BluesWax Sittin’ In With
By Charley Burch
Ian Siegal (born 1971) has been blazing the charts and wowing fans in the U.K. for over a decade. Imagine a British hybrid of Howlin’ Wolf and Tom Waits and you’ve got Ian Siegal! In the late 1980s, Siegal dropped out of art college and went busking in Germany. In the nineties, he returned to England and formed the Ian Siegal Band. From 2003 thru 2005, he opened for Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings and released his debut, Meat & Potatoes (2005), and Swagger (2007), both featuring Matt Schofield. Siegal and Schofield’s performances and touring garnered great praise and press, including an entry in the Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings, and Swagger was Mojo magazine’s second best blues album of 2007. Siegal’s discography continued with The Dust in 2008 and a year later Broadside, which received numerous awards and accolades.
In 2010 the brawny-voiced singer and guitarist made a pilgrimage to the North Mississippi studio of the late Jim Dickinson and recorded with multi–instrumentalist and producer Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars, Hill Country Revue), guitarist/bassist Garry Burnside (solo artists and son of the late R.L. Burnside), guitarist Robert Kimbrough (son of the late Junior Kimbrough), and drummer Rodd Bland (son of Bobby “Blue” Bland), all of whom happened to be the youngest sons of their legendary fathers. Also pariticpating were Alvin Youngblood Hart (guitar, vocals), Andre Turner (fife, vocals), Duwayne Burnside (drums and grandson of R.L.), and Quintez (drums). All were recorded with the sublime engineering skills of Kevin Houston, resulting in the 2012 Blues Music Award-nominated album titled The Skinny (2011).
Ian Siegal is a personal friend and colleague of mine and was happy to answer some questions for our readers while on a train from London, U.K., to Paris, France, last week.
Charley Burch for BluesWax: Tell us about your beginnings in music, your influences, and how a Brit turned out to be so funky and have delta mojo a flowin’. Are any of your immediate family members musicians and how did they assist in developing you?
Ian Siegal: I have a cousin who was a pro who I watched a lot growing up but he wasn’t really a Blues guy; I think that developed my interest in playing live though. It’s hard to say where my Blues interest came from, I don’t remember not being aware of it, particularly when I discovered the north Mississippi style. I guess I was about 14 or 15, but before that Muddy and Wolf really got my juices flowing.
BW: When did you first start performing in the Delta and discuss the evolution of your relationships with the players and producers of your latest BMA-nominated album, The Skinny?
IS: It was only during the recording that I’ve been in that part of the world, North Mississippi, I guess. [Coldwater, Mississippi] I’d met Cody already and we hit it off immediately; I’d long been a fan of the Allstars anyway. He’s an incredible player, producer, and all around legendary guy with incredibly infectious enthusiasm, which really helps me be creative as I need a good kick in the ass sometimes! I met the other guys [Rodd Bland, Robert Kimbrough, and Garry Burnside] on the first day of recording. We really only spent two full days in the studio and they’d heard nothing prior to my arrival. We just kinda set up and locked into a groove pretty much right away. So I guess we clicked; it was all just so natural. They were all very warm and welcoming and very keen to get down to business; it went very smoothly. We had fun with it.
BW: Describe the production techniques and equipment used on The Skinny.
IS: I think Cody could give you a more detailed answer but there was a mixture of old analogue recording gear and modern stuff (I’m a total Luddite on this subject). The way Kevin [Houston], the engineer, worked was so fast that there must have been a fair amount of digital going on. However, Luther Dickinson had given me free rein of his amps and guitars which were old Harmony, Silvertone – that kinda stuff which I love and use in the U.K. anyway. As for techniques, everything was recorded in one room with some separation for me and the vocals but it’s pretty close to being live with a few overdubs.
BW: Were there instrumental or personnel attachments that you wanted present but were not? Are you touring with the same instruments and/or players as on the album to match its sound live?
IS: I could not have asked for better instrumentation to match my personal tastes, but that was purely coincidental! I tend to use very similar stuff live. I actually went and bought a Silvertone Twin 12 afterwards to match Luther’s. As yet it’s not been possible to tour yet with the same lineup, but there are plans for the future to do something similar.
BW: Was the selection of covers and other writers work on the album solely your own?
BW: What are some of the differences on how your body of work is being accepted in Europe and the U.K. versust the United States?
IS: That’s a tough one, but so far it seems I’ve had pretty universally good responses, especially to The Skinny. European blues writers and audiences are very well educated in the genre so they were well aware of the album’s legacy.
BW: What and/or who do you feel will be chief crossover elements of blues/roots music in the 21st century?
IS: I think the elements of American roots music are reaching further so people who have been strictly into blues for example are becoming more open minded about country music, bluegrass, etc. I think the boundaries are blurring anyway. Especially the “alt-country” stuff. I’m a huge fan of people like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt; you listen to The Stones and you hear as much country in them as you do blues. So I think this broadening of influences on younger players these days will have an effect on the output in the roots field. I saw Alabama Shakes recently and was blown away. They draw on old blues, soul, music of all kinds and rock ‘n’ roll – everything really. I see a big future for them. And the singer, Brittany [Howard], plays old Harmony guitars! I hope the project I’m working on this year with the Dickinsons and Alvin Youngblood Hart gets some attention, too, of course!
BW: What is on the horizon for you as a writer, performer, and as a man.
IS: Musically, as I mentioned above, plus lots of touring with various outfits and solo work. I never consciously plan anything as a writer. I’m not fortunate enough to be able to do it to order, to churn them out constantly like, say Dylan or Prince, so I have to wait for the Great Muse to smile upon me. When inspiration hits though, it’s a great feeling when it starts to pour. As a man, there is too much to mention and maybe too personal, but let’s just say I’m a work in progress!
BW: On getting the nomination for the Contemporary Blues Album Blues Music Award: Don’t Explain, Beth Hart & Joe Bonamassa; Medicine by Tab Benoit; The Lord is Waiting and the Devil is Too by Johnny Sansone; The Skinny by Ian Siegal & the Youngest Sons; Tommy Castro Presents The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Revue–Live! by Various artists; and, Unconditional by Ana Popovic. This is a pretty impressive competition. Are you familiar with these other artists’ work and what do you think are the strong points that The Skinny brings to the table that should take home the award?
IS: Yes I know their work. I particularly love Tab’s stuff that I’ve caught live; he has such an amazing presence on stage – hilarious, too! But a great player and writer aside from that. I guess Skinny brings that Hill Country legacy and the history of the Burnside and Kimbrough families in. I hope in some small way we have done them justice. But also I’d like to think that, with one foot in the past it has one foot also pushing forwards and bringing modern elements in. I’d like to think there is something different and original in the lyrical content, but also the production and the general vibe of the album is something I’m particularly proud of.
BW: If you could work or collaborate with any artist(s) of your choice today, who would it be?
IS: Wow that really is a tough one! Taj Mahal would be a great honor – and I must say the aforementioned Dickinsons and Mr. Hart is a reality that I’m very much looking forward to – a dream come true in fact. Levon Helm would obviously be great, as would Tom Waits, but I fear I’d be a little intimidated! Way too many people to mention. Many are sadly no longer with us, of course.
BW: Please share with us any professional formulas or mantras that make your music as authentic and signature as it is.
IS: Follow your gut instincts. Give everything. That about covers it!
“With The Skinny Siegal maintains his position as one of the
most gifted singers and writers in contemporary blues.”
- Tony Russell, MOJO magazine
Charley Burch is a writer and producer in Memphis.
About the Author: