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The Blue Front email interview with duo Rag Mama Rag    November 2003

BFBR:  What were your early musical influences?
Deborah- Earlier on I liked bands like Little Feat. When I got into blues I discovered people like Sonny Terry and Washboard Sam.
Ashley - When I first picked up the guitar & tried to play it, I suppose like a lot of people, I was into Rock & Roll.
A friend of mine whoíd been playing a while then showed me some fingerpicking, if I remember rightly the song was "My Creole Belle" by Mississippi John Hurt. I thought wow! How can one guitar play so many notes and sound so full?
BFBR: How and when did you get into blues?
Ashley & Deborah - We had not been together as a couple that long .We heard that there was this club in London in the basement of a pub called The Star & Garter. The gigs were organised by Stephan Grossman, each week for a couple of quid weíd get to see such astonishing guitarists as Duck Baker, John Renbourn, Sammy Mitchell etc. Although a lot of this music was not strictly blues there was always some blues and Ragtime type stuff that led us in the right direction. After being inspired by all this we went in search of the original artists from the 20`s 30`s & 40`s.
BFBR:  What were your early blues influences?
A&D: At first we were heavily into the Ragtime East Coast sound. We listened a lot to Rev Gary Davis, Blind Boy Fuller and  also people like Pink Anderson.
Ashley - I later got heavily into playing slide and discovered a lot of the Delta Players. There were also influences from more contemporary artist such as Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder & David Lindley.
BFBR: How (and why) did you start playing in public? Can you remember you first gig?
Ashley - Unhappily yes. I was playing guitar in a rock band and I got kicked out after the gig.
Deborah - Yes we were busking in Portugal and we were offered a gig in a bar. Happily it went down well, unlike Ashleyís first experience
BFBR:  What made you decide perform professionally? How did you get
A&D: Some friends of ours who play Irish music professionally were playing in a pub every Sunday lunchtime and evening. We would go and do a few tunes during their break. We then got offered the odd gig and decided to sell up our business, stick our necks out, and play music for a living. That was around fourteen years ago and we havenít looked back since.
BFBR: What are your preferred instruments at present?
Ashley - I play acoustic guitar, Weissenborn lap steel, bottleneck and ukulele. I go through periods of playing intensely on one of these instruments and then it will be one of the others. Currently itís the uke.
Deborah - Currently I play washboard, harmonica and various other bits of percussion.
BFBR:  What are your views on the best types of instruments for your style of music?
Ashley - Probably the ones I own and use at gigs. These include a National Style O, an Italian built Weissenborn type lap steel, a small body Martin 0018 type guitar built by Virginian Luther Wayne Henderson and a soprano uke built by French Luther Dominique Chevalier.
Deborah - I use a washboard I bought in a hardware store in the states. Itís had various percussive bits added on over time and the metal part has been changed many times, as I tend to go through them at a rate of knots. Otherwise I prefer Lee Oskar Harmonicas.
BFBR: If you could have any instruments you wanted (past or present) what would they be?
Ashley - Iíd love to get my hands on a left handed small bodied 1920`s Koa Martin and use it for playing bottleneck. (Dream on!)
Deborah - Iím content with what Iíve got :)
BFBR:  Why do you think you are drawn to performing blues?
Ashley - Blues is what got me into playing music in the first place. Iíve always loved the sound of blues and also the fact that itís a music that leaves lots of space for improvisation during live performance.
Deborah - I was initially drawn to acoustic blues because I loved the sound, and not being a guitar player, could join in playing simple instruments like washboard and spoons.
BFBR:  Pundits often express strong views on the merits or value of
contemporary artists performing 'covers' or 'interpretations' of pre-war
or Chicago blues originals and or the artist's own original material (blues-based or not). What are your current views on this on-going debate?
A&D: If you like this stuff and people are willing to come and see you perform it, do it. My only reservation is that playing a Robert Johnson note for note is not particularly interesting for the performer or the audience. Try and use the songs as a vehicle for your own rhythmic ideas. We are obviously influenced by all this stuff as no doubt the original artists were influenced by the previous generations.
BFBR: What do you think is your inner inspiration for writing and performing your own material or for conveying the emotional content of someone else's song?
Ashley- Itís exciting to sit down with an instrument and doodle until you come up with an idea. This might be an idea to arrange an old song or something more original.
BFBR:  How do your new songs/material come about?
Ashley - Itís difficult to answer this one. I think every musician will approach writing differently. Personally I find songs seem to appear out of the blue. This process seems to happen much more readily when you're completely relaxed and away from everyday problems. I doodle and sometimes thereís a result and often there is not. My advice to any one who wants to write songs is to record the doodlings as good ideas are not always apparent at the time.
Deborah - Ashley normally comes up with an idea and I try to adapt a harmonica or percussion to it.
BFBR:  How do you feel your playing style has developed since you began performing and more recently?
Ashley - I hope it has improved a lot. By playing different instruments you can adapt the playing techniques from one to the other. Technically I know I have improved enormously compared with how I played at the beginning. The challenge always is to try and convey emotions using the voice and the guitar. We can sometimes get lost in technique. Itís times like these that itís a good idea to listen to a Son House recording.
Deborah - I think my playing technique has improved a lot over the last few years. Iíve worked hard at it and actually performing in front of the public has helped me to have more confidence as a musician.
BFBR:  What are you views on playing in UK  - the current scene & gigs?
A&D: We think the current scene in the UK is fairly healthy. It is certainly better than in France where we are currently living. There is a history of blues and Jazz in the UK that goes way back. The only problem is the audience seems to be growing older.
BFBR:  How do you see the future for acoustic blues?
A&D: If we can bring in the new blood we think the future will be good.  More representation of the music on radio & TV would definitely help. It would be great to see some of the scenes more outstanding performers on programs like "Later with Jools Holland" or "Sessions" on BBC4
BFBR:  What advice would you pass on to players and to 'amateur' and semi-pro performers?

A&D: Be positive. If you believe in what youíre doing and have something to express go out there and do it. Talent will always find its way through, but you do need tenacity as well.
BFBR:  What music are you currently listening into?
A&D: At this moment in time itís Bob Marley. We listen to a wide range of stuff. We listen to lot of early blues, Jazz and most of the styles of music that have grown out of the melting pot of American culture. We are also into some world music, notably Hawaiian music.
BFBR: Where are you headed musically at present?
A&D: Wherever the vibe takes us.
BFBR: What are your current musical and career developments?
A&D: We are in the process of recording a new CD. We hope to be doing a session on Paul Jones BBC radio 2 show sometime in 2004. Otherwise we will be touring in France, Belgium, Holland, Germany and the UK in 2004
Thank you for giving us these insights into you and your music.

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