Influences: Mark Knopfler, JJ Cale, Ry Cooder, Eric Clapton, Peter Green, BB King, Jeff Beck, George Harrison & Hank Marvin
More recent Blues influences: Ronnie Earl, Dave Specter and Anson Funderburgh
Editor note: Portrait of Jim in his home/studio. I was keen to get a more personal portrait done of Jim. He auditioned me for the first Glasgow band I ever played with…”The Magic Blues Surfers”. I used to rehearse every week with Jim in his home and have great memories of those times.
K: Hi Jim thanks for inviting me up to your place tonight. Sitting here in your home studio brings back loads of good memories from back when I came for my first audition to join a Glasgow blues band. The address has changed but the vibe is exactly the same and I see that there’s still the eclectic collection of CDs but the biggest section is still dedicated to the Blues. Has that always been your preferred genre?
J: No, no. I always just loved the guitar as a kid and I always imagined myself as a guitarist. And then when I was about 14 one my pals at the school had a big brother that had a Stratocaster and a Vox AC30. So I went up to his house. He knew about 4 chords…I knew bugger all…but see when I heard the racket off it? I was like, “Wow!”, which prompted me to pester my Ma to get me a guitar which ended up being an acoustic with nylon strings…a wee classical thing. So I learnt all the chords I could and then went over to the Maryland Club when I was about 16.
I was there a couple of years later than Fraser (Spiers) so I missed all the Blues stuff from the likes of Champion Jack Dupree and Muddy Waters but I was listening to live bands every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday night. At 18 I started going to pubs to see band where I saw some great bands and players and a band that made a great impression on me at the time in the pubs was a 3 piece band called Foxy with an amazing guitar player called Brian Dennison and I remember thinking…”That’s how you do it!”
By then I had started playing in pubs myself and that’s when I met a guy called George Watt aka Big George.
K: As in Big George and The Business?
J: Aye but long before “The Business”. It was a band called Backwater with Rab Baird, Gary Latham, John McGarrigle and I think Stevie Gallagher was playing drums. George was a year or two younger than me and we were both into Robin Trower. Jimmy Dewar’s voice is just amazing. Fast forward to my early 20’s…George saw me playing some Trower stuff and likewise I saw him playing some and that’s when we struck up a friendship.
A couple of years later George had formed this band called “The Glasgow Blues Legends”. The original line up of that was George, Rev Doc, Rollin Joe, Andy Allan on bass and Stevie Gallagher on drums. Rolling Joe then moved on to form his band, “Rolling Joe and the Jets” so I then joined the band. So I was playing with “The Glasgow Blues Legends” in my mid 20’s! (laughs)
That was the first time I’d ever played Blues. I’d listened to it and loved it but this was the first time I’d actually played it. I remember listening to John Lee Hooker when I was a kid. I’d been blown away with Alexis Corners CSS version of Whole Lotta Love, you know the Top of the Pops theme tune. I’d bought that single and there was a cover of John Lee Hooker’s Boom Boom was on the B side and it was fabulous, absolutely brilliant! So I started listening to that kind of stuff and as soon as I heard George playing Blues I knew it, I knew the structure of it. I was still trying to figure out how to play solos but that was my introduction to Blues.
K: Were there any other acts from the Maryland that stick out in your mind?
J: There were loads of great bands but I guy I remember really enjoying was Eric Cuthbertson. Eric was a Folk/Blues artist who regularly opened up for the touring bands. His patter was magic and I loved his acoustic finger-picking Blues style.
K: There’s a good live music scene around now with Swing, Rockus, Box etc etc but as I go through this project, people keep referring back to Studio One and they’ve never seen anything quite like it since.
J: That’s right Kirk. It was a amazing time when we played there and there was a history before that as well with The Hideaways and Big George had done a residency and so did Rev Doc a few years before we got there.
K: I never realised that.
J: Aye. and when we started doing it the timing was right for Studio One to kick off again. The Wintersgills jam had just stopped. Rollin Joe had chucked it. The place had been sold. At the same time Big George stopped playing at The Captain’s Rest on a Monday night. Up until then they had both been splitting the Blues audience and both places had been well attended.
K: I never thought much of it at the time but that place was absolutely jumping…I mean…packed to the door! It was a phenomenal turnout and it didn’t let up.
J: It was three days a week some weeks as well. Sunday, Monday and Thursday. There were sometimes other gigs on the Thursday like Sticky Fingers, who did the last Thursday of every month. It was really, really busy and the thing is we were getting a good wage there as well because we’d built it up over time and everyone was winning from it. The money doesn’t seem to be there now.
The other thing about the Studio One was that it wasn’t an open mic. There’s loads of these open mic sessions all over the place and that’s great and it gives inexperienced players an outlet to build up their skills in front of an audience but that’s not what Studio One was about. We knew the quality players. If you could play…you were welcome. If you were just cutting your teeth and learning, there were other places for that. It was more of a “By invitation” format and that seemed to work. There was an element of quality about the whole thing and I’ll tell you something and I swear there is no false modesty in what I’m about to say. I benchmarked myself as the least accomplished of the Blues guitarists that we had up on stage playing with us. I can play guitar but there were some fabulous Blues players that came to that session. Alan Nimmo, Colin Robertson, Alan Anderson, Stevie Nimmo, Brian Carpy, John Doole and a load of others too many to mention. There were some great harp players as well…Rev Doc, Fraser Spiers, Spider McKenzie and Al Price. Keyboard players…Graham Cordiner, Kirk Lothian and Matthew Berlow and a fabulous Sax player…Deke McGhee and it was always a pleasure to hear the boys from Greenock…Benny, John and Archie.
K: I think we’ll need to agree to disagree on where you ranked in amongst all the players but that’s ok
J: It wasn’t about me Kirk, that wasn’t the point. We did the first set anyway as the band and that was great but then it was just a joy for me to sit and watch the rest of the players. I didn’t need to get up again because there were so many other good players in. I would just have a couple of pints and coordinate everything. I loved it! It was brilliant!
K: it was a good gig to get it.
J: I thought we were really lucky when we got the residency on the Thursday. There had been various problems and then the drummer decided that he didn’t want to carry on but that’s when we got Scott (Pentland) so everything was great after that. But yeah, I was really pleasantly surprised because I hadn’t played live for three or four years, as we don’t, sometimes.
K: Absolutely, I’m there myself at the moment! So what turned you around back into playing?
J: It was after going to The State Bar Kirk so I do owe those guys are huge thanks for getting me started again. I had jumped in there one Tuesday night by accident and saw them playing and that was the spark that I needed.
K: Had you given up on the music completely between those times or were you still working on other things?
J: No, I’d kept playing and writing throughout the period it was just the live stuff that wasn’t happening. I’d been working on some film stuff as well, and in fact I’m doing another one of those in a couple of months.
K: Tell me a wee bit about that Jim. What kind of things were and will you be working on?
J: I’ll be working with a poet called Robert Fullarton whose last work won a BAFTA. Can’t say too much about it but I will be supplying the music.
K: So how did that all come about? Had you known Rab for a while?
J: Aye, I’d known Rab for years. Way back to when I lived in Govan, the North side of the city. I lived in Govan for 17 years and Rab used to come and see my band about 1985 when we played in The Halt Bar, where we had a residency on a Saturday afternoon. We also had a residency there on a Monday and a Wednesday over and above that.
K: Sounds like you’ve played all over the city with various bands and run loads of Blues jam nights in your time.
J: Oh aye and Big George and I did various jams in Glasgow as well. Going back to the late 70s early 80s. The Comet Barin Ruchill, The Signal Box in Temple, just off Anniesland and loads of others. Aye, jam sessions….loved them!!
I even used to go down to Greenock for these jam sessions. I got the train over. Another place I used to go was this fabulous place in Paisley called The Bungalow Bar. Check it out….it was..eh…infamous! But it had a great jam session a Sunday afternoon. There licensing laws were slightly different from Glasgow and I used to go down every Sunday. It was a guy calls Eric Cuthberston, check him out, he’s well good. He had a radio show on BBC Radio Scotland for a good few years. He was an acoustic player, finger-picker, fiddle, harmonica, absolutely brilliant! He had a band called The Hoochie Coochie Men and there were 2 other amazing guitarists called Barry Archibald and Davie Phillips. So when George got in touch with Jimmy Dewar, Barry was brought into the band and they went out as “Adults Only” (laughs). The drummer in that band used to run a pub called The Victorian Carriage.
K: Did it have jam sessions?
J: Aye! (Laughs)
K: What was it that kept your involvement going with the jam sessions over all those years all over the city?
J: It was getting to meet all these guys. As well as having the joy of playing for all these years, and bear in mind, we’re talking over 15 years running these sessions, it was great getting to watch guys like Colin Robertson, who had never played on a stage in front of people in his puff, come up and show everyone what they could do. And it was a great thing for me to be able to watch people like Colin and other guys like John Scott and many others, develop to what they are now. I mean these guys are … blistering now!
K: It must give you a great sense of achievement having been part of that development. I’ve also seen that Colin is now doing a bit of singing as well. That takes quite a bit of confidence to move into that and it’s great to see. He’s got a great voice as well.
J: Absolutely and he has got a really nice voice, plaintive with no histrionics. I like his voice a lot and I told him that. He needs to sing more.
K: I don’t know how to phrase this without sounding eh, you know, a bit arsey, but is it important to you that the live music scene in Glasgow keeps growing? You have a personal attachment to the growth of the musicians you’ve seen over the years and also to some of the venues. I can’t help picking up a kind of pride and ambition from you connected to the future of Glasgow Blues and live music in general?
J: Yes, absolutely Kirk, but perhaps I have also got a vested interest in this as it is part of my livelihood. But more than that I still really enjoy going to see live bands. I still love to go and see a band!
K: What was the last big paid gig you went to see in Glasgow?
J: Mark Knopfler in the Hydro. Phenomenal. First time I’d seen him. I’ve got all of the Dire Straits stuff and probably half of his solo stuff as well.
K: Brilliant player.
J: He certainly was Kirk
K: You were saying earlier on that you had played with George in a number of different bands. You must have picked up quite a few stories during that time?
