BluesWax Sittin’ In With
By Robert Putignano
Raphael Wressnig was born on October 14, 1979 in Graz in Austria. Self-taught on both piano and organ starting at age sixteen, he was immediately drawn into blues, jazz, and funk and has never looked back. Wressnig has toured and played with some of the best-known and respected blues players in the world, including Larry Garner, Enrico Crivellaro, Alex Schultz, Tad Robinson, Finis Tasby, Kirk Fletcher, “Monster” Mike Welch, “Paris Slim” Frank Goldwasser, Deitra Farr, Phil Guy, Ian Siegal, Louisiana Red, Billy Flynn, Matt Skoller, Sugar Blue, James Armstrong, John Mooney, Steve James, Sharrie Williams, and Doug MacLeod. He has also played with some of the finest jazz players on the scene: Horacio “El Negro” Hernandez, Craig Handy, Jim Mullen (ex-Average White Band & Brian Auger), Pete York (Spencer Davis Group & Brian Auger), and Harry Sokal (Art Farmer). He has also shared the stage with many top-notch artists: Tony Monaco (jazz organ master from Ohio), Billy Paul, Sonny Rhodes, Lurrie Bell, Billy Branch, Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Darrell Nulisch, Larry McCray, Rick Estrin, Kid Anderson, Johnnie Moeller, Boney Fields, Curtis Salgado, Nick Moss, Junior Watson, Otis Grand, Ronnie “Baker” Brooks, among others. With these fine credits you would think Wressnig would be a more well-known name. But give him time, he’s only thirty-two, and he continues to turnout solid new recordings like his most recent Soul Gift with Alex Schultz, Tad Robinson, Deitra Farr, Kirk Fletcher and Sax Gordon.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: Hi Raphael, I’m enjoying your new Soul Gift disc with Alex Schultz and others. How did you and Alex originally get together?
Raphael Wressnig: It’s a while ago now that Alex and I have been playing together; we met six years ago in Munich, Germany. Alex came to a show that I was doing with Enrico Crivellaro, and he sat in with our trio. Then we did a festival together and ever since we’ve been working together. Plus it helps that most of the time he’s living not too far away from me in Germany.
BW: Alex is a world traveler that’s for sure. He’s also one of those rare-breed guitarists who effectively skates been blues and jazz who can also play soulful and funky.
RW: That’s very true. That’s one reason why I feel this collaboration is so fruitful. I like to show that we can do all kinds of styles and make it salty, sour and sweet as well. I also hope the listeners dig it too. We want to take them along with us on these journeys that we try to create. I understand it’s not everybody’s bag and challenging for some, but we like to keep things fresh so that we don’t get bored. [Laughs]
BW: Works for me Raph, your music continuously catches my ears.
What is your Web site?
BW: You have a good knack at picking guitarist. Schultz is one of my many favorites, and that other guy [Enrico Crivellaro] is also very high on my list.
RW: Enrico and I have similar views on music, and he too lives not too far from me, so we do albums and gigs together too. We’re also good team players for each other, plus we are also very good friends.
BW: I think the world of all of you.
How hard was it and is it for you to connect with American music?
RW: It’s been helpful for me with working with a lot of American musicians like Alex, Sax Gordon, you know the real-deal guys. Plus I’ve been listening to American music all of my life.
BW: And you study the music. Since I’ve known you there’s been several times I had asked you about various albums, and you knew them all! You are only thirty-two years old, yet you know the sixties and seventies music extremely well.
RW: The funny thing is that all of the musicians I work with are really crazy for music like this, and collect a lot of music, not just the mainstream stuff, but also some pretty obscure recordings as well. For example Sax Gordon is totally into the organ combo albums like R&B and soul-funk and all of that stuff. So are Alex and Enrico. We all like to dig deep finding cool grooves and have this deep passion for this kind of music.
BW: It’s nice to see younger guys searching for those classic recordings. I just interviewed Neal Sugarman from the Sugarman 3, who is also with Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Do you know them?
RW: Sure, I just saw them recently, they are thoroughly cool. I like the organ player, Adam Scone, too.
BW: I’m impressed that you all know this music. Sugarman just told me that there’s a strong pulse and appetite for soul, jazz, and funk music.
