Electronic Press Kit – download now!
by Jeff Melton on July 5, 2012
“ravin’ it up big time much like his influence, Sugar Cane Harris… Young takes it up a notch with his bottle neck slide on Fender Telecaster.”
“high class blues hybrid… crack shot unit fueled by an upfront rhythm section… tough to pigeonhole… these guys have refined [an] exotic aural brew”
“The band can clearly handle an intimate setting to turn the focus on their musical finesse and arrangements”
“I have to hand it to the rhythm section, [they] know how to [create] a new Orleans slow grind”
“they played a jumping jive that transported the crowd back to the bayou.”
“a feisty R & B groove that just won’t quit… free wheelin’ choreography”
“a sure fire crowd pleaser… [sent] everyone home with a smile. What else could you possibly ask for?”
Full text at:
BluesWax Cruisin’ With Lionel Young
Aboard the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise – Somewhere on the Pacific Ocean
October 23, 2011
By Stacy Jeffress
BluesWax sat down with Lionel Young immediately after his band’s rousing first performance aboard the Blues Cruise. The only artist to win both the solo/duo (2008) AND band (2011) divisions of the International Blues Challenge, Young expounds on the strategies he applied to prepare his band for the competition and how an encounter with the Memphis Police Department could have destroyed his efforts. He also reflects on the recent untimely death of his friend and fellow Colorado blues artist John-Alex Mason.
Stacy Jeffress for BluesWax: We’re on Day Two of the Blues Cruise, and you just did your first show. How do you think it went?
Lionel Young: I think it went well, enjoyed it.
BW: When you won IBC for solo/duo performer, you also then got to do a cruise as a result of that?
LY: Yes, in 2008 – the Pacific. The nice thing is being able to return with a full band. I came in 2008 by myself. I got a chance to sit in with Los Lobos – that was great!
BW: I’ve heard you talk informally about your strategy for going to the 2011 IBC, in picking your secret weapon that really won everybody over. Can you tell me a little bit about how you planned and prepared for IBC this year?
LY: This time we had a little more time as opposed to 2008 when I didn’t start getting serious about a week – well, no it seems like all my life I’d been preparing for it. It seems like all the gigs I played in the past – you know you bring all your experience to bear when you try to choose 25 minutes to play. After doing it the first time and being successful with it, I was able to figure out some strategy. We prepared 25 good good minutes, a variety of rhythms and you want to be geared toward the judging criteria – the blues content and the instrumental talent, vocal talent especially because they are heavily weighted.
Before we even played a note, we got together and figured out the songs we could do, songs we wrote to be good in originality. We had people come in and help us with our stage presentation. We had a blues dance instructor.
BW: How often do you think that happens?
LY: Not often. She was great. She helped us more with general things like how to project to an audience. “You guys are playing for each other; you have to project out.” We played for a few people – a guy named Sammy Mayfield – he’s the musical director for Solomon Burke. He made good suggestions. We practiced and rehearsed a lot and had all these gigs trying to feel out what we could do, so when we got to IBC, it wasn’t a big surprise. When you get there, it’s get up, get down. You don’t have time for “We could do this.” You don’t have time to wing it. It’s not a “wing” situation which you can do in gigs. If you want to win, you have to gear toward the criteria that will give you the most points. We were able to do it well enough to win and be able to be on this boat right now.
BW: That’s a pretty cool perk, huh?
LY: Yeah, it is.
BW: So tell me about the secret weapon.
LY: The secret weapon was the a cappella. We thought that was a little risky, because you put your instruments down. We were trying to score high in the vocal talent. We’re all good instrumentalists, but we put our instruments down, and everybody would sing. It would be a unique way to do a song in a way that shows off our vocal talents.
BW: I wondered as I watched you today if you had hired instrumentalists who could sing or singers who could play instruments.
LY: Mostly instrumentalists who could sing. Two or three of them hadn’t sung before. Nothing to hide behind. It’s nice to take a song like Sam Cooke’s, originally a Charles Brown song, and to use that blues content to really do something different.
BW: And your style of dress – red ties, black outfits. Y’all were sharp looking!
LY: We had good advice from people – hey you guys got to come in with a color-coded thing, be sure you are dressed up. It was mainly women that advised us. If it weren’t for the women, we’d be nowhere. “You don’t have to wear the same thing like a uniform; make sure you have a color scheme you go by.”
BW: Do you think that ought to matter in a blues competition?
LY: I think it should. The highest points are given to people who are ready to be onstage. You get 8, 9, and 10 if you are ready to be a headliner in a large festival or something like the blues cruise. If they’re only ready to be in a bar, then they give you less points. This last time was a real eye-opener for us, a real fun situation, because we were able to relax a little bit. We had done a lot of preparation before we got there which allowed us to relax and just play. Everything that was within our control, we took care of it before we came.
BW: You had something unpleasant happen which you talked to Bob Margolin about [recently in Blues Revue]. Which day was that you had an encounter with the Memphis police?
LY: That was Thursday, February 3rd.
BW: It would have been your second night of playing the preliminary rounds. Tell me about what happened for anybody who might not have heard.
