THE MUMBAI MIRROR, MUMBAI INDIA - November 2014
Mirror fixes-it: A riff apart
By Joanna Lobo, Mumbai Mirror | Nov 2, 2014, 02.53 AM IST
On his first India trip, blues guitarist Mick Clarke shares music mantras with Karan Sajnani.
The world of blues owes its popularity to three kings - BB King, Albert King and Freddie King. British blues guitarist Mick Clarke has had the honour of backing one of them - Freddie King, on tour.
Speak of Clarke in India, and that's the first thing that comes to mind as was the case for jazz guitarist Karan Sajnani. He looks to Clarke as a powerhouse of information and jumps at the chance to pick the brain of a man who jammed with Peter Terry, Mick Phillips, Len Davies, Ian Ellis, Eddie Masters, Russell Prett, Stevie Smith and Dave Newman during the course of his 40-year-long career.
In the four decades, however, this is Clarke's first time performing in Asia. His visit, he says, surprised people back home in England who found it difficult to believe that India has a substantial blues following. "Not too many people have come to perform. I consider it a privilege," he says.
The privilege, he speaks of, is more likely enjoyed by blues fans in India since Clarke is selective of gigs. His band, The Mick Clarke Band, that took form in the eighties, is on tour in India headlining at the Simply the Blues festival. "I have achieved what I wanted to, so I pick and choose my gigs," he says.
Clarke, born in 1950, was barely a teenager when the Beatles shot to popularity. "Guitars were a new and exciting thing, and I wanted to be part of it," he says. At the time, most bands were drawing influence from musicians like Chuck Berry, Bo Didley and Jimmy Reed. The mid '60s saw a blues explosion in UK with Eric Clapton, Peter Green and Jeff Beck. "They made a big impression on me and my contemporaries," says Clarke.
Before he started his band, Clarke was better known as one half of the Killing Floor, a duo that backed bluesman Freddie King.
As Sajnani conducts his interview, Clarke interjects his responses with air guitar actions. He mouths the beats of a Bo Jackson, the twang of an Eric Clapton song and mimicks BB King performing a solo in a London club. It's evident that even his body language is soaked in music.
Has Clarke ever tried teaching, Sajnani asks. "I wasn't very good. I don't even understand it myself. I've learned to read music four or five times, and every time I forget. It's not important for me," he responds. It's something Clarke repeats more than once through the interview, that his knowledge of music is limited. "I've heard you play and there's no way you don't know about music," says an indignant Sajnani.
Sajnani introduces himself as a trained jazz guitarist. He admits that he loves Indian classical and has performed with bands like The Other People. "You're way ahead of me in terms of music then," offers Clarke. Sajnani can't help but laugh at the statement.
The interaction is punctuated by laughter as Clarke jokes about forgetting things in the middle of a performance on stage. He blames his difficulty writing blues lyrics on his "comfortable" life. "Imagine writing a song that said 'I woke up this morning, it was a fine day, I did a spot of gardening...,'" he says with a smile.
Listening to the duo talk about the genius of one-note solos and the origin of blues music, it's easy to see why Sajnani considers music a binding force. He believes that music can help people connect despite obvious differences in age, experience and culture. "In India, we believe that music is a tool to synchronise with a universal rhythm. It is almost considered a religion. Music is medicine," he says.
Sajnani is firm about his belief in music therapy. In 2007, he started Satori, an organisation that works with music and its therapeutic applications. "Everything is part of a rhythm in this universe. We use music to help people connect with that rhythm," he says. Satori uses science and research to prove that music can indeed be therapeutic. Sajnani's team is currently working on a research project in affiliation with medical universities to help autistic children reach milestones through music.
Clarke, however, considers the spiritual bend of music to be an "Indian thing". "Music is a life force. Personally, I need it. I don't think everybody does or maybe they do but don't realise it. Music refreshes me, revives me, much like a cup of tea," he says. He cites the example of listening to Elmore James after a tiring day or surrounding himself with classical music during long tours to ''cleanse his palate''.
There is consensus, however, on the state of contemporary music which neither claim to understand. This is especially in regards to electronic music, rap and hip hop. "The songs are violent, and the music and lyrics are ugly," says Clarke. It's one of the reasons he is returning to old school, Chicago blues.
Any advice? "I'm no guru," he says, and bursts out laughing about using the word 'guru' in India. "If you're playing blues, there's a lot of opportunity. Listen to everybody. Get a hold of all the music you can. Find your style and hone it."
BLUES MATTERS! MAGAZINE SEPTEMBER 2013
Mick Clarke has been a mainstay on the British blues scene since the 1980’s and been part of some of our best bands during that time as well as releasing a string of successful solo albums, the latest of which ‘Ramdango’ is just out to coincide with a new UK tour. It was the perfect time for BM to catch up and get an overview of Micks career to date.
1. Hi Mick, thanks for talking to us. The new ‘Ramdango’ album is just out and it really is a solo album in every sense this time isn’t it? Tell us a bit about how this came about.
Well I have a little studio at home where I've cautiously tried various recording techniques in the past. I had already started playing my own bass and keyboards on record, and this time I decided, in a fit of over confidence, that I would also play my own drums! I used some pre-recorded sounds for the bass drum and other things, but decided that I would actually play the snare and percussion myself to get a natural feel.
The thought that I could not actually play drums didn't really occur to me, so I bought myself a Ludwig snare drum from eBay and learned how to tune it and so on. Then I ordered a cheap pair of brushes and started recording! My first efforts were pretty bad but I kept the tracks and came back to them later when I'd got a bit more practise. After a while I really started enjoying myself.. drumming is fun!
So the album came together, fairly quickly actually.. just took a few months. I had a few songs already and wrote the rest as I went along - the inspiration just sort of flowed. And yes, this one is all me.
2. It sounds like you had a lot of fun recording this. There are some lovely touches of humour about it and the instrumentals sure get you moving to the groove. Was it a very different writing process knowing you were going to play everything yourself?
