T Blade Takes a Stab at Setting the Record Straight

By A.J. Wachtel
June 2011

As the first generation of founding fathers of the blues gets smaller and smaller, we must appreciate the living links we still have to the past. Although the time has gone when the blues was initially introduced to white America, this style of music is still alive and well and reaching larger and larger audiences. Particularly due, in large part, to the passion and focus these living links provide for us as the blues continue to evolve, grow and re-invent itself. T. Blade is one of these links and his story is fascinating: keep reading and check out how he takes a stab at setting the record straight.

A.J. - In the 1980s you played in The 11th Hour Band and T. Blade and The Fabulous Esquires. What was the Boston music scene like as a performer back then?

T. Blade - Blade’s Band the Fabulous Esquires was/is the 11th Hour Band. Great musicians and my great friends - were then - still are.

I played in and around Boston starting in the 60s - as early as 1963 - I was a drummer first and had a folk duo with my cousin Jim and switched full time to guitar by 13. The scene has always been fertile - how could it not be - the greatest student city in the world - everybody's looking to make a world or maintain one and many were looking for their thing - their band - their style - their thing. They had a lot to choose from. Back in that day, the 60s through the 90s, there were so many clubs - college gigs - city gigs in the park - coffee houses - mixers - parties - frat houses - college radio - The Cape and Islands - Barry & The Remains - The Ramrods - The G-Clefs - Chubby & The Turnpikes - The Mods - the Surf Nantasket Bands - Blues Bands - Jazz Bands - Folk and Bluegrass scenes - Aerosmith - Willie Alexander - The Hallucinations – J. Geils Band - The James Montgomery Band - John Lincoln Wright - The Rat Scene - The Cars - Modern Lovers - classical musical it was rich - Berklee - the Conservatory - the scene was deep - I think it still is - different, but the peoples is still there and there is so much music. Boston is a fortunate and vibrant place - it's a hub in a lot of ways. I am not really a nostalgic guy - I'm pretty happy now and excited about later - but there have been such great musical times -- don't think it's gonna stop.

I've known Steve since way back when, as teenagers trying to learn how to play the blues. He was always very smart, funny and a class act. We don't get together as much as I'd like, but whenever we do, we share an instant connection. - Ron Levy

A.J. - You just regrouped with The 11th Hour Band and played at Brighton's Best Club, Smoken' Joe's. What was this like and is the feeling the same for you?

T. Blade – Rosy (Richard Rosenblatt), my dear friend for many, many years and many, many gigs - called and told me the 11th Hour Band was playing at Smoken Joe's in Brighton Center - I didn’t regroup anything - I was asked to join their gig - Thank You - and I did. I'm from Brighton - my first apartment outside of my parents house (on Allston Street) was a block away from that club - on Peaceable Street - it was great to go back home - it was a special feeling to be playing in Brighton Center - the club was cool - I recommend it - the people were great - food was good - Playing with Rosy on harp and Chuck Purro on drums - Paul Lenart on other guitar - Coach Bill 'Hubcat Moon-Beam' Mather and Larry Luddeke was fantastic - so happy to see my brothers - and we played some stuff - we just jumped right into it. Those guys are treasures - they are top pro's who rock and are truly great musicians. It was a treat and a pleasure to share the bandstand ....floor....with them.

Steve Berkowitz was always passionate about music and a a fine guitar player who still kicks ass on the bandstand as T.Blade. But his career as a producer of historic recordings, for Columbia, Sony Legacy, and on his own literally enriches the world's musical heritage. I am forever in his debt for giving me the opportunity to work on Muddy Waters' recording, which I played, for high-quality re-issues. Steve brings class, friendliness, love for music, vision and creativity to everything he does. On Thanksgiving 1978, I was touring with Muddy in England, opening shows for Eric Clapton. On that night off, the promoter invited us to a new band on Columbia Records, The Cars. Steve was their manager at that time. With the Americans at the party in mind, Steve arranged to have the party catered in traditional Thanksgiving cuisine-not easy to do in England. We Americans who were away from home for the holiday really appreciated it. Steve told me the British chef exclaimed to him, "you want to do WHAT with a pumpkin? - Bob Margolin

