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Interviews N-R

On this page: National Debt, Ernie Payne, Rick Payne, Dave Peabody, John Pearson, Michael Pickett, Piney Woods, Rag Mama Rag, John Renbourn, 'Philadelphia' Jerry Ricks,  Paul Rishell & Annie Raines, Michael Roach...

Oct 2007       NATIONAL DEBT

National Debt is a band formed by Ronnie Smith and Michael Messer in 2002 to play local gigs 'for fun' when Michael is not on tour

The music is rockin' roots country and blues, but with a little twist of London in its soul!

In 2006 Ron and Michael decided to record. Ron Smith is the lead vocalist and plays acoustic guitar, Michael Messer plays dobro and slide guitar. Michael's long-time musical partner Ed Genis plays some guitar, roots-rocker Cheyne Pride sang some backing vocals and Chris Clarke (Rockingbirds and Alan Tyler) played bass, and produced and recorded the album.

The album is a balance of original songs and re-arrangements of old favourites.

For more information about National Debt check out the  website at 

Nov 2005      ERNIE PAYNE

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Ernie Payne is an African American musician from Louisiana's Acadia Parish. His family was large and everyone learnt early to pitch in and help with chores and household duties. Their strict, religious, hard - working ethic thought 'music' essential to a quality life, but hardly something to pursue as a way to earn a living.

Over the years Ernie has been employed as a songwriter for various publishers, front man for numerous musical entities, co-front man, civil servant, husband (one wife), father (of two). "Somebody singing is my first memory. Music celebrated and music mourned. Everybody in my family loved some kind of music and they shared it with me. My music attempts to carry on that idea of brotherhood and sharing."

Roots orientated, delta blues, contemporary folk artist Ernie Payne is probably one of the most comfortable players you will ever hear. Trading off easily between guitar and Dobro, his command of various rhythms and instruments is impressive.

At the core of almost every song are Payne's vocals, which are extremely strong, yet soothing. He can sing songs that tear at your heart, nailing the feel of each tune so well, that you instantly know the meaning, without knowing the words. The stories told in the songs are intimate and visual and as he is singing he makes the listener feel as if he is talking to them personally, directly and one on one.  

Ernie's debut CD (Coercion Street) was released on Black and Tan Records in April 2004. The record is being played all over the world and was picked up by Andy Kershaw (BBC Radio 3). It got rave reviews in among other BLUES WAX and BLUES REVUE.

During his first European tour in August and September 2004 Ernie visited Holland, France, Ireland, Belgium and the UK, where he did a recording session for the Andy Kershaw Show.

Here is Ernie's Bio in his own words: "I was born in Louisiana, U.S.A. Raised in Evangeline Parish and East Texas. Late blooming baby boomer, nurtured by god-fearing Baptists and Creole Catholics and the powerful fun of the second line drum. I'm trying to serve the blackness well."

Nov 2002  & Sept 2004      RICK PAYNE

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…impressive slide guitar playing from West Country bluesman RA whose work bears comparison with early Ry Cooder…’  

Often compared with Ry Cooder, slide guitar maestro Rick Payne’s performances have taken him to prime time TV, to festivals and theatres throughout the UK and on tour to Europe, USA, Scandinavia and Greek Islands.

He has provided the background music to a number of major BBC TV productions, for wildlife programmes on Radio 4 and for BBC World Service. He has also featured on BBC Radio 2 with Nigel Kennedy and appeared live on BBC1 ‘Holby City’

His mastery of acoustic blues takes him beyond the usual boundaries of blues festivals and clubs. He frequently plays at jazz and folk events and at literature and poetry festivals and has even played the blues at a classical music festival, on stage after the English Symphony Orchestra.  

A qualified guitar tutor, Rick passes his skills on to around 150 students per week at schools throughout the South West and at workshops nationwide. He also has a much visited on line tuition site at

He has recorded a number of CD’s including the noted ‘Blue River Blues’ for Bennett House Records, California.

 Reviewers have described his sound as: heart wrenching and passionate, delicate and scorching, seriously brilliant, totally absorbing and spellbindingly evocative with raw and fiery vocals to match.

For more information about Rick Payne check out the  website at

Jan 2004, March 2005, Sept 2007      DAVE PEABODY

Three times voted acoustic blues artist of the year! "From solo acoustic blues to rocking rhythm ‘n’ blues, Dave Peabody plays it all."

