The first in a series of interviews with some of Adelaid's leading musicians on the live music front ...


SARB. ...and so I should be introducing you as musician and blues historian! Unlike with some practitioners, your fascination with the blues extends way beyond playing it. You have certainly delved into the social and political background of pre war blues ...your web site is testament to that. "Knowing the blues" ...a benefit to "playing the blues"?

JDF. Yes I think you have to know where it came from - it's essential for a number of reasons. For one thing I think it's very important to find the earliest versions of songs - because often a little passing phrase or lick in a later version turns out to be a major theme from an earlier one - in other words, some parts which we might not think of as being integral to the song were actually very important at the time because the original listeners knew the earlier version (if that makes sense?).

Also when you collect all of an artists work you can get an idea of their moods and personalities - especially with those people that recorded over long periods of time like Charley Patton, Blind Blake or Blind Boy Fuller and that really helps to understand why they emphasise certain notes or phrases.

It can sound pedantic but I think the thing with the country blues is that the world has changed so much around that music and it's useful to try to understand that world so you can apply your experiences to it as well. That's why I think it's important to listen to other 1920's and 30's music as well because the original blues musicians were surrounded by hillbilly music and spirituals and all that too, and the more you listen to it the more you find the same lyrics and melodies in all those styles.

SARB. How do the respective "musician" and "historian" sides of you account for the remarkable phenomena that delta blues ...60 to 80 years down the track is as popular today and dare I say, as relevant as it has ever been?

JDF. The thing is that blues is about day to day problems and situations, generally problems of the working class and problems that we can all relate to. Our problems are in no way comparable to those of the original blues musicians or their audiences but the style and form of the blues is so conversational and matter of fact that it can bridge not only the gap of race or social standing but also the eighty years since it was first recorded.

I think the way blues songs are addressed to the audience is a big part of it - they're written to their equals - they say "don't you hate it when this happens?" or "when I get some money I'm gonna do this"! Whereas a lot of other forms of music are more intellectual. I think it's the directness, honesty and the feeling of someone knowing what you're going through that make it still popular and relevant today - I haven't heard any pop songs that describe my feelings or my problems in life you know?

SARB. You are the proud owner of a "national" guitar. Tell me about it?

JDF. I've wanted one since I was a kid - I don't even remember how I found out about them but I always wanted the one with the palm trees on it which I discovered was a "Style O". When I was growing up there wasn't anyone making new ones but some great guys who used to work for Dobro started making them every bit as good as the old ones and I couldn't be more happy with it. I've got a National page on my web site if anyone wants to know the history of theml - I better not start on it here but they're beautiful guitars - they're too loud to practice at night though!

SARB. Your fascination with music extends to recording and the technology used ...move over George Martin?

JDF. I love recording and I love the tools that go with it - I have quite a bit of old recording gear now but you can never have enough! I mean, any musician has to be fascinated with sounds and recording is the greatest extension of that - you get to play with sounds, study them and take them apart - it's very good fun. The way something was recorded has a much bigger effect on the sound than may people realize. And yes I'd love to be able to make a living out of recording but I'm too addicted to the old fashioned sounds - there's not enough retro clients out there!

SARB. Some would claim that the best blues has never been ...can never be recorded! I suppose they are referring to the Juke Joint Blues of a bygone era ...and perhaps to that special energy you get when blues is live ...raw ...and spontaneous! Your perspective?

JDF. Yes I think there's a lot of truth in that - blues very much relies on audience reaction more so even than jazz which has a reputation for being more improvisational - a blues audience can change the whole form, structure, tempo, volume - even the lyrics of a song by how they react.

A lot of people who saw the first generation of blues men playing live in the 1920's and 30's wrote that they were very different on record. Especially that they had very much more energy live - Son House with more energy than he had in the studio in 1930 would have been terrifying!

SARB. Have you wondered what the likes of Charlie Patton and Robert Johnson really sounded like? Have the limitations of the recording technology of the time given us a "distorted picture" or is that part of its beauty?

JDF. Well that's the other side of it - I know a lot of people say that the technology is part of the art of the old blues records but I would do anything to hear Charley Patton recorded properly (like with 1950's equipment!) - I think the one good thing about how scratchy and mid-rangy those old records are is that it reminds us of how old they are and how advanced those people were musically.

