Barry Jackson talks about himself

Our interview

Hello Barry,

it will a pleasure for us having you here in Sardinia.

However, we would like to know well Barry Jackson.

We’ll make you some questions.

Interview of Daniele Mei

First of all. When has the blues started to influence you? Do you remember a particular moment?

In the late 1950s, I was  into rock’n’roll and something called skiffle, that was like a homemade British version of rock’n’roll – based on Leadbelly songs and ‘negro spirituals’. 

Lonnie Donegan was the biggest name.

Good rhythmic, foot-tapping music played on guitars and home-made basses.

That led me to Leadbelly, which was my first exposure to original black American music. I loved it because it seemed to have an authentic voice. 

This would have been around 1960 I guess, when I was 12 or 13 and rock’n’roll had lost its edge.

What have been your first listenings since you were a boy? What the important one?

The first record I bought, in 1957 , was “Wake up little Susie” by the Everly Brothers

I still love rock’n’roll music from that era.

The Everlys, Buddy Holly and Elvis were the reason I wanted to play guitar.

In the early ’60s I was into the Beatles and particularly the Rolling Stones. Before they got too famous, the Stones used to play every Sunday in a small basement club near Leicester Square station and I saw them several times.

At that time I wanted to be Mick Jagger. They played only versions of Blues and r’n’b records from the US.

Around the same time I saw two of the American Folk Blues festivals that visited London in the  60s – Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson, Howlin Wolf and more. London was jumping with blues – John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed played clubs in Soho, although I was too young to go to the all-nighters!

My first LP (which I still have) was John Lee Hooker’s ‘Don’t turn me from your door‘. At the time I had no idea these were tracks recorded by John Lee 10 or 15 years before – I thought, like rock’n’roll records, that they were his latest tracks!

The blues was in my blood now…

At school I joined with some friends to form an r’n’b group, The Black Cat Bones. In those days, it was ‘groups’ not ‘bands’ .

For a couple of years we played local dances every week, and even opened our own basement club, under a church hall.

I started to enjoy performing…

Then from the early ’70s to the 1990s when I started working and had stopped playing publicly, I listened to a whole range of music: more blues, but also Bob Dylan, Grateful Dead, Neil Young, The Band, Captian Beefheart, Brian Eno, David Byrne, Talking Heads, Reggae, baroque, classical and minimalist music.

Around 1995 I visited a blues jam in London, and remembered how much I had enjoyed playing blues 20 years before.

Bought myself an electric guitar and started to play, and started to dig deep into the history of the music.

Nowadays, with Spotify and YouTube it is possible to hear all manner of obscure blues tracks that simply weren’t available in the ’60s.

The Black Cat Bones

You are considered an expert of the Londoner musical scene. Can you tell us any anecdote of your extraordinary history?

It’s kind of you to call me an expert on the London blues scene, but I don’t think I qualify.

For most of my adult life I wasn’t part of the London blues scene, and it’s only in the last 20 years that me and the blues have been close again. So no anecdotes I’m afraid!

Although there was the time as a student when I booked The Bluesbreakers to play at the May Ball at University, and Eric Clapton pissed on my boots… but maybe enough said about that.

How and how much have music, pubs, audience changed? In short, how has the world changed during these years?

A lot of music venues and pubs have closed over the years. Almost all the famous London venues from the ’60s – the Marquee, the Flamingo, etc, have gone.

There still seems to be an audience for blues though and although venues for bands have declined.

There seem to be plenty of pubs that have blues duos or solo acts, thankfully.

Twenty three years ago a venue opened in London that is still going strong today –  Aint Nothin But Blues Bar. This is without a doubt the best blues venue in London and I’m very pleased to play there regularly, sometimes with Marco Farris. For the last six years I’ve been running a Sunday jam session there.

Another notable change is that most of the young musicians playing blues these days have come to it from a formal study of music – lots of them seem to have been to music college, which simply wasn’t available in the ’60s.

It means that they know a lot of stuff about music in general but not much about blues in detail.

They simply haven’t been able to spend enough time listening to blues records from the 1920s to 1960s. A lot of their listening has been contemporary blues.

My advice to young players who love BB King or Jimmie Vaughan is: Don’t listen to them! Listen to the people they listened to!

Now a focalized question. What is the blues for Barry Jackson

What is the blues for me? It’s the only music I can play!