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British blues man Dave Peabody has been a professional musician for nearly forty years performing as a singer, harmonica player and guitarist in a variety of styles. RA  Dave is highly regarded as a solo country blues player and has three times been voted UK acoustic Blues Artist of the year. Dave also fronts with the five piece ‘King Earl Boogie Band’.

Dave started playing clubs with the Honest John 3 jug band that won the first (and so far, only!) national Jug Band Contest in 1966. He has since travelled all over Britain, Europe and the USA playing clubs and festivals.

He first recorded in 1971 and has subsequently featured on over 40 albums, including nine of his own. Along the way Dave has recorded two albums with Bob Hall, and played guitar on albums for Big Boy Henry, Charlie Musselwhite and Neil Pattman and has recently recorded ‘Two Trains Running’ with harmonica virtuoso Brendan Power.

Over the years Dave has toured and recorded with many artists such as Dave ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, Memphis Slim, Sonny Terry, John Jackson and Louisiana Red.


John Pearson continues in the tradition of the early country blues players who are his inspiration. He has worked with many of the leading British and American exponents of this music including Alexis Korner, Davey Graham, Jo Ann Kelly, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Louisiana Red, Rory Gallagher, Big Moose Walker, Woody Mann, Cephas and Wiggins, and Roy Rogers and his Delta Rhythm Kings. 

He appears regularly at many International Festivals - Edinburgh Jazz and Blues, Burnley Blues Festival, Edinburgh Folk Festival, Redcar Blues Festival, Edinburgh Fringe, Belfast Jazz Festival, Broadstairs Folk Festival , The International Guitar Festival of Great Britain, Midzomer Blues Festival in Holland, Jersey Jazz Festival, The Great British R & B Festival in Colne and the Oxford Blues Festival. His sessions for national radio include several appearances on Paul Jones Blues Show and Six Silver Strings presented by jazz guitarist Charles Alexander. He has also appeared on Jools Holland's TV show The Happening and the first Alexis Korner Tribute in 1994.

Busy Bootin' - a collaboration with Roger Hubbard - was nominated Blues Album of the Year by The British Blues Connection Reader's Poll. Grasshoppers In My Pillow CD (1996) has garnered much critical acclaim, as has Rhythm Oil released in 2000 and features the musicians that form the band Blues & Beyond.

For more information about John Pearson check out the  website at

October 2006      MICHAEL PICKETT

Michael Pickett is fast approaching his sixth decade as a professional performing artist. How is this possible? He was born in 1950! At the age of four he sang for his grandmother who tossed him nickels and dimes while she sat at the kitchen table sipping her whiskey-laced tea. Growing up in the suburbs of Toronto did not preclude him from discovering and following his passion for the blues. The soul of this timeless genre is deeply rooted in his psyche and he continues to nurture this if he had any choice!

This singer/songwriter and award winning recording artist embraces the blues with style, substance and musical integrity. In the 70s, 80s, and 90s he established himself as a musically ground-breaking, electrifying singer/songwriter/harmonica player, leading seminal bands Whiskey Howl, Wooden Teeth, and the Michael Pickett Band. Musically profound, they pushed the envelope for blues and funky roots music. He provided the direction for all three projects and surrounded himself with some of the top musicians in the country.

Michael Pickett Band ('81-'02) clearly documented Pickett's profound musical journey and his constant search for the 'truth' in the song, be it his own or a cover. The core band consisted of vocal/harp (Pickett), bass (Steve Chadwick), guitar (notably Shawn Kellerman), and drums (often Gary Craig). It was a rotating roster of exemplary musicians occasionally ballooning into a big band with keys, backup singers, and horns. Pickett was the one constant - the source of inspiration, imagination, and fearlessness. He worked without a net which meant no set list. He was all about establishing a groove and seeing where it would take him... and the band. Instead of being in the spotlight, as most harmonica work is presented, Pickett often layered his into the background. As a result, his arrangements were unique and highlighted the genius in his songwriting.

1998 was a banner year when he released his long anticipated and eagerly awaited debut CD, Blues Money. This all original recording was nominated for a JUNO and received the Jazz Report and Real Blues awards for 'Blues Album of the Year'. Michael was also presented with the coveted Maple Blues 'Blues With A Feeling Award' in recognition of his passion and lifetime commitment to the blues.

2000 saw the release of his second CD Conversation With The Blues which earned him another JUNO nomination and won the Canadian Indie Music Award for 'Blues Album of the Year'. This extraordinary recording, described by Billboard as "transcending the urban blues idiom", is an eclectic mix of ten original compositions comprised of blues, r&b, soul, jazz, delta, and gospel.


