Words Rick Webb. Photos Andy Hall
Canadian born London resident Son of Dave has spent the last couple of
years doing over 200 gigs and building a strong reputation with his dynamic
one man band harmonica beat box loopin' shaker rattlin' foot stompin'
He's appeared on 'Later', toured with Supergrass
and supported Fat
Freddy's Drop at Hammersmith Palais. Mark Lamarr
is a fan, and apparently so is Grace Jones. Creating
what he describes as 'funky ass Devil music without thievery or pretension',
he has evolved a sound and an approach that could genuinely be described
as something new in blues. What's more, he's brought it to people that
normally wouldn't go near anything labeled 'The Blues'.
He's no pop act appropriating a stance because it happens to be fashionable
either; his harmonica playing has great tone and is extraordinarily fluid,
rich and inventive. Vocally he's no less convincing. Overall it's clear
that here is a great blues performer, and one that, in his words, 'brings
the blues kicking and howling into the 21st Century'.
We spoke to him before the release of his new CD '02'
in February 2006 and the start of a UK tour in April.
Your first CD, 1999's limited release 'O1', was a lot more of a studio
album with samples and sessions, whereas this is much more stripped down.
Why the change?
SOD: Necessity. 'O1' was such a big complicated studio
record in a way, and no-one got it. Either they didn't receive it or they
didn't understand it but it never really got a response. It just went
over their heads, or under the rug or whatever. Maybe it was just a piece
of shit, I don't know. So it was just impossible to make another record
like that because it takes months of studio time and its just too complicated
and not much fun layering all this stuff up to create some sort of postmodern
work of art for no-one to hear it.
After that I gave up entirely for a while and because I was contributing
nothing to society I went busking, which arguably is even worse than contributing
nothing to society! But I went busking, just with a harmonica and a shaker,
and a suitcase that I would stomp on and that went down gangbusters...
I thought 'well, that's the best gig I've had in years!' I realised that's
pretty much all that I needed. I was wasting my time with all them sampling
But it got to wearing thin - I couldn't do a full set on a stage like
that really, so I remembered I had that looping pedal somewhere and I
realised that I could just hum a bass line and lay down a beat and then
I could make it something that could last for 40 minutes and not get boring.
It was easy after that. I chuckled when I heard it - when I looped it
up through an amplifier at home I just laughed! It's just the right combination
of sounds... No guitars, thank heaven! No need for solo's or anything
either, it's really like having a two or three piece band. The harmonica
can do all the power chords you want!
Listening to both '02' and '01', I'm reminded particularly of
Money Mark's 'Keyboard
Repair' and Beck's
earlier stuff... Are you coming at this with any kind of a Hip-Hop sensibility?
SOD: Well, hip hop took the funky beat from James
Brown so if they didn't do it I would have! There are so
many other beats to dance to than a 12 bar shuffle - it's not 1958 many
more and there are a lot of other rhythms. But I wouldn't say that I came
at it from being a big hip hop fan and really wanting to meld the two
- although thousands of people have probably thought about that. Sometimes
they're successful, but it's difficult to do and I knew this back when
I was making that '01' record - I knew you can't just take that old blues
stuff and put it over a hip hop beat - it doesn't fit! You can't glue
them together, that's why it's been done poorly.
In 1998 I was trying to do something up to date, or modern or something...
I remember one record businessman told me 'you should do something like
like this!' and he handed me a pre-release copy of that Moby record, and
I listened to it and I just wanted to scream! I'm not going to say anything
bad about that record but why would that even interest me? What has that
got to do with blues music! Apparently its a 'modern blues record'!
So I knew what I was up against then - it was the hey-day of the sampling
thing. Even I liked the idea of taking something, sampling it, and creating
a huge modern thing around that old sample. I liked all the French bands
like Daft Punk
and a couple of others. I loved all that stuff, for what it was... Beck
is his own animal, I'm a fan of his though. But you don't ask 'So Mr.
Beck, how would you describe your music?' - he's got his own thing, his
Robert Johnson and Public
Enemy are just not in the same community. Hip Hop and blues
don't really mix, although it feels like they should - the notes of the
blues, the bent notes and the funky ass drumming of more modern R n B
- you should be able to mix a funky break-beat with blues guitars or harmonicas.
But if you try to do it by just taking the old thing and just sticking
it on to the new thing it's not very pleasant because you realise that
how different the attitude is. Just like sticking bagpipes and mongolian
throat singing together. You have to find something in between that's
What I'm doing now is for me just a natural evolution of playing the harmonica
and trying to keep the rhythm interesting. It only makes sense to do it
like that... It comes quite naturally.
How do you think you fit into 'The Blues'? You don't appear to
be playing on a blues 'circuit'...
SOD: Well I went to blues jams and played in blues bands
all the time when I was 16... They'd sneak me into the Sunday jams in
the bars because I was underage... So yeah, I did all that stuff. I got
to learn all the standards, I didn't know who sang them originally - I'm
only now figuring that out, going back and finding old records...
Cotton was one of the only guys that came up to Winnipeg
- he played a big stomping show and that's why I got into him. He was
great - the whole electric Chicago thing, he's a full showman. There's
one record that he did - '100% Cotton' where he really pimped up some
old blues classics with a big brass section and all that. I only had three
blues records for 15 years, and that was one of them!
I haven't been playing at 'Aint
Nothing But, or wherever else blues happens, but it's because
they haven't asked me! I'll play wherever anyone will have me, and no,
we haven't been getting calls from blues festivals, but we've got them
from all the other festivals...
Blues is actually kind of cool where it is right now... It's folk music,
and it's lo-fi, you go somewhere and there's a jam, or a band. There are
no superstars. There's no huge forward motion but it's an established
little community, and I respect that. That's why I don't go finding blues
jams and trying to shake it all up, because that's not what anybody wants,
and I'd just be a show-off or something. I don't really expect to be embraced
by the blues community, and I don't really care because because I'm not
doing music that's in a genre anyway.
You do appear to be getting out there though... Recently I was speaking
to someone who knows nothing of blues, and when I mentioned this site
he said 'I saw a guy called 'Son of Dave' on the Jools Holland show!'
For people like him maybe you're the most tangible representation of the
SOD: Great! I'm the next Stevie Ray Vaughan!
Hearing the new CD one of my first impressions was that at last
someone's doing something new and interesting with the harmonica. Is this
just because you've always been into the harp?
SOD: Well, I have no other talents! Guitar is a struggle
- I can do it when really necessary, rhythm guitar, but it was always
really the harmonica - I'm not much of a fingers man. I'm very aural,
guttural... This is probably the last layer of the harmonica! It'll probably
be Son of Dave for the next little while and then that's it - the harmonica
will be no more! We'll put that instrument to bed!
Just to get technical for second, what kind are harps are you using...
Sounds like you're using some low keys...?
SOD: Yeah, Low F, low D, low E flat, low E...
Do you work on them yourself or do you have a 'harp tech'...?
SOD: I have a tech, yeah! But I'm not going to tell you who he
is! He's just a good guy, exceptionally keen. He's heavy - got all the
tools. I just destroy mics, I go through those AC30's all the time. I
don't treat them well, I'm not polite with them. They're not clean and
this poor guy goes in and changes the insides for me and re-solders them
- I don't know why he answers my calls! Bless him!
What about the other gear you use... A sequencer?
SOD: Yes... I also occasionally use an octaver pedal
to hum a bass line because I don't have a particularly low voice. Only
if you're blessed with a proper baritone voice can you hum something close
to what a bass guitar puts out. It's a very low frequency. So to give
the kids what they want so they can feel their titties rumble I cheat
and I hum through that octaver pedal. It works nice with the harmonica
Catch Son Of Dave for yourself at the 'O2' album launch party
Friday 24th February 2006...
The Luminaire, 311 Kilburn High Road, London NW6 7JR 020 7373 7123
£8.50 entry. 7.30pm - 2am.
"...with exotic guests... Guest star vocalist Miss Martina
Topley-Bird, the stunning Seffi dancing a Blues
Flamenco, support from the blistering Manuela & The Music
Makers and spinning platters, the infamous Gaz Mayall."
More details on Son Of Dave's website: www.sonofdave.com
Check out our live review from January 2006: here
More photos at: www.andyhallphoto.com
Location: Caravan, Spitalfields www.caravanstyle.com
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