By ERIC SCHELKOPF
The future of the blues is in the capable hands of 29-year-old Florida native Selwyn Birchwood.
Birchwood started garnering attention when he toured with blues legend Sonny Rhodes at the age of 19. Last year, Birchwood won the esteemed International Blues Challenge.
The fresh energy and passion that Birchwood brings to the blues is on full display on "Don't Call No Ambulance," his debut CD for Chicago-based Alligator Records.
Birchwood, www.selwynbirchwood.com, will perform July 31 at S.P.A.C.E., 1245, Chicago Ave., Evanston, with fellow Alligator Records guitar slinger Jarekus Singleton. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are available at www.ticketweb.com.
I had the chance to talk to Birchwood about the new album.
Q - You performed in June at the Chicago Blues Festival. How was that experience and what did you learn from it?
The Chicago Blues Fest was incredible. It was great to see that there is still that much support for Blues.
The Chicago Fest was a little different in the fact that they had a majority of actual blues bands. Sometimes you can arrive at a "blues fest" and hear anything but the blues.
Q - Blues legend Sonny Rhodes took you under his wing and you toured with him when you were 19. What were the most important things that he taught you and how do you think your music has evolved since then?
I really learned a lot about what the lifestyle of a touring musician was from Sonny. He taught me what to do and what not to do, and what is expected of a band leader.
I'm forever grateful that he let me ride his coattails in that regard. Being on the road with Sonny was really inspiring.
Once I saw the level of talent that was out there and the amount of excitement at the Blues festivals etc., it only increased my ambition to pursue this career.
Q - Of course, you recently released your third CD, "Don't Call No Ambulance," which is your debut on Chicago-based Alligator Records. What goals did you have for the album and do you think you achieved them? What is it like being on a label that has been home to so many music legends over the years?
I didn't have any real goals for the record once it was released. My goals were all in the recording process.
I just wanted to have the record be a close representation of our original music in our live shows. I think that the CD came out pretty well and it's been received greatly so far.
It's very surreal to be on Alligator. A lot of my favorite artists recorded for Bruce and it's flattering to have the opportunity to work with him.
Q - Your band placed first at the 2013 International Blues Challenge and you also took home the Albert King Guitarist Of The Year award that same year. Are you surprised at how well your music has been received? What do you think separates you from other musicians?
I was ecstatic that we won the competition. I always tell people, and I mean it, that you shouldn't focus on the competition, but rather the networking opportunities.
I felt that we had a chance to do well in the competition because I thought we fit the judging criteria well, but never got my hopes up on actually winning. It's too subjective to do that.
Every judge has their own taste and you may, or may not fit that. I think that our original material and stage presentation separate us from some of the other bands. We do almost all original material and try to put on an energetic and fun show.
Q - Through your music, are you trying to bring the blues to a new generation of fans? Do you feel a responsibility to carry on the blues tradition? What do you think of the current blues scene and how do you think it can be improved?
We're really just trying to make good music and get it out to as many audiences as we can. I think if you do that, a lot of other things will fall into place.
I really dig what Jarekus is doing. I think he is doing a lot of what we are trying to do, as far as bringing a fresh vibe and feel to the music, but from a different angle.
That's one of my favorite things about this music. You can inject your own perspective and personality into it!
Q - You switch up between a six-string guitar and lap steel. In sitting down and writing a song, how do you decide which instrument to use? What is your writing process? Do you write the music first and then the lyrics, or vice versa?
I don't have any set approach to writing. I get inspired by certain sounds, situations, feelings, pretty much anything. I try to just build from that inspiration in whatever way seems fit.
Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
I don't really have any dream projects or collaborations. I just want to play good music. Buddy Guy was the first to inspire me into Blues music, so it would be very cool to sit in with him though.