Scott Herold, CEO of Rock the Cause, is our chief music contributor. We asked him to write a piece about the blues, what happened to the blues and who now is guardian of that eternal flame.
I have been thinking a great deal as of late about Blues Music and Soul Music. Perhaps the current “Great Depression” has me finding a place of comfort in the Blues. I grimace when I think about anyone being forced to ride the rails, from hobo camp to hobo camp, drinking railroad gin, and playing the harmonica App on their iPhone.
It is a different kind of “Great Depression”, one that allows me to Tweet what hobo camp I am currently sharing with a Sachs Goldman Executive. I can post Blues lyrics to Facebook and there they somehow take on a new, profound meaning. Somewhere along the line the Blues became the music of the elite. Scores of middle aged executives bought up all the Gretsch Guitars to hack it out at the Monday night open jams. They spent thousands equipping themselves with Savage and Mesa Boogie amplifiers. They ate a lot of barbecue, and sold futures on the performance royalties of “Mustang Sally.”
The working Joe could no longer afford $125 to go see Clapton play “Layla”, on his 1930’s National Tricone Resonator, dressed in his best Tommy Bahama attire. The Chicago Blues man Muddy Waters described it best, “There’s no way in the world I can feel the same blues the way I used to. When I play in Chicago, I’m playing up-to-date, not the blues I was born with. People should hear the pure blues – the blues we used to have when we had no money.”
Goddamn right, I got the Blues.
About a year ago I was planning a tribute concert for American Music. I wanted emerging artists to play the American songbook. I wanted to challenge those young artists and audiences alike to discover our great American Music. I asked several prominent young artists to be involved. I asked them to send me a list of the songs they would play, the songs that inspired them. There were many good choices: Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, Simon and Garfunkel. One band, however, truly answered my prayers. Gabe Douglas of The 4onthefloor sent me his set list. I almost wept. I’m serious. I remember opening the e-mail and seeing “I just want to make love to you” Muddy Waters, “John The Revelator” by Son House, “Smoke Stack Lightning” by Howlin’ Wolf, and other songs by Leadbelly, Skip James, and other originals.
My friend and business partner Shayna suggested that I come see the 4onthefloor live at the Legendary Uptown Bar. What I saw that night was a band utterly determined to steal The Blues back from the promoters and agents. The 4onthefloor came walking into the Bar looking like The Soggy Bottom Boys from “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?”. They set up four kick drums; all band members stepped up to the front of the stage, two guitars, a snare, and a bass. Then they let old Howlin Wolf rip. The stomping began. The Uptown Bar was transported from its Urban Hipster surroundings, to some swampy Juke in Mississippi.
This was the old blues, with an independent rock and roll spirit. This was the hell hound of revolution. This was the Dire Wolf, who came to collect for our sins, for perverting the American Dream. The 4onthefloor will be releasing their first album on April 4th. Here’s a great track from that album:
I thought right away that I had to obtain an interview with Gabriel Douglas, the band’s leader. During our first conversation, I learned that Gabe was hesitant to be grouped into a piece with greats like Leadbelly and Son House. He has tremendous respect for their legend and music. Eventually, however, he answered my questions. He answered them with genuine sincerity and thought and a bona fide understanding of American Music and the human condition that surpasses his contemporaries.
When it comes to citing influences most contemporary artists will name Kurt Cobain, Ben Folds, or Jay Z. You are quick to cite musical traditions, and legends like Son House, Skip James, and Howlin Wolf. What is it about roots music that has you hooked?
I have always been in love with music. The beauty of music is that it is all derived from something. Every sound that has been made fascinates me. Blues legends, like Son House & Howlin’ Wolf have songs that are bare, honest, & witty. The stripped down nature of it all really draws me in. Chris (bd3), Mark (bd4), & James (bd2) all are encyclopedias for the Old Guard of American Music. Those songs speak to you in good times, in bad times. In your biggest successes you can scream along, and during travesty and failure after failure, you can scream along too, it’s a universal harnessing of the human condition.
For the past couple of decades Blues has de-volved into “white boy boogie” it tends to be more about chasing tail, and eating Barbeque than running from a hell hound. Why do you think this is?
I think all genres of music now have a candy shell to them. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but it is true. There is great blues out there, but most of it has always been trolling right under the surface. I’m sure the boogie is easier to hum, easier to sell records, and easier to put behind a can of soda. I think the real blues scares some people. I think other people simply just don’t understand it. They don’t get it. That’s fine, to each his own, but I’m ready to bring back more traditional overtones and a sense of urgency that is definitely missed in the BBQ anthems that are found.
