Monday, July 18, 2016

Blues-rock guitarist Mark May releases new CD, will perform two shows in Chicago

Photo by Wendy Turner

Over the years, blues-rock guitarist Mark May has picked up his share of accolades.

Legendary musician Dicky Betts has called May "one of the best blues-rock artists to come along with years." May played with Betts, including being a member of his band Great Southern.

On May 20, May released his sixth album, "Blues Heaven." In support of the album, he will perform July 29 at Buddy Guy's Legends, 700 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago, and July 31 at the House of Blues, 329 N. Dearborn St., Chicago.

I had the chance to talk to May about the new album.

Q - I see that "Blues Heaven" recently reached number 13 on the "Roots Rock Report," and the album's opening track "Boom Boom," reached number 20 on the charts. 

Yeah, it's going good so far. We're also getting some good reviews. I'm really happy.

Q - I understand that you believe the CD is the most truthful album that you've made to date. 

I just try to write stuff mainly about my experiences. I try to open up to people and let them inside.

And sometimes I write about other subjects that aren't about be necessarily. For this album, I think I wrote a lot of stories about my life.

Q - When you sat down to make the album, was one of your goals to make it more personal? Did you have any other goals for the album?

It just kind of turned out that way. As you go through life, you have more experiences, but I think early on in my career, I think I was maybe afraid to open up.

But now I think it's a good outlet and it's a good way to let your fans in and for them to get closer to you. People like to get inside an artist's life.

Q - I know you were drawn to the blues after your aunt lent you a copy of B.B. King's 1971 album, "Live in Cook County Jail." You were only 11 years old at the time. What struck you about the album?

I put it on, and I really liked the singing and guitar playing. And it was real soulful.

I just kind of latched onto it. I remember my aunt telling me, "When you can sing and play guitar like that, I'll come to see you play."

So she let me borrow the album, and I took it home. I started trying to do my version of him back then. I didn't go into just playing blues during that time period. I was really influenced by my brother, who was a rock musician.

He turned me on to people like Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles and all that kind of stuff. I was kind of into that stuff, and my mom was a country and bluegrass musician, so I kind of had a couple different forms of music that I was exposed to at an early age.

And that's probably why I like Hendrix today, because he's so bluesy for a rock artist. But later on, when I got to Texas, I just kind of got drawn more into blues.

And I friend of mine gave me an Albert Collins' album. And I really liked it because he had kind of a fat rockin' Telecaster tone with overdrive on it, you know.

And then he had a lot of cool, upbeat songs with a lot of funny stuff in them. He had a lot of charisma.

I got drawn into doing the blues thing because it really touched my heart. I gradually started doing my blues songs as much as I could at the gigs I was playing at, which a lot of times were country gigs or something.

Q - I know one of your big supporters over the years has been Dickey Betts, and of course, you played with him. 

I met him through some friends of mine. He listened to one of my CDs, and it turned out he really liked it.

He came to see us play the next time we came through Florida, and asked us if we wanted to do a few dates opening for the Allman Brothers Band because he really liked us. So we ended up doing about 15 dates with the Allman Brothers.

Later on, when he split up with the Allman Brothers, he hired me to play in his band for a couple of years. That was really cool.

Q - What did you learn by playing with him?

A couple different things. He wasn't afraid to improvise on songs on a nightly basis, which is a little scary if you haven't done it before.

One of the main things that he would do is put together powerful parts, with two or three instruments playing the same part to create this big sound that people react to. I tried to take from that and put some of that in my music.

He brings excitement and dynamics to a song. 

Q - I know you have a horn section (The Soul Satyr Horns) on the album. What do you think that does to the album? 

Well, I've never worked with a horn section before, and these guys approached me. They were in another band and we played at the same festival.

It gives me a big, fat sound which I never had before. A lot of the stuff they play adds a lot of soul to the music, like their name implies.

The people who already have seen us like the addition. It's a different sound. There are not a ton of horn bands out there on the blues circuit right now.

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