Ten Shots with Jim Chilson of the Ten Foot Polecats

By Georgetown Fats
August 2014

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As I listen to the sounds of my daughter scream and wail while I am making a desperate pitch on a self imposed deadline, I can’t help but laugh ruefully. Life has changed since my first exposure to the Ten Foot Polecats, but thankfully the music has stayed the same.

Long before concerns revolving around our own brood ever surfaced, The Boss & I were just a couple of kids in love and in search a few beers on a hot summer night. We found the beers, and were treated to a whole lot more.

While the Ten Foot Polecats are not my introduction to blues music ( that happens to be a John Lee Hooker disk given to me by my cousin Mark, who had long grown tired of my repeated spins of the Black Crowes and The Blues Brothers), hearing the Ten Foot Polecats that night at the brewery in Haverhill made me realize that we may have “something” here.

As July of 2014 marks the 19th anniversary of my 21st birthday it seemed to be the perfect time to sit Jim Chilson down, co-conspirator and diddley bow player of the Ten Foot Polecats, and hit him with Ten Shots..

Georgetown Fats - So just how have the Ten Foot Polecats spent their summer?

Jim Chilson - Real busy so far as we have had lots of regional shows, along with some out of state festivals. We also just returned from playing Switzerland, France, Germany, Netherlands, and Belgium. This was our first trip to Europe as we were showcased at Blues Rules Festival in Switzerland and Muddy Roots Europe in Belgium. We also toured between those festival dates.

Georgetown Fats - Other than that episode involving drummer Chad Rousseau’s first taste of Serbian Moonshine where he insisted he was Chuck Barris, were there other moments of wonder and intrigue you care to share?

Jim Chilson - Where do I even start as almost every stop had something unique happen. Since this was our first trip to Europe everything was new to us. Let see if I can give you the top ten things that happened in Europe. I mean I could tell you some stuff about our shows and music, but we all know people would rather hear about the crazier/weirder stuff that happened.

  1. The Blues Rules Jam on the final night probably involved over 20 people and lasted about 25 minutes. Before we started the jam, I was totally sober..after the jam I was seeing everything in 3s. I know whiskey was involved but I am not sure how it went all awry so quickly but I have heard there is video somewhere.
  2. In France after a day of drinking in Metz we convinced a couple bar patrons who were toasting us during the day to come to our show at night at the bar across the street. One of these guys almost got into a fight with another bar patron over which was the better country France or United States, both people were from France. Both did thank us (us being America) for delivering them in WWII. This happened a few times in Europe, and with my grandfather in Normandy it really hit home.
  3. In Strasbourg France we played a show to about 35 people, 10 feet away, and all were shouting and yelling as loud as the band. Love those young audiences!!
  4. In Rosenheim Germany we got set up to play a house concert at a fans house. It was actually his grandmother's house and the people did not act like it was a house concert (no one sat down and everyone stood over us and almost starting moshing).
  5. Also in Rosenheim, we met maybe our biggest European fan as he told us we were the first band he discovered on the American underground blues/punk blues scene. He said we were his gateway drug to many other bands, pretty cool considering we are on a different continent. Oddly enough, he wants to come to America and one of his "fantasies" is to be arrested with some authority by a real live American Police Officer - with the Ray Ban Glasses, Walkie Talkie attached to the collar, wood baton, cuffed behind the back on the ground, the whole 9 yards. We told him his fantasy isn't that fun, trust us.
  6. Spent almost a week with a friend Ozzy who lined us up some shows in the Netherlands. He helped save our ass during the tour!!
  7. Besides Switzerland, there were no border stops. Ironic considering what is going on in the US today.
  8. Told of a bar that if you drink 8 Duvel Beers (Belgium) in one hour without releasing any bodily fluid you win a very large cash sum. I guess the kitty has been building up for years and it is in the tens of thousands of Euros
  9. Driving in Paris makes driving in NYC and LA seem like a drive down a country dirt road. We almost killed a handful of people on bicycles and scooters, and they probably had it coming.
  10. I might have consumed a good portion of my weight in bratwurst, and needless to say, that's a lot of bratwurst.
  11. (ok one more) We went to Amsterdam - that's all we are going to say, at least publicly.

GFats - *nodding*
Of the acts you have shared a stage with or experienced live, who at Blues Rules Festival took it to another level live?

Chilson - I am biased as we backed him up, but Kent Burnside was great, he really had the crowd going! And of course Leo "Bud" Welch was fantastic, man he can play...I hope I am half the player he is at 80 or even 70..60..50. Other favorites were Blackberry and Mr. Boo-hoo (France), Swamp Train (France), Backyard Devils (Canada), and Bror Gunnar Jannson (Sweden). Please check them out online!!

GFats - Were there any new-to-you acts that commanded your attention?

