Blesok no. 22, August-September, 2001
Denny Freeman - Gray Eminence of the Texas Blues
1. Starting with usual question, when did you start playing guitar?
I was 14 years old, in Dallas, Texas.
2. Was your interest in music due to some family tradition or just
No family tradition. In 1955, I was eleven years old, and that's about the time rock and roll and r & b started making it's way to the radio airwaves, and about the time I started going to little parties, where we'd spin records and dance with the girls. So, just as I was becoming an adolescent, Little Richard and others appeared on the scene, and it blew my little mind. Eventually, my friend and I started going to teen dances, where we heard our first live music, and when I heard the guitar in a little room like that, I freaked out, and was determined to learn how to do it.
3. When you started playing, was guitar your first instrument or you've tried also other instruments?
When I was about eight years old, I took some piano lessons for a short time, but we didn't have a piano, and it was before I heard any rock and roll, so I didn't take it very far.
4. How did you get involved into music,was it radio or other?
I think I answered that.
5. Who were your earliest influences in music?
One good thing about being in Dallas at the time, was that I got an exposure to Blues. It was just a short jump from rock and roll, and I took to it easily. So, in addition to Chuck Berry, I tried to learn from the Blues that I was hearing on records. The stuff I heard was Bo Diddley, Muddy, Jimmy Reed, B.B., T Bone, plus the stuff on Excello records. And others, of course.
6. Which guitar players were you favorite then and now?
My favorites now are the same as then, but eventually I added the jazz guys to my list of idols. Kenny Burrell, Wes, Barney Kessell, Charlie Christian, Herb Ellis, all that group.
7. Tell me more about your first bands!
My first band was called “The Corals”. I was fifteen. We played school dances mostly. I played in that band for about 3 years. At first, it was a lot of Buddy Holly, Chuck Berry, Santo and Johnny, Bo Diddley, stuff like that. The second year, we got a piano player that also played harmonica, and we started playing more blues. After high school, I went to college, and had to deal with a military dilemma, so for several years, I was just playing on weekends in several different bands. It wasn't until about 1970, when I moved to Austin,that I could forget bout everything else, and just be a musician.
8. Texas music scene is very rich and colorful, I suppose that blues was not
the only music you started playng at the early stages of your career?
Well, about every band I played in played blues, but it wasn't until about 1970 that I took playing in a “blues band” seriously. When I was coming up, blues and r& b was just always there, always mixed up with everything else. I never played “country”, though.
9. When we talk about various types of blues, Texas blues is always mentioned
like an instituition. How would you define it?
Don't think I could. It's so varied. In the beginning we had Leadbelly, Blind Lemon, etc. then T Bone. And the Duke Records people had their sound. And there was Freddie King, Albert Collins, many others. And later, Stevie, the T Birds, and the Antones scene. All of the Texas people seem to absorb influences from other places, other people, and put it together their own way, which results in a lot of different stuff.
10. You've played or shared the stage with numerous blues legends, could you name a few who made biggest impression on you?
Being in the Antone's House Band for several years, mostly in the 80's, gave us an opportunity to play with so many people. Some of my biggest thrills were with people that are fairly obscure, like Eddie Taylor, Ted Taylor, Little Johnny Taylor, Luther Tucker, Lazy Lester. And I played in bands with Jimmie, and Stevie, which was very cool. And playing with Otis Rush and Albert Collins was a thrill., And Snooks Eaglin. And Fathead Newman, and James Cotton, Hubert Sumlin, Doug Sahm…
11. Are there any musicians you've wanted to play with but didn't have a chance?
Oh, many. Too many to list…
12. Tell me more about your association with Stevie Ray Vaughan, how did you meet and play together?
Jimmie was a few years younger than me, but he was getting to have a “name” around Texas, and I met him and played with him a few times, then we moved to Austin about the same time (1970), and started a band. Not long after, Stevie moved down, and I got to know him. There were very few people playing blues at this time, so we all knew each other, and played with each other, and traded band members sometimes. I'd lived with Jimmie, and Stevie at different times. We had a band called Paul Ray and the Cobras, and in early '75, Stevie wanted to join up with us, and he stayed with us for about two years, and then it was time for him to go off and be Stevie Ray Vaughan. We spent a lot of time together until he was ready to go on the road with his band, and then it seemed like he wasn't around very much. They were on the road almost constantly. He'd stop by my house when he was in town, and would always drop in at Antones. I really miss him. We listened to a lot of music together, always turning each other on to something we'd discovered. I don't think he thought about anything but music, and girls, of course.
13. Are there any recordings from that period of you with Stevie?
There are many live recordings, of gigs, and I think tapes of only two sessions in the studio. I heard that one of the studio tapes with maybe five or so, songs, has deteriorated.
14. What are your recollections of Stevie?
We had a lot of laughs, listened to a lot of music, were good friends. But he still owes me $30 rent. I miss him a lot.
15. Name your top 5 “desert island” albums!
This would probably change every day…
Kind of Blue--Miles
I'm Jimmy Reed
Unity– Larry Young
Are You Experienced
16. Do you have a regular band at the moment and if so, give me a line-up!
The Denny Freeman Band
Mike Thompson, keys
Mark Goldberg, bass
Don Heffington, drums
17. What do you think of the current blues scene in Texas and blues in general?
There's not much of one in Texas, that I know of. It was never very big, it consisted of a relatively small number of players, and they were mostly in Austin. I mean, in the last 30 years. The Thunderbirds and Stevie put Austin blues on the map, and there were a few others, and a few are still there, but of course, Stevie's gone, and Jimmie left the T birds. Antone's is still there, but it's not the same. I've been living in L.A. since '92, partly because the Austin thing had run out of gas. Things change. I don't feel that good about blues in general. There are many good players out there, but now there are blues bands EVERYWHERE, and they don't show much originality, to me. Too much mediocre stuff, in my opinion, and mediocre doesn't make it, for me, especially in blues.
18. How does the future of the blues look like in your opinion?
It'll never go away, but it'll never be very big. There will always be somebody to take it up, as long as there are guitars, but it's a real challenge to make blues sound exciting, and interesting.
19. Is there any difference between US and European audiences in their perception of the blues?
Maybe sometimes European audiences like stuff that I don't think is so great. Sometimes they act like it's American, so it must be the real thing, and sometimes, maybe it's not. On the other hand, in the past, a lot of Europeans have been hipper to blues than Americans. Don't know if that's still the case.
20. Who are your favorite players at the moment?
Blues? Well, Kim Wilson is carrying on, and he's great, of course, and Jimmie sounds great. Otis Rush is still doing it. Kim tells me about different people he uses in different parts of the country that aren't well known but that he likes a lot. Rusty Zinn is kind of young, and really good, and tho he's moving away from blues, Doyle Bramhall II is heavy.
21. At the end what would be your message to blues fans in Macedonia and is there a possibility to play here?
I'm very happy to hear that there are blues fans in Macedonia. Stay tuned in to Vasja, if you like what you hear, there is much to discover. I think there is always a possibility…