LY: The first night was pretty good. We had a situation with our keyboard player. He got there two minutes beforehand and walked up on stage. He’d been driving as fast as he could from St Louis. There were some problems.
BW: The weather was awful.
LY: The weather was pretty awful with ice everywhere.
BW: They’d shut down roads in Missouri.
LY: That’s right. So the next day we’re rehearsing; it was a little tense, a little out of whack. We were trying to get ourselves ready for the next night. I decided maybe I’ll go for a walk or a run to turn this energy around. When you exercise sometimes it takes negative energy and converts it. That’s what blues is about. You take something that’s bugging you, and you turn it in to something to celebrate with music. Somehow the music transforms your feelings and how you feel about life and what’s going on with you. I went for that run, and I got stopped by the Memphis P.D. They handcuffed me. They told me there were alarms that went off in the neighborhood and they were checking to see if I wasn’t the one. “Where you going? What you running from?”
BW: What were you wearing during your run?
LY: I was wearing sweats – sweat shirt, sweat pants.
BW: Were you carrying anything?
LY: I wasn’t carrying anything – keys.
BW: No burglary tools.
LY: I was getting back a little late. We were supposed to check in and I was trying to get back in time for us to leave, so I was sprinting the rest of the way. They stopped me. “Where are your hands? Put your hands on the car! Where are you running from?” I said I was running to. I got to meet my band and go downtown. They said, “No, you’re not. You might be lying. I don’t know you.” I said, “I don’t know you, either.” A little snappy comeback that I guess they didn’t really appreciate. They said, “We’re handcuffing you for your protection and our protection.” I’m sitting there, and my keyboard player came out and said, “What’s going on here? This guy is in the International Blues Challenge, and we’re here..” They said, “Listen, this doesn’t concern you. Go away.” He said, “I’m not going away. This does concern me. We have to show up and check in.” They said, “You’re obstructing a police investigation.”
To be continued…
BluesWax Sittin’ In With
By Stacy Jeffress
BluesWax’ Stacy Jeffress sat down last week with Lionel Young immediately after his band’s rousing first performance aboard the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise. The only artist to win both the solo/duo (2008) AND band (2011) divisions of the International Blues Challenge, Young expounds on the strategies he applied to prepare his band for the competition and how an encounter with the Memphis Police Department could have destroyed his efforts. He also reflects on the recent untimely death of his friend and fellow Colorado blues artist John-Alex Mason.
When we ended Part One last week, the police had stopped Young as he was jogging. He and band members were trying to convince the authorites that they were in Memphis for the International Blues Challenge…
Stacy Jeffress for BluesWax: Were you in front of the house where you were staying?
Lionel Young: It was in front of the house, like a half block away.
BW: So the police stopped you in front of the very house where you were staying.
LY: Right. They said, “Where’s your ID? Where’d you get these keys?” I said, “I got them in Denver when I rented the van.” I guess they checked that out and found out I actually rented the van and what I was saying was true and listening to the keyboard player, they let me go. According to a lawyer there, I was about this close to missing everything. I probably would have been taken in if my keyboard player didn’t come out. Because I wasn’t from that neighborhood, I probably would have been taken in until they could find out who I was. They wouldn’t let me go get my ID and prove to them I was actually who I was. When they drove off, I just shook my head like this at them as they were going by.
It affected me. I didn’t want it to affect me. It really affected me in a negative way. It doesn’t seem like the land of the free, the home of the brave. It seemed sort of like a police state. I’m sitting there in handcuffs – I didn’t do anything. It just disappointed me that stuff like that still happens. You could be stopped, questioned, detained, maybe arrested, handcuffed through just running. I know Bob [Margolin] wrote the article “Running While Black.” [In Blues Revue #130]
A little later when we had to play, I was trying to get past it, but the frustration was tough. We were all wearing purple. There were a lot of people who came; I remember seeing Bruce Iglauer there, Janiva Magness, Kate Moss. It was pretty packed, and I was distracted. I was forgetting lyrics.
BW: What was the time frame between that encounter with the police and you being onstage?
LY: About two hours. It put a damper on the way we played. I think we played our worst that night, and it was nice to find out we made it to the semifinals.
BW: Did you see your score sheets, and did they differentiate between Wednesday and Thursday?
BW: Could you tell a difference in the scores?
BW: So that means you’re a pro.
LY: We got through it. We were so frustrated because we felt we could do much better. The next day we spent a lot of time together. We played a little bit; we went to Stax. Just the act of doing that brought us together. The best night may have been the semifinal. We were fighting back. We didn’t just play well, we played very well. We made sure we put our best foot forward. We were able to do that the next two nights.
BW: The finals were dazzling.
LY: At the finals we felt very good. We didn’t play the full twenty minutes – they didn’t have a chance to raise the two-minute sign. It was a good set. The semifinals was thirty minutes. They want to see if you can present yourself well in a short amount of time.
BW: It doesn’t seem to hurt when the contestant goes out into the audience. It seems to go over big with the judges.
LY: It goes over big anywhere. The number one thing I think is connecting. You have to connect with people. So many people get shy and you stay within yourself – it doesn’t serve you to play small. People want to feel connected. They want to feel something from you. If you’re just up there whittling away and you think it’s so inconsequential that you don’t have to invest yourself – simply look up and connect, and it’s a big thing. That’s what this lady who helped us said, “I want to feel like you want to make love to me. You, Lionel, you’re looking around at the band.”
One of the things that we also did is, we recorded a CD before we went to Memphis. It was ready a few days before we left. It prepared us musically. You don’t have to worry about the music as much when you’ve been in the studio. There’s nothing more critical than listening to yourself back. If it’s not cool, you’re going to hear it. There are many times the horn players record many takes to good it right, so you work out horn parts. Seeing how we can all fit together.
Another thing at IBC, people play really loud. It’s a pressure situation – you’re being judged. It’s not fun being judged. Feels like you’re going to court. In a pressure situation what most people do is they talk loud and talk fast or they play loud and play fast. It’s counterintuitive.
“People want to feel connected. They want to feel something from you.”
BW: Fight or flight.
LY: Yeah, you get that flight or fight thing going on. To be able to play quiet in that situation; to be able to play a slow blues is a very big advantage, because not a lot of people are going to do that. We worked out trying to play vey dynamically, trying to get good quiet textures. Any top-notch band has good dynamics. You don’t always have to hit people over the head with a sledgehammer. There’s only a certain amount of loudness that your ear and your brain can take before you start shutting down. Little kids shy away from loud noises. We were looking for things that other bands wouldn’t do.
BW: Do you have a new recording in the works now?
LY: Yes, at the end of November. We go to Paris after this cruise, and when we come back we go into the studio and record a lot of the new stuff we’ve been doing onstage. We’ve been writing tunes and really looking to do different stuff. Some of the stuff we’ve been writing about has been more socially conscious.
BW: I heard one today I wanted to ask you about – “Brave New World” – is that a more recent one?
LY: That’s actually off of a Roosevelt Sykes tune. “Whole country’s in an uproar; we’re all standing at a crossroads; don’t know which way to go.” We’re standing at the crossroads of this civilization, I think. 2012 is supposed to be a big year. I feel as musicians we’re in a unique spot. If you have any kind of audience, people listen to you. You can talk about stuff like that through the music. One thing music does is bring people together. You end up dancing with somebody you don’t even know. In 2012, we’re going to need to all be together. I think we stand a better chance of surviving as people if we work together to survive and ignore the things that keep us separate.
I did this project for [Tab Benoit’s] Voice of the Wetlands. I got a chance to write a song about the BP oil spill that ended up being on the album. It’s time to get off the oil dependence thing so we become independent of oil.
It’s wonderful to be here on the cruise; everyone’s here together with one purpose. There’s really not a whole lot of ill will. It’s a big picture of how people can celebrate together. It’s a wonderful thing to be part of; it’s an honor in some ways. We hope to be worthy of the honors we have. We hope we can make a difference somehow. We’ve been given an opportunity to be on stages and speak to people; we don’t take that lightly.
A friend of mine died last week, John-Alex Mason.
BW: I didn’t know him, but I was so sorry to hear that. What a bad turn of events. There’s a video on YouTube of you and John-Alex playing.
LY: That was just this past April at the Juke Joint Fest in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I went down there with him. He just came out with this beautiful album called Juke Joint Thunderclap, which is fantastic. It was recorded well with really good songs. He was in such a great mood, such a happy gentle guy.
BW: He and his wife were expecting their second child?
LY: They’re expecting a child now. She was 8 ½ months pregnant when this happened. A tough situation. Doesn’t seem fair, but somehow I’ve got to believe in the way things end up being. I have faith that they’re that way for a reason. I guess maybe he was ready to move on. I just miss him so much. We dedicate our efforts to his memory. I met him in the finals at the 2008 IBC. The funny thing about meeting him – as soon as I met him – the way he smiled, there was something about his nature. I thought to myself – I know this guy – this guy is going to be a friend of mine for the rest of mine or his life. We’re going to be friends as long as we’re alive. I didn’t know that it would come so quick. He was just a real good dude.
Stacy Jeffress is a contributing editor at BluesWax.
Award-winning blues violinist Lionel Young makes his Des Moines debut July 28, 2011 | by Michael Swanger
BLUES SOCIETY OF WESTERN PENNSYLVANIA – MARIA K
Lionel Young is preparing for his return to the ‘burg for his performance at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival on July 23. Lionel was the 2008 International Blues Challenge winner of the solo/duo competition. What differed him from the rest? His blues set was done on an electric fiddle with a bow…decidedly an orchestra instrument. An orchestra performance … no! It was a pure interpretation of Delta Blues ….done with four strings.
Most recently, Lionel Young took Memphis by storm when the Lionel Young Band was chosen as the winning band at the 2011 International Blues Challenge. His winning both the Solo/Duo and the Band Competitions is a first…. in the many years of the competition.
Pittsburgh, what you do not know…Lionel studied music at Carnegie Mellon and was a part of the Pittsburgh Symphony…impressive on that alone. The following conversation is to introduce to you to Lionel Young and his musical journey that is bringing him home to the ‘burg.