Chilson - Between Blues Rules in Switzerland and Muddy Roots in Belgium there were quite a few. Bror Gunnar Jannson, a one man band out of Sweden, really floored us with his musicianship and songwriting. He has a really unique sound and we hope he can some day come over to America. Another one was Blackberry and Mr. Boo Hoo, which is a duo from France, one man played guitar and the other played harmonica. The really interesting thing about them too were that they both stomped out the bass/percussion riffs with both feet on wooden flooring. Backyard Devils from Canada was also another notable band, they had a real unique bluegrass/blues sound with some amazing picking. Dylan Walshe from Ireland was also great and he will be coming over to America in late August, not sure if he plans for a stop in Massachusetts however. There were many others too but at 2:00am my brain has started its descent into delirium.

GFats - How was your experience with the European audiences?

Chilson - In one word...amazing. As we have heard for years, and with it now being proven to us, Europe is the place to be. Musicians are treated so well there by everyone as they respected our original music, housed us, feed us, drove us to shows, bought all 90 CD's we brought with us, and a good amount of the tee-shirts and patches as well, more interaction online on social media sites, signing up to our email list via our website, etc. Even over the years most of our online sales have been from France, Switzerland, Germany, and other European countries. It was great to finally meet those people in person at shows as they made it a point to drive out or even fly out for the shows we were playing. Typing this, makes me want to book our next tour in Europe immediately.

GFats - It is hard not to notice several live pictures of you playing sans your trademark “cigar box of doom”. Was this by design, technical issue, or due to pushy border guards?

Chilson - I made the mistake of calling up the airline and discussing the case dimensions, and I was over their maximum size. On the phone they were very stringent, in person they seem to be more lax as I say a couple people carrying on their guitars. Rookie mistake. Since I thought there was an issue I brought my 1979 Stratocaster, disassembled it, and put it in my suitcase. I missed my ol' number one as that thing has a life and sound of its' own.

GFats - So after your Griswald family European Vacation with Ten Foot Polecats, I understand there is another swing out west coming up for the Ten Foot Polecats. What information can you share about the tour?

Chilson - Yes! we were going to play Alaska in early August but unfortunately that tour fell through. BUT we have an 2-1/2 week October Tour planned with our junk blues brothers, The Cannibal Ramblers. We will be playing shows in Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Louisville, Nashville, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Tulsa, Wichita, Denver, Kansas City, Des Moines, Chicago, Dayton, Grand Rapids, and possibly Cleveland/Akron. Our intent was to play some places we haven't in the past.

GFats - So did you acquire more of a taste for football while in Europe, or the beer?

Chilson - We did, besides rooting for the US, our sister team was the Netherlands as we spend alot of time with our friend Ozzy at his place. Europe loves their football, so much that some music venues had to cancel their shows due to matches. Word of advice, don't go to Europe during World Cup or during the European Championships. As far as the beer, Chad doesn't drink. Luckily, Jay and I make up for it. We did come back with some great new finds (new to us anyway).

GFats - First firing his own drummer and replacing him with original TFPC drummer Diamond Dave Darling for a night down in NYC to having the entire band back him for a set at the Blues Rules it sounds as though Kent Burnside is banking on some family lineage between the Burnside family and Ten Foot Polecats.

Chilson - It was real fun to try and chase Kent around, I hope we get a chance to do it more in the future. We have played countless shows with Kent and sat in with him for a few songs here and there, and every time is great. Backing him for his set was a real pleasure, possibly the most fun part of our tour.

GFats - From your schedule posted to www.tenfootpolecats.com I see the band will once again be headed down to Cookeville Tennessee for the Muddy Roots Festival. While a bad day at a music festival is usually better than most days anywhere else, just what separates Muddy Roots to make it one of the better festivals?

Chilson - It's the fans that go to it as a lot of the people have become very close friends. People from around the world come to Muddy Roots and it has a feeling of a family reunion as everyone has been joined on the road somewhere along the line. There is also no issue with band competition either as all bands tell fans about other bands, and next thing you know they are asking when we can play their home area and telling us the will take us into their home and feed us, give us a place to sleep. It means a lot as life on the road can be expensive once you start adding in hotels on top of gas, food, etc. It is pretty amazing how many great people from all walks of life we have met at Muddy Roots. The same could also be said for Blues Rules, Deep Blues Festival, and all the other smaller festivals that have been created by fans.

GFats - Is there any sign of a new release on the horizon, or has the constant touring a gigging made it hard to get back into the studio for the follow-up to the Hillgrass Bluebilly Entertainment released Undertow?

Chilson - Constant gigging does make it harder to get new original material down, but we are currently working on new songs so no album is in the works yet, but we are moving in that direction. If you come on out to an upcoming show you will get to hear some of these new songs.

GFats - What local shows do you have coming up in the next few weeks?

Chilson - August 8th at Plough and Stars in Cambridge,with our good friend Robert "Fireball" Mitchell (Baltimore MD). Thursday August 14 we are opening for The Moody Blues at Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford, NH. Check out the current show schedules at www.tenfootpolecats.com

If they are not bringing the blues to the punk rockers, or infusing their blues sets with punk energy and ethos, the Ten Foot Polecats never disappoint with their incendiary live show. Catch them live in their natural habitat, you’ll be glad you did.


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