Lloyd Spiegel visits Canada

Lloyd Spiegel

When: Friday, Sept. 1,9 p.m.
Where: OCCO Kitchen Restaurant, 4240 Innes Rd., Orléans
Tickets: $20 at brownpapertickets.com
Also performing: Saturday at Hog N’ Cob, Cheshire Cat Pub, Carp; Sept. 8 at La Grange de la Gatineau; Sept. 10 at Batstone’s Northern Ramble, Renfrew.
Tickets and info: lloydspiegel.com

Australian bluesman Lloyd Spiegel is back in Canada this summer to celebrate the release of This Time Tomorrow, his ninth album. The 38-year-old guitarist spoke to Lynn Saxberg about the new project, his connection to the blues and how a phone call from blues legend Brownie McGhee changed his life.

Q: How did a kid from Melbourne, Australia discover the blues?

A: My father was an enormous blues fan, and was friends with a guy named Dutch Tilders, who was really the only famous blues player in Australia. I grew up going to his gigs from six years old. I didn’t know there was other music. Blues records were played in my house 24/7 so honestly, until I got to the middle of primary school, I had no idea that pop music existed. I thought that everybody had old blues guys that they would go visit. He was like a grandfather to me.

Q: Was he the reason you started playing?

Absolutely. My father is an auto body mechanic. He fixes car bodies. We would go out and see Dutch Tilders play, and it was pretty clear to a six-year-old that that’s a much better job than my dad’s job. And there were always guitars lying about the house. My parents were always very clear, you had to play a sport and you had to play an instrument. I just instantly had a connection to guitar, always have. It’s always been a part of my life.

Q: Did you take lessons?

A: Not official lessons, but I was this kid that hung around the blues clubs and would constantly ask people to sit with me and play. I’d be having lessons, but I think I got them all for free.

Q: How did your style evolve?

A: My style came from listening to music that blues helped to create, and then borrowing back from it. In particular, funk and soul and rock. My style comes out of the frustration of having to go solo. I had no interest in playing acoustic guitar but when I got out of high school. All of the bars in Melbourne started putting poker machines in, and there were no gigs. You couldn’t get a gig with a band but you could get gigs in coffee houses and restaurants. I had to buy an acoustic guitar and begrudgingly did that. My style is very much trying to make as much ruckus as possible with one instrument in the hope that it fills those spaces I’m always hearing. I’m a fast player and it’s kind of flashy, but I try to make sure that every note still has conviction, that I’m playing with a purpose, that I’m not just playing to show off or anything like that. I’m a stressed-out, frantic kind of guy so I play a stressed-out, frantic kind of blues.

Q: You spent time with a blues legend, Brownie McGhee, in the United States when you were 16. How did that happen?

A: Brownie was my all-time favourite blues artist. He was the Beatles to me. An absolute rock star in my eyes. Somehow he ended up with a copy of my CD, and called the phone number on the back of the disc and spoke to my father. My father didn’t believe it was him on the phone at first. I got home from school and he said, ‘Brownie McGhee called today. He’s invited you over to California to play with him.’ I had to stay for exams but six weeks later, my father pulled me out of school and put me on a plane, and suddenly I was in Oakland. Brownie died nine months later so I was very honoured to have had that.

Q: What was it like visiting him?

A: You know, there was a sense I arrived late for a party. Otis Rush and James Cotton would be having a conversation, it’s just the three of us sitting there. They’re bona fide blues legends and you don’t have anything to bring to the table. I’ve always felt like I was born in the wrong time. I always wished I’d been from back in those days. Those guys were all getting very old, they were tired. They all left us within a decade of that. There was a sense of, for lack of a better term, finding my people.

Q:  You have a new album, This Time Tomorrow, your first studio project in seven years, that, for the first time, combines the three cornerstones of your music: songwriting, blues and guitar. How did it come together?

A: It came out that way I think because I was working on a deadline. I never made an album on a deadline before, I always kind of just let it happen on its own time. What happened was my manager got tired of waiting and booked the album launch tour before there was an album so I had to get writing. When you do that under that pressure, you do fall back on what you know, and so I started actually writing real blues songs, leaving plenty of space for the guitar. I’ve always made guitar albums or blues albums or singer-songwriter albums, but I’ve never been able to mix them together properly. This one, it happened naturally. I wasn’t thinking of a style so it’s just me coming through. We just wanted songs that could be brought back to me and a guitar. It’s the first time I haven’t tried to hide behind a bunch of effects and pedals and craziness. So I’m kind of proud of that.

Q: Do you still think of Brownie?

A: I think of him often. I open every show with a Brownie McGhee song for that reason. It really brings it home to me, and it reminds me of just how far I have to go. I’ll complain because I’m 27 years on the road now, I’ll do 10 to 12 countries a year, and I get tired. Then I think about Brownie who toured for the better part of 60 years. For me, there’s always been this balance between paying respect to the real deal but adding something to it myself without trampling on the history, and that’s a really fine line to tread.

Original article written by Lynn Saxberg can be found here.

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