Jonnye: What were your thoughts when you went to Memphis as part of a band in 2011 after winning the solo division in 2008.
Lionel: (A light chuckle, then a hesitant pause…and then an earnest answer) Dave McIntire, the president of the Colorado Blues Society, asked that I enter their band challenge to try for a spot in the 2008 International Blues Challenge. Frankly, my band was not interested….no pay and a lot of expenses to get to Memphis. I had promised that I would get into the competition. I really did not want to do it…but he said …why not try it as a solo. I went “kicking and screaming” but I was honoring a promise that I had made. I didn’t think that I could do it….work as a solo. It was shocking that I could do it and do it well. ( a soft chuckle)
J: How difficult was the transition from working as part of a band to performing as a solo artist? Did your solo stint in 2008 help you to prepare for 2011?
L: (Seriously) Well, I was used to working with the band. The competition opened a “lot of doors” on my first circuit. True, it seemed to be a lot of work both as a band and as a solo. There were a lot of promises. BUT…what you realize is that you are at the bottom of the pile. The next rung up on the pile is the pros. Mixing with the pros on bills like Buddy Guy, Ana Popovic, Ronnie Baker Brooks (many more were mentioned) …is a different ball game! (quite earnestly and with a soft laugh)..You get one opportunity to make the most of what comes your way…that is the hardest part since winning… doing your best to maximize the opportunity. In some ways, we “foster” and teach the next generation with help from the IBC. (Intently and with a heartfelt passion) In preparation, I have learned to work backwards from the criteria required for the IBC. You have to work at scoring heavily in blues content and then the vocals. The rest of it, you work on it day by day. We chose songs …making choices that were not about what we liked but picked songs that would score high. We used our experience as a band to offset ourselves from the other bands. I had to personally focus on doing better with the circle of people that I worked with. I even was coached on how to dress for the audience. What I noticed in 2008 was that some bands played too hard-the pressure of the situation and their reaction to that test (competing) made them nervous and they played faster and louder. People don’t process at times that they need to settle their nerves as they play….knowing when they need to pull back and not play as loud and as fast. At the local level for competition in Denver, we knew we only had “one shot.” Slowing down (seriously), nothing is too slow in the blues. Trampled Under Foot is not afraid to take their time to work a song. It may seem like forever when you are playing it but it is only a brief time…and the audience digests what you are trying to get across.
J: Having crafted a “smoking” type of blues on an electric violin that is unique and unusual, do you get the desired response that you are seeking from the audience or is it a delayed reaction. I noticed that when you play something, you turn and look at the audience…waiting for them to digest what they have heard. What are your secrets to winning over the audience.
L: Their reaction to my playing the violin is one of shock….the audience usually says…’Whoa…he is playing something different.’ After their initial shock and you have gotten everyone’s attention, you have to keep it and maintain it. If not, they tune you out and walk away after the first minute. You have to feel the connection. You may not get another chance…and (chuckling) that is why we play music. It is a learning process. Believe it or not, I am a SHY person, an introvert. A friend, Rachel, who has a Blues dance class helped me with my stage presence issues. She said that I was good … (hesitating) something was missing. Rachel insisted…”Make me want to listen to you!” She said that I needed to pay attention to her, not myself. She said that I, the performer, had to appeal to her in a sexual, deep way and to relate to her with my music. (Sighing, answering slowly) I thought about it and worked very hard in that area. (Quickly adding) It is a scary thing when you are in front of people. Most people don’t experience it every day and all day like performers. It makes people nervous and then you get an adrenalin rush. You learn to try different things. My thing…go within yourself to find refuge. It is not how good your vocals are…it’s how you connect with people. People are very encouraging.
J: I have heard that you have researched music by listening to records. Do you have a collection of your own. What are your most valued records or which artists influenced you and why.
L: I have a lot of different kinds of records and different types of music. Sometimes I listen to everything that a person has put out. When I was young, I rode my bike to the Pittsburgh Public Library and listened to very old stuff…stuff that I found interesting and listened to very old stuff from far out and off the beaten path…violin music, gypsy recordings, Charlie Patten…stuff from the 20’s and 30’s. I listened to the complete recordings of Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon. I went on tangents and studied Albert and Freddie King. I would listen and listen until my ears were too tired to listen any more. I felt like a sponge listening to the music from the past. I draw on that to do what I do now.
J: Having studied and played music in Pittsburgh, would you share some of your ‘burg experiences. What is on your to-do list while in the ‘burg? Were there any Pittsburgh musicians that influenced or shaped your interpretation or style of music..
L: I studied music with the assistant concert master of music with the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony. I attended Central Catholic and Carnegie Mellon. Fritz Seigal was the student’s concert master. I was around musicians every day. There is a strong blues community in Pittsburgh. They play it with real conviction. It is a neat city (excited and laughing). It is a cool place. I am always polarized by the warmth of the people and the yinzer accent! Pittsburgh’s people are a ‘unique’ treasure! I AM a Steelers fan, always have been. Funny thing (laughing), I had just won the 2011 IBC and that was a GREAT experience. However, the next day the Steelers lost! I was devastated. I “flipped out.” Football and music bring people together in Pittsburgh. I am looking forward to coming “home.” I worked for awhile with Duane “Stackhouse” Johnson in the Midtown Playboys. I followed Mike Sallows on guitar and Lucy Van Sickle on harp. Lucy’s father was a bass player in the symphony. I watched Chuck Watts teach guitar in Squirrel Hill. He knew everyone in town and I got to play.
