It has been more than six years since guitarist Dave Weld last talked with Blues Blast. In the earlier interview, writer Terry Mullins covered the early stages of Weld’s career from the time he arrived in Chicago in the mid-1970s and started fearlessly venturing into blues clubs all over the city to soak up the music and the culture. The interview continues up to the gap in time in-between the release of Dave Weld and the Imperial Flames first Delmark Records album, Burnin’ Love, and the band’s second effort for the label, Slip Into A Dream.
“That was our best release, which is what I strive for on each album. Every CD is better than the last one. We did a lot more work on it, especially the partnership with Monica on writing new songs for the project. And our special guests – Bobby Rush, Sax Gordon, and Greg Guy, Buddy’s son – added a lot too. Still, there are things I look back at and think they could have been done a little better. There’s always that. We were very proud to be nominated for the 2016 Blues Blast Music Award in the Rock Blues Album category. It was huge honor to be nominated with artists like Tommy Castro and Walter Trout.”
Being on the roster of Delmark Records for two recordings is a point of pride for Weld, especially since the musician who had the biggest impact on his education, J.B. Hutto, also recorded for the label. The band has been hard at work on a new album, taking the necessary precautions to protect themselves in the studio. Another change for the project was the decision to work with a well-known, award-winning producer.
“It is a different step than we have ever done, to actually hire a producer like Tom Hambridge. He is top-flight, with two Grammy Awards along with multiple nominations, for his work with Buddy Guy, Susan Tedeschi, James Cotton, and Kenny Neal. He is also Buddy Guy’s drummer. I got his phone number and gave him a call. We thought about having him do the mixing for Slip Into A Dream. But Steve Wagner at Delmark poured his heart into that recording and mix. He worked his ass off. We were really happy with the way it turned out.”
“So when we were starting to work on the new one, I called Tom again. We met at Legends, Buddy Guy’s club, in January during Buddy’s annual residency. Afterwards, we went to the hotel to talk. Once we sat down and started talking, I knew that he was the guy. Everything he said was exactly what you would want to hear from a producer, about the music, the playing, and the mixing. Still, we weren’t quite prepared to make a commitment. But Tom said, this is your chance, I’m here, let’s do it. I”m really glad that we went ahead. He was in the studio with us for three days of recording and played drums on one track. It’s a Latin number called “Red Hot Tabasco.”
“Tom really took charge, which I greatly appreciated. On one song that Monica was singing, for some reason we had it opening on the chorus. Tom heard it, recognized what was happening, and told us you need to open with a verse. I immediately wondered why I didn’t catch that. On the Latin tune, he put a break on it every go-around, which made a big difference. At the end of another song, he had each player take four on their instrument as an ending, with Jeff Taylor on drums, then Kenny Pickens on bass, and Harry Yaseen on piano, then everyone hitting the ending chord. Tom is always so positive. The last thing he said as he was leaving to go to his gig with Buddy was that he could see that Monica and I have a good thing going on together. Once we are done with editing, we are going to ship it down to Nashville, where Tom’s studio is, so he can do the mixing.”
“Another new song is called ”Mary Who?,” that is a one chord shuffle like Howlin’ Wolf used to do. It is about a girl who is met at the bus station by a pimp, who ends up putting her on the street. She winds up getting stabbed to death. It needs a little work but it will be on the new album. With the right crowd, a younger audience that has been drinking, and at the end of the night, it makes a great closing number. It is a real crowd-pleaser with lots of guitar and our vocal harmonies. I tried to write a happy ending for it, but nobody would let me! I was going to have her get rescued and sent home to Mom and Dad in Iowa. But even Monica, as sweet as she is, told me, no – kill her! Everybody wanted this poor girl dead, so I had to kill her at the end of the tune.”
“After the sessions, we went to Memphis to be part of the International Blues Challenge, representing the Windy City Blues Society. Then we did a short tour in March to Nebraska. When we got home, all the reports were coming in about the virus. That is when everything shut down, including Joyride Studio, where we had been working. Further down the road, they started letting select people into the studio, so Monica and I worked with Brian Leach, the recording engineer, on fixing parts and doing some editing. We doused the place with disinfectant, even sprayed down Brian, and wore masks to protect everybody.”
