Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
DAVE WELD INTERVIEW
True blues survivor gives the lowdown on how he's paid his dues since his days with J.B. Hutto
By Linda Cain
A true blues survivor, who has done it all and seen it all, Dave Weld and his band The Imperial Flames are back with a stellar sophomore CD for Delmark Records. A bandleader, guitarist, singer and songwriter -- who was mentored by late legend J.B. Hutto and who cut his teeth playing in the seedy clubs on Chicago’s West Side -- Weld is also a veritable raconteur of Chicago blues history. It’s a tale in which he continues to write new chapters about how he has lived the blues and paid his dues, and how he continues to do so, sometimes against all odds.
Q. Congratulations on your second Delmark CD, Slip Into A Dream. As evidenced by the many rave reviews, you are not suffering from a sophomore slump. The CD has a live feel to it, as if you and the players in the studio are all interacting and responding to each other.
Did you road test these songs before recording them? How did you achieve the level of excitement on the disc that simply jumps out at the listener?
Lots of coffee!! Actually, what we do is play the songs at gigs, and it is a balance. We try to record after a two or three gig weekend, or if there is only one gig, the next day we do a practice. BUT the day before, I rest, run over a few things, tune up, force myself to try and sleep early.
Then the day of (recording), I sleep as late as possible, and eat something basic that will stick to my stomach, drink coffee, take vitamins and try to figure out my first song.
Then, when I get there, I try and set up ASAP and get my mind into the fact that this is the most fun I can possibly have -- the excitement of recording your own material with the people you love and trust.
Then we tear into it, as though your life, which it does, depends on it! The title cut, “Slip Into A Dream,” was the first song of our first recording session! We thought we could do it better later on, tried it again, but none of the later cuts, maybe three total, were as good.
We did this for each of the 13 songs, actually more, a couple did not make it. Some were first takes! On “Tremble,” Steve (Wagner, producer) yelled from the control booth, “That’s it, you don’t need any more on the one.” For “Take Me Back” we used the first take, too. Quite a few were first take!
Q. Please tell us about the recording session and if you have any interesting behind-the-scenes stories? Anything interesting to say about working with Bobby Rush or Sax Gordon?
This was a real hard project for us. We did so many rehearsals, I would have to drive to Rockford once a week and return them to Rockford after setting up equipment in the living room in Chicago. We had the songs by then, but this is where they were born, the ensemble playing, the parts, the harmonies.
We did this FOR MONTHS! Then I would take those tapes and go back to rewrite the words, Monica as well, because our first words were not a sing-able as they should be. Then I would practice my leads on these tapes. All the while we were playing gigs, baby sitting, going to court over a custody case where we were trying to protect our grandson from abuse, and neglect, which was very emotional. Eventually we won his protection, after six years and $20K. And we sacrificed complete summer seasons, instead of having fun, or Fall, and Spring. Just tidbits here and there while others go on vacation.
The drive back and forth was debilitating, and after a gig we were exhausted. My apartment had a deadbeat tenant, and they got free living for 8 months, and trashed the place, leaving the dog locked up to crap on the floor, and hoarder style mess there. We both got sick numerous times, on antibiotics, and lots of other meds.
The big question is “HOW MUCH DO YOU WANT THIS”? Why don’t other groups come up with this original type stuff, well those are the types of reasons why. The writing alone was really tough, I remember we spent one Sunday alone coming up with the intro, turnaround, to “Slip into a Dream,” Monica finally sang it to me and I put chords to it. So simple, But it took all day. Just to come up with the idea, “lazy day,” took us many many, months, and we called the song that, until, I came up with the chorus, “slip into a dream”; I still say ”lazy day” and count it off on the band stand.
It took months of practice to learn the chords to “Sweet Love” and then again months to learn the solo, for me it was reaching because we do new songs for a CD, so there is a tremendous growth and learning curve! Rewriting a song that came out on my first CD, 30 years ago, (“Tremble”); also rewriting a song I first played for Bruce Iglauer (Alligator Records boss) on an air flight from Holland 25 years ago (“Sweet Rockin Soul”), so they are good enough to compete with the talent of today, which is very high!
This was just the recording process, the tracking. The over dubs were hard, too. Practice all week just to go in, as if it was a concert at Carnegie Hall, and lay down two or three leads, and a couple of times I failed, leaving me really bummed, but eventually going back to get a good one.
But hanging with Bobby was a blast, and he really took to me, and we talked about the old Fifties blues cats he had been with, JB Lenoir in particular: “Talkin ‘bout me and you, what are we gonna do” (“Eisenhower Blues”). They used to play together. He LOVED the board at Delmark and told Steve all about it. Who he had recorded on it with, where it was from, and Steve Wagner really directed his playing well. Really got that Fifties style harp.
Sax Gordon was just great too. He really played inspired solos and backing too. Kenny Anderson as well, and he wrote a wonderful arrangement to “Sweet Love”, and Hank Ford really blew a sweet solo. The Heard, really was great to work with as well, very dedicated! Young guys, really funky!
Greg Guy just came right in and jammed! We jammed together and that is how Steve took it. We had tried playing the song, and I depended on Greg for the intro, which he did so much better than me! Because I was always setting the song up for the guys on a live gig, I had not worked out a great intro like Greg really did!
A lot of artists say to me: “I recorded a CD in one day, we mixed it in two” or something like that. Well put the CD next to Slip into a Dream.
We had played a gig in Edmunton AB and I called my old buddy, Graham Guest, on keys. It worked out so well, and he mentioned he would be in Thunder Bay, so he drove down from there and stayed at my house, and overdubbed on many songs. He was with Sue Foley for many years, but I met him at the Yale 20 years ago, after they would not let Leo Davis in Canada, I hired him after he came up and jammed. He was just a kid then, now he has a young family! He came to Delmark and we did a marathon session, with again Steve Wagner making all the difference in the world, with his direction!
Q. Your longtime sax player Abb Locke, a true Chicago blues legend, is not on this CD. How is he doing and how old is he now? Do you have any tales from the past about Abb?
Abb is great, he is a real survivor, and all of his old band mates are dead, except for Eddie Shaw. He out lived them by not ever drinking or using dope, and saving for his home, and he had it before the Wolf did, and inspired Wolf to get one himself. Abb was not feeling that well during the sessions, but came in and we were happy to have him. He has so many tales! He has kept us mesmerized on the road for years with tales about Two Gun Pete, who he lived with, and the Wolf, Muddy, Elmore, BB, Earl Hooker, Willie Mabon, Ike and Tina Turner, Memphis Slim, the Rolling Stones, and so many more!
Q. Clearly, many of the songs on the new CD are based on your romantic and professional relationship with your knock-out vocalist Monica Myhre. Usually blues songs are about a woman doing a man wrong, or vice versa. So it is refreshing to hear positive upbeat, sexy love songs, that aren’t sappy ballads.
Did you purposely avoid writing, “my baby done me wrong” songs?
There are some my baby done me wrong songs. Just not old and corny. Monica’s ex-husband beat her up and threw her down the stairs, and she had him arrested; or she is lookin’ for a man, but yes, that one, and the other, man-woman songs are upbeat. What we think about is how does it relate to the listener? Lazy day on the couch, who can’t relate? I directed Monica to go in the direction of “Lookin for a Man,” because so many women can relate, and it fits Monica’s independent spirit. But she took the idea and ran with it really well.
And of course “Sweet Love”-- that of many older lovers, their families raised and gone, and they are still in love. Of course our family still hounds us, and they all live there.
Q. The addition of Monica to The Imperial Flames has given the world a fine blues woman artist who can hold her own with the best blues singers out there. Please tell us a little about how you work together, writing songs and performing?
On her songs, she gets the melody, the words, and I come up with the chord progression, arrangements. On my songs she helps with melody and words and sing-ability issues, as well as harmony ideas. We both review each other’s words, and go over band parts. We are really honest, as in “That really sucks. We have to fix that”, on lyrics.
Q. What is the back story about Dave and Monica’s partnership, both musical and romantic?
How did you meet? And how did you decide to work together?
We met at a benefit in Rockford for Ike Anderson, put on by the Crossroads Blues Society, Ike was in that organization and died of cancer, was the vice president. I did the gig, and Monica got the lyrics for “Sweet Love”: “You just walked right in, with that sweet little grin,” because Mark Thompson (club president) said, “don’t worry, he will just walk in, up to the stage and start playing,” and that’s what I did.
She wrote me after that and said she would help me maybe with some gigs, and of course that was music to my ears. In my mind I said, “big things sometimes start by grasping a flimsy little outstretched straw of help,” so I went along, and pretty soon, we had some gigs lined up. She went to them, and showed me how to get back to Chicago, and I did not know she could sing.
Truth was she was in bands her whole life, and singing on stage since age six, at the Mexican clubs in town, and was there when Cheap Trick was practicing in the garage. Then her fiancé and her were in a funk band, and a winter night the van slid onto a field an hit a large rock. He died and she crawled for help. It took years for her to start again, but it was with a Christian band. Then she started coming up on our sets little by little, she was not even that good, but good enough, until something inside her changed.
Then she started being the popular one and even I admired her tone and style, but it took years, of just coming up to jam a little. She never got paid.
Her grandfather used to ride with Pancho Villa. He was the financial guy for Villa and when he was defeated they were looking to kill him, and he came to Seneca IL, and had Monica’s mother. Her name was Maria Garcia.
Then of course, my mother got ill and I brought Monica over, trying to impress her on how well I took care of Mom. It worked -- an old fashioned con job -- but I still was not in love, but Monica said, “it’s too late, I’m already in love”.
The reason I was not in love, or so I thought, was because I had been living a self-centered life, of band leader, and ex-drug addict and drunk. Those things are sickness of self-centeredness, lack of faith, and a physical allergy that creates compulsive behavior.
BUT, I was clean 20 years and ready to change. AND there was nobody I would rather talk to than Monica, we saw so much eye to eye, and loved the same things. So SHE saw that --woman is more advanced in relationships than man -- and she was very patient with me.
ourselves into taking care of Mom and getting gigs, and now it is still
the same, but we have thrown ourselves into taking care of our family,
her blood line, and getting gigs.
Q. Your guitar style is uniquely retro among today’s music. You were mentored by J.B. Hutto, who was a pioneer in the rowdy, West Side of Chicago slide guitar style. Hutto’s nephew, Lil’ Ed Williams, also learned from him. You and Lil’ Ed both worked together back in the day.
Fast forward several decades…Do you feel that you and Lil’ Ed still approach the blues in the same manner or have your respective styles gone in different directions?
Well, everyone has to go into a different direction, if they want to record new material. BUT for me, the basis is still a Jimmy Reed shuffle. And our values has remained constant on putting feeling into each note, with a rough edge. Of course different songs make us sound different, but I never put a limit on Ed, what he could do, or style he could play, and I feel that way about my own music, and if I like it, I want to play the hell out of it. Of course, if I like it, others will too.
I don’t feel my style is that much retro, because I play blues, real blues, and that is an older traditional style, so properly played, it might sound retro, but the trick is to put a fresh feel in it.
Q. What musical and life lessons did you learn from J.B. Hutto?
Never give up. He showed me the guitar boogie woogie from years ago, and I tuned down to D like him and was able to sing better there. He made me stay in key, and gave me the idea how to do that and still move register. He made me play back up for him, then made me play lead and kick off the song.
He gave me confidence, and I saw his life, and through that, I saw my own!
Q. J.B. introduced you to your first band with Brewer Phillips on guitar and Ted Harvey on drums. They were Hound Dog Taylor’s band The Houserockers and together you held down a regular slot at a club called Sweet Pea’s for a year. Can you share some stories or remembrances from your time with them?
We played there every Friday and Saturday night for a year. I was the only white guy, and once a real big guy acted like he wanted to throw me out because I was white, and everyone threw him out. First time I saw semi-nude dancers, hoochie dancers. Then they tried to get rid of me once, giving me to a bandleader saying: “he’s no Left Hand Frank, but he will do.” But I went over to the guy’s house to rehearse and did not like it. I came back the next week and everyone just looked at each other, “oh, here he is again”.
Eventually Brewer’s wife stabbed him in the throat, for messing around, and I went to the hospital to visit Brewer, and brought him a Living Blues magazine. He recovered and he and Suzy stayed together the rest of their lives. Then I went over to the 1815 Club.
Q. Later, you had a steady gig at Eddie Shaw’s 1815 Club, where all the famous blues players performed and hung out. Who did you get to meet or play with back then?
Many, because it was a local hangout: Jimmy Dawkins, Little Wolf, Tail Dragger, Little Arthur, Maxwell Street Jimmy, Otis Rush, Guitar Junior, BB Jones, LC Robey, Doug McDonald, Jew Town Burke, Boston Blackie, West Side Pete, Carey Bell, “I walked all the way from Dallas” guy, and a host of singers male and female.