It's worth mentioning here that Pickett laid down an acoustic resophonic guitar track on Blues Money... he hadn't taken his guitar out of the box for over 20 years. He laid down another one for Conversation With The Blues. His focus was still on the band but he found himself steadily being drawn back into the realm of acoustic blues which was how it all began for him as a 13 year old who got his first harmonica and discovered Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

In 2001, he immersed himself in the guitar and was soon practicing up to 14 hours a day. With focus and diligence, this musical transition transformed him into a formidable guitarist on the six-string, twelve-string, and National Steel Duolian.

In the fall of 2002, the metamorphosis was complete. Leaving the band behind, he re-emerged revealing yet another layer of his seemingly endless reservoir of musical talents. With exceptional award winning rack harmonica skills and powerful vocals, he delivers charismatic, compelling, and passionate performances that are charged with electricity and filled with authenticity, substance, and a unique style. He puts his own spin on obscure tunes of legendary icons such as Robert Johnson, Bukka White, Mississippi John Hurt, Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee and showcases his own potent material. This songwriter has evolved into an eclectic and captivating storyteller through Delta Blues, Country, Folk, and Americana, revealing a profound understanding of where this music comes from and why it stands the test of time.

Pickett now performs exclusively as a solo acoustic artist touring throughout Canada, the US, and the UK. appearing in blues, folk, jazz clubs, coffee houses, house concerts, theatres, festivals and receiving standing ovations everywhere

For more information about Michael Pickett check out the  website at   

Feb 2008      PINEY WOODS

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The group Piney Woods emerged from the recording project that produced Kate Lissauer's CD Walk Chalk Chicken, and which will, this winter, see the release of a second CD in that series, called Stately Mansion.  The other primary featured musicians on these albums are Dave Bing, Tim Bing and Jim Martin, three of West Virginias most important and prominent old-time country players and bearers of Appalachian musical culture.

Kate is a well-known and highly respected old-time country musician from Western Maryland, who has been performing and teaching in the US, UK and Ireland for many years.  As both a solo player, with fiddle, banjo, guitar and voice, and as leader of the old-time string band Buffalo Gals, she is one of the UK’s leading performers of old-time country music.

She has created a unique opportunity for people to experience the music of Dave and Tim Bing, formerly members of one of the US’s most important traditional string bands, the Bing Brothers, who have not performed together for many years.  Dave is West Virginia’s foremost traditional fiddler, is a master of banjo and guitar as well, and a fine singer.  He has been performing and teaching in the UK for several years now, is well known and respected as a mentor of old-time fiddling in England.  His brother Tim has been West Virginia’s acknowledged champion clawhammer banjo player for many years.  Piney Woods performances will present a variety of spirited Appalachian and Old-Time Country music, including the rare and wonderful fiddle and banjo duets of the Bing brothers.  Tim and Dave make a completely unique and outstanding performance team, and it is hoped that they will be given an opportunity to be heard here in England. 

Jim Martin, one of West Virginias leading country and jazz musicians, will provide bass, guitar and vocals.  Jim, with JPM Productions, is also a producer of West Virginia’s finest traditional recordings, including Kate’s CD projects. 

March 2003 & October 2005      RAG MAMA RAG

Read the BFBR interview!

Formed in 1991, the France-based English duo RAG MAMA RAG, have slowly and consistently built up their reputation as one of Europe’s finest Country Blues acts RA.
With an interesting and wide range of instruments, ASHLEY DOW, Henderson Acoustic Guitar, National & Dobro Resonator Bottleneck Guitars, Weissenborn Acoustic Lap Steel, Ukulele and Vocals, plus DEBORAH DOW, Harmonica, Washboard, Percussion and Backing Vocals), RAG MAMA RAG create an exceptionally full and hard driving rhythmic sound which soon has audiences feet tapping.
Their repertoire is 20’s and 30’s Blues based, but extremely varied, encompassing Mississippi Blues, East Coast Ragtime sounds, early White Country tunes, Original Compositions, and many other regional styles of the 20’s and 30’s period.
Touring non stop in Europe during the last ten years RAG MAMA RAG have clocked up well over 3000 concerts and have played at many major festivals in France, Belgium and Germany.

For more information about Rag Mama Rag check out the  website at  


February 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 & 2007

The one and only - an inspiration to  generations of guitarists!

I started off trying to play like Big Bill Broonzy – and I’m still trying!’


