Sonny Terry, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson
Kenny: I was brought up in in a musical household. My Dad listened to a lot of Jazz by artists like Billie Holiday and Fats Waller and my brothers were into bands like Led Zeppelin and the Sensational Alex Harvey Band. So, the music was always in and around the Blues but there wasn’t a focus directly on Traditional Blues.
My interest in the Blues really started when I started working. I had a training officer who I drove around with on our day to day routine and he wore a harmonica rack while he was driving. He played Sonny Terry, Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson and as sound as I heard these guys I thought it was the coolest sound I’d ever heard. I wanted to learn how to play like that so he gave me the same tape that he had learned to play from, which was by Don Baker, an Irish Harmonica player…great player!
The first tune I played was “Oh Susanna” and I practiced that until I could comfortable hit the single notes. I sat in my room and just played and played and played. So much so, that I remember my Dad coming into me room and saying…”Son, you are either going to have to learn another tune…or leave home.”
At that time, the Paul Jones show on Radio 2 was really taking off and I used to tape and listen to it and that really developed my knowledge of some of the great players that had a huge influence on me. Particularly Sonny Terry, Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter. I also loved the more contemporary guys as well, such as James Harman, Rick Estrin, William Clarke, who I absolutely loved, God rest his soul. That’s really where my joy and my passion came from. It became an all-consuming desire to learn to play and to become even a tiny wee bit like these guys.
Kirk: So the amp that I just photographed there? I don’t think I’ve seen that before.
Kenny: I’ve owned virtually every amp that Harmonica players are recommended to own. It’s been another all-consuming passion. I love Electric Blues with that big fat Chicago sound. I worked my way up to the Rolls Royce of amps, which I don’t have with me today, which was a Sonny Jr. II but then as I became more aware of what it is that actually makes the sound I realised that it was “you”. It’s your acoustic playing, the way that you phrase etc. That’s what really makes the sound and the amp just adds to it. Back to your original question…I came across that amp on eBay. It’s a little German amp from the 1960’s. A Dynacord and it’s much loved by a lot of very good harp players and I managed to get it for a very reasonable price and I absolutely love it. It’s got everything I need. It’s not a huge great multi-speaker amp but it’s got soul, spirit and balls. It doesn’t give you a great sound, it allows you to make a great sound.
Kirk: Do you believe that the older original musical equipment has more soul?
Kenny: I do, to an extent. I believe that what we all aspire to is a sound that was created by very basic equipment in the 50’s and 60’s. Nowadays we have all this Solid-State stuff that, by the flick of a switch, can give you these different sounds. I made the same mistake that a lot of harp players make. You can become obsessed with amps and microphones and pedals and all that kind stuff but a lot of that doesn’t matter. I’ve seen guys like Kim Wilson and his back line is huge and it’s all custom-built stuff. Multiple amps, multiple microphones and all the rest of it and what he does with it is remarkable, I have the utmost respect for him. But when I was in Chicago in 1999 I saw James Cotton play and he just played through a Shure SM58 through the house PA and it was just “Fat” man…huge! There was no amp, there were no frills, no pedals, no technology, it was just technique. All down to a big gob, big hands and a complete and utter knowledge of his instrument. That’s what’s important to me. I don’t have that. I’m not James Cotton and never will be and maybe that’s why I need a good amp and a good microphone. The mic I have with me today is a 1950’s Shure Black Label and it’s unbelievable. It cost a lot of money but it’s got that big fat sound.
Kirk: Tell me a bit about your playing history. What bands have you been in?
Kenny: My first real band was a busking Rockabilly band called “Bluesvillle Express” many years ago. I still know all the guys and we all keep in touch. It was just a fantastic time. In the mid to late 80’s Rockabilly had become popular in Glasgow again. The Stray Cats were touring and so were many others. We just had a wonderful time busking in Argyle Street and doing the odd gigs here and there but nothing serious. My desire to do something involving full-on Chicago Electric Blues was still there and I played with various bands but never really went anywhere and it probably wasn’t until the mid-90’s that I answered an advert in a local Glasgow music store called McCormack’s. There was a guy called Bert Richard that was looking for local Blues musicians to form a band. I got together with him and there was that immediate connection between us musically and we just played off each other so naturally, almost from day one. We added to the band and a couple of people came and went but we eventually settled on a line-up of myself and Bert, a guy called Dave Proctor and a guy called Jim Miller and as well as being a tight musical outfit, we were four mates and we enjoyed each other’s company. We would tour around the place and get lock-ins till 3.00am/4.00am and it was great times. That was “The Blues Devils” and is probably the pinnacle of my musical career and always will be. It was four guys committed to what we were trying to achieve but also four guys that liked each other.
Kirk: That’s a surprisingly rare thing. I know a guy that got around that problem by getting four of his mates together and taught them all how to play. They’re still going strong by the way.
Kenny: The movie “The Commitments” probably best outlines the path that a lot of bands take. The initial Honeymoon period and all the subsequent stages after that.
We did pretty much what we set out to do and played most of the big Festivals, all the big venues and never bombed.
Kirk: Do you think you guys will ever get back together?
Kenny: We’ve done it once for a charity gig and after 6 years of not playing together, we agreed a set list and just went on stage and played it and brought the house down. It was a funny thing after that gig though. We all just looked at each other and it was completely unsaid but I think we all knew that we would never do it again because it had been great and we didn’t want to spoil it.
Kirk: I’ve also seen you play with the Blues duo with Lovat “Houndog” Fraser.
Kenny: Yes, he’s a wonderful guy and a very good Blues Roots guitar player. A very good slide guitar player and singer. I really enjoyed playing in the duo. It stretched me. It made me think differently and play differently. Although Electric Blues is my main thing, my favourite harp player is Sonny Terry so I’ve always been drawn to Country Blues and when I do pick the harmonica now, it’s normally Sonny Terry stuff that I’ll play. That’s something I would definitely do again but my life is just so busy now with other things it would be tough to fit it in. But yeah, we’ve talked about doing that again.
Kirk: I’m sure you will. No harm in taking a break for a wee while. Too much talent to stay away for tool long though.
Kenny: Thanks Kirk and thanks for this project. There’s a monstrous amount of talent in Glasgow and I’m very privileged to know a lot of them. I think that it may be a West of Scotland character trait that stops people “blowing their own trumpet” and it’s great that you are making the breadth of talent visible.
Kirk: I know. That’s why I started the project and there are so many more to cover. As time goes by I’m very aware that there is a whole generation of players that I’ve never heard of that are forging their own sound somewhere in the city and I’ll keep working away and get as many on here as I can.
All the best Kenny and I’ll look out for you on a stage sometime soon.
Storage Warehouse, Dalmarnock, Glasgow
Camera: Nikon D750
Lens: Nikon 50mm f/1.4
Focal length: 50mm
Exposure: 1/320 sec at f/1.4
Time of day: 11:40am
Lighting: 1 Nikon SB910. Silver/Black umbrella