Vincent Abbate – Who Is The Blues Vol. 2: The Interviews
Blues Encounters 2000-2020
265 pages Softcover edition
An American now living in Germany, Vincent Abbate has been writing about blues artists and the music they have gifted to the world ever since he first discovered the music in 1992. His work has appeared in a number of US and European blues publications over the years. Additionally, he authored the biography of acoustic blues master Doug MacLeod, Who Is The Blues Vol. 1, released in 2018.
His new book is a collection of interviews that he has done over the last two decades. In the opening “Blues Notes” section,” Abbate shares some information that many music fans may not be cognizant of, primarily that skilled interviewers will get a wealth of stories and exciting quotes from an interview session, much of which will be cast aside or cut in order to get your article to fit the space restrictions and word count limits of the appropriate publication. It can lead to some soul-searching decisions as to what aspects of the interview will generate the most impact with readers. And then you also have to factor out memorable stories, often quite humorous, that the subject relates with a clear understanding that they remain off the record, not for publication.
For Abbate, the answer to that dilemma is simply to put together a selection of his complete and unadulterated interviews in a book format. From legendary artists like B.B. King and Bobby Rush, to young artists like Buddy Guy’s protege Quinn Sullivan, the book offers fifteen interviews that make it clear that Abbate has the ability to relate to musicians from a variety of backgrounds, no matter what their status is in the world-wide blues community.
Starting each piece with comments that provides the reader with some context in time for the interview, Abbate begins with a lively discussion with the Holmes Brothers – Wendell & Sherman Holmes, Popsy Dixon – on how they select songs to record, and their thoughts on singing gospel music in blues clubs. Dave Gonzalez might be an unfamiliar name to some readers, but once they have finished the piece on the guitarist and front man for the Paladins, from an interview done two days after 9-11, no doubt they will be searching out some of the band’s recordings.
Other interviews of note include one with a giant of the Pacific Northwest scene, the harmonica playing singer Paul Delay, who released a number of fine recordings of his original material. To his credit, Abbate doesn’t shy away from discussing the health issues brought on by addiction that Delay was dealing with at the time. Another highlight is a discussion with the late singer Terry Evans, who backed Ry Cooder and John Lee Hooker while also putting out some outstanding albums under his own name. In a few pages, the author manages to educate readers about the singer’s background while creating a sense of Evans’ creative spirit.
A more recent interview with Walter Trout finds the powerful guitarist revisiting his life from the perspective of a man who had a showdown with Death, survived, and is extremely grateful for the gift of life. Anyone who has seen Tommy Castro live knows the guitarist has an upbeat approach to playing music. That type of attitude is abundantly clear in his interview, which also explores Castro’s thinking that lead to a new musical approach that was featured on his The Devil You Know release on Alligator Records. The author makes a point to highlight the Bobby Rush piece, because “…it ain’t no phony shit”!
Abbate’s conversation with Samantha Fish from 2017 focuses on the guitarist songwriting skills, while another from the same year finds Ronnie Baker Brooks sharing more details on his career, explaining how his participation in the first inaugural party for President Obama got him connected to his ‘dream” producer. Guitarist Sue Foley talked to Abbate almost 20 years ago, already a veteran touring musician with a love for the music that stands out in her remarks.
When he started his Who Is Blues blog, Abbate tapped the mercurial Watermelon Slim as the first featured artist, and Slim did not disappoint, with comments ranging from his life as a truck driver to Agent Orange and the Dakota oil pipeline. John Mooney is another artist who has stepped back from the limelight, but his 2003 interview caught him at a high point in his career, whipping up a storm playing slide on his 1951 National Archtop in the style of his mentor, Son House. While his name may not resonate with many blues listeners, Josh Smith has been playing guitar since the age of three. He relates what steps he has taken to be able to earn a living playing music, sometimes stepping away from his own vision to lend his substantial skills to other artists as a producer as well as a guitar picker.
Included in the book are B&W photos of each of the artists plus a single page biography, offering a few more details on each artist’s career. The author also hints that another book may be coming down the road, one that will include musicians outside of North America.
A successful interview depends on the interviewer’s ability to connect with the person being interviewed, to make them comfortable so that the conversation has an easy flow to it, like old friends swapping tales. Page after page, it is clear that Abbate has that ability to put people at ease. His interviews are lively discussions that hold your attention no matter who the artist is. The author hints that another book may be coming down the road, one that shines the spotlight on musicians from beyond North America. In the meantime, make sure that you secure a copy of this fine collection that is one fine read!