Talkin' Deep Blues with Jeff Norwood

By Elliott Morehardt
August 2011

I recently had a chance to sit down with Jeff Norwood on the rare occasion he ventures to our Northeast haunts. Jeff’s recent release Push Pilin’ is raising a few eyebrows and shaking up this blues scene that is in the middle of a long stall. Jeff is finding respect from young and old by forging a blues trail in his own vision inspired by the gods of rock and blues with the guts of Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Burnside. Norwood finds friends especially among the young people at the core of the resurgence of deep-roots blues. Jeff Norwood belies his gentlemanly soft-spoken nature with music that lies very deep indeed.

This interview gives a little insight into this current true-blues musician

Elliott Morehardt - Your new recording Push Pilin' really blew me away musically and lyrically. In my mind, this is one of the most important blues albums of 2011. Your first recording, Awendaw, seems a bit safe compared to this one. This is even more personal and gutsy. Is this the direction you wanted to go in?

Jeff Norwood - Yeah the backer on the Awendaw project is kind of a family-oriented guy and I didn't want him to back out. I have real stories to tell, and it's time they got told, so ... basically I don't give a fuck what anybody else thinks. I know, ‘cause I learned the hard way.

Elliott Morehardt - Are you getting any grief over controversial subjects on Push Pilin'? Jeff Norwood - Yes and no. Most people actually agree with me. There have been a few incidents. I tell 'em to go read a history of South Carolina by J. Walter Edgar and get back to me on that, or I just tell 'em to fuck off.

Elliott Morehardt - Do you like provoking people?

Jeff Norwood - Not really. I want to provoke them to think. They don't do much of that anymore. Not many people read nonfiction or history. Not many people even read. Those that do, read escapist fiction. Someone has got to educate them.

Elliott Morehardt - The title song “Push Pilin’”, the cover art with the Confederate flag and pot leaves might give an initial impression of glorifying or exploiting certain things. Your message actually goes a lot deeper speaking to our times, which is one reason I feel this is such an important album. Do you think there needs to be any clarification or should listeners just figure it out for themselves?

Jeff Norwood – Well, of course they need to listen to it! The cover is designed to get people's attention in an indifferent world. The cover is actually a call for rebellion against those that would strip away our rights as American citizens as well as a call to band together to legalize freedom in our supposedly free country which has spilled more than its share of blood in the name of freedom and democracy, yet our freedom is mandated by legislation and the charismatic richest person always wins the election. No wonder the rest of the world doesn't take us seriously anymore. We're fighting undeclared wars for “democracy” whilst our own is a sham, a cheap trick.

Elliott Morehardt - Every song is special, one in particular, "Invisible Man" sounds so classic, it could have been written decades ago. "Blue Becomes Electric" has a ‘60s vibe, it reminds me of Quicksilver Messenger Service with the de-tuned guitar. "God Damn South Carolina" explodes with energy ... I really like how your songs show such varied influences. Did you always like a wide variety and did you get to see much live music growing up?

Jeff Norwood - I was exposed to EVERYTHING and I mean EVERYTHING. The first band I saw live was Arthur Smith and Jim Nesbitt: Carolina country singers. The second was the South Carolina Penitentiary Band who played old school R&B, then at 12 I saw Johnny Winter in his prime and that clinched it.

Elliott Morehardt - Push Pilin' really feels like albums used to, a story being told with a beginning, middle, and end. Did you cut out any songs or did the recording sessions work out just the way you wanted?

Jeff Norwood - The record came out like a baby. Kicking and screaming and jamming like a MoFo. We did re-sequence the songs for the release. That's about it.

Elliott Morehardt - Jimbo Mathus and Justin Showah of TriState Coalition did a great job backing you up on Push Pilin'. I wasn't sure you could pull off that full sound live without that back-up, but I was really impressed how much bass you can pull out of your 6-string. Are most of your shows going it alone?

Jeff Norwood - I am a one man army. I had to learn to be, out of necessity. I got pretty good at it though. It ain't easy, but I can do every song off that record solo and pull it off.

Elliott Morehardt - On both your recordings, your environment seems to be a big factor in your writing. It seems growing up on a farm and now being on the road has its conflicts, but you've found a way to use that, making your writing deeper than most. Maybe you're a stranger in a strange land!

Jeff Norwood - I just roll with it and try not to question it. It always looks better: the country vs. road ... depending where you are at. I've been on tour 6 months. I need a week off in Nowheresville, USA and I'll be good to go ... got to remember to sleep, eat healthy and all that -- curfews, drinking limitations, etc.

Elliott Morehardt - Are you always working on songs or does the muse come and go of its own accord? What I'm really wondering, is there new stuff in the works?

Jeff Norwood - I'm always writing snippets. Some come from the cosmic radio in my brain and the others come from real life events. When I get ready to record, I take all this material and add, cut and paste. I get a first draft and then refine the songs by playing them, fixing things here and there. Then I do a final draft with my producer. So, yes, there is new stuff in the works.

Elliott Morehardt - You haven't played ‘Up North’ much, but do you see much difference playing up here? Have you ever played in Canada? If not, I recommend it if you can get past the homeland security bullshit.

Jeff Norwood - I like playing ‘Up North’, especially in New England! I feel that people are ready for something different but they also want something real. Canada is a hard place to break into. The scene seems to give the impression that all of them want to play here! Most of the blues bands in Canada play tight white dance music loosely (read: no pocket) related to Chicago blues which practically does not exist anymore. You take the remaining survivors out, especially Hubert Sumlin and Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith and Henry Gray, and last but not least, Bob Stoger, and it's over. I don't understand if NAFTA is legal, why are border countries so concerned about anyone making money across the border? They sure come down here and clean up.

Elliott Morehardt - What do you see for the future of the recent resurgence in roots blues interest?

Jeff Norwood - Get the kids on board!!! We must pass on the roots to the younger generation to preserve tradition. I used to be a purist but listening to Junior Kimbrough changed all that. You got to keep it to the root but you got to put some drive in it and keep it fresh. Unfortunately, blues as a business is a small niche market and the big fish want all the money they can wring out of the old stuff so they can retire before we kick their ass with the new blues that's really older than their version. That or they kick: whichever happens first is fine with me. Blues, like everything else, must evolve to survive. Now it is time to return to its primitive roots and add the proper smack-down to it.

Elliott Morehardt - Are there any other bands you particularly like these days?

Jeff Norwood - That is hard. Of course, The Ten Foot Polecats, Scissormen and Blue Mother Tupelo. Jimbo Mathus and The Tri State Coalition, in my humble opinion, is the hottest band on stage in America any given night they are playing. Absolutely great songs delivered by one solid-ass group of musicians that really lock in to each other and jam it the fuck up! The new album is Confederate Buddha which is getting rave reviews in Blues Review. Gotta get a copy!!!

Elliott Morehardt - Thanks Jeff, sounds like there's some good energy coming from your area and Push Pilin' really brings the blues back where they belong, to the heart. Good luck to you and I am looking forward to your next visit ‘Up North’!

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