I have known "T Blade" from the mid seventies blues scene in Boston. There were a handful of working bands making the rounds at that time and "T Blade and the Esquires" was among the best. I remember nights when I was "making the rounds", showing up at the Tam O'Shanter in Brookline when T Blade might have been playing there, and barging in on his gig, whether or not there already was a piano player. I would pound the keys with that "I got to express my blues" agenda. Steve maintained a gracious attitude (probably seething inside) toward my "I got to sit in and show everyone how good I am" attitude. I think his demeanor has served him well over the years and all of us are grateful that he is at Sony in charge of the blues. We saw him in Memphis recently at the Blues Music Awards; he presented an elegant speech regarding the induction of Robert Johnson's song 'Love in Vain' into The Blues Hall Of Fame. - David Maxwell

A.J. - Any chance The Fabulous Esquires will play a few gigs again too? In both bands, who are your music influences?

T. Blade - Yes, we plan on playing again and hopefully more regularly than every 6 years. Could be some more gigs soon. You know A.J. - it's great looking out and seeing you groovin'.

My musical influences - that's a whole other book - and you should ask those guys about theirs - ah....ah.....me.... Little Walter, The Yardbirds, Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Howlin' Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, John Coltrane, Hank WIlliams, James Taylor, Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charlie Christian, Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, Prefab Sprout, John Lee Hooker, Johnny Cash, Little RIchard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Dylan, Chuck Berry, Eden's Children, Peter Malick, Ian Whitcomb, Branford Marsalis, James Brown, Booker T. & The MG's, Charles Mingus, Charles Lloyd, Charles Wright and Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band, Sly Stone, Lonnie Mack, Robert Johnson, Elvis Costello, Elvis Presley, Nick Lowe, Dennis Brennan, Peter Goff, Herb Ellis, Luther Vandross, Luther Johnson, Joni Mitchell, Max Roach, Ornette Coleman, Thelonious Monk, The Jesters, The Drifters, The Clovers, The Nutmegs, Louise Johnson, The Roots, Raymond Scott, Cliff Edwards, WIllard Robison, Jeff Buckley, Lefty Frizell, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield + Just Jack, Bruce Cockburn, MGMT, Danger Mouse, Nipsey Russell and Art Carney. And many, many more.

A. J. - Tell me some stories about you meeting some of the founding fathers of the blues scene. Were there any of your idols that didn’t meet your expectations? Any that did?

T. Blade - I am blessed to have seen and met Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King, Luther Georgia Boy Snake Johnson, Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Johnny Cash, Bill Monroe - I went out a lot - didn't come home often - went to a lot of gigs - played a lot of gigs.

When I was fourteen - 1966 to 1967? - Luther Johnson and I met and he was in Muddy's band then - within an hour I was jamming with Muddy - John Lee and Chuck Berry and Luther and a Boston folkie named Leonda - it was a trip then and a trip to remember now - it was a dream and I'm still dreaming - to be touched by those guys. I played a solo and Muddy nodded at me with approval - SKY HIGH ! ! !! Listening and learning in the first person from those guys and the high level they played at and set the standards - it was beautiful - an education and unforgettable. I am a fortunate man.

A. J. - What are some of the most important changes to the entertainment scene you've noticed in the past few decades? Any predictions for the future?

T. Blade - yeah change in technology and formats - change in focus and the use of music - no more record stores - too bad - so be it - my tribe used to hang out there - we - they - us hang out elsewhere now. That's OK - it's always changed. The music will happen - the animals will meet at the watering hole - music and art will be there - the music will go on. The distribution system will be different. But it is the heart and the content and the melody and the swing that matters - that lives and is in good hands.

I am confident about the music biz - the focus will be the content again - not the commodity of it. People have lives and hearts and feelings - that ain’t gonna change - Scale of economy will change - but it always has - people have less money now and many other ways to get the music - the music that reaches people, that is important, that will live. Small and personal musical expression and exchange will also be a continued focus. We draw apart and become digitally isolated - but it will also bring us together. I don't think love, sex, human contact and appreciation is lessening - it's all gonna be all right. The music will live. The people say so.