I really really enjoyed making it - I just couldn't wait to get in the studio at every opportunity. I must make it clear - I have some great musician friends that I work with, Usually Chris Sharley or Russell Chaney on drums, Eddie Masters on bass and "Dangerous" Dave Newman on harp or Dave Lennox on keyboard. However this time round I just wanted to try doing it all myself - I really didn't know for sure if it would work but I wanted to go for it anyway.
I've always been a huge fan of people like Joe Meek.. he turned his flat into a studio at a time when the norm was to go to Abbey Road or somewhere and have engineers in white coats in charge. But Joe showed that you could do things in an unconventional way and still get great results.. if it sounded good that was all that mattered.
Anyway, making the album this way turned out to be a totally liberating experience - I didn't have to explain myself to anyone and I could stand or fall by own ideas. There are some silly bits, both musically and lyrically, but they made me laugh, and it slowly sunk in that there was no-one to tell me what not to do! So I reasoned that if the tracks were no good then people wouldn't buy them.. nothing lost.
As it turns out the album has been well received - album of the week on one show - and is getting steady sales and airplay around the world. So I'm feeling pretty happy with the whole thing.
3.This feels like the natural follow up to your previous album, ‘The Rambunctious Blues Experiment’ which although a three piece with guitar, drums and harp was recorded all in one take with minimal rehearsal. I get a sense that you want to distance yourself from the clean overproduced stuff out there and return to some authentic raw blues.
A few years ago I realised that I had said everything that I had to say (at the time) about standard blues rock, and had started to repeat myself and recycle ideas. I read a review of one of my albums which said something like "we expected more" and I agreed with the reviewer! So I thought at that time that I had possibly made my last album.
However over the next couple of years I was listening to a lot of real down and dirty Lousiana blues people and started to realise how unimportant the technical side of blues recording is. I really started to fancy making a record that was much more rough and ready. At the same time we moved out of London to the country and I constructed a little home studio. It wasn't big enough for a whole band, but the drummer I was working with, Russell Chaney, had an electronic kit which I realised I could record.
So I put the two ideas together, a raw dirty blues album recorded in my little studio with just a drummer, no rehearsal, just a live feel, and we made "Rambunctious". Later I added some dirty sounding bass and my friend "Dangerous" Dave came down and added some great harp. I think the album is fun, and certainly unique.
4. You first came to most peoples attention in the 1960’s playing in the band Killing Floor. Amazingly you guys got back together last year to record a new album and play some live shows. What was that like for you?
Well our first "reunion" album was in 2003 and called "Zero Tolerance". It was the idea of the late Franco Ratti of Appaloosa Records. When he first suggested a Killing Floor reunion I laughed! It all seemed so long ago. But anyway, once we'd all got back into contact I realised that everyone had a real enthusiasm to make music together again, so we did and it was a lot of fun.
My friend Lou Martin, who was the pianist in the band and had also worked with Rory Gallagher, very sadly died in August last year. He had played on "Zero Tolerance" but his health, even then, had been failing. So the 2012 album "Rock'n'Roll Gone Mad" was quite definitely the four piece Killing Floor - myself, Bill Thorndycraft, Stuart McDonald and Bazz Smith. I think it's a very original and distinctive statement.. it might take the rest of the world a few years to catch up - it usually does with Killing Floor records!
We also got to play some live dates which were always a riot. For example the Rock At Sea cruises from Stockholm. A boatload of rock bands and two thousand fans floating around in the Baltic all night.. can you imagine! And last year we played at Sweden Rock Festival.. a really huge event with bands such as Blue Oyster Cult and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Killing Floor seems to fit in well to those Classic Rock kind of events, so I hope we have a few more over the next years.
5. In the original period of Killing Floor you were the backing band for Freddie King and toured alongside Howlin' Wolf and Otis Spann. There must be some incredible memories from that time, any you can share with us?
It was a great time, and although we were young we fully realised that we were working with blues legends and that it was very special. Working with Freddie taught me a lot about how a professional works.. the most important thing to him was to get up there each night and do the best show he could. Nothing else got in the way. A real gentleman of the Blues.
Otis Spann was an affable character with a bottle of scotch in his pocket and a couple of dodgy women in tow. I'd say a short life but a merry one... and a fantastic piano player.
Wolf, of course, was a true giant of the blues in every way. But he was a cantankerous old so and so.. we had some interesting conversations. One night he and Freddie got up with Killing Floor and played Smokestack Lightning - one of those moments you don't forget.
Killing Floor did lots of other stuff too.. playing with many of the legendary names of the time.. Captain Beefheart, the Nice, Alexis Korner, Free.. we also had lots of adventures touring Europe in the days before motorways and the EU. Getting arrested in Augsburg and causing a riot in West Berlin.. ( we were posing as another band but didn't get away with it). A tough but exciting time and for me a hard apprenticeship into being a working blues man.
6. The first band I discovered your playing with was SALT, who were a great band on the London blues scene in the 70’s and featured Steve Smith on vocals who went on to form Ruthless Blues. You’ve got back together for some reunion shows recently too. Anything in the pipeline on that front?
Well we're always open to offers, but there's nothing booked at the moment. The shows we did were good fun and went down very well so I hope we can do some more. The project also gave me the incentive to remaster the old recordings and demos and make up a retrospective SALT album, which I think is pretty good. Anyway it was great to get together again with Steve and Mac with Chris Sharley on drums and belt out "All Wired Up" once again.
7. I think our readers are getting the message that you like to keep busy by now but I know you also are a regular member of the British Blues All Stars. Is that still active? I know Kim Simmonds and Maggie Bell have been involved. Tell us bit more about that?
Yes I'm always busy with something or other but it's not always music which can be very annoying. Life tends to get in the way sometimes. At the moment I'm involved in rebuilding our kitchen which is definitely not rock'n'roll. However, yes I try to get into any good musical situation that comes along.
With the British Blues All Stars the first time they called me was for the San Francisco Blues Festival! Wow .. yes please. But unfortunately it was impossible to sort out a work permit, so in the end Rod Price from Foghat did the gig. In a way I'm glad because he died the following year, so at least he got to play with some old friends again.
Anyway I did do the Colne Festival with Kim Simmonds and Maggie bell which I thoroughly enjoyed. backing up Kim on Savoy Brown numbers was an honour and sharing vocals with Maggie was like working with royalty! Fantastic.
The BBAS is really the baby of the blues pianist Bob Hall. I'm still in touch and I hope we can do some more stuff sometime.
8. After Killing Floor and SALT you formed The Mick Clark Band and had a successful career around Europe and the USA and have released a series of well received albums over a long period of time. Lou Martin was involved quite a bit, it must have been special working with him?
The MC Band took off quite dramatically around the end of the 80s and for a while it was quite exciting. At one time we were proclaimed "The hottest band in Switzerland" which seems like a modest claim now, but was quite a buzz at the time. They were good days, thundering around Europe in our old Mercedes bus. We also got to tour in the USA and play dates with Johnny Winter, Canned Heat and others.
Lou was busy with other projects having finished his stint with The Rory Gallagher Band, but was able to play on several of my albums. In due course he came on the road with the band and there were some great times. Lou would really come into his own if there was, say, a power cut, which happened a couple of times. Then he'd be up on an acoustic piano somewhere jamming away and saving the show.
Lou had a great sense of humour which kept me sane for most of the time, and we always had an excellent musical interplay together. He was brought up on the same albums as I was, Live at the Regal, Otis Rush etc, and he knew instinctively what the right piano accompaniment was for the kind of blues guitar that I play. When it was his turn to solo I just kept out of the way.
It always used to intrigue me.. We'd be doing a gig - I'd play the very best solo I could and the audience would smile appreciatively. then Lou would play a solo and the audience would stand up and cheer. I could never really figure that out, but finally realised that Lou had a very special and indefiable genius.. a way of connecting directly with the music that few others have. Sometimes a bit untidy but always direct from the heart.
9. Any plans for some new Mick Clarke Band product or will you continue down the solo recording route?
My immediate plan is to crack on straight away with another solo project.. doing the last one was just too much fun, and I've already got a bunch of new ideas to work on. But I'm sure there'll be another "proper" band album at some point.. maybe a live one would be nice. You can always find the latest info at my website, mickclarke.com.
The Peverett Phile July 2013
Today's guest is a British blues guitarist and singer whose latest album "The Rambunctious Blues Experiment" is now available on iTunes as well as his latest single "Graveyard Shift-The Remix". He'll be next appearing at The Ranelagh in Brighton, England on August 12th. Please welcome to the Phile... one of the greats... Mick Clarke.
Me: Hello, Mick, welcome to the Phile, sir. How are you?
Mick: Very good.
Me: So, I have to ask you first, has anybody ever told you you look like British actor Steve Coogan a little bit? Do you know who that is?
Mick: No they haven't... yes, I believe he does a comedy turn on the television.
Me: Yep, and in the movies. Anyway, there's two Mick's I always wanted to interview on the Phile... you and Mick Taylor. You worked with Mick Taylor before, right?
Mick: I met Mick Taylor very briefly at a gig in Luxembourg. I mentioned that he looked tired and he told me that he did most of his best work when he was asleep. He was being ironic.
Me: I would of course love to interview Mick Jagger but that's next to impossible. Anyway, Mick, where are you from?
Mick: Surrey, a similar county to where Mick Jagger may live in one of his many homes.
Me: My grandmother used to live in Surrey. Do you still live in England?
Mick: Until our village declares itself to be an independent principality, yes I do. I lived in L.A. for a year (1979) which was interesting, but I prefer England.
Me: You do a lot of shows in Europe and overseas... do you ever get to the States to play? Ever played in Orlando?
Mick: We did a lot of work in the States in the 80s / 90s... all on the West Coast. No, never made it to Orlando. Just LA up to Seattle.
Me: I read that you have played a show or two with Foghat, sir. Did you know my father at all, or did you play with Foghat after he passed?
Mick: Yes, we played two dates with your dad and Foghat. The Starry Night in Portland, Oregon and a club called Detroits further north in Olympia, Washington State. Both great, rocking gigs.
Me: Did you ever meet my dad?
Mick: He was friendly. I remember a smiley face.
Me: You also did shows with Savoy Brown. Kim Simmonds' a good friend and was a past guest recently on the Phile. When was the last time you saw Kim?
Mick: I played with Kim as part of The British Blues All Stars which was a temporary line-up including the great singer Maggie Bell and Bob Hall on the piano. We headlined the Colne Festival in England and it was a lot of fun. I enjoyed belting out "Got My Mojo Working" with Maggie... she let me take the lead cos she said it was a man's song. I also enjoyed playing a rhythm guitar part with Kim on his Savoy Brown songs.
Me: Okay, apart from being a solo artist you have been in two bands... Killing Floor and SALT. When did those band names come from, Mick?
Mick: Bill the singer came up with Killing Floor from the Howlin' Wolf song while we were sitting in a hamburger bar in Wardour St, Soho, London in 1968. It was a good hard bluesy name which summed up our music. Of course it has since been used for a book, a game and numerous other bands (unauthorised.. we registered the name in 1969). Stevie the singer came up with SALT... basic, gritty, tangy... again it summed up the music pretty well.
Me: Both bands have reunited sine they originally broke up, am I right? Why don't you go ahead and mention who is in both bands?
Mick: SALT - original line-up of Stevie Smith on vocals, me on guitar, Stuart McDonald on bass with Chris Sharley on drums. We had a few drummers first time round... sadly our friend Alan Platt died a few years back or we would have tried to recruit him for the new line-up. But Chris is a fine drummer... the famous "Sharley Shuffle". Killing Floor - The complete original 1968 four piece line-up... Bill Thorndycraft on vocals, me on guitar, Stuart McDonald on bass and Bazz Smith on drums. Lou Martin would also be involved but he has been unwell for the last few years with some rather nasty ailments. He's okay, in fact I spoke to him today, a few hours ago, and he sounded good. Still has his sense of humour and lively interest in rock'n'roll intact. We were having a chat about Rory.
