|Blues Matters Review|
Blues Matters!: People may say this is favouritism because your new CD is being issued on our label but we know that's not true as we talked about this before hand so on with the interview.......It gets to be formula but many fans will not know about your background so please enlighten our readers on matters of history: where you were born, live now, early (fondest and worst) memories.
Richie Milton: I was born in East London and I live there now. All my family camefrom the East End, my Grandfather worked in Brick Lane many years ago when there was a large Jewish community there. One of my fondest early memories was my dad taking us to the West End each new years day where we'd go to China Town & eat and then go to the cinema. Yeah man films like Mutiny onthe Bounty and How the West was Won! My worst memory was when my mum and dad had to move to Liverpool and I went to live with my aunt. By the time I was 17 I was living on my own.
BM: How was school for you, generally and was it musically useful, and what were your early jobs?
RM:The school I went to was very strict and they used to cane children in those days. My mum used to make me wear foam rubber down the back of my pants because I got caned so often! I was playing a bit of Saxophone by then. I also had a little group and we'd play at dances at other schools in the area.
BM: Just what made you want to be a Blues musician in the first place, what was your first guitar and when did you turn professional and 'sell your guitar for money and fame'?
RM: I was attracted to the blues the first time I heard it. The blues scale just felt natural & right. When I was 12 I saw Ray Charles in concert & that blew my mind. I bought records by Muddy, Wolf, 7 Bone..... I found blues as sort of therapy, "If it's in you its gotta come out" as Hooker said. First guitar was a Vox which (for a reason I'll never know) my dad converted the jack plug socket into a ariel socket which I had to use a special lead for. It caused all sorts of problems.
It's hard to say when I turned professional, I suppose it was in my twenties when I started playing saxophone behind "The Pioneers" who were a reggae vocal group who had a hit with "Long shott kick de Bucket"
BM: Has it been all you expected or hoped it would be so far? Tell us about some highs/lows.....
RM: I have no regrets, I feel blessed to be able to make a living playing music. I suppose most of my highs have been when we've played festivals and I've been able to meet some of the legendry bluesmen. Also recording with the Lowdown and seeing the albums in major record stores and hearing the tracks on the radio has been a big thrill. The time I felt the lowest was during the punk era when I couldn't find much work. My two sons were very young and I was walking down the street & saw some toy trucks in a bargain bin for about 50p and realised I didn't even have enough to buy one of them. That's when I knew I had to get myself together.
BM: Otis Grand has said to me that you are his favourite writer (after himself and he uses a lot of your material), did you start to write very early or is it something that you have 'grown' into and become second nature (can it ever become second nature?)?
RM: I started writing songs when I was about 13. One of the first was a Jimmy Reed type blues called "Monkey faced Woman"!
BM: How do you set about writing a song, what comes first for you...?
RM: Usually its a lyric idea, I might get a phrase that makes a good hook or I might get an idea for a groove, or I'll hear a song with a certain feel that makes me want to write one like it. Songs like "Straight Ahead no Stoppin" just come to me all at once but some songs like "Salty Water" need a bit more work. I enjoyed writing with Ruby Turner, she has a phenomenal voice. You can give her a few lyric lines and strum a few guitar chords and she starts singing & and the whole song takes shape. Sometimes when you write with people they have a definite idea how the song should finish up. When I wrote "Dont Talk About Me" with Otis Grand for his Grand Union CD he already had the title and most of the musical structure where as "Holding You Up for Love" was the other way round.
BM: The new album is called: "Let Me Tell You More.....". How long didit take to write and record and what studios did you use and why? Generally tell our readers how the album came about and was constructed.....