J: Any special thoughts that you would like to tell the Pittsburgh Blues Fans about your blues. What should they expect.
L: Expect anything! It is my homecoming! I will lay a dozen roses on Heinz Field. Yes, (in a quiet, serious manner) I would like to add that I am writing music in preparation for unique challenges on December 2012. I strongly believe that no matter what happens, that if we stick together as people we will get through it. It is apocalyptic, it is factual… stay positive. See you in Pittsburgh.
~ Jonnye Weber
http://www.thebluesblast.com/bbnow.htm Issue 5-19 May 12, 2011 © 2011 Blues Blast Magazine
Featured Blues Story – Lionel Young Interview
Lionel Young is the first double champion in the history of the IBC. Lionel Young won the 2008 IBC in the solo-duo category, and the 2011 International Blues Challenge (IBC) band competition as The Lionel Young Band.
I first met Lionel on the October 2009 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, the infamous ‘cruise to nowhere’. That was the cruise that ran into hurricanes and we just did donuts in the Pacific Ocean. It seemed that Lionel was everywhere on that cruise, whether it be playing as a band or jamming in with Debbie Davies, Fiona Boyes and the historic late night jams. He was impressive not only in his musical prowess but also for his openness and friendliness shown to all who enjoyed his shows.
I wanted to speak to him because he is from Rochester, NY – adopted home of Son House for many years. Here is our conversation.
BB: You were taking violin lessons when you were six years old at The Eastman. How did this happen?
LY: It happened this way. My mother saw an article in the local newspaper about a woman who was going to start teaching violin a revolutionary new way. Her name was Anastasia Jempelis. The way that she was teaching is called the Suzuki Method derived from a man from Japan, Shinichi Suzuki. It focused on a thing called the mother tongue method, which is a way of learning music on an instrument by ear or imitation.
BB: Who were your early influences, and who would you say are at your musical Roots?
LY: I would say my earliest strong musical influence was from my family, which was very musical. My mother played piano and organ very well. She played organ in the church we went to. Both of my parents had strong musical tastes. My dad grew up in New Orleans & had lots of records, mostly jazz. My sister was a good pianist in her own right and listened to a lot of soul, R&B and funk. I would often raid my dad and sisters record collections so their music got into my musical veins. My favorites were people to listen to out of their collections were Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, James Brown, Aretha, Miles Davis, and Funkadelic. This was along with the fact that my brother played the cello and I played violin early in our lives. I was 6 and he was 5 when we started. My brother now plays in the Boston Symphony. I consider us lucky to have lived in a city like Rochester and have an Eastman School of Music to go to. Our teachers and fellow students became strong influences. Every week we were exposed to high level musicians playing. Those were my strongest earlier influences. It was later on that I became obsessed with Hendrix and the Beatles, and even later after digging up their influences when I caught the blues & boogie woogie flu that I felt I had to play the blues. Also, I was a good researcher. I’d go find out about and listen to all of these old records for hours on hours. For a little while in high school, I got so obsessed with violin music and the blues, that I’d skip school and go to the library to listen to and later play music all day. How square is that? I think at one point I skipped a couple weeks straight doing nothing but that until it was found out. I got into a little trouble with the school and my folks. It was my passion and I couldn’t stop. I haven’t stopped yet.
BB: I saw you on the October 2009 Bluescruise, and was blown away with your playing and stage presence, it was warm and affable, yet you took no prisoners when you played. It seems to me there is a large difference between classical performances and blues performances, and crowds – do you like the engaging persona of blues audiences, and did you find this in classical performances?
LY: Here’s what I’ve found about those audiences. I don’t think that their is that much difference. People are people. The music is either good or bad. When the music is good, classical or blues audience will react to it. I’ve seen and experienced classical audiences go nuts crazy over a good performance. It could have a deep effect on you like it did me sometimes. I remember seeing a Vladimir Horowitz recital, and an Ornette Coleman show not long after that had about the same lasting good effect on me. They both gave me so much energy that you almost feel like you could run through a brick wall.
BB: Can you tell us some more about your classical training, and some of the events you played at thru those connections?
LY: Some the more memorable events were traveling to Europe, specifically Austria and Switzerland as a teenager with the Pittsburgh Youth Orchestra, getting a full scholarship to Indiana University and studying with Josef Gingold. Playing in LA for part of the summer at Universal Pictures Studio Orchestra, playing at Carnegie Hall in New York, going to the Olympics in “88 in Seoul Korea with the National Repertory Orchestra.
BB: Would you say these prepared you for the move to the blues scene?
LY: Most definitely these prepared me to move to the blues scene. Any time spent in front of an audience prepares you for any other time. Being in front of an audience isn’t natural but becomes more natural with practice. That’s why a lot of people get stage fright. I got it too. That doesn’t happen much any more. I get a little anxious sometimes, but not like when I was a kid when my legs would shake and my mouth would be dry and it was hard enough to stand there and almost impossible to make music. You have to relax and breathe. No matter what kind of music you’re playing, you can only communicate your state of being.
