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An Interview with Rickey Godfrey
Diggin' Deep in His Southern Roots -- Rickey Godfrey Dishes on The Blues
by Janet Hansen - September, 2013
"It's a very unique art form, a perfect cross between traditional African music, European folk and even basic classical music to a small degree."
For those of you who are into following media trends, you know the New York Times recently named Nashville the "It" City of the South.
Tennesseans are experiencing a true cultural renaissance adding substantial value to the style of roots we dig the most!
This is the first interview on a short list featuring what's haute in the Nashville Blues scene. For those of you who know Rickey Godfrey, you'll remember his last CD, Nasty Man, was a late 2010 release. Then in late 2012, his trio was selected to represent Nashville at the 2013 International Blues Competition (IBC), which took place in Memphis.
Going a little beyond the usual fare, here are some in depth questions Rickey was kind enough to answer at length.
How influential was music in your home growing up? How did you discover new music mostly?
A.: When I was young my mom or my aunts would play records by artists like Elvis, Sam Cooke, the Everly Brothers when they would be relaxing or cleaning house. When music was playing, I noticed as a young child that everybody was in a better mood. So, it was '45 RPM records first; then later on when I was about four or five I remember listening to the radio more.
What song did you first really fall in love with?
A.: There were two songs, "Hound Dog" by Elvis, and "Sixteen" by Sam Cooke. "Duke of Earl" and "Wolberton Mountain" later on were early favorites.
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Well, being blind, I was also totally unrealistic! So, as a very young kid I wanted to be a baseball player, or a cowboy. We loved westerns on TV. In my early teens, I thought about being a philosopher. But when I was young I never thought about being a musician when I grew up.
From your perspective, why is music important?
A.: The human race seems to be a savage bunch of creatures, and anything we can find to calm us down that's reasonable is a great help to all mankind. When people hear music positive chemicals are released by the brain into the rest of the body improving mood. We're stressed out by strong emotions, competition, face-saving, worry about what others think. Music helps us to forget about our troubles for a short while, giving us a chance to re-charge our batteries. And, it helps to have music on hand both in times of joy and times of sorrow.
Specifically why are the Blues important?
A.: The blues when it first appeared in American music was more honest than a lot of popular music, say in the early 20th century. It's a very unique art form, a perfect cross between traditional African music, European folk and even basic classical music to a small degree. The 1, 4, 5 chord progression in blues is considered the three strongest chords in classical music.
The syncopation of the blues plus the lyrics appeal to people's raw emotions in a way we don't process some other musical styles. A person listening to the blues and relating to the songs might feel mad, sad, confused, flirty, or downright nasty. The last two feelings are frowned upon by creators of some popular music even today. The Blues give many people that emotional outlet they need as they relive the songs along with the singer.
There are areas of the country where the Blues aren't as well understood as they are in the South. How would you explain the essence of the Blues to someone in a different region?
A.: That's an interesting question, especially since in the past 30 years northern and western states now appreciate and love the blues more than we do in the South. When the blues started many blacks migrated from the South to cities like Detroit and Chicago, so those cities became havens for blues musicians, and all kinds of younger players wanted to copy the Chicago sound, or the St. Louis sound.
But I can say one thing about blues outside the South.
There's this need among blues fans and even musicians to learn and play blues exactly the way the blues masters played them. Sometimes note for note like a robot. The thing I've noticed about some players in the South is there is more of a tendency to do blues their own way, and to create new stuff or new ways of doing things. Blues freaks want to think of blues as being in a time capsule, never changing, always trying to copy what say, Blind Lemon Jefferson did, or Elmore James did, or Muddy Waters did, note for note.
I'd say, along with a lot of southern musicians that copying those guys they are your teachers, and then when all that gets mixed up inside of you, you'll find your own way of expressing yourself. So, it's okay to do "Sweet Home Chicago" not as a shuffle. Being free to create -- will in the long run -- make you reach others with your music.
Musicians aside, who has been the greatest influence on you as a person?
A.: First and foremost, my mom who stuck by her children, and was always honest, kind, and had an incredible work ethic. My brothers and sister who were on this crazy journey with me learning about life together. I inherited my love of books from my older brother and sister.
In my childhood, my step uncle, Terry, was very influential. He was a sensitive kid who always took up for the underdog, and taught me and other kids the importance of being fair. He was a Christian in the real sense of the word. I had a sixth grade teacher who was a Bah'i and a Pacifist, and his actions and attitude opened the door for me to learn about Gandhi and Martin Luther King.
Though, I'm a musician, I also feel like my lifetime pursuit of spiritual improvement is important to me.
What's the most surprising thing about you friends, fans, and colleagues don't know?
A.: Probably that I'm actually more of an introverted person than they think. Now, I'm not necessarily shy, and I don't get stage fright anymore -- I never had that problem much. But, when I'm alone I really enjoy it and I'm probably overly selfish with my time alone.
I can spend hours by myself studying history or genealogy. I like people but sometimes I have to really make myself follow through on making those phone calls for getting jobs, or promoting myself. I suppose it's because quite often the music folks you run into are not always sincere about trying to help you; or form an alliance with you.
But, having said I'm introverted, I'm still eternally grateful for the few folks who really like my music and have done a lot to try to help me and let other folks know about my music.
In contemporary music who do you listen to most often?
A.: Lately, it's been Bruno Mars, and Maroon Five. Haven't heard any new blues stuff I'm really crazy about, but there are some good new bands out there like Hadden Sayers' band. I like that horn band from Texas, "Mingo Fishtrap", and I like Lloyd Jones. I've been fascinated the last several years with Jimmy Herring's guitar style, and I'm always looking to hear good modern, old school-sounding soul music.
You were born in Greenville, South Carolina in 1956 and experienced the explosion of R&B, soul, country, rock, and pop that came out of the 1960s and early 1970s. What are your fondest memories of that time? As a musician, what comparisons can you draw between that era and the current explosion in independent music?
A.: Greenville, South Carolina is in the foothills of the mountains. It's halfway between Myrtle Beach and Nashville; halfway between Atlanta and Charlotte, so it was a true crossroads of all musical influences. Country, bluegrass, rockabilly, alternative and punk from Athens, GA; jazz from Charlotte and Atlanta; southern rock, I mean we were exposed to all of it!
Well, by the time I started playing in bands it was the late '60s, and folks were experimenting with new sounds and pushing the envelopes of rock 'n roll, and jazz. Back then, like other kids I drank and smoked reefer and I was open to new music and new ideas like a sponge. We were always getting excited about somebody's new record. Even as a kid I remember everybody getting blown away by the Beatles' Sergeant Pepper.
Jimi Hendrix's first album, and Woodstock were practically religious experiences to me in a world where we were all yearning for peace and we were all brothers and sisters!
Now, these days the idealism is gone. The music is still great, but in some ways creativity has been limited by technology. Ironic that it was supposed to enhance creativity but in some ways it's stifled it.
Digital editing has in many cases edited out musical spontaneity. And, it might be that wild innocence that is the missing element in much of today's music, even though a lot of it may be good.
But, now we won't tolerate anything that is the least bit out of tune, but it may have been things being out of tune in the past that conveyed rawer emotions than today. Suppose they'll never be a band like the Rolling Stones were, for instance!
What was the tipping point in convincing you to pursue the Blues?
A.: Well, as I was growing up, many musicians kept telling me that blues was the kind of music I performed best. In the early days of my career, I didn't take blues seriously, because, frankly, much of the blues had so-so and even bad lyrics.
But, then I really started studying it, and digging in and found that there were many excellent blues classics out there, with great lyrics, and that was the thing that made me start looking into playing blues more.
And, blues is not prejudice towards older players. After I turned 45 I thought, "the best chance I'll have of reaching serious listeners is through my blues songs, and of course, you have many blues musicians over 70 that have loyal fans. So, I guess I kind of grew into it.
Technology allows all musicians a certain sense of freedom that was traditionally confined to the studio for decades. How has technology enhanced your career and what do you plan to do with it given the breadth of possibilities?
A.: I don't want to overuse technology. If I find something is a little bit out of tune, or a bass drum and bass guitar don't hit at exactly the same time --- if it's not obvious, I will leave it alone and not correct it.
When I record vocals I love vocal comps where you'll record the same song over and over again doing three or four vocal tracks, and then use digital editing to take the best of those three or four tracks. Very rarely would I use a pitch corrector, auto-tuner to make my notes more on key. Better to just sing it again till you get it right.
All that also applies to lead guitar playing, for instance. But the trick is to get the balance between what really feels good, which is more important, and also getting a technically accurate performance in terms of pitch of notes, and rhythm, Etc. So, there's really a fine line in over-using technology in this process of recording and mixing and editing!
Now live, I've never thought about using drum loops, or iPods with pre-recorded stuff on them, though, in Shag music I've sang along to pre-recorded instrumental band tracks. I might get a Midi guitar set-up someday, so, I could play blues flute, for instance, from my guitar. But this music sounds best when it's a little raw, and with traditional sounding instruments.
Tell us what we can expect to hear from you in the coming months.
A.: Well, I've got half a dozen songs laying around. The titles of the songs are great, I think, and are worth writing. The theme will be blues story songs, where the lyrics are not just an after thought to guitar playing. I still think my Nasty Man CD from late 2010 has a lot of life left, but, still I'm looking into recording some new stuff in the spring or early summer of 2014.
For more information about Rickey and his career, please visit
2013 marks the 29th year of Janet Hansen's career as a music marketing specialist. With three Grammy award-winning campaigns to her credit, Hansen has also contributed to the legacy of two of history's most popular songs. "Classical Gas" by Mason Williams is the most-broadcast instrumental tune in history; and "Louie Louie" by The Fabulous Wailers is the most-recorded rock song in history. In 2009 Hansen launched the global music platform Scout66 to encourage reviews of live shows from the ticket-buying public. Visit Janet on the web at: http://scout66com.wordpress.com/
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