"And why with Norwegian musicians?"
IN EARLY 2005, KEVIN BROOKS, A BRITISH MUSICAL entrepreneur, put me in touch with Jostein Forsberg and Ed Murphy, the promoters of the annual Notodden blues festival in Norway. They asked me if I wished to play at their eighteenth festival in August 2005.
SINCE LEAVING FLEETWOOD MAC 35 YEARS AGO, I HAVE received many offers and most of them have been accepted or declined on the basis of prayer. I asked God if I should do this Norway thing. He told me to do it.
The promoters presented me with a number of choices of an accompanying line-up, one of which was to perform with a few last «dogs at the bone» of 50's Chicago blues musicians, including Pinetop Perkins on piano and Hubert Sumlin on guitar. This was my first personal choice, but the resultant legalities, red tape and health questions that arose and which consequently shelved the idea, proved that this was not meant to be. Among other possibilities was an option of playing with Trond Ytterbø and a group of Norwegian blues musicians. The Lord showed me to take that one. I did, but was concerned about the promoters' opinion of this choice. Fortunately, they were very happy with it. Some members of the band had been playing blues together for the last twenty-five years, and have been heralded as the best in Norway. Doesn't say much? Wait.
When meeting Jostein and Ed for the first time at Oslo airport in April 2005, I discovered that there was more interest in, knowledge and appreciation of and passion for blues in Norway than I'd encountered anywhere else in the world, to the point that the Norwegians have as many as 25 blues festivals a year! They seemed to appreciate the genuine feel of that music - especially that of years gone by, and many musicians reflected that.
I was already warming up. I especially quizzed them on Espen Liland, the thirty seven year-old back up guitarist, as I did not want a whiz flash Harry who could 'do anything' while reading the newspaper…. "You want that Delta crap? Sure, watch this: ratatatatatatata. Want jazz, hip hop, funk? No prob."
I pushed the envelope and asked if Espen played like T-Bone Walker! They said yes, with a mixture of early B. B. King and Albert Collins thrown in. It was looking very hopeful. The next day I was introduced to Trond and the band: Trond Ytterbø, Espen Liland, Rune Endal and Anders Viken.
I liked them on sight, although I didn't know what they were expecting upon meeting me! We went to the Notodden Juke Joint analogue twenty-four track studio where I met Morten Gjerde, one of the owners of Bluestown records who introduced me to the company's pride and joy, the late sixties' STAX studios mixing desk!
Upon entering the studio's reception lounge with its posters and song sheets of 50's recording artists from Laverne Baker and Dean Martin to Clyde McFatter and Eddie Fisher on the walls, and then walking into its main recording area, I felt immediately at home with the studio's vintage 'vibe', which rarely happens to me in most state-of-the-art premises. I thought, "If they ask me to record here, I'd love to."
We started playing an easygoing medium-paced shuffle conducive to trading off licks, and everyone felt, including myself, that something good was taking shape. It was amazing to me to have that number of musicians together at one time and immediately to feel comfortable playing with each one of them.
I felt that we needed a keyboard player, so they called in a local from nearby, Runar Boyesen, who fit in like a glove.
BEFORE FINALLY AGREEING TO DO THE FESTIVAL WITH them, I 'tested' them by throwing out one of my personal, 'sensitive' favourites not in the blues or fifties' vein, an instrumental called 'Maria de Santiago'. I started playing it, Espen joined in with a beautiful tremolo counterpoint guitar in the lower register and Trond added a flowing mandolin line. Once I saw how they fell in with that, I was convinced.
But recording? I tried a further 'test'! At the end of an informal acoustical practise for the festival, I pulled out a recently written song called 'Precious Little'. I thought if they latch onto it, I am game for recording with them, as I felt that then I could pull out anything, no matter how personal, 'soft' or uncool.
The band passed the test with flying colours! Not only did they play along, but they also got genuinely excited about it. So, all that to say, recording was now a serious option.