BB: The Blues, why? Did it just present itself to you one day, or was it always there waiting to be discovered by you?
LY: I think in a previous life, I played the blues guitar or bass. For a while, I tried to play with a slide on the violin. It almost worked but it wasn’t quite right. It was when I first took a slide to guitar that I really felt that I’d done it before. Everything just fit. I seemed to know where things were without any real practice. The real blues is always there waiting to be discovered by everybody. It seems like it was always there in my life. Why not blues? It’s great music and I love it. It’s changed me and I know it’s changed most of you. It shows up at transformation points, and turns negative situations into positive energy. It has everything I need in it. In it there’s a microcosm of everything else. It feels like it’s essence has always been here.
BB: There is a history of violin in the Blues, from the Jug Bands, to the Folksy Good Time Music of the 60’s, to Papa John Creach – did any of this inspire you, or encourage you to pursue the blues?
LY: To tell you the truth, no it didn’t really encourage me to pursue playing the blues though I wish I could say it did. I was more into the general sound of the Blues. As we all know, it would appear in all kinds of music and in many ways like for me Aretha or Count Basie or Ray Charles. I was more shock influenced by the sound of Hendrix, Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf & John Lee Hooker. It was later when I heard Charlie Patton or early Muddy or the Mississippi Sheiks and Sugar Cane Harris that I realized that the violin had been there all along. By then in my life I was already deep into the blues music, so it did inspire and encourage me but I’d already tried to play the sounds I heard on the violin. Nothing inspired me more that hearing Hendrix. I can still remember trying to imitate what he did on the only thing I knew how to play at the time, the violin. I think that the violin was kind of fazed out of the blues and popular music. My guess as to why that happened is that it probably had to do with how it was perceived, like it was old fashioned or it was king in some bygone musical era. Also, I think that this happened partly because it wasn’t loud enough compared tohorns and later the electric Guitar. I got a chance to speak with Claude Fiddler Williams a few years ago (1999) in Kansas City. He played violin and guitar with Count Basie. He told me that as a condition to get signed, John Hammond senior told Count that he had to get rid of the strings, so he was out. I believe that the time for the violin to be out of the blues and other popular music is forever passed to the past. I see it coming back. There’s just too many of us violin players and there are so many newer electric violins that volume isn’t an issue any more. I’m so glad you asked this question. In a way for me, when I saw it, it was like opening Pandora’s box. I sincerely believe that part of what my spirit in this body is here to do is tied in with the violin and is connected with winning the IBC in Memphis this year. The violin has enjoyed many years of being the alpha or dominant instrument in the orchestra. I’m in love with it. It can do so many different things musically. It’s said to be the musical instrument most like the human voice. I could see no reason why it wouldn’t have a more prominent place in blues or other popular music. I have to admit that in coming to this years IBC, I had something to prove.
After I won the solo/duo part of the IBC in 2008, I was a little bothered at how I was perceived. I’m not whining, I’m just saying. I’d hear whisperings about how the only reason I won was because I was playing a “novelty instrument”. That’s bullshit! I heard that some people were even upset that a non guitar player won and that my winning was just a fluke. That attitude (when I’d find it) really pissed me off. It discounted how hard I worked and the true love I had for the blues and all the great people that influenced me. It doesn’t matter what you play as much as how you play, who you are and what you have to say. I really believe that. If someone played fork or a paper plate really well and could sing and make you feel something, theoretically they should have be given the same consideration at the IBC as someone playing a guitar, piano or harmonica. I saw that if I really believed that, I had to prove it and win the IBC again against all odds. By that I mean playing a violin primarily and winning twice. Winning once is hard enough. That can be a charm or a curse. It can be an obstacle if you attempt to do it again because the IBC process is based on subjective opinions. It’s not who makes the most baskets or who crosses the finish line first. A judge could consciously or unconsciously score you less high just because you won it before giving someone else a chance. I saw that happen so I knew that whatever I did had to be strong enough to overcome that too.
BB: Do you find these two seemingly opposite styles of music complimentary and can you incorporate them within each others presentations effectively?
LY: I don’t find the styles seemingly opposing and find them complementary. When I play, I sometimes use aspects of both classical, blues and everything else. Sometimes I try to make the classical music swing a little with rhythm and it works sometimes. Other times your thinking and playing chord progressions.
BB: You have won the International Blues Challenge twice now, one in 2008 for Solo/Duo, and now in 2011 as band, congrats. What made you ‘go back to the drawing board’ and form/re-form as a group?
LY: When I did the IBC the first time in 2008, I originally wanted to bring a band. The seed was sown then to come back and do it that way. It’s just so much funner to play music with others than by your self. It was always in the back of my mind. That’s why there were 6 of us in Memphis.
BB: How has the dynamic changed within the band, and do you think this is the best vehicle for what you are playing?
