Q&A with Texas-based drummer and record producer Tony Braunagel – make everyone in the band sound good.
What do you learn about yourself from the Blues people and culture? What does the blues mean to you?
Blues people are basically very friendly and mostly enjoy celebrating to this music. The Blues is one of the greatest American art forms. I’ve made a lot of friends in the Blues Community from the Blues Cruises, which I’ve done 15, to the Blues Foundation and it’s awards, which I’ve attended probably ten or so, to all the great festivals all over the world.
I feel privileged to play this music because it is about root. The great American art form. All American music is derived from the Blues apart from the Gaelic and pure European influences, but even European music was affected by slavery from the 17th century.
How do you describe and what characterize your music philosophy as a record producer and as a drummer?
As a drummer I’m there to keep time, enable dynamics, change the mood, make everyone in the band sound good, to serve the composition and give the singer or the soloist the utmost support. As a producer, it’s similar in that I want to help and inspire the artist to realize their vision through their own compositions or interpreting others.
Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Touring with artists like Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, Robert Cray, and having experiences with B.B. King, Otis Rush, John Lee Hooker, Jimmie Reed, Etta James. Witnessing and becoming friends with legendary drummers like, Earl Palmer, Zigaboo Modeliste, Jim Keltner. The best advice ever came from the late George Brown, bass player when I was 17, “Just stay in the pocket shorty”. He was 6’4” and I’m 5’8”.
What touched (emotionally) you from Tommy DarDar? Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?
Tommy was just a great guy. He respected friendship and family and had those sort of values. He was charismatic with this image. Everyone loved Tommy’s music. He could really light up the stage. It’s hard to really nail down a particular experience with Tommy as we had so much fun together musically. One in particular would probably be hanging with Jimmie Reed after a gig where we backed him up. Jimmie was sober by then and told great stories.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
When the authenticity goes away because generations passed, you see and feel the need to restore the honesty of the original lore. The Blues historians have become more necessary today. Purveyors of the art form need to study its past and the people that brought it to this country. Like all styles over time the intensity fades. It’s hopeful that we have a youthful faction to keep the tradition.
If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?
The convenience of making what some people call music by pushing buttons. I’ve spent my whole life learning an instrument and someone with the technology can make a beat, utter a phrase, tune it up and never even play an instrument. The crime is that it has become more popular than the craft and magic of people actually playing together. Technology takes away integrity.
How has the Blues and Rock music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
By studying where the Blues came from I find places all over the world where the influence of the people who started it as far back as slaves have made an impact on those societies. Early Slavery in Europe for instance had an impact on how European classical music was composed after they infiltrated society in those countries.
What is the impact of Blues and Rock music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?
Rock and roll was born out of the Blues. Generations of people sharing that music has brought people closer together whether they want to admit it or not. Just watch people dance.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
I could probably think of a lot of answers here but the one off the top of my head would be to drop right into the Delta of Mississippi when Muddy and all those other music pioneers where feeling their oats and cooking up that stew that they took to the cities. I’ve been in that Delta and I can feel a bit of it just by being there in the humidity and hearing the noise of the bugs.
INTERVIEW BY MICHAEL LIMNIOS