Corrections or additions?

This article by Richard J. Skelly was published

in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 10, 1998. All rights reserved.

A Bluesman on the Move

Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Bill Perry realizes

if blues music is going to continue to flourish, new approaches to

the form are required. The 36-year-old musician, signed recently to

a multi-album deal with Pointblank, a Virgin Records subsidiary, has

his work cut out for him. His debut album "Love Scars,"

produced

and released on the independent Rave-On label, helped get him noticed.

Then, after hearing him live at Manny’s Car Wash, a New York City

blues club, Pointblank signed the little-known Perry to the major

label that promises worldwide distribution. It’s clear they believe

strongly in Perry’s abilities to take the blues to a new level.

For a year, Perry ran the Sunday night jam sessions at Manny’s Car

Wash, a hub for blues activity on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. Before

that, in the 1980s, he worked with folk singer Richie Havens, who

knew of Perry and his stellar guitar playing from his performances

at Greenwich Village clubs.

"I worked with Richie Havens for four years, from about 1988 to

1992," says Perry, speaking from his home in Upstate New York.

"I knew Richie because when I was younger, I used to do a lot

of Hendrix songs, and he’d come see me. One day he called me up out

of the blue and asked if I wanted to do a gig with him. I asked,

`Where’s

the gig?’ And he says, `Japan.’ So I did the gig with him. I’d never

flown before on a jet. That was in 1988."

Asked about his major label success at such a relatively young age,

Perry says it was just a matter of being in the right place at the

right time. Getting his break working as part of Havens’ band in the

1980s, good timing is something Perry seems to have developed a knack

for, over the years.

Born and raised in the Hudson River town of Chester,

New York, he began playing guitar when he was five. Right away, he

says, "I could play the theme from `Batman.’ There was a local

guy there named John Scheeling, who’s now in Orlando, Florida, and

he taught me a little bit. And also my cousin was very helpful in

the early days."

"My father used to listen to [organist] Jimmy Smith and B.B. King,

and my grandmother played organ in church," says Perry, "so

I was always around this kind of music. My grandmother would get mad

at my father for playing blues on Sunday, when he should have been

playing gospel."

Given his attention to classic blues masters like Albert King and

B.B. King, as well as more recent blues-rock guitar stylists like

Jimi Hendrix, it’s easy to trace the roots of Perry’s guitar style.

However, it’s not so easy to see how he writes such consistently good

songs.

This comes from years of studying recordings made by all sorts of

blues stylists, he says, including Hendrix, whom he credits as one

of his primary songwriting influences.

"It sounds really weird for a blues musician to say, but as a

songwriter I really like Joni Mitchell. In the blues, a lot of people

do other people’s music all the time. What I’m trying to do is come

up with different formats, instead of just 1-4-5, and make it still

be blues — modern blues, if you will," says Perry.

"When I write now, I write songs on the road," says Perry,

who spends upwards of 200 nights a year on the road. "When I get

home, for the most part I just want to relax."

As a teenager in the 1970s, Perry spent most of his time honing his

chops in small blues clubs like Dan Lynch’s on Manhattan’s Lower East

Side. "I had a fake ID, and I’d go into the clubs and play. There

wasn’t much happening in the 1970s, blues-wise, in New York,"

he recalls. "I never really played at any clubs up in Harlem.

I pretty much stuck with Dan Lynch’s, because I knew they had blues

there all the time, and I used to know all the guys there." It

was there that Havens first came out to see Perry.

What Perry does so well on "Love Scars" and "Greycourt

Lightning" (1998), his first two albums for Pointblank, is combine

a few familiar guitar riffs with his own guitar playing ideas and

lyrics for the 1990s. Several tracks on both albums are rendered on

acoustic guitar. In concerts, he mixes it up as well, giving his band

a break while he sits alone on stage with an acoustic/electric guitar.

"To play the really classic old blues stuff wouldn’t be natural

for me, because I don’t come from that," says Perry. "I come

from Jimi Hendrix and all of those ’60s people. I liked Johnny Winter

and Eric Clapton, and they turned blues around in their own way and

made it popular. That’s what I’m trying to do," he says.

"I mean, I love traditional blues and I listen to it at home a

lot. But to me, Albert Collins was one of the best of the contemporary

blues players who had this really distinctive style. You could listen

to 10 or 12 guitar players and you’d know, within three notes, `Oh,

that’s Albert Collins.’"

Perry took his cues from Collins and the Kings, B.B., Freddie and

Albert, and always sought to develop his own technique. "I began

to realize I was developing my own style when I wrote `Fade To Blue.’

It’s a blues song, but it’s not a standard format blues song, I use

different chord changes on it," he explains.

Even though he’s not what some in the blues mafia would consider a

straight-ahead blues player, that’s perfectly fine. Some call Perry’s

style blues-rock.

"I think it’s the right thing to do," he says, "to do

something different with the blues, to keep the music evolving."

"What I want," he explains, taking a pause to think, "is

for people to eventually recognize my style as my own. So that when

they hear me on the radio, they’ll go, `Oh, that’s Bill Perry!’"

— Richard J. Skelly

Bill Perry, Old Bay Restaurant, 61-63 Church Street,

New Brunswick, 732-246-3111. $5. Saturday, June 13, 9:30 p.m.


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