Ten Shots with C.R. Humphrey of Old Gray Mule

By Georgetown Fats
July 2012

As the mercury thankfully climbed recently to a Texas Style heatwave, it was impossible not to think of all of the great times spent in Austin. Though the music scene in Austin has gone commercial with the influx of talent and cash to the annual South By Southwest conference and festival, there is still a wealth of blues unspoiled by the corporate sound.

While technically not an Austin-ite anymore during my last trip down to Austin ‘Chah-lie’ Humphrey was kind enough to provide a guided and off-the-grid tour of some of Austin’s lesser known jukes and music halls. Couple the fantastic off-the-grid tour of Austin with some infectious groove-laden blues and I knew I had to do my part to introduce Charlie and OLD GRAY MULE to anyone who would listen.

Georgetown Fats - For those unfamiliar with your sound or style, how would you describe the music on Sound Like Somethin Fell Off the House and 40 Nickels For A Bag Of Chips?

C.R. Humphrey of Old Gray Mule - Describing my music is something I've struggled with for a long damn time! And I haven't listened to the first record in a long time either...but I guess it'd be raw Mississippi juke house blues. 40 Nickels for sure is, because it has more of that on-the-spot improvised jam feel to it, and Kinney Kimbrough's drumming has that sloppy/tight energy that he is the absolute master of. His high hat alone has more sex in it than most drummer's careers! As for what we play now, Cedric Burnside says we play damn good hill country so I'll go with that. Hard to argue with the beat behind RL Burnside!

Georgetown Fats - Explain to me the evolution of your guitar set-up. Do you have any creative uses for your 6th string?

C.R. Humphrey of Old Gray Mule - I generally have 3 or 4 guitars when I play live...all tuned differently. 5 string open F, 6 string open G, Standard, and Open D. That 5 string open F came about by playing some songs in a kind of syncopated strumming/plucking/drumming hybrid thing that my right hand sort of does all by itself. It's like juke joint flamenco or something. In an open F tuning, the root note (F) is on the second string and the low string is a C, so if your flailing away with your right hand and accidentally hit that lowest string it just muddies everything up, so I got rid of it. After I started playing that way, everybody started pointing out that Keith Richards does it, Jim in Ten Foot Polecats does it...so much for being innovative eh? Kind of like thinking you discovered a new world and folks already lived there!

Georgetown Fats - You’re recently back from a tour over in Australia. How were you received, ‘down under’?

C.R. Humphrey - Australia was AMAZING! Everyone should be allowed to do that once in their lives. We were brought over for the Backwater Blues Festival in Adelaide and were fortunate enough to have some folks who'd seen us open for T Model Ford at Club 2000 during the 2010 Juke Joint Festival in Clarksdale, MS offer to organize a tour for us starting in Melbourne and working our way to Adelaide and back. The first gig had 35-45 folks, second gig to the last gig was SRO. We played a wake, an old courthouse, a surf club, a big ole hall in a mansion from the 1800's, and a whole bunch of really really great bars. Every act we played with were top of their game, and we were fortunate as hell to be exposed to some really awesome folks. We've actually played on some albums for people we met down under in the 6 months or so since we've been back. Sure hope we can head that way again.

Georgetown Fats - You’re signed to a Aussie label, aren’t you? Stobie Sounds? How did an Austin Texas act hook up with an Aussie label?

C.R. Humphrey - Yep Stobie Sounds in Adelaide released the first three albums. Me and Coop (CW Ayon-One Man Band who plays drums with me most of the time) and Stobie all met on Facebook at about the same time...Stobie was putting out a tribute album to Big Joe Williams with artists from all over the world. Coop was playing a song on it and after I heard it and found out he was one state over, I searched on youtube and saw a vid of him playing an RL Burnside tune at one of the Deep Blues Festivals that impressed me, so I thought I'd see if he was on Facebook. The Stobie hookup was more or less the same way. Me and Joe Falco, who was playing drums with me at the time, had just recorded the first record and the Stobies asked if they could put it out. I think it was the second record they released.

Georgetown Fats - Are there any new projects or releases in the works?