LY: The dynamic is in the process of shifting from being focused on doing our very best at the IBC to conquering the world as we know it. I’m having a little fun with this question but that answer is partly accurate. We want to focus on touring well, playing with the same commitment,drive and integrity that we had in Memphis. I want us to set our sights higher in the recording department by aiming for a BMA or eventually a Grammy. I’m not sure if it’s the best vehicle for what I’m getting into or not. I’m sure it fun though. It’s kind of like driving a high powered car. It’s more of a luxury. I still like to play by myself too, but I prefer to play with others.
BB: Speaking of winning the IBC’s, did you learn anything about the process, and intimacies of the Challenge, the first time that helped you prepare for the second, and resoundingly successful second attempt?
LY: Yes I did. I hate to sound cliche, but the more time you put into preparation, the better you’ll do at anything you want to do. We spent a lot of time preparing. I wanted to do my best to put us in a position to win. First, I picked the best players I could find. There I started backwards. I started with the sound I wanted in my head first and picked musicians who best fit that image. Most but not all were already my friends but friendship wasn’t a priority. Some I’d played with a lot. Some not so much. The most important thing was that they were great players that took pride in themselves and the way they played and knew how to play in the texture of the band. Before we played a note to prepare for the local preliminary rounds of the IBC, we worked backwards starting with the judging criteria. We’d talk about everything we did and would choose music according to the judging criteria, trying to maximize the heavier criteria like blues content, showing instrumental and vocal talent. We picked music that showed a good variety of rhythms and feels. We tried to be as original as we could be choosing songs that we wrote. If we did any covers they wouldn’t be something you’d hear at a blues jam. They’d have to serve the purpose of scoring high in other criteria. We dressed up and had a blues dance instructor help us with stage presence & stage show issues. We went in the studio and recorded the “on the way to Memphis” CD which prepared us musically to have a CD’s worth of music really down and tight. That was one of the hardest things we did. We timed everything, both the songs individually and sets as a whole so we wouldn’t go over. The recording helped us with that. We even took a chance and did an all acapella song that ended up being a our secret weapon. It was a chance to score high in vocal talent if we did it well. We covered Sam Cook’s “bring it on home”. Not an original tune but an original way of doing it. We tried to do what I knew other bands wouldn’t do to set us apart, like play a real slow blues or play real quiet or with good dynamics. I knew that making decisions to do stuff that set us apart would be advantageous going into the first IBC in 2008. Almost everyone else in the situation tries to bang you over the head with their music. The IBC a high pressure situation. Because of that we knew that most acts would play louder and faster but not slower and quieter. That’s something I really learned from Josef Gingold, one of my violin teachers. He unlike most people, could play so quiet and beautiful, it would take your breath away. One thing I noticed about guys like BB and Buddy Guy and all the really good bands is that they can play really quiet. People listen harder and get sucked in. All this equipment and watts and amps doesn’t matter as much. Don’t get me wrong, I like to play loud and proud like anyone else. That’s something that just feels good, but loud noises scare the little children and take away many people’s ability to hear. Also, I really tried to connect with the audience by simply looking up. You’d be surprised how many people don’t do that and how important it is to do. Most people want to feel something, a connection to you of some kind. That’s just another thing to think about for any performer. It’s really why you’re there.
BB: Where there differences in the approach you took for these two different categories or was it about the same?
LY: The approach I took was the same, working backwards from the judging criteria. The difference between the two was that I had much longer to prepare for the band which was needed. Getting 6 people on the same page on anything is tough enough. Just getting 6 in demand musicians in the same room for a rehearsal can be challenging. Naturally, 6 people are harder to manage than just one. In 2008 with the solo/duo, I really didn’t get serious until the weekend before the contest. Like many who go to the IBC, there was a send off performance before we left. I felt I played terrible there so I got to work and prepared seriously, practicing for as many hours as I could. In a way it felt like I’d been preparing for it all my life, but if I didn’t really have what I wanted to do down, I would have felt that I wasted an opportunity . I learned an important lesson. Sometimes playing badly be good for you. It can spur you on to play well later.
BB: Looking at your ‘set lists’ on-line, we’ve got everything from W.C. Handy, Sinatra, and Sly Stone to Count Basie and Jimi Hendrix. It sounds like my CD collection. How do you go about selecting music to cover, what do you look for?
LY: First I get a panel of experts together and poll them on what covers they like. Then I use a computerized rating system. Just kidding. I play what’ll fit the situation or what I’d like to hear in the moment.
BB: Not to be overlooked, your songwriting stands well on it’s own. Do you have any influences as to style of writing, someone who you have heard and say ‘yeh that’s it’?
LY: I’ve heard a lot of people and said, “yea that’s it”. One of my best influences is a guy by the name of Johnny Long. He wrote and played lots of great originals. I know he’s recorded for Delta Groove records. I played with him for a while and he introduced be to Homesick James at one point. He’s just great. Everybody should know him. I wouldn’t be who I am in the blues world without his influence and example. I love the way Sonny Boy Williamson wrote a song. Always interesting and makes you think. In a much different way, I love Otis Taylor because he breaks new ground and writes about heavy stuff. I like James Taylor as a song writer and have met and played with him. Most of what I right about comes from my experience in one way or another. Lately I’ve been writing about warnings and concerns around the topics of our environment and what I envision happening in the next year and 1/2. The way I see where we’re at now is that we feel like we’ve been given platform to sing and speak on the challenges we’re facing as people who are facing extinction. That’s the stuff I care about. How are we gonna survive this next couple of years. Not just me, but everyone. I know that we’re better and stronger if we help each other. That’s part of why I take music so seriously. It brings people together. We need good music now today more than ever.
