Matthew Stubbs

Matthew Stubbs
Releases new disc in between lots of touring

By Bill Copeland
September 2008

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Matt Stubbs has been on a roll and the 25-year-old guitarist is poised to become a star.

A previous winner of the Boston Blues Societyís Blues Challenge, and 3rd place finalist at the International Blues Competition in Memphis, Stubbs has released his first solo disc Soul Bender on the VizzTone label amid touring as a sideman with the likes of Charlie Musselwhite, Lynwood Slim, and Janiva Magness.

Originally from Hampstead, N.H. the guitarist has been living in Los Angeles for several months. To say that young Stubbs is excited would be an understatement.

Soul Bender is my new record coming out on the VizzTone label group,Ē Stubbs said. ďItís all original instrumentals that Iíve written. Most of it is based on Memphis-soul, blues-obviously, R&B, and some other roots styles that go into it. It all has horns on it. Sax Gordon did all the horn arrangements, so some of the stuff has one saxophone on it, and a lot of the other stuff has two to three piece horn sections on it. Itís 11 tracks,Ē he said.

The title track Soul Bender is a mix of soul, R&B, and blues all in one number.

“Itís just a name,” Stubbs said. “A friend of mine, Junior Watson, he heard the record. He threw that name out there. I kinda liked it. It represents everything. Itís a mix between different stuff. Itís different from a lot of other blues records out there being that itís instrumental and focusing on that Memphis soul style. I donít hear too many people doing that - guitar players putting out records like this.”

A tune Stubbs named “Sticky Bunz” has a New Orleans street beat, while “Stubbs Sauce” and “The Meat Sweats” has more of a surf influence.

“Itís just American roots music from the late 50s early 60s. Thatís just what I really like,” Stubbs said. “When I write these songs, theyíre about songs rather that just something for me to platform the solo on. The record doesnít have a lot of long guitar solos. Some donít have any solos on it.”

A lot of Boston-area musicians have commented on Stubbs pristine guitar tone. The guitarist said he keeps it clean by not using a lot of gizmos to alter his sound.

“For this record there werenít any effects other than a reverb,” Stubbs said. “I used a reverb tank and some old amps, an old 65-fender deluxe reverb amp and a 59 Tweed Deluxe amp. I used a few different guitars. Most of the record I used my normal Fender Stratocaster, and I have a Gibson ES295 I used on some stuff. The rest was used with a Telecaster. Basically, it was just clean into the amp.”

The other noticeable feature on Stubbsí new record is the big, live sound he has coming out of the stereo speakers. He uses a double microphone technique in the studio. This allows him to demonstrate the powerful sound of his electric guitars while at the same time creating the ambient sound of a live venue. Instead of having only one microphone on his guitar amp, Stubbs has a second one placed several feet away from his equipment.

“Iím big on getting a room sound,” Stubbs explained. “A lot of people Ďclose-micí amps when they record, which gets the sound right out of the speakers. Itís not really what it sounds like live or when youíre in the room. So, I had the engineer set up a Ďclose-mic AND a Ďroom micĎ - a mic thatís about eight feet away - and then we mix those two together so you can hear what it sounds like in a room, rather than the sound just jumping out of the speaker.”

“Half the record was recorded with everyone in one room. The other half was a different session. It was isolated. The amps were in different rooms,” he said.

Picking the musicians to play on his disc was a no-brainer. Stubbs went with the guys from Boston who have been supporting him the last seven years. Familiar names include John Bunszell on bass and Tino Barker on baritone sax.

“The rhythm section are the guys Iíve always used. Itís the same guys I played with since back in the day before I moved to L.A.,” he said. “With the exception of some of the tunes, I have a different bass player. His nameís Wolf (Ginandes). I brought him in on more of the R&B stuff. Thatís more of his specialty, that Memphis Soul thing. The horn section is Sax Gordon. Heís a good friend of mine. Heís been doing all the gigs, and he did the horn arrangement, and he brought Scott Aruda in to play trumpet. Chris Rivelliís just my drummer. Whenever I can get him, I use them. There are a lot of guys I could have used in L.A., but these guys knew my songs, and in between my tours, I always came back and did gigs, so it just made sense to use them,.” He said.

Like most songwriters, Stubbs could not pinpoint an exact method for writing his pieces. He could begin writing a song from the melody or from the rhythm or from the beat, whatever comes into his head first. Then he builds around his initial spark.

“A lot of times I donít really sit down and say, íOK, Iím going to write a song.í I listen to different stuff. Iíll be sitting around practicing. Iíll hear a melody. Iíll play a riff or a rhythm or a chord. And I usually take off from there. From that part, Iíll write the rest of the song. I try to piece it together with a bridge, an A or a B section,” he said.

“For this record, most of these songs just ended up being that Memphis soul R&B sound, and with Gordon on board, heís really into it. He really knows the music, blues, Memphis soul, R&B, surf, late 50s rock and roll. I come up with my parts. I get the band to do what I want. Then I give it Gordon. He comes up with some great horn arrangements,” he said.

