BY: JIM VILLANUEVA
Blues fans were dealt a devastating blow with the recent passing of the irreplaceable B.B. King, who was one of the last links to the genre’s group of greats who directly influenced so many current and classic blues rock guitarists. Hamish Anderson, the 23-year old Australian singer-songwriter-guitar master who recently released his second EP, Restless, had the honor of being the opening act on the undisputed King of the Blues’ final run of concert dates. “For me I think the best moment was the first show we did in Phoenix,” Anderson recalled during our recent conversation. “I was standing at the side of the stage watching him play. He still had a really great command over the band and that night he was really on form. I remember afterwards them [guitar techs] picking up “Lucille” and walking it literally straight past me, like so close that I could touch it. That was something I’ll always remember.”
With “The King of the Blues” now gone, it is up to upstarts like Anderson to uphold the tradition of the genre while assuring that the future of the blues is secure. The blues will live on as long as it is in the very capable hands of young master musicians like Hamish Anderson.
Hamish, thank you for your time and it’s a pleasure to speak with you again. You and I first met last year up here in Sacramento when you played on my good friend Sat Bisla’s Passport Approved tour. You blew me away that night, so much so that I was going to buy your self-titled five-song debut EP at the door before I walked out but you were kind enough to insist that I accept a copy from your very own hands.
Ah, very nice.
So I’ve been very much looking forward to talking to you again, this time about your new EP, Restless. But before we do, you’ll be back in California for a run of five shows, starting July 23 in Los Angeles and wrapping July 28 in Lake Tahoe, which is only about an hour north of me. Any thoughts of moving to the United States permanently, if you haven’t done so already?
Yes, um, at the moment I kind of feel like I already have cuz pretty much last year and this year have really been America-based, so yeah, it’s been great. I feel I’ve really gotten to do a lot of really great things here and I’m really enjoying being based here.
And maybe California specifically because I know you recorded this new EP in California. Your new EP is called Restless and boy man, it goes from 0-60 immediately with the opening track called “Burn.” It’s a track that, to me, combines the raw power of Rory Gallagher with the fuzzy guitar sounds of ZZ Top.
Yeah, I like that (laughs)!
I was gonna ask, is that fair to say? Am I in the ballpark there?
Yeah, definitely. I love both of those artists and definitely for me it was exploring the kind of more blues rock sound that is a really big influence on me and my music.
Tell me more specifically what sparked the writing of “Burn.”
I’ve been writing a lot of mid-tempo, kind of slower songs and I really wanted to write something that was kind of like a bit crazy and fast. It came together pretty quickly with the riff coming first and then the lyrics and even the recording was all kind of quick and about capturing the kind of live performance element of it.
It’s a great way to kick off this six-song set here; technically, I guess, the sixth song is a bonus track that we’ll talk about in a little bit. Now after “Burn,” tempo-wise anyway, you take your foot off the gas a bit for track two which is called “Shotgun,” a slow burner that features some Tom Petty-leaning vocals over some Heartbreakers-like arrangements. Maybe not surprising considering who is on pedal steel guitar. Tell us who is playing on that track and a little bit more about it.
Yeah, I got lucky enough to have one of my musical heroes, pedal steel player Greg Leisz (Tom Petty, Ray LaMontagne) come in and lay down pedal steel on that. Pedal steel and lap steel to me has always been such a beautiful kind of haunting sound that I’ve always been drawn to and wanted to include on a song. A couple of these songs just felt really right and it turned out he had quite a good relationship with the producer so it all kind of came together pretty organically, which is cool. So with “Shotgun,” again it was just trying something a little bit different and like you said, very much so the Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers element really kind of crept in there.
Greg, in addition to his work with Petty, happens to play with another favorite of mine, Ray LaMontagne.
Oh yeah, definitely his work on that is just amazing. I mean he’s like the go-to guy for all these guys on pedal steel, like you hear his stuff on Eric Clapton stuff, the Robert Plant and Alison Krauss stuff and ray’s stuff and Ryan Adams. It’s really just amazing how much he pops up on different artist’s stuff.
