Interview with Ramon Taranco: Blues and Jazz are very honest and direct musical forms: Video, Photos

Interview with Cuban-Mexican-Canadian musician Ramon Taranco, runs the gamut from Blues to Afro-Cuban and NOLA music

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook?  Where does your creative drive come from?

All types of music require hard work and discipline to play. I try to work on my music 4 to 8 hours a day. Hendrix and Coltrane practiced 8 per day. When a young Muddy Waters heard Robert Johnson for the first time playing on a street corner, he was stunned and devastated. He thought he was good, but he realized he had to do more work to play like a Robert Johnson. Hendrix had the same effect on Clapton, Townsend, Beck, and Page. So, I believe as musicians we have a duty to work, practice, play, jam, whatever… the work has to be put in. For the rest of your life, you have to maintain your musical edge. So, being a musician isn’t just about having a dream, a passion or a goal. You have to BE a musician.

When I first started playing guitar, after a year or two, I formed a band with a friend and instantly for some reason, I started writing lyrics and music. I became the band’s songwriter and I’ve never stopped. I have no set pattern for how I write songs. My songs are usually based on real incidents and people. This is the beauty of Blues and Jazz. It’s all about your individual musical journey. My music runs the gamut from Afro-Cuban Jazz & Blues to Southern Rock & New Orleans Funk. My 3 albums are: Music From the Bermuda Triangle (1992), The Adventures of Bo Segovia (2007) & Cuban Blues Man (2019).

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?  What was the best advice anyone gave you?

Through the years, I have received lots of advice and had many learning experiences. However, my main mentor was Canadian bluesman Mendelson Joe – most notably known for the iconic ‘69 blues album, “Stink.” Joe taught me that jamming blues and jazz was about consideration and support – not just about soloing. He taught me professionalism, punctuality, promotion, presentation and how to work hard. Joe advised me on contracts, touring, and getting paid ‘cash, certified check or money order.’ Mendelson gave me the opportunity to open for him at Toronto’s legendary blues and folk club, “The Riverboat” and many other gigs and venues. My first recording experience was supported and funded by Joe through the donation of his paintings.

Another musician I owe a lot to is Grammy and Juno award-winner, Ben Mink who gave me advice on how to be a good band leader and how to be efficient in a recording studio. Musician/songwriter Mike Anichini gave me positive feedback and support on my most recent recording, “Cuban Blues Man.” I have learned a lot from Ruben Vazquez, Brian Gagnon and many other talented and skilled musicians who have played on my recordings and gigs. My high school music teachers, Mr. Parsons and Mr. Hughes got me started on my path to becoming a professional musician.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions, which you would like to share with us?

In Canada, I played live on CBC National radio “(Morningside, Musical Friends…); played in The Top O’ the Senator’s Guitar Bar Series which also included guitar legends like Jim Hall, Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow, John Fahey, Laurindo Almeida, Charlie Byrd & Lorne Lofsky; took solo jazz guitar lessons with Lenny Breau; played The Blues at the Waters Edge Café with Carlos del Junco; hung out, partied and jammed with members of the James Cotton Blues Band and Koko Taylor’s Band (Bernard Allison) and recorded with Pat LaBarbera.

In New York, I played live blues solo and with blues harpist/vocalist Jasper McGruder on The Gut Bucket Blues Radio Show (WBAI, Manhattan); gave 8 performances with my trio for the Guggenheim Museum’s Worldbeat Jazz Series; did an acoustic blues concert with Jasper McGruder on Martin Luther King Jr’s birthday at the Newark Public Library; gave a solo concert (solo blues, jazz, latin and classical guitar) at The Bronx Museum of the Arts for African Heritage Day (the audience was comprised totally of West Africans dressed in their traditional clothing and African Americans); played the music of New Orleans with my trio at “Visions” in Manhattan for an audience comprised of mostly blind people – a great privilege to play for people who REALLY listen; played guitar on stage for Liz Swados’ opera, Missionaries; played across the street from Julliard School of Music and Lincoln Centre at the Mozart Cafe for several months and got chastised by a Julliard instructor for playing blues mixed in with my classical repertoire. I told him, “Bach would have loved the Blues.”

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

For me, what I miss are natural vocals and real drums. I am basically into predominantly what I call “organic music.” Over use of auto-tuner and drum machines creates what I call a “flatline” sound which eliminates much of the dynamics and edge of the music. Before auto tuner, when you heard a voice (even with reverb added), it was that singers real voice. As far as the future goes, I hope that new young musicians develop a strong work ethic and produce and have a more natural or organic approach to their new music. I mostly worry about the plight of the average full time musician who needs to work regularly and get paid properly. Remember: “Live Music is Best”.