BB: Where are you and the band going now? Is there anything you guys are up to in the studio, summer festival time is almost upon us, where can we look forward to seeing you?
LY: We’re setting our sights high. Why not go big? We have some stuff in the can that we can release when the time is right. Meanwhile, we’re looking at situations where we can get our music out andmore available. There are some serious looks at some good companies and situations in the immediate future. Meanwhile, we’re going to be all over the US, Canada, and the world in the next 8 months this being April. We’re playing lots of festivals this summer. Most or all of where we’ll be will be posted on our website at lionelyoung.net. We’re presented with lots of opportunities and we what to make the best of them. Going to Europe in November, doing the Blues Cruise again. I’m excited.
BB: And so are we!
Interviewer Chefjimi Patricola is a classically trained chef, blues loving writer and creative master of Blues411.com. He can also can be found on FaceBook and at festivals and clubs in your neighborhood and town.
had the blues, though “… this ain’t the kind of Blues that’ll bring you down,” as he humbly informs the listener. On Our Way To Memphis, his third foray in a lucky 13 years, was recorded as they prepared for the International Blues Challenge (IBC, Blues.org/IBC), which Lionel had already won in 2008. Playing solo. Violin. Blues. Really. Now with a 2011 Band Championship (the only two-time winner, joining their Westword Award) and the ferocity of Hendrix, I won’t tell you he “sounds like” as his intimately recognizable tones come from screamin’ the lead guitar lines on electric violin! Featuring Dexter Payne (Thiago de Mello) on saxophones and wicked harmonica, Ricardo Pena (Milestone, Rebecca Folsom) on vocals and keyboards, Andre Mali on trumpet, Kim Stone on bass (Firefall, Spyro Gyra, The Rippingtons, Peter Kater), and Jay Forest (Heavy Cats) on vocals and drums. A must-see and must-listen!!
We were impressed with Lionel Young Band’s performance… acapella [Sam Cooke song] showcasing their vocal ability. Lionel also jumped off the stage and headed into the crowd playing his fiddle behind his back … Brilliant and effective for a convincing win! … [They] deserve a place on your must see list.
Bob Kieser Feb 17, 2011 Blues Blast Magazine
The winning act in the band category is also a game changer. The Lionel Young Band, representing the Colorado Blues Society, had played the Montreux Jazz Fest, and Lionel had won the 2008 IBC in solo/duo division. This [six]-piece group is composed of virtuoso performers. Young has a butterscotch vocal delivery and is a guitar and violin master. Keyboardist Ricardo Pena plays Professor Longhair-style boogie. Supported by trumpet and sax, the band elaborates on a retro feel with unique interpretations of originals and covers, like “Night Train” and Magic Sam’s “Feels So Good.” They nailed first prize, however with an a cappella arrangement of Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home to Me” done by the whole group that took me back to the Blind Boys of Alabama.
Don Wilcock Feb 12, 2011 Blues Revue
The Lionel Young Band from the Colorado Blues Society brought the Orpheum crowd to it’s feet with his horn-driven sound. Young, who won the solo-duo crown in 2008 is an entertainer’s entertainer, whether singing, playing guitar, or playing his violin.
Vinny “Bond” Marini February 6, 2011 American Blues News http://www.ameriblues.com/2011/02/06/international-blues-challenge-the-finals/
Last Day of the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise 2009
One of the “sleeper hits” of this cruise is the Lionel Young Band, and last night’s Mardi Gras party in the Ocean Bar showed why Lionel won the International Blues Challenge (IBC) solo award in 2007. If you’re not familiar with Lionel, you’re missing out. A classically trained violinist, he’s turned the corner into a quirky brand of Blues. Nearly everyone who’s seen him this week says something along the lines of, “I’ve never seen anyone play violin and make it sound like a guitar,” or “I’ve never… he’s playing the… man, that’s good!” Thursday night’s Mardi Gras party was no exception, with the Lionel Young Band expanding to embrace a New Orleans vibe that packed the dance floor.
What makes Young stand out is that when he plays, he owns the room. He’s one of those special performers whose able to do his own thing while still playing to the crowd. Typically backed by a trio, with Kim Stone holding things down on bass and Jay Forrest keeping time and sharing some vocals, Young is free to vamp with abandon. Thursday night, Ed Early and Randy Oxford brought dueling trombones to the front of the stage, and Kenny Wayne jumped in on melodica. Young’s voice is mostly rich and smooth, but he can wax falsetto and turn to a low rumble with ease. Lionel has the soul of a Bluesman, but on Thursday, he kicked out a couple of hours of good time party music, and no one was complaining.
“The BluesWax Boys” Eric Wrisley & Chip Eagle