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“It was 1968 when John Renbourn said that, but it went no further towards explaining the music he was playing then, after four years as a professional guitarist, than it does now, after thirty. However he might try to play it down, John Renbourn is a musician of an exceptional kind, one of the most refreshing, not to say skilled and tasteful guitarists, to grace our ears today.

It’s somehow in character that John started his involvement in music with an R’n’B band called ‘Hogsnort Rupert and the Famous Porkestra’, played in and around Guildford, near London. But while visiting the southern English resort of Torquay, he heard some acoustic guitarists playing, and returned home feverish with the acoustic blues bug. It was 1964; London’s folk clubs were flourishing, and his hopes for a career out of art school were rapidly fading – so he swapped scenes.

With Broonzy as a major influence, his first album (1965) was heavily into blues guitar, but with his second, a year later, he’d made some interesting shifts of emphasis. For one thing, he’d met a fellow guitarist on the West End club circuit – Bert Jansch; and for another, both had been knocked out by the work of guitarist Davey Graham. In 1966 John recorded what was to become a classic album with Bert Jansch entitled ‘Bert & John’, in which Jazz and Folk elements mingled with Blues and the critics labelled ‘Folk-Baroque’.

These new developments lead to the formation of Pentangle in 1967, an awesome fusion that burst traditional categories. During, and after the five year life of Pentangle, John had been following up another, totally different direction, producing an album in 1968 which on one side offered a selection of jazzy up-tempo blues and acoustic Rock’n’Roll numbers, and on the other, folk tune arrangements, authentic Tudor pieces, and some extended self-penned tunes in the Tudor style. This album proved to be the starting point that led him to making the many classical solo albums for which he has now become famous.

Currently, John tours the World regularly both as a solo artist and with the John Renbourn Group. Recent times have also seen him touring with fellow musicians Stefan Grossman, Robin Williamson and the late Isaac Guillory. He has recently recorded and released a new album ‘The Traveller’s Prayer’ which has been received with rave reviews around the World.

A John Renbourn concert takes the listener into a rich musical landscape of warm vocals and witty asides about the history of the songs. At the core is a revolutionary guitar style that explores the instrument’s potential in unusual and beautiful ways, created and performed by a consummate master.”

For more information about John Renbourn check out the  website at 


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Jerry Ricks  got his master's degree in acoustic blues by hanging out with the likes of Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James and other 1960s blues revival folk-blues musicians when they came to coffeehouses and small bars in Philadelphia. In his capacity as booking manager for the Second Fret Coffee House in Philadelphia from 1960 to 1966, he had the chance to learn and practice with all the above-mentioned bluesmen Son House, Jesse Fuller, Libba Cotten Lightnin Hopkins, Mance Lipscombe 

He got to know so many of the classic acoustic bluesmen on good terms because the performers would typically have "residency" shows at the Second Fret in Philadelphia. "I lived a couple of blocks away, so they would stay at my house. Acts at that time would have to play a minimum of two or three weeks, so I had them all day and all night for almost a month. We brought in Reverend Gary Davis, Jesse fuller , Sleepy John Estes and later, in 1963, we had Mississippi John Hurt and Skip James. I knew Brownie McGhee well and learned a lot from him "

Jerry Ricks was born May 22, 1940, in Philadelphia. He began playing guitar around Philadelphia area coffeehouses in the late '50s. "I played trumpet as a child and then switched over to the guitar because I used to watch people playing guitar in the streets," Ricks recalled in a late '90s Living Blues interview. Lonnie Johnson and a few other classic bluesmen showed him his first few blues chords while he was learning to play guitar. After travelling with Buddy Guy's band to East Africa in 1969 on behalf of the U.S. State Department, he caught the travel bug. He did some field research in Arkansas in 1970 for the Smithsonian Institution, working under Ralph Rinzler  and then departed for Europe.

Unlike other bluesmen who came up in a less progressive era, Ricks didn't leave the U.S. because he found the racial atmosphere too oppressive at home, "I wanted my kids to be able to learn a foreign language," he said, "and it was good for me, 'cause there were like five blues people in all of Europe. I got married and divorced while I was over there, and after my divorce, I stayed there." 