How has Blues and Jazz music influenced your views on the world?

Blues and Jazz are very honest and direct musical forms. As Keith Richards once said, “Blues is a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.” Sincere and honest Blues and Jazz music won’t lie or mince words. As a working bluesman you try to face life and music with a “sharp stick” and see the world through a prism of your truth because Blues and Jazz are about musical and social individuality.

Are there any similarities between the blues and the genres of Cuban folk music and traditional forms?

Both African-American Blues and Afro-Cuban music are connected as both music’s have West Africa as their musical source. The culture travelled with the slaves from these regions.to the America’s. Most of the slaves that went to the USA were from the Sub-Sahara region (Mali, The Gambia, Sierra Leone) while Cuba received slaves from Central West Africa (Nigeria) and mainly Yoruba tribe. But the music from these areas were greatly affected by British slave laws and Spanish slave laws. The British strictly forbade all traditional African instruments and music.  The Spanish, on the other hand, did not impose these rules and allowed the slaves to keep and use all their traditional instruments and music. As a result, Afro-Cuban music is deeply connected to its West African roots. Due to British slave laws, the West African connection in African-American musical forms like blues had to be hidden – camouflaged. The West African connection can be heard in JB Lenoir’s approach using African rhythms and percussion or the song “Bo Diddley” with its African clave rhythm or Professor Longhair with his use of Cuban Rhumba rhythms or Billy Boy Arnolds’ “I Wish You Would.”  In West Africa, they were called “Joliba” – in America, Bluesmen.

What are the important lessons you have learned from your experiences in your musical journey?

NEVER GIVE UP!!! And, as Quincy Jones once said, “It’s the duty of all musicians to create music that can’t be categorized.”

How do you want to affect people?

I’m looking forward to the future – playing with my amazing band: Ruben Vazquez (keyboard), Juan Pablo Dominguez (bass), Amhed Mitchel (drums) Raul Pineda Abreu (percussion), Maureen Leeson (background vocals) & Brian Gagnon (background vocals & sound engineer). Please close your eyes and listen.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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Interview with Hughes Taylor: Music has the ability to connect people, to change moods: Video, Photos

Interview with Macon, Georgia-based guitarist Hughes Taylor, puts his own spin on modern Blues with echoes of Hendrix, SRV, and southern rock.

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

The beautiful thing about the blues is that everybody has them. Even if you aren’t a fan of the music genre, feeling blue is a universal experience. I suppose the biggest takeaway from blues culture is how important it is to stay true to myself. I try not to let anyone else’s opinions have too much influence on my own music. Obviously, it is important to listen, because everybody has something to offer, but you should never compromise your beliefs. It is also vitally important that I put my heart into the work I do.

How do you describe your sound, music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

I think my sound is hard to narrow down into just a few words, since there’s always a good bit of variation on each album. But I guess the first thing that comes to mind is “bluesy.” In everything that I play, from the harder dirty rock to the softer ballad-type songs like “Promise” and “Dreamily,” there are always elements of blues. I also think the overall sound of my music could be described as soulful and nostalgic, but it is still definitely unique to me. Music, and especially blues, is an expression of feeling, and each person feels something unique. And I think that is a beautiful thing. No one can replicate what it is that I am feeling. The songs I write all come from an honest place, and when I am playing, I put all of my soul into each note. I’m not exactly sure where my creative drive originates from; ever since I was a kid, I was always persistent about writing my own music, and I have always felt a deep connection with the blues. I do know that since we first met, my wife, Evie, has been my inspiration for so much of my music.

What touched you from the legendary Capricorn Studios in Macon, GA? Do you have any stories about the making of the new album?

Capricorn was an unbelievable experience, a dream come true. Just walking into that room where so much of the music I grew up on was created was almost too much. There was certainly a big difference from when we first went into the studio to record “Trouble” in December of 2019, to when we recorded the rest of the album in January of 2021. Those first days entering the studio were a dream. Just thinking, “We are now a part of Capricorn history” had me reeling. The Hughes Taylor Band recorded the first single at Capricorn Sound Studios since before the “Capricorn Revival.” We were the guinea pigs that helped break the studio in before it officially reopened in January of 2020, and it was an experience I will never forget. It’s hard not to be overzealous, but the amount of history and music that those walls have heard over the years was almost overwhelming.

When we came back in January of 2021, the experience was a bit different. I had to keep reminding myself we were here for a reason and had work to do. By this time, the studio was in full operation. Where “Trouble” took us three days to record, this time we were able to record 11 songs in three days. And I felt so at-home there. Everything about being in the studio just felt so natural to me.