A SIDE NOTE HERE IN ANSWER TO WHY NORWEGIAN musicians? In my opinion they have retained the 'purity' of the old blues in their playing. As I said in an interview once, 'like the pure Norwegian water!' I can close my eyes as they play and imagine someone is playing back there in the fifties with that naïve spontaneity and discovery -that element of 'stretching' as one of the engineers succinctly put it, that puts a 'charm' on the playing and recording. This not only applies to the blues, but in their handling and approach to fifties rock and roll, Rock-a-Billy and country. Maybe it was partly due to having only five days to record the CD, but when listening, it will be evident that there's precious little sophistication. That is how I want it and like it - 'precious little and precious few'!
BECAUSE THE SONG LYRICS ARE FOR THE MOST PART easy to understand, and in some cases 'in yer face', I decided to comment on a few of the songs instead of printing the lyrics. I'll begin with my personal favourite, the album's title song, "Precious Little." I got the theme and basic melody in Lucerne, Switzerland. It was a beautiful sunny day, and I was sitting by the lake with my favourite lunch of bread, cheese and wine. I spotted two teenage girls sharing their beliefs with passers by, asking questions and praying with some of them. I talked to the girls and they expressed the difficulties encountered when approaching the intimidating mindsets so prevalent in first world countries. I dedicate this song to those girls and to other people that might at times feel insignificant or even ostracised due to their convictions.
Another song dear to my heart on this album (with some liberties taken on the lyrics) is the easy loping rocka-billy ballad, "Take and Give, " originally recorded in 1956 by Slim Rhodes for Sun records. It was a flip side. (You can find some undiscovered jewels on those flip sides, by the way!) I first heard it in 1969, when a friend who collected obscure 50's rock and roll and blues records brought it over to my flat and told me "You're going to love this one!" I did and I resolved to record it one day! Now, thirty-six years later, I felt the time was ripe to do so. Like I said before, with this Norwegian team, including the young engineers, Kjetil and Gaute I felt I could pull out anything and they would handle it with honesty, care, skill and genuine enthusiasm.
"Psychic Waste" came from reading a book by an American journalist, Don Feder, called 'A Conservative Jew looks at Pagan America'. In it, he expressed his concern for the mind warping trash that's dumped out by the media in the form of music, movies and propaganda, and said that we should get concerned about the global pollution of the mind, heart and soul through these avenues. I wrote the lyrics ten years ago with the help of a young musician friend who was visiting me in Brazil at the time.
During Fleetwood Mac days, I enjoyed recording various oddities by Fabian such as "Stringalong", "Tiger", "Mighty Cold" and "Everything is Just Right". "Please Don't Stop" is yet another 50's obscurity of his that I discovered back in 1969 and mentally noted as a future recording possibility! So, here it is as a 'lighten-up' spot on the album. The band handled it beautifully with just the right amount of understated rocky swing. Another personal 'jewel' that I finally felt confident enough to present, "Serene Serena", is a lyrical rewrite of the traditional "Corrine Corrina", with significance added to the meaning of the girl's name. It's dedicated to a girl of the same name, who I once envisioned as a Florence Nightingale character comforting a dying Bosnian soldier.I got the melody for "Maria de Santiago" in Mexico seven years ago and recorded an instrumental version for Alan Simon, the French producer of the rock opera, 'Excalibur', and he included it on his Gaia project album. It had neither title nor lyrics, and Alan, having no idea that I had received it in Mexico, suggested the name, saying it sounded so Latin American and feminine. It remained an instrumental until Kjetil insisted that it should have lyrics and pushed me to get them. I'm glad he did! "Maria de Santiago" punched through to completion and she is now one of my favourites!
WHAT GUITARS, AMPLIFIERS ETC. DID I USE?
A mainstay that appears on about seventy percent of the tracks for the session was a single cutaway chrome resonator with a piezo and hum-bucking pick-up, made by Amistar of the Czech Republic. Mixing mike, amp and di made an interesting blend.
I played most of the electric slide lead with a beautiful brand-new white, maple-necked Mexican Fender Telecaster, leaving my trusty old blue PRS for the more creamy overdriven tones. With the exception of using a Mesa Boogie for "Bleeding Heart" and "It Hurts Me Too", I played these guitars through an Orange AD30. And last, but not least, for most of my slide playing I used Jim Dunlop's Harris brass flared and blue ceramic 'Moonshine' slides.
JEREMY SPENCER, JANUARY 2006