Stubbs will be promoting Soul Bender when he finishes up a current leg of a Charlie Musselwhite tour. A week-long New England tour is planned which includes CD release parties on: Sept. 25 at Dolphin Striker in Portsmouth, NH; Sept. 26 at Chanís in Woonsocket, R.I.; Sept. 28 at Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, NH; and Sept. 29 at the Time Out Pub in Rockland, Maine.

Heíll be doing all of the songs on his Soul Bender CD, as well as some new material he has not yet recorded, and some Sax Gordon material. The VizzTone label, founded by Bob Margolin, Rosy Rosenblatt, and Chip Eagle, will be doing a lot for young Stubbs, including sending Soul Bender to radio stations and publications. Stubbs recently received a positive review by Dan Forts in Vintage Guitar Magazine.

Stubbs started touring with Musselwhite last April, and has been on stage with the blues legend in Alaska, Maryland, the mid-west, Northern California, and Canada. Stubbs recounted that the seemingly remote state of Alaska has a vibrant blues scene. He played two nights with Musselwhite at The Snow Goose Theater in Anchorage, and a night at the Juneau Auditorium before hitting a blues cruise the following day.

“Thereís obviously a huge Charlie Musselwhite fan base,” he said. “They all came out and they had a great time and bought CDs. They were very supportive.” Working with the icon has become another source of excitement for the “Stubbs Man.”

“Heís great. Heís a gentleman,” Stubbs exclaimed. “Itís great to work with such a legendary, iconic blues guy. Heís originally from Memphis, (Musselwhite was born in Mississippi) and then he was in Chicago with all the greats, Little Walter, Junior Wells, and Muddy Waters. Itís great to hear all the stories.”

Meeting other revered blues legends through Musselwhite became par for the course. Stubbs was playing at Buddy Guyís place Legends in Chicago when Guy sat in with the band.

“Charlie knows a lot of people. Heís very well respected. You get to meet lots of great musicians. Being on the road with Charlie is far from hard. Itís very well run, good management, good booking agency,” Stubbs said.

Stubbs originally moved to L.A. from New England in 2006 to work with Janiva Magness. After a year-and-a-half with Magness, he worked with a new blues star named John Nemeth. Then he moved on to Musselwhite. Along the way Stubbs was tapped to work with Lynwood Slim.

“These are people who dedicated their lives and sacrificed lots of things to do blues,” Stubbs said. “These guys grew up with a lot of the mentors. Itís priceless to be out on the road with these guys. Thatís why I moved to L.A. I knew these opportunities were out there, and I was hoping to be able to get some of them. Since Iíve been out there Iíve been pretty busy, so Iíve been lucky.”

Before meeting Magness, Stubbsí first tour outside New England was with his own band, The Matthew Stubbs Band featuring Kit Holliday. For a year-and-a-half they did mini-tours of the East coast, and they had some work in St. Louis.

“We went down to Florida with the Matthew Stubbs Band. It was a six-piece band with horns,” he said.

It gave Stubbs a taste for road life.

Magness was the first star who required him to travel extensively. Stubbs hooked up with her after Racky Thomasí substitute bass player, who had played with Magness in L.A., told Stubbs that Magness wanted to do tours in New England, and that she needed a backing band for five gigs. She called Stubbs for a five-week tour before offering him a longer tour.

Magness opened up all kinds of connections to Stubbs: Junior Watson, Kirk Fletcher, Kid Ramos, and Alex Schultz.

“I call them modern because theyíre still around,” Stubbs said. “Every gig I got since was a result of that really. Itís all networking.”

An experienced booker in his own right, Stubbs would never discount the importance of marketing.

“Talent and hard work are the most important things, but I think the business end of it is a really important thing. Iím not a shy person. Iím sure thereís plenty people who are shy who have done well. But Iím not shy. Iím not sure what it would have been like if I were shy,” he said.

Because he was his own booker for several years, Stubbs has no difficulty finding work when he isnít touring with a name act. When he has time off between Musselwhite and Slim, he can rely on old connections.

“When Iím off from the road, I always try to keep working. I donít usually just sit around. I always try to have some gigs doing my own thing,” he said.

Stubbs does not seem to have an ego problem with working the more established.

“I like being a sideman. I learn a lot being a sideman,” he said. “I think anybody who wants to do their own thing should be a sideman for some period of time. Historically, if you look at a lot of the greats, they were sidemen at one point before they went on their own careers.”

Working with name acts and living legends also puts him in front of many audiences where he wouldnít otherwise be. People find out who he is after watching him on stage with big names. Musselwhite even allows him to sell his own CDs.

“Charlie is super nice,” Stubbs exclaimed.

With Stubbs being so accomplished and experienced at age 25, it can be imagined that there might be a future blues star from New Hampshire.

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