Fortunately, I’m not a very clever guitar player, and I know nothing of musical theory, and I believe those constraints have helped me.

Interesting things happen when you occasionally get things ‘wrong’.

Like most of my generation I learnt by ear, from listening to records – just like Robert Johnson did – there weren’t teachers or colleges that would teach you.  Now the blues feel is part of my flesh and bones.

By and large I find now that I only listen to blues by dead people. There’s a Facebook group called ‘Early electric blues 1935-1953‘ and that’s my favourite stuff at the moment.

For me blues is about songs, not breathtaking technical musicianship.

I can’t be doing with the 100 notes per second school of guitar playing. I grew out of worshipping guitar gods somewhere along the way.

It’s all about the song and how you interpret it.

And when you’re playing with others it’s about listening to the other players and making space for each other, not showing off how brilliant you are.

And don’t start me on Joe Bonamassa.

I make some of my own songs and I like to use the blues songs of the past, and do them the best I can, while not worrying about doing an ‘accurate’ copy.

Some blues players haven’t realised that the recorded versions of songs are simply that, versions. Howlin Wolf wouldn’t necessarily play a song the same way twice.

There’s so much great music in the blues canon that ought to be better known. All ‘blues fans’ know Robert Johnson, but how many know the work of Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell, who sold many more records than Johnson? Why go to a Stevie Ray Vaughan record to learn a new song, when there’s untapped Tommy Johnson songs.

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You have already contradicted me in previous questions. Yet I have recently read that you do not know any song recorded after 1959. Is it the truth or is it a way for increase the interest on your artistic figure?

No, it’s not strictly true. I know two songs from 1962.

Songs of life, love, trains and dogs. What is the meaning of this phrase, found in a poster of one of your concerts at Fiddlers (a pub in Brodick in the Scottish Isle of Arran)?

Two of my own songs are titled: “The dog has gone” and “I’m like a dog, and somebody stole my bone“. Remember Robert Johnson’s hellhound?

Tell us something about your meeting with Champion Jack Dupree.

In the mid to late ’60s I was at college, and playing occasionally (unpaid!) at Folk clubs – places where all kinds of acoustic folk music, including blues, was played – no microphones, PA or amps, all acoustic.

Unlike most venues today, the audience was silent.

One place I played was the University of London Students’ Union which used to sometimes book professional musicians.

One evening, probably in 1966, I think, Champion Jack was booked. He was living in Britain at that time – he was one of the blues musicians who found that Europe was more comfortable for African-Americans than the US. 

Around that time I was playing rather poor versions of Lightnin Hopkins  and Brownie McGhee songs. I did my  couple of songs  just before he got up to play. I was slightly embarrassed – here I was, a middle class white boy singing songs of hardship I’d never experienced, and there was Champion Jack, who’d been orphaned when his house had been burned down by the Ku Klux Klan!

But to my surprise, he said something like “that boy knows the blues” and invited me to join him on a couple of numbers.

It was an experience I won’t forget. He was a great performer, very earthy, funny, fantastic rhythm and a storyteller.

After his set he sat in the bar telling stories, drinking brandy, while a bunch of us youngsters sat around paying court.

As Sardinian, we are proud of your appreciation for our Marco Farris and for your collaboration with him. How is working with Marco?

Marco is fantastic. I love playing with him – he’s one of the best blues musicians I know. He has a deep knowledge and understanding of the roots of the music, and he’s a natural performer. We seem to resonate well together whenever we play.

The Sardinian blues music is standing out at national and international levels: Don Leone on Memphis at International Blues Expo, Francesco Piu travelling through the world with his guitar, young musicians like Andrea Cubeddu, River of Gennargentu, Big Bon and more others.

Last but not least, we have a singer like Irene Loche. How strong is she! Do you agree?

I’ve had the pleasure of playing with Irene a couple of times here in London. She is a passionate blues performer with a great voice and spectacular guitar skills. She’s going to be very successful I think.

I look forward to playing with her again in Sardinia!

Thank you for this beautiful conversation Barry! See you on Sardinian!

Thanks Daniele. See you in Sardinia!

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Non ci avvaliamo di pubblicità, banner o pop up. Vorremmo provare a farne a meno.

Quindi la nostra forza sei tu e la tua passione. Contribuisci a far crescere questo progetto.

Te ne saremo infinitamente grati, e potrai sentirti protagonista di Sa Scena Sarda quanto noi!

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