a couple of things with the influence of the last few T-Bone Burnett projects; the Plant/Krauss kind of thing; just the way they make the drums sound and the tremolo guitar thing and certainly the style of guitars they use, like the Silvertones and the Kay guitars. I want to have at least a few tracks that sound like that, so that their not just standard shuffles and slow blues. I will certainly incorporate some of that too, but I want to have a couple of things that have a different sound as well.

JB: Well thanks man, it was great talking to you. I don’t want to hold you up too long. I know you have a gig tonight. It was nice to finally do this. We’ve been talking about it for a long time.

MB: Yeah thanks. This was cool. I hope you can make it to the show tonight. It is going to be a good one. You should bring your guitar. At some point, later on in the night, I’m going to try and open it up a little bit and maybe we can get you to come up and sit in.

JB: Sounds fun. Count me in.

*If you enjoyed this article, you may also enjoy: Tommy Castro Interview

Thanks and keep reading American Blues News!!!

NYC blues fans, make sure you check out Hubert Sumlin live at B.B. King's Blues Club and Grill tomorrow, May 13th!!!

Copyright © 2010 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved

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