RM: I'd been wanting to record an album like "Let Me Tell You More" for a long time. I wanted to gather some of the blues styles I'd been playing over the years on one CD. That's why there's boogie, swing, a slow blues, southern soul and even a zydelo tune. Some of the songs we've written quite some time ago when I had the "London Apachies". We recorded them in two studios half of them at Steve King's who plays sax in the Lowdown Horns and the other half at Dave Haywards studio in St Albans. I've known Steve for over 20 years he used to play keyboards in a band with me and he's always had a studio in some shape or form. We've written lots of songs together and had a few singles released over the years. He's a talented musician he plays saxes, keyboards and accordion and also manages to twiddle those knobs necessary for recording. A rare breed. The tracks at Dave Haywoods studios were recorded over about eight days, rhythm section & guide vocals first, then horns and vocals. Dave Haywood plays terrific pedal steel guitar so we asked him to play on a couple of the tracks and it turned out great. Something different! Otis recorded the slow blues with us there as well.
BM: The album builds on the success of your first two albums and is another step forward for the band. Just how long have you all played together, have there been any major changes?
RM: We've had the present line up for quite some time. Since the "Straight Ahead No Stoppin" CD. Although Dave Rowberry (who plays great on the "Let me tell you More" CD) has rejoined the Animals which keeps him pretty busy so Dave Lennox has been playing with us. Dave's a terrific organist who gets a great sound that gives the band a real groove at gigs. Phil Lucus is still holding it damn rock solid on the bass. We've been playing together for nearly 30 years! A lot of bands recently have changed to stand up bass as a sort of fashion thing and using guys who are not really experienced on the instrument. Phil's been making his Fender precision sound like a double bass for years! Paul Alkinson ("Mr Bermuda") is still with us on the drums. He pays real attention to the tempos which is great. It's probably to do with the fact that he's a dance enthusiast and knows how important it is to the dancers. The Lowdown horns are Steve King who I've already told you about and "slick Dick" Hanson on the Trumpet who's probably the top blues and soul trumpet man in the business.That just leaves Linda Hall who's become such an important element in our live show. Her featured performances of songs like "Jim Dandy" and "Don't Mess with my Man" are really something and she has a great ear for harmony. I love the back up she gives when I'm singing. She's versatile too she can really belt out a song or get sultry & mellow like on "Moonlight at Midnight" on the album.
BM: What are your favourite places to play in the UK and how does the Blues scene shape up for you?
RM: The thing about the UK blues scene is that everybody seems to know each other. So for most of my favourite venues it's like visiting old friends. The 100 club in Oxford St, London is run by Robert & Claire who are lovely people who have run the mojo Boogie nights for ages. Its one of my favourite clubs to play and to go to socially when I have time. Ray O'hires always makes us welcome at the Warrington R & B club and it really has a nice atmosphere. We recently played at Richard Powilt's Bishop Blues Club and had a great time. It's tiny but packed with a real appreciative crowd. We still play Jagz @ the station, Ascot quite regularly. Norrie "Snakebite" Burnett used to book the bands. Lovely man & great blues shouter in the Big Joe Turner Tradition. The Blackbottom Club in Northampton is nice and don't forget John Adams at the Bottleneck Blues Club who runs his venues really well.
BM: Eric Clapton is quoted in the new book "Cream" by Chris Welch as saying "Forming a blues band in England is like banging your head against a brick wall". OK that was said in 1966 but how relevant is that comment today?
RM: It applies even more so today, especially trying to keep a 7 piece and sound man on the road. If you're a 3 piece with a van you can go and play at every little pub & club who will pay a few quid & sleep in the van but I'm not able to do that with our outfit. I've got to be able to make sure everyone gets paid at the end of the night so quite a few of the smaller venues can't afford to book us. If it wasn't for the festivals & private dances we couldn't survive.
BM: What do you see as your major success(es) to date?
RM: As Alan Tousaint wrote "what is success?" I met Alan when I was in New Orlean and I saw one of my albums in a shop there. I suppose I felt I'd achieved something then. Other than that I suppose success is judged on how well you cross over to a wider audience. I recorded for Bell records in the 70's when they were a really big label and I've been on TV a few times but the times I feel most successful is when I'm performing to a responsive and appreciative audience, the band is kicking and I've got a cheque in my pocket already, to pay the band, Benji our sound man and gas money for the bus.
BM: Where do you see that today's' business world of being a Blues musician differs to the 60's and to other sides of the music business today and what can we do to build on it or make it better? (If it needs it!)
