We caught up with the legendary Blues player Scott Henderson prior to his performance at the “Legends Who Rock” gig at blueFROG Bangalore.
1. Hi Scott, first of us thank you for taking some time out from your frenetic schedule for this interview with Front Row Ravers. We think the 60’s haven’t slowed you down one bit! So, how is life in general?
Scott: I am fine and doing great and touring a lot, the new album is doing great. I am just trying to keep up with a 12-year-old,3 dogs and still do music. I try to tour as much as I can and everything is going great 🙂
2. When you play around the world, do you find that you receive an even greater gratification from fans, especially the fans from who do not have easy access to your music like say countries in Asia or Africa for an instance. How different is it to play in such places? Maybe you could share with us your best touring experience till date!
Scott: Well, when you play in a place that you haven’t played in a long time of course the audience is little more excited. I have played in Europe quite a bit so there are probably tired of seeing me now! When we play in places, I have never been to India in 4 -5 years its exciting where you don’t get to go that often. My best touring experience till date I would say I don’t remember one, it actually gets blurred at one point. It’s all fun, we love to play though we to travel. I would say we always have had great time touring on the road.
3. We all know that you have completed formal education in music from some elite musical schools back home in the United States and now you, in fact, teach music in some of them. How do you think the time spent at this schools haveinfluenced in your growth as a musician?
Scott: I would say school is always a good thing but the way musicians learn in a more practical way and the best way is to learn by the ear, all the great musicians that came before us. So I always tell my students that school is half of your education, the other half is sitting home with your CD collection and transcribing from all of your heroes. I transcribed everyone from John William Coltrane, Charlie Parker the people we recognized the forefathers of our music up until the modern guys like Chris Porter, Seamus Blake, Wayne Shorter and also rock guitarists like Jimmy Page, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and Richie Black. You know that all the transcribing you do and the knowledge you gain from these great players helps you build your own distinct voice. I think schools are great they make you literate musicians where you can talk to each other in musical terms that is important but not as important as out of school learning.
4. On the other side, we always wonder whether there are any drawbacks with the music schools. Like, maybe there is a risk of losing out the creative edge as most of the students end up following the same pattern?
Scott: Like I said before I don’t think there are any risks of losing the creative edge as long you do what I said because the creativity comes from learning outside from schools, from CD’s, getting a private teacher, someone who really respects music. Sometimes you find that the teachers in the musical schools have a lot of information but there is no one there who plays really amazing, someone who really inspires you. I think that’s more important than getting knowledge from someone, getting inspiration from someone. So if you have a great teacher who respects your style of playing that’s a big plus! Also, if you play a lot that’s a whole different thing, you can go to school and transcribe all your life, but if you don’t play every night you don’t get that experience. And the experience of doing anything is what makes you great at it, that goes for anything 🙂
5. I read a quote a while back stating that you profess to be a Blues player at heart. What do you mean by that?
Scott: I grew back playing blues, that was the music that inspired me to play an instrument and that’s the music I love probably more than anything else. I should not say that as I love jazz as well… But blues is my roots, it did teach me how to play a guitar, all my friends were blues players we showed lyrics and ideas and stuff. And then when I got into jazz and other kinds of music, I did not give those roots up, I am still a blues player but I will say have a bigger vocabulary as a musician as I got into jazz than most of the blues players.
6. The present generation is not aware of the impact of Blues music. To someone who is playing it for four decades now, we just can ask, what are the ‘Blues,’ what does it mean to you?
Scott: Well the Blues is hard to explain, it is the style of music created by particular musicians in America, if you want to look at historic way it was primarily caused by Black musicians who got screwed out of their normal life cause of their color and then sang about it. They sang how hard their lives are and made up the music which has its roots in Africa and it was never popular cause in that day it was mainly by a minority group who was not given a fair share, and it was not popular until white musicians from England like Led Zeppelin, all the English rock bands heard this music a began to copy it and then come to the stage and play it. And it was like magical, and people started accepting it more, and it bought attention to the people who created it, and their lives got better because blues became a lot more famous with all the blues rock bands playing into bigger arenas especially in the 70’s. So historically this is what blues music is, but it’s more than that, it’s a feeling, a way to express yourself with any instrument because the vocabulary isn’t that huge and is pretty much easy to learn. The vocabulary is more like how you express yourself with the vocabulary. I would say that jazz music too is played with the same emotional intensity as the blues but has a much bigger vocabulary.
7. What prompted in picking up Jazz music as you moved along in your career? Any significant influence that leads you into it.
