By Jacob Katel
By Laurie Charles
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Abel Folgar
By Kat Bein
By Jacob Katel
I've seen him on occasion. But he's in a higher atmosphere than I am.
You also have a long-standing relationship with Tom Waits, who produced and played on your 2001 album Wicked Grin, comprising mostly his songs. How'd that come about?
Basically it was my wife Marla convincing his wife Kathleen [to get] Tom to produce an album for me. It turned out to be one of the best things I've ever done.
Did you end up recording with him again after that?
I had recorded with him on his Mule Variations project before this, and it was during the time I was recording with Tom that all the seeds were sown.
Being on Mule Variations is some accomplishment — that's one of the most cited and influential albums of all time!
It was. It was very intense. I mean, Tom is an amazing guy and he's very generous.
Over the summer, you marked your 4,000th live show. Congratulations!
It's my 4,000th show with this agency. I was with four other agencies before them. So it's up to around 6,000 jobs probably.
Yikes! So a question about whether you'll have 5,000 by decade's end is moot. You'll have, like, 7,000!
Yeah, something like that.
So you don't see yourself stopping anytime soon, right?
Yeah. I feel as good as I've ever felt.
Your latest LP, Push Comes to Shove, was produced by G. Love. How'd that come about?
Well, he's been a fan of mine for years and years. He once came to a show of mine when he was underage and waited around for a couple who looked old enough to be his parents and asked them to take him in, and it turned out to be my wife Marla and me. I've known him since the early-on for him. I toured with Garrett, played shows with him, and hung out with him. He's a very, very talented guy — very much into the blues, although that's not his thing particularly. And, as I say, he's been a big fan of mine. It was also my wife Marla who suggested he produce the Push Comes to Shove record.
That's the most recent, right?
That's the last thing that's been released. I've recorded a new album that will be out in spring.
Great. Back in '91, you were featured in the documentary The Search for Robert Johnson. How'd that happen?
It was a British film crew. Chris Hunt and Caz Gorham had this idea for a film about the roots of Robert Johnson. I was contacted and asked if I'd be interested to be involved, and when I found out they weren't going to trivialize his life, I got involved. There was no script. It was like a thing that developed as it went along. It was really fascinating, a big adventure.
Didn't your father reissue a bunch of Robert Johnson's music back in the early 1960s?
He did. My father also tried to get Robert Johnson to play a 1938 concert that he produced called "Spirituals to Swing."
And Johnson was murdered that year...
Well, I don't know anymore if he was murdered. We think he died of natural causes. According to Gayle Dean Wardlow, who calls himself "The Detective of the Blues," Robert Johnson was born with syphilis, and this disease was in his genes I guess, and at some point he just died.
What kind of blues would you characterize yourself as: Delta, Chicago?
I'm a country blues player with a leaning toward the Delta.
Do you see the form becoming more or less influential as time goes by?
I think blues will always be discovered and rediscovered by every generation. I mean, there's something American about it right down to the core. It's like true American folk music.