Me: Killing Floor for awhile was Freddie King's backing band, am I right? How did Freddie approach you guys and asked you if you'd be interested?
Mick: It was done by an agent Roy Tempest. A lot of blues artists such as Howlin' Wolf and John Lee Hooker were coming to the UK at that time, and they needed decent bands to back them up.
Me: That must've been a big deal for you, backing up a blues legend. Did you grow up listening to the blues and Freddie?
Mick: Well, it was hard to get blues records in England at that time in the 60s and Freddie's records were almost impossible. So I just knew a few, including of course "Hideaway" via Eric Clapton. Lou had some of Freddie's records so that helped. So he was, to us, a kind of strange mystical legend from a place we couldn't really imagine. Turned out he was a lovely fella.
Me: How long did Killing Floor tour with him?
Mick: We did two UK tours, about three weeks each. In that time we also did some gigs which included Howlin' Wolf and Otis Spann, so it was an exciting time. We were booked to play a third tour but Freddie didn't turn up. A few days later he sent us a telegram to say he couldn't come because he hadn't been sent his money... don't blame him.
Me: Freddie sadly passed away as you know, Mick. Where were you when you found out he had passed?
Mick: I just read it in the paper.. Melody Maker I think. I felt strangely detached... don't know why that was. Freddie was a very nice man who was a huge influence on me as a musician, a stage performer and a professional. I think I just didn't realise at that time how important he was to me in so many ways... that realisation has crept up on me over the years.
Me: I read a little about Freddie and I read that he passed from stress and a poor diet, and that he used to drink Bloody Mary's instead of food. Did you see a lot of that with him, sir?
Mick: When we worked with Freddie he was incredibly straight and professional. I don't remember him drinking at all. He seemed to be completely centered on doing a good show, which he always did. If he was tired he could stretch out in the dressing room and drop off for half an hour, then wake up, cup of coffee and bang! He was on. Always consistently professional.
Me: I am a big BB King fan, did you ever play with him?
Mick: No. We went to see BB whenever he was over, so I saw him quite a few times. I particularly remember being at the 100 Club in London when Lowell Fulson was playing. BB was there and got up to jam... he sang a couple of verses and played one 12 bar solo, consisting of about four phrases made of up of about three notes each. A superb lesson in economy... the ultimate "less is more" blues guitar solo.
Me: You have played with some great people, and even opened for Muddy Waters. How was that experience? Was he cool?
Mick: That was great. We played with him twice... the second time we met Muddy briefly after the show at The Rainbow in London, and he asked who was playing harp... it was Stevie Smith of SALT. He said next time he was over he would ask for "my boys". Never did... mind I don't think he came over again. I was very honoured to meet him and share a stage.
Me: Is there a blues legend you haven't met but would love to?
Mick: Well I've been incredibly lucky, meeting Wolf, Muddy, Freddie and others. I suppose Elmore James is out of the question...
Me: Okay, back to your two bands... with the band SALT, the band originally broke up when punk music became big, right? Do you blame punk music for kinda 'killing' the blues scene?
Mick: Well, I suppose it was fair enough, there were some incredibly boring bands around at that time. But it was a little unfair on SALT, we were an extremely lively and powerful band, everything that punk stood for. But I think we probably had our couple of years of excitement and probably would have burnt out anyway... it was that kind of thing... a short fuse. Punk didn't last long either come to think of it.
Me: So, how did both bands reform, Mick? And do you ever get confused about what are SALT songs and what are Killing Floor songs?
Mick: Both reformations were somebody else's idea... Franco Ratti at Appaloosa Records in Italy suggested a Killing Floor re-union album. London promoter Pete Feenstra suggested a SALT re-union tour. Although the bands share a common guitarist and bass player, and are both hard rocking blues based bands... the respective front men Bill Thorndycraft and Stevie Smith have their own very clear identities and influence the feel of the bands greatly... almost completely. Plus we have two great drummers, Chris and Bazz who have their own very distinct rhythmic approaches. I don't get confused!
Me: You were also in a band with Cliff Bennett called Toefat, right? Where did that name come from, and how did you two come to work together?
Mick: Don't know where the name came from, you'll have to ask Cliff. Lou Martin had been doing some gigs with Cliff and brought us all together. We did a lot of work but it didn't last long, good band though. Mick Hawksworth (Fuzzy Duck, Ten Years Later) Tony Fernandez (Rick Wakeman) and my friend Lynton Naiff on keyboards. Lou left almost immediately to join Rory Gallagher's band.
Me: Okay, let's talk about your latest release "The Rambunctious Blues Experiment". What a great name for an album, how did you come up with it? That would also make a great band name.
Mick: Ah ha! Copyright! The Rambunctious Blues Band is ready to go, we just need a gig. Yes, it just seemed like the only name for the album... it was put together in an extremely spontaneous and technically incompetent fashion... just me and the drummer jamming together in my home studio. So it was raw and rough, but definitely rambunctious.
Me: Who plays on the album with you?
Mick: The drummer was Russell Chaney, he brought his electronic kit down for a rehearsal and ended up making an album. Dangerous Dave Newman came down later and added some great harp. I put on a farty bass guitar myself. My wife Linda played marracas and I added a can of fish food. I like it a lot.
Me: I downloaded it off from iTunes and really enjoyed it. It has been described as, and I quote somebody, "Seasick Steve hitches a lift with the White Stripes on their way to a Rory Gallagher concert". Man, do you understand what that means? Who is Seasick Steve?
Mick: Who is Seasick Steve? Ah, you must be not English. Steve is an American blues player who the British have taken to their hearts... he was a big hit on the huge Glastonbury Festival a few years back. A John Lee Hooker for the 21st century.
Me: Cool, and I am from England. I need to get Seasick Steve on the Phile. You knew Rory and played with him quite a bit, right?
