BBS Interview: Conrad Warre of Bees Deluxe

By A.J. Wachtel
January 2010

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Guitarist Conrad Warre likes to be different: his musical evolution is unlike your typical area performer, his approach to playing the blues is incomparable to anyone else on the scene and his show and sound are unquestionably unique; acid blues at its finest, dripping with virtuosity and studio tricks. In fact, this man's as different as plectrums to pickguards and his rare qualities are turning heads up and down the East Coast.

AJ Wachtel: How'd a kid from London land in New York City and end up in Boston?

Conrad Warre: Chasing a girl. (laughs)

AW: Jerry Portnoy joked with me decades ago that the “great seafood” lured him to Boston.

CW: No, I first followed her to New York, she kept moving and I ended up here.

AW: What about the great British Blues scene in the '60's got you hooked on the blues?

CW: A friend once turned me on to a J.B. Lenoir album and then I started listening to B.B. King. I picked up a guitar and started fooling around and I thought, “Why can you get such great sounds from this instrument but no one's using them? They all sound the same.” A Les Paul- flat out. I mean, the blues scene in London was great. Peter Green. John Mayall. Eric Clapton. Listening to them is great but with a guitar in hand you realize there are a lot of other sounds.

So I locked myself in a room for a year 'til I could sound like Johnny Winter, and I was playing on an acoustic guitar with one-inch high action. (laughs) Then I got a band together and built up a following and even opened for Joe Jackson all over Europe. Then I chased a woman to NYC and started a power trio. Remember, in England, my bands had seven or more members in them, you know, and a horn section, too. But here, I didn't know anyone, so I started as a power trio. Then we worked our way up to Saturday night gigs at CBGB's. Then I moved to Boston with her and I started again up here from scratch. I was still playing down in NYC. Sometimes I'd book three gigs in a day-morning, noon and night-then come back up to Boston and have to go to my day gig the next day. It was hard.

AW: Do you listen to a lot of other blues guitarists?

CW: I'll listen to Miles or Weather Report. I get a lot of learning by listening to it. I do like Snooks Eaglin, the blind guitartist who died recently in New Orleans. He was known as “the human jukebox”. Buddy Whittington with John Mayall. Tom Morello from Rage Against Machines. You know my favorite album of all time is from Glenn Gould, the Canadian piano player, “Bach's Goldberg Variations.” To me, it's the holy grail of music.

AW: On your CD 3 Chords & the Truth you cover a wide range of covers from Hendrix and Lennon to Bland and Cliff. Why did you choose these artists?

CW: I picked the songs, not the artists. “Many Rivers To Cross” has a beautiful chord progression: its like a hymnal its so beautiful. The Hendrix tune, “If 6 was 9” I wanted to change the riff; make it funkier.

AW: What do you love and hate about the local music scene?

CW: I hate that the repertoire is too narrow. Everyone plays “Mustang Sally” or “Stormy Monday”, you know? (laughs) But you go to other cities and they're doing it there as well. It's a trend in music: in jazz, you can go from east coast to west coast and it's all “Giant Steps” by Coltrane playing. What I like is that Boston's scene is a great way to find people with common interests. You can go to any room in Boston and find fifteen people with guitars who want to play with you and right there it's “let's try to play this,” and you do.

AW: Any advice to young blues musicians trying to make it in this tough, small market?

CW: I wouldn't know where to start. (pauses) You just have to love it. If you're asking for advice you're not in it for the right reasons. (laughs)

AW: How did you meet Bees Deluxe and what does the name mean?

CW: I named the band after a pub in London where I first started gigging. And I met bassist Jamie Lonto through a friend, and then Patrick Sanders was connected to Jamie. We just met and got together onstage and played. And it worked. It was like “babtism by fire” but your really find out pretty quickly if people click together that way. (laughs) And we did.

AW: What do you see the band doing as you progress?

CW: I hope to crawl up the ladder to open for bigger acts......You know, having a monitor onstage once in a while would be nice too. (laughs)

Bees Deluxe plays Sunday, January 17 at Bull McCabe's, 326 Somerville Avenue (Union Square) in Somerville.

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