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

I think the thing I miss most about music is the spontaneity and overall “live” feel that older music has. There is just something magical about going into the studio and recording the song as a band in a single take. Everything is live right then and there. Obviously, there are always great exceptions, but over the years music has felt less pure and more overproduced. (Not that there’s anything wrong with a well-produced, meticulously crafted piece of music.) That is why I am so grateful that bands like The Black Keys (at least before “El Camino”), Jack White, The Sheepdogs, and several others are becoming more mainstream. I think that raw sound and older way of recording is becoming popular again and I’m 100% for it.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

There are so many I wish I could share. I will never forget the first time I improvised a guitar solo. I was fourteen years old and B. Keith Williams invited me to play Stormy Monday. Keith looked at me during the middle of the song and told me to just go for it. It was the first time I had ever experienced crafting my own improvised solo and it opened a whole new world for me.

Then there was the time I got to meet Ken Hensley of Uriah Heep. He was such an inspiration. I was running sound for him at a private event he was hired to play, and I actually got to drive him to and from his hotel. We talked about music, life, and God, and he was just such an amazing human being. I came home and wrote a song that very night. We kept in touch via email until his untimely death last year.

Of course, our UK tour opening for Heather Findlay in January of 2020 was another unbelievable experience that I will never forget. We had such an awesome time, playing so many unique venues. One of the most memorable gigs was actually not even scheduled. We were invited by Heather’s bassist Stu to play a short set during his band, The Mothers’, gig at this really cool pub in York called the Old White Swan. It was jammed packed full of people and the crowd was just so electric. Never have I experienced an audience like music lovers in the UK and I can’t wait to go back.

The first time I performed after quarantine, I had a spiritual experience. It hit me hard that performing music for people is what I was put on this Earth to do. So every gig is even more precious to me now. I am so grateful for every opportunity to perform.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Every opportunity to connect with people through music is precious, and it’s important to appreciate those moments. I also feel it is important to put in my best effort every time I am able to play. Especially when it comes to blues music, you have to put every part of your soul into each note. Of course, there are going to be times that your performance just isn’t quite there, but you should always walk away from the gig with the feeling that you put in your best effort. Even if I only connected with just one single person, I know I’ve done my job well.

What is the impact of music on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want to affect people?

Music has the ability to connect people, to change moods, and elicit all sorts of emotions. I’ve never wanted to be famous, or win awards, or anything like that. For me, I’ve only ever wanted to express myself through my music, and to connect and inspire people in the same way that my heroes and influences connected with and inspired me with their music. That’s all I can hope for: that my music reaches people and makes them feel.

What would you say characterizes the Georgia blues/rock scene in comparison to other local US scenes?

I don’t know that I have noticed a huge difference in the Georgia scene compared to other states, as far as the musicians are concerned. The blues is the blues. I suppose the jams that I have been a part of have generally gone on longer, especially in Macon and in Athens. Unfortunately, I haven’t had the privilege of spending a lot of time outside of the Georgia blues scene, but I fully intend to in the near future.

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

I have always wanted to meet my hero, Stevie Ray Vaughan. One of my all time favorite performances was Live at the El Mocambo, and that would be really cool to witness, but I would also love to have a conversation with him in his last years when he was fully sober. His music and message has always hit me in the perfect way and it would be incredible to talk with him and tell him how powerful of an influence he is on multiple generations of guitar players.

Interview by Michael Limnios

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Interview with Joseph Veloz: My sound and songbook are a fusion of Blues, Rock, Funk & a little Jazz: Video, Photos

Interview with Michigan-based bassist Joseph Veloz, delivers his signature bottom end grooves that you will feel from head to toes.

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

I have learned to Love what I do and to be proud of what I have accomplished. The Blues for me is an art form that allows myself and so many musicians to express our feelings and our emotions with our music.

How do you describe Joseph Veloz sound and songbook? What characterize your music philosophy?

My sound and songbook are a fusion of Blues, Rock, Funk & a little Jazz. My philosophy is pretty simple, make the audience Feel the music and play from the Heart not from the Head.

How do you think that you have grown as an artist since you first started making music? What has remained the same about your music-making process?

I have grown in my experiences and relationships. I am a much more mature giving and supportive player now than in my earlier years. I wanted to impress people with my talents and abilities when I was starting out, now I look to be more supportive to the material I am playing and to the artist I am working for/with. I am much more aware of melody, song structure and overall musical intent now. I still gravitate to groove, feel and Blues. If it ain’t got no funky, bluesy feeling something ain’t right…. I really try to just find a place in the music I’m playing where I can groove, support and communicate. I love being a bassist, playing in the pocket with a drummer. When I’m composing, creating the groove or feel is where I mainly start. Even when I come up with a harmonic idea, I usually make the idea groove.

How do you describe new album’s “Joseph & the Velozians” sound?

