Saturday, January 30, 2016

Eric Bibb pays tribute to influential musican Lead Belly


Critically-acclaimed acoustic bluesman Eric Bibb pays tribute to influential folk and blues musician Lead Belly on his latest album, "Lead Belly's Gold."

Bibb will perform with Corey Harris at 8 p.m. Jan. 30 at Fermilab's Ramsey Auditorium in Batavia. Tickets are $28, $14 for ages 18 and under.

I had the chance to talk to Bibb about the album.

Great talking to you. I believe we last spoke in 2011, when you were touring in support of your album, "Booker's Guitar."

Q - Of course, you were inspired to write that album after playing Booker White's own guitar. "Lead Belly's Gold" is a tribute to the legendary Lead Belly. Was it just the right time to do this album?

Well, there was a lot of activity around Lead Belly's 125th anniversary. There were quite a number of tribute concerts around the world and actually I was part of one in London with Van Morrison and some other folks at Royal Albert Hall.

I got wind of that just about the same time I was planning the album, so it was really just fortuitous that all this attention was being focused on Lead Belly at the time I was doing this record.

Q - How did you determine what Lead Belly songs to cover and what did you try to do with them? For instance, for me, there seems to be a Zydeco feel on "Midnight Special."

Well you know, the thing is Jean-Jacques Milteau, my collaborator, is a player with a wonderful wide vocabulary when it comes to styles. We just thought it would be interesting to touch on that Louisiana thing, being that Lead Belly is from Louisiana.

And he does that so well, kind of invoking the accordion with his harp.

When it comes to songs, God knows, there are plenty to choose from. If you were to assemble all of Lead Belly's recordings, it ends up being hundreds of songs. But there were songs I remember from my childhood that really meant a lot to me.

And there were some unknown ones that I discovered. But mostly, we just experimented until we found songs that we felt we could make our own. 

I didn't want to be too radical with the arrangements. I wanted people to let people know that I was being respectful of Leadbelly's take on things, but at the same time, we had to put a personal stamp on it.

Q - Are there any songs that you wished you did do but unfortunately you weren't able to do on this album? Maybe those songs might be on a future album?

I could absolutely think of a volume two for this tribute, because there are so many good songs that appeal to me. We just had to make some hard decisions to go with what we had.

Q - You were talking about Jean-Jacques. What do you think he brought to the project?

Well, his wonderful musicianship, first of all. He's just a great player.

And as I said, his vocabulary is so wide. He goes into so many zones with his playing.

Q - I know that you have three of your own songs on the album, including "Swimmin' in a River of Songs." What would you like for people to take away from that song in particular and is there a meaning behind the song's name?

Well, Lead Belly was definitely a person who was immersed in a river of songs. His whole life was surrounded by songs that he either wrote or made his own.

I just wanted to add my own songwriting to the mix. Lead Belly among other things was a fine songwriter, and I just wanted to see how my songs resonated in the context of his own songs.

I wanted to kind of write his perspective as if I were him.

Q - Of course, you were recently nominated for two Blues Music awards by The Blues Foundation for your album, "Blues People." What did you try to do with that album?

I had the chance to stretch out a little in the studio working with The Blind Boys Of Alabama and Taj Mahal, which was a thrill. Harrison Kennedy is somebody I recently saw in Canada and just loved working with.

Ruthie Foster is a soul sister from way back, and Glen Scott, the producer, is somebody who I am just crazy about working with. His creativity is boundless. 

I always wanted to make a statement about where blues people have come to and talk about the whole journey and the whole African-American experience to some degree in those songs.

I think we managed to make some really good music.

Q - It must have been a thrilling experience to be in the same room with all those talented musicians.

Yeah, it really was. It was an unforgettable experience, especially with The Blind Boys of Alabama, who I had never worked with before. They were wonderful people and great singers, so yeah, it was a thrill.

Q - You've already done so much in your career. Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?

I've got a list of people who I would love to work with. I had a chance to record with Mavis Staples and her father, Pop Staples, back in 1997, and I would love to be able to work with her again.

We'll see. We'll see what happens.

Like I said, there's no end to fabulous musicians. I like working with my own songs and own ideas, but there's nothing quite like working with other musicians and seeing what they bring out of you.

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