In my book, guys like Gary Clark Jr., Joe Bonamassa, Davy Knowles and of course yourself are at the top of the current crop of great guitarists carrying the torch for the blues. What’s your assessment of the current state of the blues?
I think it’s definitely come back in a really good way in the past couple of years. For a while, maybe more in the 90s or so, blues almost became sort of like a parody of itself or a cliché with people thinking of blues as barroom music and just kind of one kind of thing. I think people like Gary Clark Jr. and even The Black Keys, to a certain extent, have brought that music into a kind of modern music scene and made it really accessible for a lot of people, which I think is really great. In particular, it’s great to see someone like Gary out there really taking a lot of stuff from the past and making it his own and bringing it right into the future. That’s always really inspiring for me.
That’s a great point you made about The Black Keys. I like that band quite a bit and they are definitely in that kind of blues thing. It’s just a retro rock blues sound that I don’t think will ever go out of style.
Yeah exactly, that’s the thing; it kind of ebbs and flows but it always kind of is around and coming up in different music, which is always cool.
We’re talking about the blues and this current crop of which you are certainly a major part of, but sadly we recently lost “The King,” “B.B. King. I know you opened some shows for him not that long ago.
Yeah, it was the last run of shows he kind of did, which is pretty crazy.
Tell me your thoughts about B.B. and if you can, give me your best B.B. King story.
Yeah, I’ve thought about it a lot since he’s passed. I was reading a thing that Eric Clapton said about him, and it’s so true that he really was the last of those guys that kind of came out of the Delta. It really is kind of the end of those guys, in a way – Buddy Guy is still around but he was kind of a couple years after B.B. and kind of came after a lot of that stuff. I think the most inspiring thing for me is that he [B.B.] really did do it right up until the end. That’s something that I think is pretty amazing. Last year I got the opportunity to open – it ended up being two shows – it was meant to be more but after the Chicago show, which was the second show, the tour got cancelled because he was quite unwell. But still it was a really great experience for me. Coming from Australia, it was something that I’d dreamt about and always kind of fantasized about but you don’t really think you’d ever be able to do something like that. For me it was definitely a really great memory, although with some bittersweet parts, but you know, I would have done it 10 out of 10 times.
There aren’t enough adjectives to describe his impact on the music.
Yeah, exactly, it’s just endless and he really was like a human embodiment of the blues and that music. To go for so long and give so much to people is really, really inspirational.
Yeah, a very generous soul. I had the pleasure one time of spending about 10 minutes on his tour bus, right outside the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles, literally just minutes before he hit the stage. I was the last in line of several folks who wanted to speak with him and I walked in and said “I know we’re very short on time,” and I’ll never forget this, he said to me, “You come right on in, young fella, I’ve got all the time in the world for you. You come right in and sit down.” And I thought, wow, what a genuinely wonderful man. He will be missed, for sure.
Yeah, very much so. There’s very much gonna be a hole kind of left behind from where he was and what he stood for.
While we’re talking about B.B., let me ask you this, Hamish. Did you have one of those big bang musical moments where looking back now you can say that was the moment where you thought, gosh, I think I wanna do this?
Yeah, I think really for me I had those moments quite a lot and there are definitive times I can remember, but the biggest one was when I was like 12 years old and I hadn’t really started playing guitar, and I never really thought about playing guitar, and I remember hearing “Back in the U.S.S.R.” by The Beatles off the White album and for some reason that just stuck in my mind and totally made me then become obsessed with guitars and I begged my parents for months to get me a guitar. I’d always loved music but that for me really was like the lightbulb on moment. I think it’s just such a straight ahead rock and roll, kind of them trying to sound like a 50s kind of thing with the screaming guitars, and that for me really just changed everything and then it all just became about music.
When I ask this question in these conversations, I sometimes preface it my saying did you have a proverbial Beatles on Ed Sullivan moment. It wasn’t on Ed Sullivan but you certainly had The Beatles moment.
Exactly! And to this day – even last night I was listening to that album – that’s one of the albums I always go back to. There’s just so much stuff on it and it’s a really, really great album.