“This one will be more of a blues record that Slip Into A Dream. Of course, J.B. Hutto was my teacher, so I always try to include one or two of his songs on each of my albums, stuff from his 1954 sessions for Chance Records, originally released on 78 rpm records. Those were real primitive, raw recordings, so it gives me a lot of room to decide how I want to treat them. The songs that I picked this time are “Now She’s Gone” and “Lovin’ You,” both in the key of D.”
“There will also be a special treat. I wrote a tribute song to J.B. called “Don’t Ever Change Your Ways.” It’s about how he schooled me, and prepared me, for the good parts of this industry as well as the bitterness. His advice was don’t let anybody tell you you can’t make it, not your job, your girlfriend, your mother or father, your friends, nobody! That has stuck with me. The song is about him leaving Georgia and coming to Chicago to be a bluesman, and meeting him when I was a young man. That is when he told me to never change my ways.”
“Kenny Pickens is a wonderful bass player. When you pair him with our drummer, Jeff Taylor, they are a dream combination as far as rhythm goes. We taught Kenny the bass line to the song. But the day we were in the studio to record the song, he changed the line to something better. That has been my method over the years, to always let the band members add their own interpretation of things. If I had shown Kenny some examples of what I wanted, he would have never come up with his bass line. It’s got some church in it, but the song rocks.”
Vocalist Monica Myhre has been a part of Weld’s life since they met at a benefit he was playing in Rockford, IL for the Crossroads Blues Society almost twenty years ago. The friendship grew into a romance, but it took some time before Myhre revealed her talent as a singer.
“I had no idea that she sang, and she kept it that way for quite awhile. There are a lot of trials and tribulations in this business. She had been in a car accident with her fiancee. They were in a band together. He was killed, and she ended up taking a few years off for recovery. Eventually she decided to put herself into the music. Then we found out how truly gifted she is. There have been times when I thought things were done with my music career. That’s when I would see her tough side. One time I told her this may be it, we’ve had a good run. She looked at me and said, “Dave, if I don’t sing with your band, I’m going to sing with some other person’s band. You make your choice”. I just laughed when I heard that, realizing we would get through it and keep the band going.”
In addition to Taylor and Pickens, other band members include Rogers Randle on saxophone and Harry Yaseen on keyboards. The economical realities these days means that the band might need to scale back to a four piece line-up to make the money work out. Due to a back injury, Pickens is limited when it comes to touring, so Weld will often call on Felton Crews to fill in on bass. Cruz has had many high-profile gigs, from Charlie Musselwhite to Miles Davis. The legendary saxophonist Abb Locke, who passed away last year, had been a member of the Imperial Flames for a lengthy spell until health issues forced him to the sidelines.
Like many other musicians, Weld never paid much attention to the International Blues Challenge. Long a fixture on the Chicago blues scene, he kept working hard year after year, booking one club date after another to keep the band working, and touring internationally as the opportunities became available. As time went on, he decided that maybe there was a better way to get ahead.
“It just felt like we had stalled, and I wanted to get things moving. Also, I realized that while some years ago it seemed like the Challenge had a lot of more amateurish bands that didn’t sound so great, the last five to ten years have seen a lot of top artists going to the Challenge, and sounding great. When we got to Memphis, I was talking with Bruce Iglauer, owner of Alligator Records. He told me that we had picked a tough year,, as the competition had a lot of fine bands involved. The folks from Delmark were there, giving us plenty of support.”
“We had refined our set to focus on our strengths including our vocal harmonies, which not many blues bands have, and featured our three lead singers with me, Monica, and Jeff, with the best spots going to Monica. She is a real draw. There was also plenty of slide guitar, Harry on piano, Rogers on sax, and Kenny was in top form. The trip was hard on him, and he had to sit down to play, but he did a great job. I really felt that we kicked ass in the semi-final round. We were very excited to hear that we made it to the finals. The whole process was hard work. I was exhausted. But it was great fun.”
“We were able to line up a lot of club gigs and festivals. Of course, now they are all canceled. The Covid virus has taken me into the past. The situation now is like it was when I started in music. The gigs are few and far between. So it is up to me as a player to determine how much I need to practice to keep my myself fresh and vibrant. I have to ask myself, how bad do I want it, just like back in the day when I was going to clubs on the West and South sides of Chicago. Just me and my guitar in clubs where I was the only white person, looking to sit in with whatever band was playing.”