He credits the great classic bluesmen of the 1960s for helping him to keep the faith (and enthusiasm) for live performing through the years. "I already knew how to play guitar when I met a lot of them," he explained, "and I had figured out a lot of stuff from their old records. Mainly, they talked to me about how to keep my head together and not run off on some kind of trip." ~ Richard J. Skelly, All Music Guide


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Paul Rishell was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1950, which made his young teenage years coincide with the early 60’s — so naturally he started out as a drummer in a surf-rock band. Fortunately for all of us, a friend soon turned him on to the country blues records of Son House, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson and others, and Paul was hooked for life. Blues struck such a chord in him that he immersed himself in the old records until he learned to capture their feel on guitar and vocals, all the while gaining an encyclopaedic knowledge of the great players and their recordings. By the early 70’s Paul had moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts and established himself among contemporaries like Bonnie Raitt and Chris Smither as a solo performer, bandleader, and one of the top players on the fertile Boston music scene. It was an exciting time, as many of the great bluesmen made their first trips north of Chicago, and Paul had the chance to play with many of his heroes — including Son House, Johnny Shines, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, and Howlin’ Wolf.

At about this time Annie Raines was just across town, working her way through Kindergarten. The blues muse struck her during her high school years, which were the mid-80’s. While her friends were listening to Pink Floyd, Annie was enthralled by the sounds of the Muddy Waters Band, and particularly drawn to the blues harmonica playing of Little Walter Jacobs, Big Walter Horton and Sonny Boy Williamson. As with Paul Rishell some twenty years earlier, the blues hit Annie so hard she just had to follow, and she dropped out of college halfway through her Freshman year to become one of the first serious female blues harmonica players in the country. Annie began to play gigs at local Boston area clubs, and later travelled to Chicago where she met and played with Pinetop Perkins, Louis Myers, and James Cotton.

Paul Rishell’s debut recording, Blues on a Holiday was released in 1990 as the first CD from the fledgling Tone-Cool Records label, to resounding critical acclaim. The album was half acoustic, half electric, and established Paul as a masterful, versatile blues player and as well as a deeply soulful singer and songwriter. Meanwhile Annie continued to hone her considerable talents working the club circuit with various bands, including the Tarbox Ramblers and the very first Susan Tedeschi Band. Not coincidentally, Paul was giving guitar lessons to both Michael Tarbox and Susan Tedeschi at the time.

It was inevitable that these two kindred spirits would eventually get together, and when they did, during the recording of Paul’s second Tone-Cool CD, Swear to Tell the Truth, in 1993, the sparks flew. Paul and Annie both base their ensemble playing style on close communication, listening keenly to the other players to support rather than overshadow them, and their duo work here is marked by the sensitive interplay that has become so central to their performances. Paul and Annie stayed together as a working team, collaborating on original songs and releasing I Want You to Know (1996) and Moving to the Country (2000), the W.C. Handy Award winner for “Acoustic Blues Album of the Year.”

Touring nationally and internationally at festivals, clubs, and concert halls, and playing and teaching at workshops, Paul & Annie have earned loyal fans around the globe. Their music has been featured on various TV soundtracks and radio shows including Americana, Folk, Triple A and Blues formats. They have performed on diverse radio and TV shows including A Prairie Home Companion, Late Night with Conan O’Brien, and PBS’s Arthur. Paul and Annie have recorded with Susan Tedeschi, Pinetop Perkins and Rory Block, and continue to perform and record as members of John Sebastian’s J-Band. Susan Tedeschi recorded an “unplugged” version of Paul’s "Blues on a Holiday" with Paul and Annie for her second Tone-Cool CD, Wait For Me.

For more information about Paul & Annie check out the  website at 

July 2003       MICHAEL ROACH


Michael Roach, born in Washington, D.C., USA, sings and plays guitar in an East Coast style RA of blues that dates back to the 1920s. After spending several years learning directly from such well known figures as John Jackson, John Cephas and Jerry Ricks, Michael Roach has developed his own style and is now an exceptional performer. He interacts with his audience and he entertains as he plays.

As a cultural arts performer, Michael has promoted African-American culture through the use of blues music. He has lectured for the American Smithsonian Institute, Oxford University in England and more recently at the University of Metz in France.  He has conducted workshops throughout the USA and Europe.  He is also the founder of the European Blues Association and served as director and guitar instructor for the organizations annual Blues Week 2000, 2001 and Blues Week 2002 program (a week of lectures, guitar, harmonica, piano/keyboards and vocals tuition) at Exeter University in Southwest England.  It is Michael's communication skills together with his musicianship that has enabled him to bring about a greater understanding of blues music and the black experience.

Check out Michael's new CD 'Cypress Grove' on Stella records 

For more information about Michael Roach check out the  website at