What is your hell hound? Describe it?
Darkness. Everyone has it. Everyone has experienced it. It can envelope you. Wear it like a robe. You cannot outrun it. I forget that constantly. The only thing you can do is break it. Light it on fire. Craig Minnowa (from Cloud Cult) had a great quote: ” Without explanation, we are here and alive, at least for the moment, so we should probably learn to appreciate and celebrate the life we have.” Remembering that you should appreciate life and not taking it for granted is something I can struggle with from moment to moment. So what is my hell hound? I think every day there’s another issue, another dilemma, another damsel put in your pathway. My hell hound is deciding if I should: grab the lantern and find the problem, just flat out run, or grab that lantern and throw it straight into that monster’s mouth and watch it burn… because it’s only going to come back more pissed, more dark, and more menacing.. And you know what; sometimes it’s good to know it’s there, waiting for ya. That’s living.
Let’s talk protest songs. You follow in the tradition of writing songs that are about breaking from the “man”, and the shackles of human slavery. What possessed you create a song like “Workin’ Man Zombie”?
The drone. I love droning sounds, repeated or constant notes. I am terrified of the drone lifestyle, the workin’ man zombie. Some days in my life I have seen the tombstones in my own eyes, you have to proactively shake them out. People can find happiness in many ways, but I know that for me, finding that happiness with tombstones in my eyes would definitely take the magnitude of the happiness down. It’s so easy to fall into a fake sense of happiness. I seek pure and genuine everything in my life. I seek pure happiness. And I know that I won’t find it at the end of a long chain of decisions that will weight me down into a life that is half-baked. The drone mentality can look desirable, but it’s an easy way out. It’s not genuine. That song is there to grab you by the shoulders, look you in the eye, and shake you back to reality. There’s so much to be said about WAKE UP songs. Office Space is a great, funny movie, but it’s haunting too. It’s based off of an all too real watered-down reality.
Early blues was writing about what was in front of their faces. The turmoil they felt in their ribcage. People still have that, but it’s all relative. I don’t have a lot of the same problems they had, but I’ve got demons of my own. I’ve always been curious to know what many of the delta players would have done if electric guitars and full bands would have been at their disposal. Would they have been insulted that people wanted to share the stage with them? Would they have brought a 6 piece wrecking-ball-of-a-band on the road? Would they have started writing songs about chasing women on the beach if they had found success early on? There is no right or wrong answer. Each of those men was one of a kind. Every man is a one of a kind, although you can put him in a penguin suit and have him do the same tricks as the guy sitting next to him. Shake those tombstones. Be your own man.
I have seen you get a crowd of 200 or more people on their feet to sing “John the Revelator”. What do you think is the universal appeal of Folk, Blues, and Gospel?
It is truth. It reminds you that you have a pulse… and that the person next to you does too.
Who is your all time favorite artist and the record?
Third Eye Blind. Their self-titled record was the first record I bought on my own accord and every song resonated. Friends will heckle me until my dying day, but it they are my favorite band and that is my favorite record. In fact, I am positive that Mark, James, & Chris will roll their eyes at this answer. They know it.
Tell us about the record you are working on? What are you excited about?
4 Songs. Pretty simple title, we aren’t holding any punches. Had to put everything we had into those songs. We worked with Miles Hanson and tracked it all live in the same room. He has been amazing to work with. 4onthefloor wanted an organic, dynamic record and I believe we’ve accomplished just that. It was all recorded in a day, so the urgency is definitely felt too. It’ll be coming out April 4th (4/4, get it?) at the Kitty Cat Klub. Great friends will join us in the Alarmists, the Evening Rig, & Koo Koo Kangaroo. The only thing that comes close to the joy I have when making music, is watching someone who loves what they do continue on their path. All those bands are amazing, such a great mix of Minneapolis music.
The hardest part was deciding what songs got to go on the EP. People have been so generous in coming out to our shows and experiencing it firsthand. I feel privileged to be able to give them something to bring home now. What am I excited about…I live by the words ‘live in moments, not for moments,’ but that entire day will be a grin to witness. I am so excited to finally put some music out there that people can hear without getting in their car and coming to see us.
Any words of great import for our readers?
Live in moments, not for moments. Keep the fire in your eyes. Bring your stompin’ shoes.