Saturday, October 26, 2013

13 Questions Method: Alvin Youngblood Hart

The cosmic American lovechild of Howlin’ Wolf and Link Wray!

Since his 1996 debut recording — the all-acoustic Big Mama’s Door, Alvin Youngblood Hart has carried his musical message the world over. A devout follower of the “no barriers” approach laid by veteran performers like Gatemouth Brown and the late great Doug Sahm, he continues to defy the so-called purists. After receiving the 1997 W.C Handy Award for Best New Artist, as well as 2 Living Blues Awards, Hart’s 1998 release, Territory — a rousing tribute to all forms of American music — received the Downbeat Critics Poll Award for Best Blues Album (and it wasn’t even a Blues album).

In the summer of ’99 Hart teamed up with producer Jim Dickinson to begin recording Start with the Soul. Hart’s return to the “sacred garage” would be hailed as a new-breed Southern Rock classic. Start with the Soul was chosen in the New York Times Top 10 releases of 2000, as well as the BBC’s Blues record of the year. He also shared Living Blues magazine’s best guitarist honors with fellow road dog Big Jack Johnson in 2001. In August of ’03 he was invited to fill in for Taj Mahal for five nights in Tokyo as a member of Kip Hanrahan’s Conjure — the world’s longest running jazz poetry ensemble, assembled to lend musical support to the words of Bay Area poet Ishmael Reed. Alvin is still a member of the revolving cast and recorded with them on their Bad Mouth CD. In 2004, Hart received a Grammy for his contribution to Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster. In the summer of ’05 he released the self produced Motivational Speaker — a rock guitar free-for-all, paying homage to fallen and missing rockers like Phil Lynott and Sly Stone. In 2006 Hart joined Austin dynamo Ruthie Foster and rock-’n’-roll legend Bo Diddley for a two-month coast-to-coast US tour. Recently Hart has thrown his talent into the educational arena. In April 2007 he participated on a tour of Mississippi high schools as a member of the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz. Hart continues to tour the globe as a solo artist and with his Mighty Muscle Theory band.

1. Which was the first record you bought with your own money?
I believe it was a 45 of the Ohio Players’ “Fire.”

2. Which was the last record you bought with your own money?
I got a Joan Armatrading record and a Faron Young record while thrift shopping in England recently. I find many cool old ’60s country LPs in thrift shops over there. I’ll probably pick up the new AC/DC soon. Yeah, they’ve been making the same record since Back in Black, but they do it right and they make it rock!

3. What was the first solo you learned from a record — and can you still play it?
That would’ve been the Beatles’ “Back in the U.S.S.R.” In the immortal words of Sammy Davis Jr, “Yes I can.”

4. Which recording of your own (or as a sideman) are you most proud of, and why?
Motivational Speaker, because it’s pretty much me — not someone else’s perception of me. I wrote a couple of clever songs on it — songs that would’ve been rock radio hits, if we still had rock radio.

5. What's the difference between playing live and playing in a studio?
In the studio, we get do-overs. Nobody ever tells me, “Turn it down,” in the studio either.

6. What's the difference between a good gig and a bad gig?
Plain and simple, a good gig is: lots of girls dancin’, nobody holdin’ their ears, nobody sittin’ on their hands. A bad gig: five academic guys wanting to know what gauge stings I use. And/or the casino lounge.

7. What's the difference between a good guitar and a bad guitar?
Well, it certainly isn’t the name on the headstock. The difference is what goes on between the nut and the saddle. By that I mean, if those variables are straight, a $60 guitar will sound every bit as good as, if not better than, a $6000 guitar.

8. You play electric and acoustic. Do you approach the two differently?
I would say I do. I almost never use a pick on the acoustic guitar, although I have been contemplating a change there. I’ve been thinking about getting into a more strum-friendly guitar and trying to write songs that way — less fingerpicking. I'm retiring my old ’30s Stella.
Electric guitar, I play a lot louder.

9. Do you sound more like yourself on acoustic or electric?
I sound pretty much like me on either. We all have our habits and patterns that we go for when we pick up an instrument. I sure have mine anyway.

10. Do you sound like yourself on other people's guitars?
Oh yeah, sure. I can’t help it.

11. Which living artist would you like to collaborate with, and why?
I would like to throw a band together for Taj Mahal. It would be a stripped-down affair — basically a tribute/celebration of his 40 years as a recording artist. It would be based on his 1968 band. You know, the one that rocked.

12. Which dead artist (music, or other arts) would you like to have collaborated with, and why?
That, my friend, is a no brainer. Phil Lynott!

13. What's your latest project about (2011)?
5th grade science is what I call it. I’m slappin’ together a Tele with a Jaguar whammy bar. That’s my latest project.

November 2013
Friday 11/01/13 Starkville, MS Dave's Dark Horse Tavern
Saturday 11/02/13 Memphis, TN Hi Tone Café
Alvin Youngblood Hart's Muscle Theory
  AND Jimbo Mathus and the Tri State Coalition
Friday 11/22/13 New Orleans, LA d.b.a.
Alvin Youngblood Hart's Muscle Theory
Saturday 11/23/13 New Orleans, LA Magazine St Blues Fest - Free show!
w/ Marc Stone

Selected Discography

1996 Big Mama's Door [Okeh]   
1998 Territory [Hannibal Records]
2000 Start With the Soul [Rykodisc]   
2002 Down In The Alley [MerLess Records]
2005 Motivational  Speaker [Tone Cool]
2008 Otis Taylor Featuring Guy Davis, Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Keb' Mo', Don Vappie - Recapturing The Banjo ‎[Telarc]