Mick: Yes, I knew Rory because two of Killing Floor, Lou Martin and Rod DeAth joined his band. I went to a lot of shows. Rory would always ask after "that old SG" of mine. He jammed with us once at a London pub... lots of energy!!!
Me: What do you think about the White Stripes and Jack White? He's a big blues fan. It must be good for the blues musicians when younger artists are into the blues, am I right?
Mick: You are right. It's great that people like him keep the music alive for younger fans. That keeps new venues opening up for old farts like us to play at.
Me: So, as I said, I enjoyed the album. Did you write all the songs on it, sir?
Mick: I did. Some were based on old blues standards but got rewritten. But that's always been the way with the blues. Glad you enjoyed it.
Me: I have to ask you about the instrumental "Go Go Freddie". Obviously that song is dedicated to Freddie King. What gave you the idea to dedicate a song to him after all this time?
Mick: Ah, another internet myth is born. The song was dedicated to our favourite goldfish "Fat Freddie"... a bit of a character and king of the garden pond, who I once nursed back to health after a nasty attack of constipation, him not me, by feeding him garden peas. He was sadly murdered, not eaten, by a heron during the making of the record. At least I was able to immortalise him in a song. I would be very wary of naming a song after Freddie King. I am definitely not worthy, and by the way I did not record the version of "The Stumble" which is on Youtube. Somebody else who shares my name.
Me: Apart from this album, Killing Floor is coming out with a new album. What can you tell the readers about this new album?
Mick: Yeah! It's quite exciting really... four years in the making. Every song written from scratch with genuine blood sweat and tears. It will probably mystify and confuse people when it comes out. Killing Floor records do not sound like anybody else.
Me: When it comes out, can you come back on the Phile and promote it?
Mick: You bet.
Me: Mick, thanks so much for being here, I know you are a busy man. Go ahead and plug your website and please come back.
Mick: Mm... I'm at mickclarke.com. Killing Floor is at killingfloor.org. We also have the usual Facebook and Twitter etc. Check in for all the latest on tours and albums.
Me: Oh, before you go, I have to ask you about your guitars you play as I have a few guitar geeks who read the Phile and would send me nasty emails if I didn't ask you. What make of guitars do you play, and are they custom made?
Mick: Guitars! Yes I like guitars. I don't have a lot because I've never been rich... they cost more here in the UK than they do in the States. My main instrument is a 1963 Gibson SG Standard which I got in 1969. I had bought Freddie King's big Gibson Stereo from him at the end of the first tour, but sadly I couldn't play it, so I swopped it, very reluctanctly, for the SG, which seems to have worked out okay. I have a Korean Squier Strat which I play slide on. It was always actually a very good guitar, but anyway I've replaced the pickups with Texas Specials, and it's all been rewired the same way that Rory's guitar was. No, it's a secret.
Me: What is your favorite guitar to play? Also, how old were you when you first started playing?
Mick: My favourite is actually a little Danelectro 3022, like Jimmy Page's but bronze, which I bought in 1972 for £28. It has a wonderful bell like ringing tone which gets really funky and bluesy with a little heat on it. And it's got a great action... like an old Tele. The new ones aren't as good. I started playing... I was about thirteen. Some friends got together playing Bo Diddley songs after school... a guitar, marracas, a harmonica. I thought this is fun, I want to make music like this. So I saved up (my dad helped me) and bought a cheap guitar. I knew I could play it.
Me: Okay, that's it for now. Like I said, please come back. All the best, sir.
Mick: Thanks again. Thanks for your interest in my music. And you must be proud of your dad's contribution to rock and blues. Good luck and do keep in touch.
Me: I am, Mick, proud of my dad, and I sure will.
INTERVIEW WITH BOBTEJEBLUES
Anybody who's familiar with bluesrock must have heard of Mick Clarke out of London. Without any doubt he's one of the top guitarists in his style, having build a record of achievements to make others dream of. It all started back in '68 with the legendary Killing Floor with whom he released two albums: Killing Floor ('69) and Out of Uranus ('70). Killing Floor produced a mix of rock influences and traditional Chicago blues and lasted only four years. After that, there was Toefat (with R & B singer Cliff Bennett) and the American based band Daddy Longlegs. Later, Mick worked together with some ex members of Roxy Music and in the mid seventies he started another bluesrock band, named Salt. Mick moved to Los Angeles for about one year, but in the beginning of the eighties, he finally got his own Mick Clarke Band with whom he continues to play. And now, 32 years after the beginning, there's Killing Floor again with the CD Zero Tolerance. Time for some questions.
Bob: Thirty two years ago, you started with Killing Floor. How was it in those days?
Mick: In those days the blues was something very rare..... it was difficult to find blues records or see blues bands. We felt that there were just a few of us who understood and appreciated the music... a kind of secret society of blues fans. We used to go to the "Blue Horizon" club at the Nags Head pub in Battersea, South London. It was organised by Mike Vernon, the producer, and bands featured were Fleetwood Mac, Savoy Brown, Chicken Shack and so on. You could watch the young Peter Green from just a few feet away. Or we'd see Cream or the Jeff Beck Group at the Marquee club. Magic days. So it was natural for us to form a blues band... Killing Floor. And at that time it was becoming the new trend; It became very "in" to play the blues. So it was a good time... there were many club gigs and radio and even TV slots. We made two albums and worked hard. Ultimately Killing Floor never made it to the big time, but we were definitely a part of that 60's "blues boom". Paul Kossof and Simon Kirke from the band Free jammed with us one time, Alexis Korner another time. And Robert Plant wanted to jam one night but we wouldn't let him! We'd finished the gig and were packing up to go home!
Bob: Killing Floor acted as a support band for Texan blues legend Freddie King. Tell us about this experience.