Joseph And The Velozians sound is a sum total of the compositions and the people playing them. The sound is the combination of Organic grooves, Bluesy feel and R&B song sensibility. I had a distinct sound in mind for each song. Singer, players, style and so forth. Combined with the availability of everyone losing so much work from not touring last year, this project helped keep me looking forward and I hoped that it would create that feeling in those that participated. I believe the overall feeling of hope and joy of seeing and working together while separated from the world is what made the “Velozian” sound.

Do you have any stories about the making of the new album?

The name Velozians was something a friend said to me one night about 15 years ago when we use to host a Jam at Corktown Tavern in Detroit. It was a kind of ongoing joke that any band I threw together were The Velozians. When the 2020 lockdown started to kick in, I watched my tour dates and festivals start to cancel one after the other. It was devastating for not just myself but for all of the musicians I had become so close to over the past couple of years. I really felt defeated at first. I knew I had to do something to keep myself from feeling down about this situation none of us had any of control over. I am starting finishing work on music I had started writing over the past few years since releasing my first CD Offerings in 2017. It made me feel hopeful again and I wanted my fellow musicians to share in the Joy I was feeling. I started to reach out with my ideas, and we all started to communicate virtually at first. When everyone had started to feel safe going out again, we scheduled studio time and it was like a celebration to create and be together again! It was almost surreal, but we all knew how special it was. The excitement and Joy in everyone was undeniable. The guitar player Carlton Washington said it was like a gift had been given to him. It was great to see so many smiles again and that vibe is present in the music every time you listen.

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

I learned to stay true to my faith in God, in myself and in my family and friends. The Music Business is not always loving and caring, but I truly try to give as much grace to people as I can because many times I myself have needed it. There are so many opportunities to show love, truth and kindness to people and I didn’t always know how important that is. I have learned that the best way to deal with situations when they do come up is to be direct, professional, honest, and always kind.

What would you say characterizes Michigan blues scene in comparison to other local US scenes and circuits?

That infusion of pop, blues and R&B made Motown Hitsville USA, so most Detroit blues musicians also have a vocabulary of multiple music styles and backgrounds. Michigan musicians in general are all very hard working and dedicated to their craft. Here in Detroit and the surrounding Metropolitan area the Motown style still influences all of us. Detroit has had some tough times economically and if you’ve been around for a while, you see the spirit of survival and perseverance all around the city. Competition is fierce for the few gigs in the area. That really makes it imperative that you know how to appeal to a wide variety of audience and venue possibilities. And you better be funky!

How has the Blues and Rock Counterculture influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

It has given me a broader view of myself and the world around me. No matter where I go in the World and play music people realize if you are truly giving from the heart, authentic not fake. I realized that people will always respect you if you are honest and humble to any and all people.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

My friendship with Andrew “Blaze” Thomas & Shawn Kellerman has always been a very important one. They push me and support me like a brother, but never let me forget who I am or how good I can become. The best advice I have received is to always give all you can so you will never look back at your life or decisions in regret.

Are there any memories from gigs, jams, open acts and studio sessions which you’d like to share with us?

I was given the opportunity to play in Moscow with Lucky Peterson. I was unsure of how we/I would be received and how we would be treated there. Once we started to play they could have cared less about where we were from or what color we were, they just wanted to hear the Blues and they were so glad we came there!!!

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

There were many more Blues venues in the past here in the US. People seem to have moved away from live roots/blues music for some reason. My hope is that Blues will continue to grow as an art form and capture the younger generations, My fear is that Blues will become more of a historical art form rather than an ever changing and growing art form.

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

That music could be available to everyone around the globe, both young and old. To sit and sing the simplest songs with other people, whatever the style always makes for a good time together and the starting point of breaking down barriers that separate mankind from each other.

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

My Grandkids trying to play my Bass was quite funny, they just smack it and strum it with no concern or care, they just want to try to play and have fun. I think the most emotional thing that continues to touch me is when a Musician passes and we get together to Jam or sing praises about them, we use music/the Blues to connect and pay tribute.

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

Anywhere in Europe! Every time I get the opportunity to travel there it is always a pleasure to walk down streets or go into buildings centuries old. It’s living history, I dig that stuff!

What is the impact of Blues/Rock and Jazz on the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

I see both sides. 1: no one knows or cares what color of your skin or where you are from if you are groovin’ on a good song! 2: unfortunately, people limit themselves from certain styles or genres because of race or creed. Music can touch all of us no matter were you are from or what color/creed you are if you only make yourself available to be open and accepting. I think that is the main issue we seem to always fall short of, to make yourself open and available to people and have empathy for whomever you cross paths with, we are all Humans!

Interview by Michael Limnios / Photos by Zaneta Alvarez

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