Friends, fans and family, I bring to you this month, Nasty Ned, harmonica player extraordinaire. Ned and I met via the Internet by way of the Cruiz Brother’s Blues Band of Hot Springs, Arkansas. Since we both are harmonica specialist we became fast friends. Internet Land, I bring you, none other than radio personality and blues artist, Nasty Ned.
Q. What inspired you to play the blues? What age did you begin playing instruments of music?I’m not sure how to explain what inspired me to play the blues. I think, somehow, it was always in me. From day one my father sang songs and played the radio. But one time, in 1958, we were working in the yard together listening to the radio from an open window, when I suddenly heard something that sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. It captured me. I froze to this warm groove that somehow began to feel familiar. I was six years old at the time and that was obviously a blues that found it’s way to mainstream radio, but I connected that day. It was my first “feel it in your gut” life experience. I recall it today like it was yesterday – like it was always with me.
In the winter of ‘64, 11 years old, I’m walking to school with a transistor radio and I hear Slim Harpo’s “Scratch My Back” right behind the Beatles’ “Love Me Do” and I got hooked immediately on the harp. And when I opened my mouth to sing, and I could, I knew then what I wanted to do. So I saved lunch money and bought my first Marine Band harmonica for $2.50, and laid down “Autumn Leaves” and the baritone sax I had been playing in school since age eight.
By ‘66 I was fronting my own little band and wound up on TV with the Chiffons in Newark, NJ.
From there, I was all in! I started digging deep for the roots of rock and soul and found Muddy, Wolf and Sonny Boy. Then, when I heard Paul Butterfield, it all came together for me. That was the beginning of my journey with the blues.
Q. How long did it take to learn each instrument you play?
Well, I started playing guitar and drums around that same time too, but I still play them much like I did then. The blues harp came fast. I couldn’t keep it out of my mouth. I played until my lips bled. I excelled at what came natural, but still today struggle with what does not.
And I still think about the sound in the yard that day and how shoutin’ and harpin’ came natural… but maybe that’s a theoretical discussion for another day.
Q. Are you an independent musician or are you signed with a major recording label?
A. I am independent but currently signed for one album with American Showplace Music, a small record label and publishing group I am a partner in. My new album ROOTS 52 is scheduled for a fall release 2009.
Q. Tell us some of the best places you have entertained with your music.
A. I’ve played a lot of great places and my share of dives, hell-holes and street corners too. Some of the most fun times were on the streets in the French Quarter in New Orleans where I made enough money each day to take me to the next. Later, there was Newport Blues Café in Rhode Island with Jim Weider; BB King’s NYC; C.H.I.C.A.G.O. BLUES, NYC; The Stone Pony in Asbury Park; The Rhythm Room Phoenix, AZ with HoneyBoy Dupree; the old Lone Star Café, NYC with Albert King; and one very special rainy afternoon at Walter Reed Army Medical Center with a harmonica and a group of wounded warriors – and my daughter, son-in-law and beautiful grandson in attendance.
A. Well, less money is less money all around, and the musician usually gets the short end, but everybody is squeezed in a failing economy. Less money is being spent on entertainment. Venues have closed. But what has most changed in music is the way it is consumed today. And it seems people who believe it should be paid for are in the minority. The retail experience is now gone. No more Sam Goody’s or Tower Records. CDs are for servicing radio and selling at gigs. The artist is adjusting. The entire business of music is still adjusting to the new landscape. Nobody really knows where it’s going. I think artists have to work to build relationships with the fans who really dig their music. The realization for me, that music is now niche, is made clear by the fact that it sadly no longer drives modern culture, technology does.
Q. Have you had the opportunity to take your blues to other parts of the earth? If so tell us about some of your adventures.
A. Ha! One adventure that stands out is during a tour of Saudi Arabia in 1978. We stopped in a small village for something and I decided to stay on the bus while everyone else got off and went inside somewhere. I started blowing my harp for some kids outside on the street. I leaned out the window and was playing and soon had a large group, all screaming, arms all in the air – I couldn’t believe how I was connecting with these kids! I kept wailing and really enjoying the experience and when the others came back on the bus they started laughing their asses off. They clearly saw what I didn’t. Those kids where screaming for a hand out, not my playing! They had their own blues going on and didn’t care a stitch about mine. A friend and I still laugh out loud when ever we remember “the performance” in the dessert.
Q. How long will you play or intend to play these blues?
A. I like what Muddy Waters answered to this question, he said, “so long as people keep wanting to hear me I’ll be out there playing for them”. That’s good enough for me. I’ve never imagined not playing blues. It’s what I do. Don’t see myself ever walking away. I think you probably feel the same way.
Q. Is music first in your life or is it secondary to your day job?
A. Music is my day job and my night job. All my time is spent on it, in it, with it or for it, and I love it.
Q. Why do you think little known but talented musician’s are over looked for well known famous artist? Do you feel this is fair?I don’t feel it’s a matter of what’s fair. It just is what it is… If it’s a fan that is over looking an unknown artist in favor of a well known artist it is usually testament to what that fan digs. Maybe the unknown artist needs to work harder or differently to get that fan’s attention. If it is the case of a venue or label overlooking an unknown for a well know, this is just economics. They are in business. Fewer take chances and fewer care about the artist anyway. Their bottom line is money – who or what will attract the most paying customers.
There’s not much fair in this business and if an artist starts thinking in terms of what’s fair or unfair, they’re going to slow their careers and hurt themselves emotionally and economically. You just got to keep doin’ the do until people hear you and want more.
Q. Why do you think established artists refuse to help struggling artists today as if no-one gave them a helping hand?
A. I can’t speak much from experience on this one. I have usually gotten a pretty good vibe from the big cats. But then again, I never really asked for anything. But I’ll always help some body who asks me how to do something. I’ll tell them anything they ask! But I realize there are those who don’t share. I heard the stories of guitar players who would turn their back on you if you played too, so you wouldn’t see how they played.
James Cotton told me Little Walter wouldn’t show him anything! And then willingly gave me harp tips without my asking. Then he spoke of starting a label to feature all his harp playing friends. There are a lot of good ones out there. There’s Jim Weider who will give you the shirt off his back. And Delbert McClinton was very supportive – he is by nature, which should not surprise us. It was the established Delbert who showed an upcoming John Lennon how to blow. Somehow this all seems symmetrical. I like to think there’s more good spirited benevolence in the blues community today then there is selfishness, but then, I’m a glass half-full kind of guy.
Thanks for allowing me to delve a little deep into your life as a blues artist.
Thank you Bobbie. It was my pleasure.