Mick: That was great! At that time a London agent was bringing a lot of American blues acts over, and he needed backing groups. We got the job of backing Freddie King! Wow! We knew Freddie from his records - he was already a legend. Also, I'd already seen him on his first tour, and I was blown away. He had so much energy and presence on stage... he was a really charismatic performer. Then we had a gig on the same bill, at Klooks Kleek in London, so we met him that night, though we couldn't understand a word through his thick Texas accent! He flew in from Dallas for the tour and we had a quick rehearsal... the next day we were on the road with him. Every gig was great. He was a real professional who always knew how to win over an audience. It was a real education for me... In fact at the end of his tour I bought his guitar from him. Because of his style, playing with two metal fingerpicks, he tended to wear a hole in his guitar beneath the strings, so he liked to change his guitar regularly. He sold me his guitar and bought a new one when he got back to New York. As it turned out I couldn't play it! Just wasn't right for me, so I swapped it for my present guitar, the SG. Freddie came back for another tour and wanted to know where his guitar had gone!
Bob: Was that how you got involved with Otis Spann and Howlin' Wolf?
Mick: During the two tours that we did with Freddie, we also played concerts with Otis Spann, Howlin Wolf and Arthur Big Boy Crudup, the guy who wrote a couple of Elvis Presley's early hits. Spann was a lovely gentle man, usually pissed and with a couple of "friends" in tow. We went to a party with him where he jammed with Lou Martin. Howlin' Wolf was a gigantic personality in every way. His stage presence was phenomenal. One night he jammed with Freddie and Killing Floor and played "Smokestack Lightning". Fantastic.
Bob: There were two albums with Killing Floor, Killing Floor ('69) and Out of Uranus ('70). I was too young at the time, so you'll have to tell me about those.
Mick: The first album was really a collection of our stage material... Chicago blues classics which we had re-arranged in our own style. However, the producer quickly told us that all the songs had to be original, for publishing reasons, so we re-wrote them in the studio! In fact Bill, the singer, re-wrote them in the studio toilet! It was an exciting album, but chaotic. We were very young, (I was 18) and we had no studio experience. There are a lot of mistakes and errors of judgement on the record, but still it's exciting and powerful music. The second album "Out of Uranus" was recorded only a year later, but we were a quite different band. The "blues boom" was over in England... trends come and go fast! We'd been touring around Europe playing in clubs in Germany and Switzerland, and we rehearsed for the album during a six week residency in the South of France. By then we were a four piece band and were going for a more "progressive" style of blues, so the album has a quite different feel to the first one. Now it sounds a bit dated to that period, but it's still an interesting album and exciting in places.
Bob: The single Call For The Politicians caused quite some reactions. Why was that?
Mick: Call for the Politicians was a kind of lightweight "bubblegum" type rockin' pop song - a definite attempt at a chart hit! But Bill wrote quite a powerful lyric for it, calling for the politicians who he felt were responsible for most of the world's ills, which gave it more gravitas. In England it was accepted as a straight pop song, and "bubbled under" the national charts for a while, but in Europe, particularly in Germany, people took the lyric much more seriously and bought it for its political comment. It sold well.
Bob: Then there was Toefat, with R & B singer Cliff Bennett. How did this happen?
Mick: Lou Martin had done some work with Cliff, and introduced him to Killing Floor. Cliff was and is a fantastic singer. He was looking for a group to be the new version of his band Toefat, and we fitted the bill. This was Lou, myself, Mick Hawksworth on bass (also played with Ten years Later) and Tony Fernandez (Rick Wakeman) on drums. Lou left almost immediately to work with Rory Gallagher, but with Lynton Naiff on keyboards we worked for about half a year with Cliff, touring constantly. It was a busy time, and it was a good band, but we never got the record deal we were looking for, and eventually broke up.
Bob: After having worked with some ex members of Roxy Music, you started Salt. Tell us more about that..
Mick: For a while I didn't know what to do, and played with all kinds of bands. Really anybody who would pay me wage! That included a band organised by an ex Roxy music bass player .. but we only ever rehearsed! There were other bands like that... just rehearsing and getting a wage from some big record company. I also played country and western music with a band in the East End of London. At least I was out doing gigs, and I enjoyed the music. But I had to wear a western style "bootlace tie" with a replica six-gun on it. It wasn't really my thing! Then I met Stevie Smith, the singer / harp player, and we really hit it off. We formed the band SALT with Mac from Killing Floor, and the band took off really fast. It was a very exciting and powerful act. We had a strong following at clubs such as the Marquee and Dingwalls, and toured all over the country playing at the colleges and universities. In 1977 we played at the Reading Festival, and also opened for Muddy Waters at his big London concert at the "New Victoria" theatre. Great days!
Bob: Why did you move to Los Angeles?
Mick: By the end of the seventies punk music was really taking over in England, and bands such as SALT had no chance of getting record deals or playing the big venues. I decided to check out the American scene and moved there for the whole of 1979. It was a very strange and interesting experience for me, but ultimately I could not find a new career there. I nearly joined the pop group "Badfinger" at one point, and then went on to form my own blues band.
Bob: And why did you return and continue with Salt?
Mick: In the end I missed the London scene too much, and moved back, to continue working with Steve in a new version of SALT.
Bob: With the Mick Clarke Band, you got a lot of success. Five American tours, many albums, the press comments were very positive. The combination worked for yourself as well for the band and the audience. How do you explain this success?
Mick: When I first formed the Mick Clarke Band I naturally looked for work in my home town, London. I got a few pub and club gigs, but could not really get much happening. Then I started to get requests from Europe to play club and festivals dates... mainly from Holland, Italy and Belgium. One of my first big dates was the Belgium R&B Festival in Peer in 1983 with Robert Cray and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Immediately I was aware of a different reaction from the audience... the European fans were really excited about the music and were buying the album far more than in England. Next I had an offer from America and went to Portland Oregon to start a club tour. Again, I got a tremendous reaction and soon built a strong following in the area of the Pacific North West. We played dates with Canned Heat, Johnny Winter and many others and it was a very exciting time. We toured there five times altogether, but by then we were becoming more well known in Central Europe, Switzerland and Germany, so from that time on I concentrated more on work in Europe. During that last tour we fixed up a deal with Burnside Records, which meant that our albums continued to be well distributed in America. I don't know why, but European and American audiences seemed to really understand what I was doing with my own band, although I must say that my English following has steadily grown and I have many friends over here now.
Bob: Anyway, after 32 years you decide to go back to the past and start all over again with Killing Floor. Isn't this strange?
Mick: Very strange! I was speaking to Franco Ratti at Appaloosa Records in Milan who had been responsible for my first three solo records. He asked me why I had never made a Killing Floor re-union album. I laughed! It seemed so long ago.. another age. I hadn't seen some of the guys for 20 years or more. However it was an interesting idea.
Bob: I suppose it wasn't easy to convince the others to work together again?
Mick: It was incredibly easy! It seemed they were just waiting for the phone call! Although the singer, Bill, had not played in bands for thirty years, he had been writing songs at home and keeping a keen interest in blues music, so he was all ready for a new project. Mac the bass player had never forgotten his Killing Floor days, and Lou Martin had been working with me regularly on my albums, as well as working with bands such as Blues 'n' Trouble. The drummer Bazz had moved to Switzerland, and we couldn't find him, so we brought in Chris Sharley, who is a great drummer anyway. Bazz eventually showed up and played on two tracks of the album.
Bob: The debut album from The Mick Clarke Band, Looking For Trouble as well as the new album Zero Tolerance are on the Italian Appaloosa label. Apparently, there's a link between them and you?
Mick: The head of the company, Mr.Franco Ratti was always a Killing Floor fan, which is partly why he was interested in Mick Clarke in the first place. He has been a great help in my career as a solo artist and as a member of Killing Floor.
Bob: Tell us more about your friendship with Bill Thorndycraft who's never far away in your life. On Zero Tolerance, there are only two covers who not have been written by the both of you.
Mick: When we were working together in the original Killing Floor we were always good friends, and I spent many enjoyable afternoons and evenings visiting Bill and listening to the latest blues and rock albums, anything from Canned Heat or Ry Cooder to Captain Beefheart!
I lost touch with him almost completely over the years, but kept in touch because the Killing Floor albums were always on release, and occasionally royalty cheques would come in! When we got together again to work on "Zero Tolerance" we found that our friendship just carried on as if it had never been interrupted, despite the fact that we were both thirty years older! We both like raw powerful blues.. real dirty Chicago blues or Delta stuff. That's the important thing. Bill also contributes interesting lyrics to our songs... he likes to write about important issues such as political or sociological themes. We're a good team.
Bob: What will happen next, continue with The Mick Clarke Band, or will it be Killing Floor?
Mick: I'm completely committed to my solo career, so it's most definitely the Mick Clarke Band. However, Killing Floor is available for offers. If we're offered the right dates at the right price, there may well be some new Killing Floor concerts in the future.
Bob: Allright Mick, thanks for the interview!
INTERVIEW WITH MONTE ATKISONThe Blues Stalker
Blues Stalker: Mick, I read that you were born in London in 1950 and brought up in Wimbledon and that seeing Eric Clapton in 1965 changed your life forever. Tell us about that.
Mick Clarke: Yes that's right, son of a newsagent in the backstreets. Later we moved to the suburbs and I went to quite a good school, Rutlish. One year they invited John Mayall's Bluesbreakers to play at the school fete - featuring Eric Clapton! They played in a marquee in the sports ground right next to our house and it was a magic night. First time I saw a Les Paul guitar. I was fifteen and impressionable. I walked around dressed the way Clapton had for years!
BS: You formed your first band "Killing Floor" in 1968 and backed Freddie King on his U.K. tour. What was that like? What musicians did you get to jam with while touring with Freddie?
MC: We were lucky because around that time there were a lot of bluesmen being brought over from the States, and they all needed backing bands. Our manager got in touch with the agent, and originally we were set up to back Jimmy Witherspoon. This got changed to Freddie King! Freddie was a lovely man, a great guitarist and singer and a fantastic showman. He always had a great rapport with the audience, winning them over immediately with his warm smile. We never knew what songs we were about to playï¿½ he'd just shout the key then 1..2..3... and off we'd go. He was a total professional and I learned a lot from him.
During the tours with Freddie we shared concerts with Otis Spann and Howlin' Wolf. Otis was a quiet, friendly guy. We went to a party with him once and he and Lou Martin (Killing Floor's pianist who later worked with Rory Gallagher) got into a friendly "competition" on the piano. Lou wasn't really trying to impress anyone, just being himself, and he acquitted himself well. Otis was pure class, and I remember him running up the keyboard and hitting the top note with his foot!
Wolf was a different character altogether. A fantastic presence on stage and a voice that sent shivers down your spine. He wasn't too easy to talk to but we managed some interesting chats. One night he and Freddie jammed with Killing Floor and played "Smokestack Lightning".
BS: Your second band was SALT and opened for Muddy Waters at two major London concerts. Tell us about that experience.
MC: SALT was a great little band featuring Stevie Smith on vocals and harp. We did really well on live gigs, such as the Marquee in London, but never got a proper record deal. We opened for Muddy at his first big London concert at the "New Victoria" in 1977. We thought that the "purist" audience wouldn't go for our noisy rock/blues, but we were wrong. it was a great night and we encored with Johnny B Goode! Later, when SALT had transformed into Ramrod (including Lou Martin and Rod DeAth from Rory's band) we opened again for Muddy at the Rainbow, and this time we got to meet the man. He complimented Steve's harp playing and said that next time he was over he'd ask for "my boys"!
BS: In 1984 you formed the Mick Clarke Band. Your first albums were for an
Italian label, Appaloosa? Correct?
MC: Yeah, The way it came about was strange. I was still working with SALT but getting a little frustrated and wanting to try out more of my own ideas. I booked a demo studio and Lou and Rod came along for a jam. Steve Waller, who was a legend on the pub scene in London, came and played bass... all of them quite unpaid. I only did it for fun, but the engineer persuaded me to try and get the tapes released, so I started sending them out to labels. There were very few specialist blues labels in those days, but a friend of mine, Shakey Vick, had an album out on Appaloosa. I approached them, and partly because they remembered me from Killing Floor, they offered an album deal.