RM: Well I only became a teenager in the 60's and was playing at school dances so I cant really comment on the business side of things. But I do remember there was a blues boom on and a lot of blues and soul band that were really popular with young people. The Stones for instance!! Nowadays the blues audience seems to be a bit older but maybe that's because there isn't the generation gap there used to be. Hopefully its audiences will become more like they were at some of the reggae dances in the 70's when I was on Sax. you would get all ages from 16 to 60 having a good time. So to me the way forward is communication. More in the tradition of the original blues bands who played to entertain and for people to dance and to share that special feeling of the blues both sad and happy. Introspective doodling with your back to the audience make anything better.
BM: Who do you respect in British Blues today and from yesterday and why?
RM: The people I like on the Uk scene today are; James Hinter, great voice, nice guitar rockin' band. Otis Grand of course, as his album says "He knows the blues" Otis is the real deal, a true blues guitar showman who has managed to run a large band for over a decade and still tops the ball at many major festivals. Harmonica? Paul Lamb, Laurie Garman.....Guitar? Sonny Black, T-Bone Taylor, Dave Ital Piano? Ben Waters, Richard Simmons & of course Geraint Watkins. Dems? Ed Spoevak, Chris Hunt Another artist I like is Mike Sanchez he's got a lot of charisma. A cross between Little Richard & Frankie Vaughn, Marvellous! From Yesteryear? Long John BAldy had & still has a great voice. When I was a kid I used to take him songs, he lived in Highgate, now he's living in Canada. I went to see Graham Bond a few times. Fascinating. He would play some lines on sax and organ at the same time. I also saw the John Magall line up with Pete Green, John Mc Vie and Aynsley Dunbar when I was about 14. They were great. The Stones too, I saw them at the Odeon on a package tour. They'd just released " I wanna be your man" the second single. I didn't hear too much though, the little girls were screaming too much.
BM: Same question for World Blues artists....and who would you most like to play with?
RM: I don't know where to start! I'm still a big fan of BB King. He's an institution. That big, big blues voice that jumps into falsetto and the guitar style that's influenced just about everybody who picked up a guitar and tried to play the blues. Other guitarists I like are Duke Robbilard, Phil Upchurch, Joe Louis Walker, Jimmy Vanglin.... Bobby Bland has one of the greatest Blues voices ever. It was him and BB who made that whole urban blues thing popular. And before the T-bone Walker and Big Joe Turner. I also think " Gatemouth " Brown is brilliant. I've seen him a couple of times ant thought his musicanship was immaculate. I think Robert Cray is excellent. Many blues fans find him too smooth but I think his voice & guitar playing gets better and better. Many years ago I saw Junior Wells on one of the blues package tours, he was fantastic. Many people didn't like him either. He was like the James Brown of the Blues, but I realised then that was where the blues was at. That was the kind of blues that black people in America would be seeing in clubs at that time. Another great live act was Albert Collins. What a guitar style, what hecould do with just one note at the right time. Apart from Big Joe Turner I've been lucky enough to see all the artists I've mentioned "liv" and to me that's the way to hear the blues. Direct. From one heart to another via the music. You also asked who Id like to play with and I'd have to say all of them!
BM: The new album comes out on our own Blues Matters Records label. Dare I ask what made you sign with us and be our first release as a new label?
RM:Well first of all I'd like to say tank you Alan for asking me to do this interview. You've made me think about stuff I haven't thought about for years. As Sonny Boy said " Dont start me to talkin' I'll tell you everything I know"
Blues Matters! seems to be the kind of organisation that really cares about the blues & that's what I've been looking for. Before I recorded for Indigo I got mixed up with all sorts of dodgy labels to try and get my material released and found myself recording stuff that wasn't really me. With Blues Matters! I know that only the I want people to hear will come out. I'm looking forward to a successful partnership. Thank you Alan.
BM: Richie, thank you for the chat. We don't need to say we wish you luck with the new album, we'll try to make some of the luck too so get out there and tear it up and give the people some of those great live shows they love.......we know they will!