A. J. - When you road-managed The Cars, how did being a musician make your job easier?

T. Blade - Big question! When I road-managed and managed the Cars, the key was their performance - comfort and ability to play what they wanted and to communicate what they intended. Since I had played, and was a musician, I felt I understood how to create an atmosphere for the musicians and the audience to share that. I hope I did!!!! The job wasn't easy; sure was great though. I am happy they are playing again now and wish them great success. The new record is good; it sounds like the Cars - updated.

A.J. - How about a story that still makes you grin and shake your head when remembering your days on the road with The Cars?

T. Blade – Wow, the journey of going from 200 people at a gig to 18,000 in just one year is like being shot out of a cannon - what a ride - what a change! The Cars went from a gig at the Cape in front of a few hundred people to exactly one year later headling the Spectrum in Philadelphia but the band was ready, the crew was ready, I was ready. It happened - it was a wild, wild ride.

A.J. - What do you think of the new Cars music and their new CD Move Like This?

T. Blade – Like it, go buy it, A.J. tell your friends. I wish them well.

A.J. - When you were Senior V.P. at Sony Entertainment/Legacy Records you were head of the blues there and you supervised the release of over 3,000 albums. Name some of your favorites that you worked on and name some of the most successful ones too.

T.Blade - I was not head of blues - I was an A & R guy - involved in all genres of music - I was a musical guy and a responsible Executive for the company and the artists.

Most cherished moment and exchange was with Jeff Buckley - a wonderful guy - my friend and a stellar musician with unlimited ability. He was gone way too soon. Working with Fishbone was smokin' - Branford Marsalis too - and I was quite fond of Jerry Vale as well.

Johnny Cash - working on the music of Miles Davis and Bob Dylan is an honor and like adjusting chapters of the Bible. It is to be respected. I enjoyed Terence Trent D'Arby a lot. Henry Threadgill is brilliant and will stand the test of time. Had a strange and unwritable exchange with Sly and John Legend, Booker T., especially Steve Cropper were a treat to be involved with.

I miss Grover Washington, Jr. - he was sweet and a great player. I'm not done yet - so I could go on - but let's do this again in 6 or 7 years.

A.J. - You are a multi-Grammy and Handy Award winner. Which is the award that surprised you the most to win?

T. Blade - I was happy to be involved with the Complete Louis Armstrong Hot Fives and Hot 7's - it is just about the most important and seminal music ever recorded and it and Louis deserved to win a Grammy. Me and the other re-issue producers did our part - but the key was the recognition of that great GREAT body of brilliant work. Louis is a genius among Genius'.**

A.J. - You have been an artist manager, tour manager, booking agent, guitar player, retail record buyer, recording studio owner (Synchro-Sound), D.J., truck driver, NCAA basketball referee, roadie and soda jerk. Are there any similarities between being a basketball ref, roadie, soda jerk and entertainment exec? And how did these positions prepare you for a life of music?

T. Blade - Always do a good and thorough job and do it right the first time and every time. They all add up to something - have pride in yourself and respect who you serve. (P.S. I was a really good soda jerk and a pretty good truck driver too - learned from my Dad.)

A.J. - What are you doing now and are there any other mountains you plan to conquer?

T. Blade – Man, I ain’t done yet. I think I got a couple of new and different chapters to find and write - very energized - very happy and fortunate with my family - my wife Monique and our sons Nick & Ben - I'm working on a number of projects - I'm happy - but I am not settled - I'm looking for new great music and opportunities to find and move me - and think I will find them. Can you recommend any? I am energized and will keep on moving looking, for great music - people - ideas and musicians. **

A.J. - Any advice to young artists trying to get their music heard in a tough economy?

T. Blade - Play from your heart and mean it - Go for it all the way. "Know your song well before you start singing." Do everything to get your music heard – don’t over-posture - rock hard - swing and love it.

“Okay it’s true, T. Blade IS omnipotent – he’s a big-picture kinda guy who not only hears ALL the music, he hears the music it came from and the different ways it might spin. He has strong opinions, and he's usually right. He is the coolest of cats, a staunch friend and ally… AND he takes questions from the audience!” - Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt

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