BS: You have eleven albums to your credit. Care to mention any of them and tell fans where they can listen to and purchase them. I love " Live in Luxembourg."
MC: That's good! Somebody recently described it as the worst thing they'd ever heard! I describe it as rough, raw and not for the faint-hearted. It was taken straight from the mixing desk at a great gig we did in Luxembourg in 2002. The reaction from fans was so good that we decided to release it, and it's now available on Taxim Records. All my albums are available from the CD Shop at . There are also sound samples so you can decide for yourself!
BS: You have toured the U.S.A. several times. Who did you appear with on these tours?
MC: Those tours were based in Portland, Oregon by courtesy of a local promoter, Steve Hettum. We played all the local clubs and toured up to Seattle and down to Los Angeles. Some of the highlights were opening for Johnny Winter at a club in Washington state, and appearing at the Waterfront Festival in Portland. In Los Angeles we opened for Linda Hopkins, who was (and I presume is) a wonderful Bessie Smith style singer. We also played with C.J. Chenier, Clifton's son fronting the old band, and Big Jay McNeely, rolling around in the audience playing his illuminated sax. Brilliant stuff. We also worked with Savoy Brown, Foghat, The Palladins and Canned Heat. Good days.
BS: You have toured all over Europe, correct? What is your schedule like in the future?
MC: Yes we've toured a great deal all over Europe - from Finland down to Sicily! We even played behind the Iron Curtain back in the eighties. Recently I have had a personal blow which has forced me to look again at everything I do. We have confirmed dates for next year including festival dates in Norway, Germany and Holland, so I will be making plans over the next few months.
BS: What equipment do you use? What is your favorite guitar?
MC: I've had the same guitar since 1969, a 1963 Gibson SG Standard nicknamed "Gnasher". Actually it's not that easy a guitar to play, but I've kind of grown into it. It got stolen once in the 70's for about nine months, but I got a tip-off and was able to go and get it back. The thief had stripped all the cherry red finish off of it, so ever since it's been natural wood finish. I prefer it that way.
I bought a regular Squier Strat in the 80's to play slide on. (Squier's were still good guitars in those days!). It's served me well and I still use it all the time. I've always used Marshall amps, my last one was stolen with my car, so I had to find another. Since I prefer the old models I found this old 50 watt combo with most of the front missing and the wrong speakers fitted. I stuck in a couple of "Sidewinder" speakers which are ridiculously powerful, (I only use one of them) and rebuilt the front of the amp. It looks unusal!
BS: Do you play clubs as well as festivals?
MC: Yeah we'll play anywhere. And it's good to remind yourself how to work with a tiny audience in an intimate room sometimes. That helps you in turn when you go out in front of a festival crowd. Only thing I don't like in small gigs is the smokeï¿½ I prefer oxygen!
BS: Do you play acoustic guitar also or are you always plugged?
MC: I've never been much good on acoustic. I think a good acoustic player should be able to finger pick properly and I never really learned that, although I have my own kind of cack-handed finger style. I featured a couple of acoustic tracks for the first time on the "New Mountain" album, and I think they work OK. I think there'll be more acoustic guitar featured on future projects.
BS: Do you have a website so fans can find out more about you?
MC: The website means a lot to me - direct contact with people who enjoy my music and my friends. (Sometimes they're the same thing!). It features news, CD sales, photos, etc. I am my own webmaster, so I'm updating it constantly, and people can always contact me through it.
BS: I have noticed that your albums are recorded by record companies in Italy, USA, and Germany. Many players today complain about the lack of promotion by their labels. One of my favorite discs of yours, No Compromise, is distributed by Burnside Records in Oregon and I think Susan Stewart there has done a very good job of representing your work. Are you pleased with the marketing of your talent by the labels?
MC: All of my records are released on independant labels and generally their promotional budgets are limited. I accept this. They will always make sure that promo copies go to where they are needed, but I do not expect grand promo campaigns from them. I think with modern communications, mainly the internet, the artist himself can do a lot to promote his own work. There's no doubt that the business is changing, and that sales and promotion via personal websites will become more and more important.
BS: Who are your current band members?
MC: Chris Sharley on drums has been working with me since the early '90's. A superb powerful drummer who originally started with the Welsh band "Sassafrass". Eddie Masters has been on bass for the last few years, another fine player with five strings on his bass guitar. What's that all about then? On keyboards is Dave Lennox who has worked in the past with Ginger Baker, Blodwyn Pig and many other names. Dave has to be one of the top players on the scene in Britain.
The band is flexibleï¿½ the guys all take other gigs between our tours, and sometimes we get deps in, which I think keeps things fresh. Sometimes we have worked with Ian Ellis on bass (ex Savoy Brown) or Brendan from Nine Below Zero on drums. Lou Martin and Rik Lee (Ten Years After) have also helped out occasionally, so we have a pretty high standard of musician!
BS: What projects do you have planned in the future?
MC: We've recently recorded a new album by my first band Killing Floor. It will be the first new release for 32 years, so it's quite exciting. It was good fun getting together again, and I think it's a good record. Full details at the website . I also hope to record a new Mick Clarke studio album before too long. I have the material ready to go.
BS: Whom have you not met or played with that you would like to?
MC: B.B. and Eric I suppose! Two of my greatest influences.
BS: Who is currently in your CD player?
MC: Hang on, I'll have a look!... aah, a blues compilation! Further on up the Road... Frosty by Albert Collins... I'm a King Bee, Slim Harpo.. Help Me by Sonny Boy!! Wonderful, wonderful music - aren't we lucky?
BS: Thank you Mick for sharing your talent with blues fans all over the world. I look forward to hearing you live one day.
MC: Thanks Monte, for thinking of me. All the best to you.