You might remember our previous interview and support of Blind Lemon Pledge’s Evangeline album. BLP has been working on new material; Pledge Drive is due to appear on your favorite music services March 4th.
Blind Lemon and myself discuss the album below.
How’s it going Blind Lemon? Been a while since we last heard from you, what’s new?
Hi Joshua, good chatting with you again. I have been quite busy since the last time we were in touch. My last album “Evangeline” did very well. It received airplay and very positive reviews around the world…US, Canada, Europe, Australia, etc. Two reviewers even called it a “masterpiece”. Needless to say that made my day, week AND month!
After I was done promoting that album, I sat down and started digging into the next one. I wanted to keep some of the momentum going from the last album. Of course, given time, logistics, peoples’ availability, etc., I didn’t actually finish for about two years. But, hey, it’s done now and ready to be reviewed and played. And, of course, I hope to sell some copies to fans.
As well as getting the new album together, I have been leading my performance blues band (also named Blind Lemon Pledge after my stage name), writing a new batch of songs, jamming, and whatever else I can do with my music. On a coincidental side note, last year I also trademarked the name “Blind Lemon Pledge” so that I officially own it. I had run into a dispute with someone else who was using the name and decided, I had had enough exposure, publicity and success with the name to make it my own. And the trademark office agreed.
In the midst of all that, I plugged away at the new album. Picking songs, writing some new ones, orchestrating the backup tracks, and eventually going into the recording studio. The new album is called “Pledge Drive” and as you probably can hear, it differs a lot in tone and style from “Evangeline”.
How does this new project, Pledge Drive, differ from your last one?
The main difference, as I say is in tone and style. I decided to go for a much harder, more rock oriented tone on this album…less acoustic and more electric than “Evangeline”. This was both a conscious decision and a natural outgrowth of the songs I was picking for the album. I had several songs that just would not fit the more acoustic sound of the previous 3 albums, and, after a couple of recording attempts, I realized I needed to try a different approach.
I had actually played rock and blues rock music for many years before moving to my current acoustic sound. And I had recorded 2 albums (with my then band The Rhoids) of flat out rock music. In fact a couple of those tunes, I resurrected to re-record for this album.
One major factor on the album is the percussion. I worked hard to get the drums sounding full and really rocking. And I am pleased with the results. I have a lot of different percussion techniques on the album, from a full out rock trap set, to New Orleans syncopation of a variety of percussion instruments, to cajon, tambourine, etc. Although I had percussion on the last album, I did not emphasize it and hone it as much as this album.
Another major change from the last album is the use and sound of my guitars. On the last album, I pretty much stuck to a nicely recorded acoustic guitar. On this album, I mostly abandoned the acoustic (except for texture on a couple of the cuts) and got out my effects pedals to move it into the rock vein. You will hear a lot of overdrive and other effects on both my six-string and slide work. And the phrasing is much more Rock’n’Roll.
Although I have never been one to “over-produce” my music, I made a real effort to slim this one down to essentials. The opening song “Run John Run” has just bass, one guitar and drums (lots of drums). I also trimmed several of the songs to tighten them up and make them more immediate. Except for the last song, I kept all the solos to a minimum, usually just one verse or break per song.
Is Pledge Drive all you? Or did you bring in other talents to join the fun?
As with “Evangeline” the percussion, keyboards, bass and guitars is all me again. But this time I added a couple of other instruments to round out the sound, namely harmonica and tenor sax.
I knew I wanted harmonica on a couple of cuts and had been taking lessons from musician and songwriter Jenny Reed, to better my playing and get it to a level that would record well. When I was ready to record the harmonica, I realized that Jenny would be a much better choice than me to get the sound I wanted. So I asked her to come on board the project. And, luckily she agreed. I think she adds a tremendous amount to the 3 tracks on which she appears.