The real shame with those original blues records is that many of them - especially Paramount - were deliberately recorded and pressed on cheap materials because they were only "race records". For the same reason the master recordings were destroyed so they have to now be re-mastered from eighty year old second hand shellac records! The sad thing is that it was purely due to racism that we are left with such poor recordings - not to put too gloomy a note on things but it's true!

SARB. I am always curious about what CDs musicians are currently listening to in their spare time. Care to share with us some of your listening habits. Any recommendations?

JDF. Currently I'm listening to Jimmy Smith's "Groovin' At Small's Paradise" from 1957, an excellent live recording by Rudy Van Gelder for Blue Note Records and Jimmy Smith was in very fine form. Also I'm always listening to a lot of Sarah Vaughan because she was probably the greatest singer who ever lived and the recordings are also wonderful, many of them engineered by Bill Putnam, another one of my heroes.

Also I'm listening to "Pet Sounds" a lot lately, The Meters and the early Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions stuff I love a lot.

In the country blues vein I'm listening to a lot of Blind Boy Fuller at the moment and I've never stopped listening to Charley Patton - Tampa Red and Big Bill Broonzy are big favourites as well.

For recommendations I would suggest JSP records who have box sets of the complete recordings of Charley Patton (which everyone should get), Blind Lemon Jefferson, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Blake and lot's more and they're surprisingly cheap! Which is always a nice surprise!

SARB. Your musicianship and appreciation extend to genres other than the blues?

JDF. Yes I like a lot of different sorts of music - they're all fairly related though I think - I don't really play anything other than blues, some people call the Hammond trio stuff "jazz" but it's still blues really I think.

But yes I like the early Soul stuff, Gospel stuff - I've got a lot of gospel quartet stuff like the Soul Stirrers and The Golden Gates, I like a little bit of country, Hank Williams especially, I'm a big Beatles fan but I also like the Who and especially the Kinks - I'm quite a big Jazz fan, mostly of the late fifties Blue Note type stuff when they started to get back to the gospel, blues sort of influence, Horace Silver especially I like along with Oscar Peterson, Nina Simone...

SARB. Beltana to Bacchus! Reflecting on all your gigs ...there must be some special and memorable ones?

JDF. Yes there's been some great ones - Beltana was very nice, lots of people really enjoying themselves and the music, it was very good. Some of the crazy, out-back Queensland gigs were a hoot, Weipa was especially good - we played in the Stubby Hut! Which is a fantastic name for a venue and it was a round, concrete structure outdoors with a floor (the stage!) that sloped down to a drain in the centre!

But my best memories are of what's now known as the "old Johno's" - Johno's Blues Bar in Cairns before it moved to it's current location (which is cool too) but in the old club we used to play six nights a week for years and it was nearly packed every night - it's a great atmosphere when you're that comfortable with a venue you can really have a laugh.

SARB. What has Jesse Deane-Freeman got planned for 2005?

JDF. A lot of things happening this year - I've had some time off and I haven't announced it anywhere yet but I've bought a Hammond C-3 so I'm going to unleash the Hammond trio on the public again but this time with a lot of original tunes, a real BIG Hammond and hopefully two Leslie speakers so that will be fun!

Also I'm looking for a shop to put all my recording gear in and set up a little studio which wont be very busy because I can only record 1950's and 60's sounding people but I'm mainly going to use it as my own little hit-factory! A place to write songs and rehearse etc. So hopefully we'll have a whole new set of interesting tunes coming out!

SARB. Free flight and accommodation to where ever you like! Where would you head to?

JDF. I'd personally really love to see Europe, France, Italy etc. but I guess musically I'd have to see New Orleans (Congo Square, Rampart Street etc.), New York and Chicago especially. But if I could go to one place I'd like to go to somewhere near Dockery's Plantation where most of the real early blues came from - just to see what the place is like, the weather and the scenery etc. There's a great web site about genuine jook joints in the Delta that still have blues bands at - every blues fan should check it out!

SARB. The state of the local live music scene in Adelaide at the present time?

JDF. I think it's good - Adelaide people are very appreciative of good music and very receptive to new things - the problem Adelaide musicians tend to get is that they forget it's about the music - a lot of people try to get more and more gigs without supplying new and exciting music for their audience - and I include myself in this too, you can get caught up in trying to make a living and you forget you should be trying to make music - because people forget bad music straight after the gig but good music can last for thousands of years!

I think the great thing about Adelaide people is that if we supply good enough music they will keep coming out to see us. And I hope to see some of you soon! Thanks David.

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