You started at the top with The Beatles. Let’s get back to your current EP, Restless. Track three is called “Little Lies,” a slow and slinky song that features some outstanding Hammond B3 organ. Tell me who is playing on that.
That was the only track on this EP that was actually done in Australia. I had some of my friends who play with a group who are doing quite well here in Australia called Angus & Julia Stone. So a couple of my friends from that band were playing on it and for me that was more, almost like a groove oriented song. So that to me was already interesting cuz it was something quite different to a lot of the stuff I’d done. So yeah, it was definitely a real showcase for the Hammond and that became a real feature on it and we just loved how spooky and strange it really sounded.
Your guitar solo doesn’t arrive until the last minute of the song and it only lasts about 30 seconds.
Yeah, I’m kinda in and out.
Yeah. I guess my question is why did you decide this song was served best with far less guitar?
Hmm, yeah, I don’t know. I think we just felt that the guitar tone we went for was really kind of fuzzed out, kind of swampy distorted kind of thing. I think there was just something kind of cool and interesting about having something come in kind of real short and stabby and then just disappear. I think that was what we wanted to do with the organ as well, just have things kind of come in quickly and real hot and attacking you and then just kind of getting straight out. It was a really kind of different recording process to a lot of the other stuff I’ve done, which was really interesting.
Again, the EP is titled Restless but based on the tapped down tempo of the final four tracks you could have titled it Restrained. On the title track you show off your Jeff Buckley kind of falsetto. The song is 5:40 long and at about three minutes in I started to anticipate the buildup to a huge solo that didn’t really come – but I’m not complaining (laughs) because it was, well, restrained. Talk to me about the title track.
Yeah, definitely the Jeff Buckley thing is another really big influence for me. Jeff Buckley and Tim Buckley are both musicians I really love, so yeah, I definitely think you’re right. It was a really interesting song to write and it took me a long time, but I just felt that kind of restless feeling reflected where I was at the time of making it and it kind of felt like a theme that ran through all the songs, and the theme of the EP.
You mentioned Buddy Guy earlier. Great players like Buddy and Carlos Santana, who of course is a Buddy Guy disciple, have told me that it’s much harder to play quiet. Do you agree? Do you get what they’re talking about when they say that?
Yeah, I think so. Santana does this, and definitely, as you said, he would of gotten a lot of it from Buddy Guy, and Buddy does this and B.B. did this as well where he would make [the guitar sound] so big where like it’s building and building and building and then in an instant bring it down to a whisper. Having that kind of control over your instrument and your band and your surroundings is really something to admire. Being able to see someone play in front of thousands of people and play with the volume kind of almost on one, and then in a second they can just crank it up and build it all the way up to 10 is really something that Buddy in particular, and B.B. King, very much on the early stuff like on Live at The Regal, would do a lot. Those guys have such a control over their instrument and over everyone that’s watching them that it’s really kind of incredible to watch.
Yeah you can hear a pin drop in the club of theatre when they’re playing. It’s such a dynamic technique to be able to play like that and have thousands of people focused on something so quiet yet so powerful.
Yeah, it’s pretty mesmerizing.
Finally, the live bonus track on the EP, “My Sweetheart, You,” signals a reappearance of the Jeff Buckley vocal influence. You mentioned that you were a Buckley fan. As a guitarist, who are some of your favorite singers?
There’s lots of them. B.B. King’s voice was something I was always drawn to, Ray Charles I always loved and John Lennon was one of the first voices I responded to; I really love the rawness of his voice, there was just so much character and depth to it. JJ Cale is another kind of obscure but really big influence on me and my music.
Yeah you and Eric Clapton, obviously.
(Laughs) Yeah, exactly. I found JJ through Eric mentioning him so much.
Well thank you again, Hamish. You know what, the last show you’re doing in the upcoming California run is in Lake Tahoe. I’m just about an hour away from there, so if I get the chance maybe I’ll get up there and perhaps we can say hello again face-to-face.
Ah, nice. It would be good to catch up. Cool. All the best. Cheers.
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