I also knew I wanted some sax on a couple of cuts. On “Evangeline” I had a track called “Go Jump the Willie” which had a very Louis Jordan-esque sound. At the time I had thought “Boy, I should have put horns on this.” So this time around I just went for it.
One of my oldest and dearest friends is Rick LeCompte, who is an excellent sax player. He has played for years in 50s-60s oldies tribute band and has a great feel for that King Curtis kind of raucous sax. I had used him on some tracks many years ago and always wanted to record him again. We had met when we were both working in the Film and Television industry. He is a first class editor as well as a musician.
So I got Rick to come in and lay down some sax on 2 cuts. One of the cuts, “5 Weeks of Heaven”, is purposely reminiscent of Bobby Keyes-era Rolling Stones music, with a repeating guitar signature augmenting the free form sax. The other track, “Nag Nag Nag”, is an Allen Toussaint inspired song with a full , orchestrated horn section – alto saxes, trumpet and trombone. Rick laid down the tenor and I created the rest of the horn section with some studio magic. I am extremely pleased with the results on both tunes.
As the flute solo soars on Cora Lee, I’m loving what I hear. What inspired this tune?
Thanks for asking about this tune, Joshua. It is one of my favorites on the album and, I think, one of the best produced songs I have done to date.
How this song came about is an interesting look into how my creative process works.
When I was mid-way into the album project, I realized that the album needed a couple of gentler ballad type tunes to balance the hard edge of the rest of the album. So I literally “sat down and wrote a song” for the album.
I have somewhere in my large collection of pre-war country blues (as of this interview I haven’t been able to locate it), a song about the death of Blind Lemon Jefferson – the inspiration for my stage name and one of the giants of early blues. The song laments “Mr. Postman, you brought misery to my head.” It is about how the postman delivered a letter to the singer of the song, telling him about the death of his friend Blind Lemon in Texas. I adopted this line and the idea of the Postman for my song, but turned it into a sad love ballad.
I rarely write in minor keys, so I thought it was time to explore that side of the sound spectrum. I love minor songs, but just don’t write them that much. I chose Am which is a very versatile minor key.
Once I had the general direction I wanted the song to follow, I came up with the name “Cora Lee”, which I liked because it had a touch of old time Southern to it and seemed to evoke a bluesy back story. I tried a couple of other names but this one stuck.
From that point on the song more or less wrote itself. It is in 2 parts, the minor blues progression of the main section and then a modulation to a C major with a chromatic descending bass for the 2 bridges.
I take from your question that you might be thinking there was a Cora Lee in my life. Sorry to disappoint, but this song comes from my imagination and not my life experience. Not to say I haven’t had my heart broken at times!
There is an old admonition to “write what you know.” A lot of amateur or beginning writers and singer/songwriters take this phrase too literally and interpret it to mean that you should only write from direct life experience. If this were followed religiously there would be no Science Fiction, no Horror, no Historical Fiction and none of the plays of William Shakespeare! What the admonition really means, I believe, is that you should write from an emotional or intellectual position that rings true to yourself. And that if you are writing about people or a place you have not directly experienced, you should take the time to research and get deeply familiar with your topic.
Most of my songs are like little stories or playlets with an internal logic, characters, and motivation that lives in the song. Once I knew Cora Lee in my heart and mind, writing about her was easy.
And finally, the flute solo (which I am very proud of) is some of my studio magic again. I tried it on guitar and then keyboard, but then got the inspiration for flute which works well and is a bit of a surprise. It made me think of the old Blues Project records.
This album keeps carrying me back to the golden era of blues and rock… Was this intentional? What led you to showcase more of your rock side in these songs?
Yes, as I mentioned before, the songs on this album really called out for a rock and blues approach. So it was very intentional. As listeners to my music know, I am pretty “old school” in my approach to music. Although I try to keep up with current music, my tastes keep going back to a different era. And for current music, I find myself driven to people like Alabama Shakes, Eli Reed, Gary Clark and Duffy who are all very old school.