C.R. Humphrey - I'm working on record #4 right now. We released two albums last year: 40 Nickels For A Bag Of Chips and A Day in MS, A Night in TX, and were nominated for an Independent Music Award for a song off the Day in MS... album, so I don't feel heaps of pressure to get this one out, but I'm really enjoying the music we're recording and am anxious to share it soon. I'm looking at a late summer or early fall release. So far Lightnin Malcolm and I are the rhythm section; Malcolm on drums, and me on guitar and bass. But this record is very much an "Old Gray Mule and friends" album. We'll have Mississippi folks, Texas folks, New Mexicans, Aussies, etc etc etc. and it's the first OGM record to go beyond the guitar and drum duo sound. It's called Like A Apple On A Tree as a tip of the hat to T Model. We've played with him several times in several states, with Stud on drums, with Marty on drums, before strokes, after strokes and as far as living bluesmen go...he is The Boss Of The Blues!

Georgetown Fats - Are there any tales from the road you care to share? Names can be changed to protect the guilty, but I am either looking for something that makes the lay-fan understand that playing music professionally is actual “work,” or a humorous road tale? In a pinch, ratting out a roadie or “Coop” (CW Ayon) would be perfectly acceptable.

C.R. Humphrey - Well it's definitely work. Actual heavy lifting is involved, a fair bit of travel, organizing all the logistics from meals and fuel to beds and merch. But when you get that connection with folks, and you know that what you are playing is helping them sweat out some of that bad shit they've been carrying, it changes from work to a miracle. We've had a dude make sweet passionate love to a PA tower for a solid 10 minutes...after giving it a minute or so of oral. We've had women come up on stage with us and WORK it. I've seen people so happy they're streaming tears, laying in puddles of beer making beer angels, dancing until nobody has anything left. We've had men walk up and ask to sit in with us and come to find out they hadn't performed in 20 years but felt compelled to play with us. For all these folks we were providing a means of catharsis, and those are powerful moments. They don't forget us, and we don't forget them either. If you're able to pull that off you'll have friends everywhere you go, and that is the best thing about playing music.

Georgetown Fats - OK, dry humping the PA certainly paints an interesting picture.

Georgetown Fats - What is your favorite way to help ‘keep Austin weird’?

C.R. Humphrey - Don't know if I can answer that one. I was born in Austin, the folks who want to keep it weird are generally from somewhere else. I guess I helped keep it weird by moving away!

Georgetown Fats - Touché’.

Georgetown Fats - It is a recycled question, but it always manages to get great responses. What do you plan on putting in your contract rider once you’ve ‘made it’?

C.R. Humphrey - Ha! That is so unlikely I haven't given it a moment's thought. But at this stage in the game how about free, dependable babysitting so my wife can come to the show?

Georgetown Fats - Ah yes, the practical approach. I ‘get that’ now. I seem to recall you telling me how life would change once kids were in the mix.

Georgetown Fats - Can you remember the first artist that created your “ah-ha” moment with the North Mississippi Hill Country sound?

C.R. Humphrey - Cedric Burnside and Lightnin Malcolm! I've had so many "ah-ha" moments with them personally and with their music I can't sing their praises enough. I'd heard Fred McDowell and of course RL and Junior, but it wasn't until I'd heard Cedric and Lightnin that my mind allowed me to realize that this music was of my generation as well...and once that realization hit, the next step was "if they can play it, I can play it" So in a sense they "allowed" me to start learning this style. Before, I'd listened to it and thought, "I can never play like these old men, because nobody but these old men from this one place can play like that!" It's a style that has a very very particular sense of timing and it is seductively simple sounding, but the secret to damn good hill country blues in my opinion is that everything is about the subtlety.

Georgetown Fats - If I were to crack into your car CD player, what disk would I find that would surprise the hell out of me?

C.R. Humphrey - Man I don't know, because I listen to just about everything except modern country and pop. So I'd have anything from Lebanese hip hop and Bootsy Collins to Bob Wills and Cab Calloway in there. Georgetown Fats - What is a tell-tale indicator for you in a live situation when you know the audience “gets it?”

C.R. Humphrey - When they stop being spectators and start being participators

Georgetown Fats - What is your favorite ‘off the grid’ location for live music in Austin?

C.R. Humphrey - Used to be TC's Lounge, but I haven't found any where since they sold the place last year. I've got two little kids and a 70 mile round trip to get to Austin, so I don't hang out like I used to. But if you're coming to Austin to visit, Victory Grill has a pretty good blues jam on Monday nights and used to be THE place on the east side, old old club.

For some of Lockhart Texas’ finest blues, check out OLD GRAY MULE on Facebook at -

www.facebook.com/pages/Old-Gray-Mule/209707362029

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