Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Interview with Kevin Johnson, Promotional Director, Delmark Records by Harmonica Joe

HJ: Kevin can you introduce yourself and give some history of Delmark Records?

KJ: Bob Koester, owner of Delmark, has been documenting some of his favorite blues and jazz artists, mostly Chicago based, for over 50 years!! (since 1953 to be exact). Delmark is the 2nd longest single owned and operated independent record label still going strong. Delmark is named after Delmar Avenue in St. Louis, where Bob got his start in the music business. This is a family run operation with Bob's wife Sue running the retail and advertising business (and most importantly being the Delmark "MOM!"), and his son, Bob Jr, handling the legal, bookkeeping, and website affairs. Steve Wagner is the long time General Manager/record producer/studio engineer of Delmark. Frank Corpus handles all of our mail/shipping/distribution, and I am the promotions/publicity man, the liaison between the press and radio. Delmark's focus the past few years has been the DVD format, as well as releasing CDs from the past and present in our favorite Chicago blues, traditional and avant garde jazz.

HJ: Young people are now interested in rap, hip hop, heavy metal and other genres of music. Do you think that blues artists and recording companies have to be more open to change or stick to more traditional blues styles?

KJ: I think Delmark does well because we have stuck to our favorite music- real deal traditional blues and jazz. People comment all the time how Delmark is one of the only labels still releasing this type of blues, as opposed to the contemporary blues rock that seems so prevalent these days. Our eyes and ears are always open for new and different styles of music, but there is still so much fantastic real deal traditional blues/jazz with FEELING that needs to be recorded/released,

HJ: With DVD’s capable of making recorded live performances by great blues artist available to fans; do you think that this is the way to get more people interested in the blues?

KJ: Definitely! You get the whole visual and aural experience, putting you in the front row of some of our favorite blues and jazz clubs of Chicago. And fun DVD extras like interviews and audio commentary are added features on DVDs. Blues to me is most exciting when it is captured live, raw, with the feedback.and energy from the crowd involved.

HJ: The idea of recording blues shows with real blues fans in the audience is a great idea. Junior Wells, "Live at Theresa’s Lounge" and Carey Bell and Lurrie, "Live at Rosa's Lounge and Buddy Guy's Legends" are great examples of this. Do you think that these true blues joints can survive and flourish into the future?

KJ: I really think there will always be some type of true blues joint to be found. It has become more and more difficult to keep these joints in today's business, but I think there is and always will be a small but loyal niche that will support them,

HJ: How important is it to the recording companies to have their artists perform on stage at blues festivals and at small blues venues?

KJ: Very important for our artists. They get better recognition on the live circuit and festival circuit, and a lot of CD sales are still from selling off the bandstand and interacting with the crowd. People definitely connect with the artists on a different level when they see them perform live as opposed to just having the recording.

HJ: We have recently lost some of our great blues artists, i.e. Carey Bell, Robert Lockwood Jr. and Willie Kent. Do we have enough new young blues artists coming up to fill the void and keep the blues alive?

KJ: That is one of my personal biggest concerns. I don't see the younger generation playing the type of traditional blues that we love so much, especially from the younger African Americans. I think it will come back around again though, along with old school soul/funk/R&B, musical styles tend to have a cyclical pattern. This music is too emotionally powerful and good for the soul to disappear.

HJ: I think that blues societies and Blues in the Schools programs are critical in teaching the blues to new people and keeping live music on stage. What are your thoughts on this?

KJ: I can't say on a personal level with regards to Blues societies, and Chicago still surprisingly does not have one, but I know they provide an excellent community base aspect with the particular specific blues area. Blues in the Schools is such a wonderful idea, and I wish more of it was done. It is absolutely critical in passing on this wonderful and historical musical form to impressionable ages.

HJ: The list of Delmark recording stars past and present goes on and on. It is great to hear them playing at home and on the road. Where is your favorite venue for watching a blues show?

KJ: I tend to love the funky "hole in the wall" west and south side Chicago neighborhood clubs (like the 5105 Club on 5105 W. North or Joe's on Van Buren and Pulaski) for blues, but they are very inconsistent in when they have acts playing. Depending on the act of course, I love B.L.U.E.S. for its friendly and intimate down home feel. Rosa's, Kingston Mines, and SmokeDaddy BBQ come to mind as well, I don't love the ambiance of Legends, but Buddy Guy's club has an amazingly talented lineup. I love the "roadhouse" feel of venues like Fitzgerald's and the HIdeout that feature blues once in a while in Chicago.

HJ: If you could do one thing to keep people interested in the blues, as well as other genres of music, what would it be?

KJ: Take them out to one of your favorite acts at one of your favorite clubs, and they might just have one of those live music experiences where they are hooked for life!!

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