“People like Hound Dog Taylor and Sylvia Embry used to let me sit in. I had my old Guild CE-100 guitar. One night I played with her, and I didn’t sound so good. In fact, the audience started hitting me with stuff. Sylvia was so nice. After I got done, she gave the audience a little speech, saying that I had come a long from the North side to get there. She didn’t just mean the distance, but also the big cultural gap.”
Weld was committed to trying to carve out a musical path by playing around town. He also took a writing assignment from Living Blues Magazine, to do a feature article on slide guitar master J.B. Hutto, which ran in Issue #30 in 1976 as the cover story.
“When that issue came out, I was very proud of it. I had a copy in my hand one night when I walked into the old Kingston Mines on Lincoln Avenue. J.B. was sitting there with Homesick James Williamson. I gave it to him, and he was delighted being on the cover. He started touring a little more after that. When he got home, he would teach me. We had a standing appointment at his house in Harvey, IL every Tuesday night. He told me to write songs as a full-grown man, not to change my ways, and other key pieces of advice.
“Then the Chicago Reader, a free weekly publication, wanted me to do a piece on a rehearsal J.B. was doing the Hound Dog’s band, the HouseRockers, which was Brewer Phillips on guitar and Ted Harvey on drums. Taylor had passed away by then. So I covered it for them, and that is how I got to know the guys. They went to Boston with J.B., had big fights, and the band broke up. I think it was probably because J.B. and Hound Dog were close rivals. So I teamed up with them for my first band. This Covid experience has me thinking about those old days all the time now.”
“The older I get, the more it gets to be about quality of life. And for me, that bar is set pretty low. All I need is a dry bed, a nice meal, and a good TV show. It wasn’t like that with my mother. She had this blind determination to live. She was like a trapped wolf fighting to be free. I don’t know if it was right or wrong, but it was her way. She passed away prior to the release of our first Delmark CD, Burnin’ Love. I was spending five hours a day taking care of her, so it was a pretty traumatic experience. I went to Abb about her, because he was another of my mentors. Abb told me to just let her live as long as she can live. Things were getting pretty tough, but he gave the right advice.”
Weld has an older brother who lives in Florida. He is a race car driver and a skilled mechanic. He has helped his younger brother when he needs a new vehicle, saving him thousands of dollars on purchases. In the past, Weld would drive down to visit his brother and pick-up his new ride. But they had just made arrangements to buy a new van when the pandemic hit, and fearful of making the trip, Weld had the van shipped up to him in Illinois, the $1,500 cost of delivery negating much of the savings on the deal. The vehicle recently got a workout when the band played the Fargo Blues Festival.
Now Weld spends his days with Monica, keeping his chops up, and waiting for the all-clear signal to get back to a normal life with plenty of gigs. Not that he hasn’t used the free time to ponder the ups and downs of his career.
“In my history, Chicago is a place where you can go to be an artist. I don’t know if it is unique, but the characteristics of Chicago are that you can practice your art there, develop it and refine it. Whether you are a musician, a writer, a painter, the good part is that there are so many venues that allow you to do that work. The bad part about Chicago is trying to get out there, to take your art to a higher level and reach more people than you can in the cafes and bars. That has always been tough for Chicago artists, like Nelson Algren, who was a great writer. He finally got national acclaim. Buddy Guy and Junior Wells are two blues artists that broke out. It seems like you end up getting more recognition in Chicago by leaving the city for gigs in places like France, England, Japan, and Belgium.”
“It has been great for me because I needed a lot of development. And over the years, I have always depended on the African-American community for emotional and artistic support. They have given me plenty of encouragement, and let me know when I wasn’t cutting it. I was able to get a lot of strength from the guys in the neighborhood. Musicians are usually pretty good people, and they want to work. I realized early on that if I have gigs, I had a blues band. I work hard to keep consistent gigs on the table.”
“The reason I use guys from the neighborhoods is that we don’t have any scruples about taking gigs. If we get an offer for a gig that pays $75 a person, and we don’t have anything else lined up, then that’s what we play for that night. There are plenty of great players in the suburbs, but they like to pick and choose the gigs they want. Our band goes to each gig to work, no matter what. That’s the type of guys I want to be with. The guys have been through hard times too. They were there for me when I was taking care of my mom. I got a lot of strength from them that helped me make it.”
Readers can read the 2014 Blues Blast interview Terry Mullins did with Dave Weld here: http://www.bluesblastmagazine.com/featured-interview-dave-weld/