Of course, the band was myself, sax man Eddie Shaw, the leader; Chico Chism, drummer; Lafayette Gilbert “Shorty”, bass; Hubert Sumlin, guitar; and Detroit Junior piano. After a while Eddie’s son Van came in too.
Q. Tell us some other famous blues masters that you got to work with over the years.
I got to jam with Gatemouth Brown at his house in New Mexico, then down in New Orleans. We had lots of fun at a casino in Winnemucca, Nevada, and he nearly drove off a mountain, and lost his hat on two wheels in a jeep, down the mountain side. I had lots of fun with Lefty Diz and that is how I met Jeff Taylor (his current drummer). Lefty called us for a gig at Long John’s in Chicago Heights, and they already had a band, so Lefty gave a ten spot and took off. Blind John Davis was very kind to me, and we backed up Cash McCall one night at the old Buddy Guy’s. I gave Lucky Peterson my guitar on night in Bordeaux, France;,I was walking the floor playing, and he took it and really got down, did some great playing.
Q. You certainly played some rough bars. Please tell us a wild story or two. You and the band were arrested and thrown in jail one time. What happened?
We were playing the 1815 Club, I was there for a year, every weekend, in the ‘70’s, and there was a hoochie dancer there, and the police knew she was going to be there, so they set up undercover in the audience. And when she finally started smoking a cigarette out of her coochie, they raided the place, and took the band to jail. But Jew Town Burke and Hubert made it out the back, but they got me, Boston Blackie, Chico Chism and I think LC Robey, and took us to the Maxwell Street lockup, just some wire cages really. And they took the girl, too, and she was kidding around, “hey just stick it through the wire,” but nothing ever happened. When we came to court over that, it was listed on the papers as being arrested “in a house of fornication”! The judge just laughed and threw it out!
Q. You and the band have played all over the world and continue to be dedicated touring musicians. You are in your 60s, and your live performances are still feats of physical endurance, with you jumping off the stage or up in the air one minute and down on your knees the next.
How do you stay fit and maintain this rigorous pace while on the road?
I sleep as much as I can. Between jobs. When we have time off I go to the gym, and try to eat low fat stuff, salad, and fiber, protein shakes, vitamins, and try to get my check ups. Also have to try and get some fun too, but booking takes up time from that usually.
Q. How has the business of leading a band, along with the music business, changed over the years?
In the day, it was more of a glory thing, now it is a slave routine, everyone is my boss now, every single person has to be attended to or the whole thing falls apart, at a gig or off a gig. And god forbid you don’t want a club owner to talk to you like a child, or someone that works at McDonalds. I work better with those that have mutual respect, and you really want to make them happy, and they are out there, but when you are trying to work every weekend you will run into the other type as well. But it never lasts and you always end up working a long time with the good guys.
Q. With your second Delmark CD under your belt, what is next for Dave Weld & The Imperial Flames? What are your goals for the future?
More European tours and more CDs, so that there is not such a gap between CDs. We have four festivals for the Summer now: Bucks County Blues Picnic, Duluth Bay Front Fest, McHenry Beer, Blues and BBQ Fest, and now Paul Benjamin got us for Camping with the Blues in Brooksville, FL
Q. What are your hopes and/or fears for the future of the blues?
I hope more people realize that it is an available art form, as much alt-country (if that’s what you call it), or hip hop, or rock. You know if you have the top forms of blues, they should be honored or listened to as much as those other fields, but only if they sound good. If it sounds bad, why listen to it? But there is lots of good blues out there -- new, exciting, interesting. And there is lots of cheap blues too, but the same as those other fields. It is the same, and when people start to recognize this, maybe they never will in my lifetime, but when it is recognized as good as other genres, which it is, there will be more room at the top, or there will be more mixing of top bands, like having the Kinsey Report, or Buddy Guy, or Bobby Rush and Cheap Trick, equal billing, or more at least on the same footing.
God bless all the blues fans and the support they give and the same goes to you, too, Linda and CBG!!
Editor’s Note: Dave Weld wrote a colorful remembrance of his days with J.B. Hutto for Chicago Blues Guide. Click HERE to read his article.
For more info, visit: www.daveweld.com