Interview with Reverend Shawn Amos: Further Blues: Video

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Rev. Shawn Amos tells The blues – and the best rock & roll – burns right through your heart into your soul.

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

The blues connects me completely to my past, helps me understand my present, and tells me my future. I am my best self when I sing the blues. It’s such a deep reminder of how we are all connected.

How do you describe Shawn Amos sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

I’m always searching for the sound. I want to remain true to the roots of classic 1950s/early 1960s blues while keeping an eye on the future.

What were the reasons that you started the Soul/Blues/Folk/Rock researches and experiments?

I’ve been a fan and student of the blues since college when I discovered Peter Guralnick’s trilogy of books chronicling black American music from early delta blues to 60’s soul music. I had the honor of compiling definitive career retrospectives for John Lee Hooker, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and other blues musicians. However, I never played blues myself seriously until 2013 when I was invited to sing in Italy. It honestly seemed like no more than a fun getaway but I was truly overwhelmed performing the music and I decide at that moment that I would decide the rest of music-playing life to the blues.

How has the Blues and Soul music and culture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The blues has changed my life. Performing it is the quickest connection I can make to my heart and my spirit. Blues and soul music remind me everyday of the strength, resilience and joy in black culture. The world needs this music to return us to our humanity. We need to share our blues and touch each other’s souls. You dig?

Why did you think that the Blues & Rock n’ Roll music continues to generate such a devoted following?

Actually, I wish it had MORE of a devoted following. This is raw, visceral music that demands full emotional involvement. It is not music you can ignore. The blues — and the best rock & roll — burns right through your heart into your soul. It’ unbeniable.

How do you describe “The Reverend Shawn Amos Breaks It Down” songbook and sound?

It’s a collection of freedom songs meant to lift spirits during these troubled times. They are songs to remind us of our commonality. The album is a bit of song cycle covering a range of sonic ground — from an acapella song recorded in a Memphis church to a couple of very raw, minimalist delta blues to some gospel-influent ’70s influenced soul.

Are there any memories from “Breaks It Down” studio sessions which you’d like to share?

Oh man, it was just such a thrill to record in these legendary houses of music: FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Royal Studios in Memphis, and Clayborn Temple where so much civil rights history was made. It was really a humbling experience to stand in rooms where Aretha Franklin, Al Green, and Wilson Pickett stood. Also, the players who agreed to step into these tunes were a mind bender. I’m just so grateful that so many people have believed in what I’m wanting to say to people.

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you’ve had?

I need to play more jams. I just hosted a Los Angles Blues Society jam this last weekend and it was a major education. So many serious players. My fondest memory was playing live with Solomon Burke in Nashville. I accompanied him on a cover of my song, “Vicious Circle,” alongside Buddy Miller. Solomon still shows me the way.

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

It’s easy to fall into a trap of thinking all good music is a thing of the past. That’s a lie. There is so much good music today. So many players doing it for the right reasons. My fear, however, is that the romance of discovering music has been lost a bit. It’s almost too easy to get music. There is so much of it. It’s become commoditized. And of course, the business model has completely fallen apart.

Which is the moment that you change your life most? What´s been the highlights in your life so far?

Oh, that’s far too complicated a question to answer in one sitting. There have been so many moments — wonderful and painful — that have shaped my life. I’m still having moments. I’ve had the privilege off seeing so many masters up close: Quincy Jones, Solomon Burke, Steve Jordan, Don Was, Darlene Love. I’ve been very lucky to learn from them.

Are there any memories from Solomon Burke and Blind Boys of Alabama which you’d like to share with us?

Solomon was the most generous, selfless person I ever met. He recorded one of my songs, allowed me to share the stage with him, and entrusted me with overseeing three of his albums. Most importantly, he let my family into his life in a beautiful way. When my daughter was three years old, she had open heart surgery. Solomon camped out at the hospital with us. He kept us fed, visited my daughter’s bedside, showered her wth gifts. He was just an unbelievable force. I miss him everyday.

What is the impact of Blues music and culture to the racial and socio-cultural implications?

Blues is the root of it all. It’s as simple as that. The challenge is keeping it in front if people. When people feel the blues, it’s undeniable. It’s the quickest path to your heart.

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you? What is the best advice ever given you?

Quincy Jones once told me to cherish my mistakes. I still remember that — although it’s not easy to do it.

What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the music circuits and industry?

Man, I cry almost everyday listening to music. I’ll hear a song on my car radio and I’ll have to pull over to the side of the road because I’m so overwhelmed. I’m also continually amazed by the generosity of musicians. This blues journey of mine has been filled with so many people who have lent their talent, advice, and connections to me. From Steve Jordan to Jeff Greenberg (owner of The Village Recorder) to Dennis Jones to all the blues stations that have embraced me. I’ve been so touched by the kindness of this community.

If you could change one thing in the musical world and it would become a reality, what would that be?

I’d have musicians be paid what they are worth and be able to make a living. Musicians need to be valued. This work is holy, man. Nothing brings people together like music. It heals hearts and builds bridges. We shouldn’t have to beg to make a buck.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?

That’s easy. September 22, 1965 Chicago. That was the first day of Junior Wells’ two-day recording session for his ‘Hoodoo Man Blues’ album with Buddy Guy. Just to sit in that room for the day would turn me inside-out.

INTERVIEW BY MICHAEL LIMNIOS

– PHOTOS BY BERT HERZHAFT

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