Scott: I heard jazz in college for the first time and didn’t really understand what was going because I wasn’t deep enough into my music studies to understand it, I just knew that I liked it. I heard fusion before I heard jazz. I heard ‘Weather Report’ ‘Maha Vishnu Orchestra’ and even I would consider ‘Tower of Power’ kind of fusion bands as they had jazz solos in their music, I was very attracted to it and I didn’t know why. As I started learning more about music, I was like there are playing over changes, there is more changes, more chords to the music I was playing because I was playing pretty much rock and punk.
8. Compare what goes through your head when you’re playing the blues versus when you’re doing jazz.
Scott: It’s not really any different, I might be sub consciously thinking a little bit more when I am playing jazz as the vocabulary is bigger and there are more choices but we try to make music like a language. You learn the vocabulary and then you forgot about what you want to speak. So the vocabulary becomes more subconscious and you express what you want to say. Just like you don’t think about the words here when you talk, you just talk, you just speak the idea you want to. That’s what we as musicians do with music the vocabulary is just words to us and we learn them but now we have known them for so long we just forget about it when we play, we speak through our instruments. I would say that it’s not any different no matter what kind of music you are playing that’s the intent!
9. Let’s talk a little about your equipment. What guitars do you use today, and why do you choose these guitars?
Scott: I use the Suhr guitars and the reason I play Suhr guitars because they are made to replicate really vintage Stratocasters like from the early 60’s. They are very light, they have older bodies and they have the same high quality like that of the older Fenders. The cool thing about them is the neck can be modified the way you want to. So the necks can be modern more like a Gibson neck – flatter radius with big frets very easy to play. It’s like having a vintage guitar, it’s very easy to play because the old strats were kind of tough to play, the radius is more round, you have to have the action higher so that it doesn’t fret out when you bind a note. It’s harder to bind strings because the frets are so small the notes tend to slip off from your fingers. So the new way, the Suhr way is to have a vintage sounding guitar that sounds like a vintage guitar but easier to play. You can set the actions lower, you can play things that are more difficult to play. It’s kind of a combination of old and new still having the great vintage but not killing yourself to get the notes.
10. What are your views on the current state of live music? Let’s put it this way – Do you think electronic music has overpowered the way music has been perceived by the younger lot?
Scott: No, I don’t, there are young kids into the electronic music. Well I think if you want to call ‘Youtube’ as electronic music then I hate Youtube they have ruined music in so many ways. But then they also have given a lot to us, I like the way people are able to see things which they have missed out in the past. People have got hold of old records, old artists which the younger generation won’t be able to see unless they were on YouTube. In that, I would say it’s great but in the bad way is that a lot of people think that why should I go to a concert, I can just look it up on Youtube and see it there. If I see 5 minutes of it that makes up for going to a live show, that’s bullshit because the experience of going to a live show is nothing like watching something on Youtube. It’s like going to a theatre to watch a good movie or watching it on a DVD in your living room, it’s surely not the same experience. That’s the reason I don’t like Youtube and I don’t like people holding up their phones in concert so that they can tape it and put it up on Youtube. It’s really ridiculous I hate that very concept; it ruins the live experience for a lot of people to see a phone up in front of them :/
11. Do you listen to any of those famous electronic music DJ’s in America? Anyone, in particular, you would like to work with?
Scott: No, not only because I don’t have time listen to everything. I listen to music mainly in my car, I usually I listen to music on my iPhone as I have all my favourite music on it. I listen to different kinds of music like pop, blues, oldies, jazz, rock n roll but DJ’s not one of them.
12. Do you think it has become difficult now to find an audience for your style of music?
Scott: Well, it’s always been hard to find an audience for my kind of music because fusion is always being looked at as musicians for musicians. Now the only reason I am agreeing to that is because it is complex music sometimes. I don’t think my music is all that complex because my music has pretty sing along melodies in my music but there is some crazy harmony. So I can understand how someone could to come to listen to my show and go Jesus what are all these chords and they are going together in strange ways I have never heard, that might sort of alienate someone. But not nearly as much as other artists say for example Alan Holdsworth who has some really crazy melodies even crazier harmonies and the music has all different kinds of time signatures and stuff, so you can’t really tap your foot to it. I would say it’s more like a head experience than a body experience and a lot of people would tend to be turned off by it but musicians like it because they can understand it, at least some can 😉
I think my music is sort of a blend between that more complex music that only musicians can understand and the regular music you could groove on. For an example, if a guy brings his girlfriend to my gig who has never heard of me and she will come up to me after the gig and go on… you know my boyfriend dragged me into this but I really liked it. You know the beats were dance able and groovy the melodies were pretty sing able and it is less crazy than what she thought to be. Hopefully, I am not so uncommercial that regular people cannot enjoy my music, my intent is not to play music for musicians only because I don’t even listen to that kind of music. I like some groove in the music, I like it to move my body, I like it to do something to my body not just the brain!