RW: There seems to be a trend for finding the classics and for creating this retro music. I just feel that it’s just great music! I love the older styles, yet I feel you can add new ideas to it. On Soul Gift we focus on covering classic tunes, but on other recordings that I’ve done I try to create new sounds that are slightly based on those older grooves.
BW: Soul Gift has been receiving a good amount of airplay. I really like the opening track, “All That I’ve Got,” that features Deitra Farr’s vocals. How’d you find Deitra Farr?
RW: I’ve known Deitra for a while now, mostly through Larry Skoller from the Chicago Blues: A Living History project. I played the B3 for that project. Deitra used to live in Sweden and we played together a lot. She trusted me and I put together a band for her that also featured either Alex or Enrico, plus a horn section sometimes with Sax Gordon and Eric Bloom on trumpet. Deitra likes saxophone and organ the most, so we’ve had a very good relationship, kind of like Alex Schultz and Tad Robinson. So things came together with my bringing in Deitra and Alex bringing in Tad for Soul Gift. It was also nice having Deitra and Tad singing a duet on Ashford and Simpson’s “Ain’t Nothing Like the Real Thing.”
BW: And covering Billy Preston’s “All That I’ve Got” was a smart choice to open the album.
RW: Thank you, I’ve always felt that it’s a real powerful tune, and makes things clear that Soul Gift is going to be a rhythm, soul, and bluesy album. Plus Billy Preston is one of my favorite organ players.
BW: Speaking of organ players, how long is your list of favorite organ players?
RW: [Laughing] It’s pretty long. I like a lot of different stuff, everyone talks about Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff, and I love McGriff, but some on my list aren’t amazing players, but I like their approach and feel for music. For example Jackie Mittoo, who was one of the founding members of the Skatalites and also played with guitarist Ernest Ranglin, was known for the Jamaican ska and so on, but they also did a lot of rhythm and blues. I love it, he wasn’t flashy but he really grooves and I got a lot of playing ideas from him.
BW: You are like a sponge Raph.
RW: And passionate for music. If you are open minded about music, I’ve always felt that you need to soak it all up and learn.
BW: And interpret.
RW: Exactly. And try to move on with ideas and hopefully find something that’s unique and authentic.
BW: How about blues organists?
RW: Definitely Jimmy McGriff and Jack McDuff. but from a pure blues side I’d take McGriff over McDuff, Hank Marr as well.
BW: Old-school classic B3 players are a dying breed. After names like Dr. Lonnie Smith, Reuben Wilson, and Hank Marr, I have to start scratching my head to think of B3 players, as most are gone now, plus these three guys are all into their seventies and beyond.
RW: That’s true. We just opened for Dr. Lonnie and I got to meet him, he played a great set mixing up a lot of styles.
BW: And Dr. Lonnie just released a new album, The Healer, his first on his own label.
RW: He told me all about it; he was great to talk to, a really sweet guy.
BW: So what’s down the pike for you Raph?
RW: Some new projects with sax man Harry Sokal, who played with Art Farmer when Farmer lived in Austria. We just recorded a new CD together, which grooves and is modern, but not like my music.
BW: And Enrico told me you and Enrico are preparing to do another album?
RW: Yes, we recorded two albums already but now we feel it’s time to do another. I’d also like to do an album in New Orleans with local musicians from Louisiana. I’m continuing on with Alex Schultz, and Craig Handy too, so there are a lot of ideas to work on, and it’s a lot of fun. I want to record Enrico with a big horn section. We are calling it Raphael Wressnig & The Big Boogaloo Hornz.
BW: I enjoyed you and Enrico’s Live at the Off Festival and Mosquito Bite. Actually Enrico handed me Mosquito Bite when he came to WFDU five or six years ago with David Rotundo.
RW: Yes. in 2006 we released Mosquito Bite, which is credited to Enrico and me together.
BW: And that’s where it all began for me and you. Please keep releasing all of those funky and hip recordings. At such a young age you have already crafted a very solid discography. Good for you!
RW: Will do Bob, thanks again for your ongoing support.
Bob Putignano is a senior contributing editor at BluesWax, a contributing writer at Blues Revue, and the heart and soul of Sounds of Blue.
About the Author: