Interview with José Luis García Fernández: Amigo Del Blues: Photos, Video 

- in BLUES, INTERVIEWS, VIDEOS

Interview with Mexican musician and writer José Luis García Fernández – the culture of the Blues in Central America and beyond.

How important was music in your life? How does music affect your mood and inspiration?

Music has always been a part of my life, but particularly since the early 70s which is when The Beatles’ film “Let It Be” came out; when my love of rock, and a little later, my love of the blues (when I heard John Mayall) began. In the mid-70s, I joined my first blues-rock band “Super Lazy” playing rhythm guitar. Then I joined another local band – that was about five years of practicing and hardly any concerts. That was my first stage as a musician. For over 25 years, I have always been in the middle of rock and blues. I gradually acquired a large collection of CDs and videos – all formats – in this period, and I also learned how to play keyboards.

Finally, in late 2005, I dusted off my instruments and went back to studying music and playing. I played keyboards in a band called “La Rambla” (2006-2012), and soon after that, in “Solaris Blue” (2006-2011) which was an alternative project. Currently, I am in another group “The Rhinoceros Bluesband”. Music is a way of being in harmony with the universe. It helps me to be a better person; it is my source of energy, and my inspiration for many of the activities that I am currently involved with.

What do you learn about yourself from the blues culture and people? What does the blues mean to you?

Various things in recent years: for example, that dreams can come true; that its character, born of communities of slaves and the needy, is of great value, and this is because, even though it is at the roots of contemporary popular music, it is still distanced from marketing. And that pleases me, I prefer quality to quantity. I’d far rather do what I like than I am told to like. The blues means to me … well, everything, now. It has become a substantial part of my life. No day goes by without my listening to the blues. No day goes by without my doing something related to the magazine, the dissemination of blues, or playing something on my guitars or keyboards. Perhaps the mission of this part of my life is just that … to preserve the blues.

Why did you think that the Blues continues to generate such a devoted following around the world?

Because I believe that every day, at the same time, in many parts of the world, there are people who are interested in discovering the roots of rock or contemporary popular music in general. There are people listening to blues on the radio, television or film and they like it. Or even, like me, I’m sure there are people around the world who do all sorts of things to preserve the blues.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

What I miss most are the legends, the creators of the blues, the idols. Although there are nowadays really amazing musicians and new performers, there hasn’t been anyone – so far – who has picked up the baton and given contemporary blues a new direction. I hope that soon someone will come along who is on a par with those legends. I hope that the blues will be granted the importance it deserves and, without mass marketing, comes to have a better market position. I do not fear for the future of the blues. There will always be some lunatic out there who stands up for the blues, in spite of the vast amount of worthless popular music that the music business and show business floods us with.

Make an account of the case of the blues in Mexico. Which is the most interesting period in local scene?

They say that the blues did not appear in Mexico until the late 60s, after the flowering of rock and roll, and the revival in England; yet, while many of us agreed that we liked it, we listened to it, we did not really know that it was blues, we still thought it was rock and roll. In the late seventies, to be exact, in May 1978, BB King did his first ever concert in Mexico (a concert that has a special place in my memory because I managed to work my way backstage and got his autograph on my ticket). A little later, in October that year there was the first ever Blues Festival, thanks to the invaluable efforts of my good friend Raul De la Rosa. There were legends like John Lee Hooker and his Coast To Coast Blues Band, Willie Dixon and Chicago Blues Allstars, the Jimmy Rogers Blues Band with “Big” Walter Horton, among others, Sunnyland Slim and the young Billy Branch. This was the seed that started the taste for the blues in Mexico. Later on, there were sequels to this festival: the second was in 1979 with the presentation of Blind John Davis, Willie Dixon and Chicago Blues All Stars, Muddy Waters and his Blues Band, the Son Seals Blues Band, Koko Taylor and her Blues Machine, and others. In 1980, at the third, there was Carey and Lurrie Bell, Eddie Clearwater, Willie Dixon and Lightnin ‘Hopkins, among others.

The fourth – the 1982 one – had to be cancelled, so acts like “Big” Joe Williams, “Magic” Slim, Larry Davis, “Queen” Sylvia Embry, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Larry Davis and Betsy Pecanins (Mexican musicians were included for the first time) did not perform. The fifth, in 1983, was called the “Jazz and Blues Festival” and was attended by Taj Mahal, Son Seals and Lonnie Brooks, “Blind” John Davis, Juan José Calatayud, Norma Valdez and Nan Redi, “Papa” John Creach, Margie Bermejo and Betsy Pecanins. In 1984, the sixth had “Papa” John Creach, Betsy Pecanins, Real de Catorce and Guillermo Briseño.
The modest 7th festival (1988), featured: the “Big” Pete Pearson Blues Band, Real de Catorce and Betsy Pecanins. The 9th was a huge affair with the participation of Charlie Musselwhite, Freddie Robinson, Jimmy Witherspoon, Real de Catorce, Betsy Pecanins and Javier Batiz. It was another 10 years before the ninth took place, but before that happened, there was a massive event: the Mexico City Jazz & Blues Festival in 1992, an unforgettable night featuring: BB King, Chuck Berry and Ray Charles. The second edition of this event, later in 1992, featured: BB King, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Robert Cray and Robben Ford. The 9th Festival, which was held in 1998, had Sista Monica, Maurice Vaughn, Eddie Shaw & Wolf Gang, Shirley Johnson & Gospel Supremes.

The tenth festival took place in 2006 and starred: Jaime Lopez, Super Chikan & Fighting Cocks, the Otis Taylor Band, Billy Branch & the Sons Of The Blues, Betsy Pecanins and Cecilia Toussaint, Zora Young, Shirley Johnson, Peaches Staten with the Dave Specter band, the John Lee Hooker Jr. Band, Dave Specter and The Siegel-Schwall Band with Marcy Levy, Claudia Ostos and Dalia Negra, Señoritas De Aviñón, Sociedad Acústica, Charro y Moon Howlers and Vieja Estación. Finally, the eleventh took place in 2007: the Siegel-Schwall Band with the Philharmonic Orchestra of the State of Puebla, Serpiente Elástica, México Blues All Stars, Marcy Levy with the Siegel-Schwall Band, La Gran Banda de Blues, where I took part myself, playing keyboards, Guitar Shorty, Sacbé, Peaches Staten, Sharon Lewis & Kate Davis with The Dave Specter Band, Ana Popovic, Bill Morganfield and The Hoochie Coochie Boys Band as well as Canned Heat with Javier Batiz.
It’s difficult to talk about the national blues scene, because over time very few bands and musicians have been professional or have dedicated themselves entirely to blues music. Outstanding acts from those years have been, as I said earlier, people like Javier Batiz and Betsy Pecanins. Real de Catorce have arguably been the most successful, although in truth, they played a fusion of blues with rock, boogie, pop and jazz, releasing 10 albums in their first stage; but in the second, just one double album, with a line-up including only one of the founders, the leader of the band, José Cruz, composer, singer, guitarist and harmonica player.

Real de Catorce and Follaje are the bands that have lasted from the 80s up to now. Most groups of the older groups throughout the country were founded in the late 90s. The majority began more recently. These include: Radio Blues, La Dalia Negra, Las Señoritas de Aviñón, La Rambla (where I played for 6 years), Fonzeca-Caja de Pandora Project, La Blues Band, Monroy Blues, JC Cortés Band, Estación Monrovia, Blues Demons, Rhinoceros Bluesband (my current band); among many others across the country. In just the last 18 years, there have sprung up blues festivals with these blues bands, representing blues made in Mexico and some international artists, the most prominent being Aguas-Blues, held in the city of Aguascalientes, the National Blues Reunion in Mexico City, the International Jazz and Blues Festival in Zacatecas, the Pozos Blues Festival in Guanajuato, and more recently, the Blues and Jazz Festival in Salvatierra, Guanajuato, among others. There are very few places where the blues is played in Mexican cities. In the capital, the club par excellence is the Blues Club Ruta 61, founded 10 years ago, which has hosted most of the Mexican groups and some international blues figures, mainly from Chicago.

If you could change one thing in the local blues scene and become a reality, what would it be?

There are a number of things that I would like to change. First, I would like the blues circuit to become more and more professional, respecting the individual style that each band chooses, I’d like more people to go to the concerts, have more albums produced, and I’d like us to have more attention and support from government agencies. I would like our music to reach more children and young people so that they can see that there are other musical alternatives, not just the purely commercial and popular material imposed by the media.

Suppose we take a trip in a time machine, where – and why – you really would like to go for a whole day?

It’s a very difficult question to answer, but well, it would be three places:

1 In the past I would like to go back to something personal, one of true blues: back to when I was 5 to see how my life was with my mother, because three days after I turned 6 years old, she passed away and I cannot remember her voice or the way she looked.

2 In the future, there would be two scenarios:

a. As a musician, playing with my band somewhere in Europe.

b. As a spectator, at Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival.

INTERVIEW BY MICHAEL LIMNIOS

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