J: Aye and here’s a cracker. George was working on changing the line up and he poached a new drummer from Billy Rivers and this was after Andy Allan had left so it was just me that was playing bass in the band at that time and that had been the lineup for about 9 months and then George got another bass player…Jimmy Dewar! And needless to say…I got pumped! (laughs)
K: I take it he was singing as well then?
J: Aye, absolutely.
K: Dennis put me on to him recently. Some voice!
K: So back to the writing. Have you been working on anything else recently?
J: I’ve got stuff on the back burner Kirk. I’ve got loads of stuff. I’ve been writing for years and years, it’s just a case of finishing some of them off.
I’ll finish stuff to order like the film music. The last feature thing I did came about after I guy saw me in town. He was directing a kind of black comedy called “Joe Smeals Wheels”.
K: What was that about? Sounds interesting.
J: It was about this guy from the East End of Glasgow that lived in the high rise flats. His estranged daughter is getting married in the West End of Glasgow in the church at the top of Gartner Street. The buses are on strike, he’s in a wheelchair, he’s on the brew (unemployed), he can’t afford a taxi so he pushes himself right into the center of the city.
So, as the Director was scouting the route, he heard me playing shadows stuff. And of course, that’s the soundtrack for the movie. So he came over to me and asked if I could write stuff in the style of The Shadows. Of course I said “Yes, no problem!”. Had I done it before? No! So I did it and it was great fun!
K: How many tracks did you write?
J: There were four tracks. Aye, so the guy wheels himself right along Shettleston Street and bumps into a blind guy coming out of central station and the blind guy it ends up pushing him to the church and the story goes on from there…
K: That sounds really interesting I want to see that!
J: Aye it was brilliant fun to work on.
K: So if I wanted to see that where would it be. YouTube?
J: Not sure if you’d get it on there, maybe. It was a Film Nouveau and the Director was a guy called Michael Normand
Trailer: http://youtu.be/qVsvVfCLkFo 5:53 mins in.
K: Are you going to get any of your own stuff down in an album from all of the material you have been working on over the years? I would love to hear it.
J: I’ve never stopped writing the Blues material and it is my intention to get an album together, hopefully before I’m 70 and it will be called…”Blind Willie Puller”.
K: If you could get your choice of players to feature on your album from Blues players past and present who would they be. What’s your ideal band? And I’ll let you off the hook here and say that you can’t have anyone from Glasgow.
J: For me the best Blues drummer I’ve ever heard is a guy called Per Hansen who played with Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. He it’s just unbelievable…phenomenal! Probably James Booker on piano….if not yourself (laughs). I would also have my favourite drummer of all time…Jim Keltner.
K: Aye, very good (laughs)…c’mon carry on…
J: I love Eric Clapton….I think he’s a fabulous singer (laughs)… so he could do vocals and I would play guitar (laughs)
K: (Laughs) Ok, so you’ve got bass left…
J: There’s so many. There’s a guy called Michael Mudcat Ward, no relation, he plays with Dave Spectre’s band. Maybe Paul McCartney. Mmm maybe not. He’s a good bass player but maybe not for Blues.
K: There’s another link to The Beatles! There’s been quite a few tonight. The original idea for the photo was the balcony shot from the “Red & Blue” album cover, there’s your Paul McCartney link there and there’s a Beatles albums box set sitting out right there. Are the Beatles still quite a big influence on you musically?
J: Well, I always did like The Beatles but one of my favourite writers has always been George Harrison. He’s also one of my favourite slide players. The stuff he did after The Beatles, his solo stuff, is beautiful. He’s a beautiful writer and such an underrated guitar player but his chord structures are unbelievable in places.
Sorry, back to the band…I’d have a slide player…Ry Cooder and I would have his backing vocalists which were Willie Green Junior, Arnold McCuller, Bobby King and Terry Evans.
Ry Cooder was a big influence on me right from the start through from finger picking to Tex Mex, Hawaiin, Country, Soul and he got these singers, so I would like them in the band. I would toss Nathan East as a bass player as well but I think he would be a wee bit too busy. Oh wait hold on….just thought of someone else for bass…Abraham Laboriel. His son players drums for Paul McCartney. Abraham Laboriel played with The Crusaders for a while and what a player he was. One track in particular “Soul Shadows“.
K: Ok, we’ve got a good selection there. I’ll look some of these guys up and get some links to their stuff so folks can have a listen to these players.
So finally Jim, of all the 100s of gigs and jam sessions over the years, is there one that sticks out as being the best?
J: (Jim thinks long and hard on this one and then gives me an answer that I wasn’t expecting …until he finishes the sentence)
“No….not really. I’ve loved them all”
Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: Nikon 24-120 f4
Focal length: 24mm
Time of day:
Lighting: Keylight with 24″ softbox at 45 degrees. Rim light positioned in hallway about 10 feet behind with no modifier to give sunlight feel to link to Jim’s Beach Boys influences and create more harsh “Shadows” on Jim, the floor and the guitar. Speedlight with honeycomb focussed on guitar to make the colour pop and also to model the shape of the curves.