I also like to bring something different to each album. As you know my songwriting is extremely eclectic. Many of the reviews I received on “Evangeline” commented on the stylistic diversity. I think you will also find that on “Pledge Drive”, with a rock/blues influence coloring each song. So this is my “rock album”.
Now that Pledge Drive is finished, what’s next for Blind Lemon Pledge? What else is coming in 2016?
The biggest events in 2016 will mostly be centered around the release of this album which officially debuts March 4. I will be working with my US, Canadian, Australian and European promoters to make sure this album gets as much airplay, reviews and promotion as possible. So that will take a big hunk of time up until summer.
I have two directions I am looking at for my next album project. Both of them typically divergent and eclectic.
For the past couple of years I have been writing a series of old school Gospel/Spiritual songs, one of which “Give My Poor Heart Ease” can be found on my EP “Against the Grain”. I am exploring the idea of putting together a gospel quartet (without me as a singer) to record a gospel album. This idea is so out of my comfort zone, that I have no idea at this time where it will lead. But I like the potential. I have been getting together a couple times a month to do some three part harmony gospel singing with a couple of musician friends, so the music is definitely whirling around in my musical sphere.
I have also been writing a series of songs about coal miners in Appalachia and been getting great response to the tunes so far. I am also considering a song cycle type album of these songs done in a very traditional way with acoustic guitars, banjo, fiddle, harmonica, etc.
Hey, nobody ever accused me of being “stuck in a rut.” But the next album is probably a year or two away, so who knows where I will go next. I still have a bunch of blues songs I would like to record or re-record.
Otherwise, I continue to play regularly with my band at various venues and in various configurations – quintet, quartet, trio and duo. We have built up a following in our area and have been blessed to play 4-7 times a month for the past couple of years. We have been quite successful on Reverbnation and we are often listed in the top 10 blues bands for our region. Since I also do all the website and graphic design for the band, this keeps me very busy indeed.
Remind readers the best place to connect with you online and stream more music…
I hope readers will look me up on my two websites: 1) my blues material and 2) my other site (for a cross section of all my music).
And finally on Reverbnation.
If readers are interested in purchasing the new CD or past releases, they can go to:
1) www.cdbaby.com/Artist/BlindLemonPledge1 (direct distributor)
2) Amazon, iTunes, and other major music outlets. Do a search for “Blind Lemon Pledge”.
3) And the music can be streamed on Spotify and similar services. Although, as you know, I only get a penny per play…so it’s my least favorite method of sharing my music.
As soon as the new album is released on March 4, 2016, they will be able to hear it on their local favorite blues radio show. If that show doesn’t have it, please contact them and demand they play more Blind Lemon Pledge!
Any last thoughts you wish to share? Shout outs?
Thanks again for the opportunity to chat with you and share my music with your readers, Joshua. Online forums like Mid Tennessee are a great way to reach out to potential listeners. I have my fingers crossed that this album will do even better than the last. So far the buzz has been good.
I do have some special shout outs, if I may.
Next and just as important, my good friend and engineer, Arno Hachaduryan. Arno has worked on 4 of my 5 Blind Lemon Pledge records: engineering, mixing, mastering and co-producing. Doing some or all of those tasks on each record. Arno really helped me develop as a producer and to understand the magic I could create in the studio. His enthusiasm and feedback have been invaluable. And I can truly say I couldn’t have done it without him. Bless the man!
A new member of my recording team is Pajama Studios James and Paula really understood what I was trying to do with my music and added that wonderful luster that good mastering can bring to a project. Their feedback was enthusiastic and positive and I am sure we will be working more together in the future.
Another new member of the team is Gavin Jones at Duvateen Studios. I felt I needed to re-record one of the vocal parts and Gavin helped me out to get the sound I needed on very short notice.
And finally, a very special shout out to the three people who are promoting this new record in the US and around the world:
I hope all your readers will seek out my music and if they like it drop me an email. I always love to hear from fans. Makes it all worthwhile.