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Blue Front email interview with duo Rag
Mama Rag November 2003
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
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
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
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
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
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
BFBR: What advice would you pass on to players and to 'amateur' and
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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