Wouldn’t you like to know what makes a large group of musicians a great group of musicians? Well, if you keep reading you are going to find out what makes Blind Lemon Blues All-Stars the special unit that they are.
Thomas: When and why did you start playing together as a group?
Dave: When I moved back home fulltime to LA from NY in 2012, I committed myself to building a band whose sound I had never heard before… a show band that was an eclectic mix or blues, funk, gospel, Dixieland, swamp music, jazz, r&b, etc and performance art….It was all very calculated… I knew exactly what I was looking for… I have always considered myself a performance artist, creating a spoken, sometimes unspoken and often-participatory experience with my audience… that’s what I was seeking in a show band.
I spent close a year kissing a lotta frogs before finding one without warts, and
that was the great Ray Brundidge, who had played with James Brown for eight
years, and shared my vision… Ray agreed to be my musical director, because I
can’t express myself musically to save my life, and he brought along the
amazing, dapper Craig Kimbrough, who had played 20 years with Solomon
Burke as well as with Lowell Fulsom and Swamp Dogg…We hit it off
immediately… And he has been a great inspiration for me. He was a musical
prodigy who at 15 left St. Louis, where he played with everybody, and came to
LA. Ray can play anything; Funk, Cubano, Samba, dirty blues, instead of that
phone it in shuffle shit everybody does. Now I had about the best rhythm section anyone could ask for… Lucky Lloyd came next. He was a friend of Ray’s, a remarkable presence, guitar player, singer, performer… He should really be a
star on his own… We had met previously in a band that was rife with egos,
though we had really hit it off… He’s does that sweet BB King, Albert King,
Freddie King thing like it’s meant to be played. The first rehearsal together, he
and Ray came up with the groove for 8 Bullets, one of our best songs and a total
show stopper. Lead man D.J. Ison was next… he had responded to an ad I had
placed for guitar players at the very beginning… when I listened to his links, I
sent him back an email saying “Dude, you are way too good for me or anything
I’m involved with.” Now I reached backed out to him and said, “I think we may be
good enough for you now.” Between D.J.’s Stevie Ray Vaughn, Billy Gibbons,
Albert Collins stylings co-joined with Lucky’s BB King, Detroit/ Chicago blues
grooves we had something very special. And everyone just jelled. D.J. brought in Freddy Boy Saunders, who’d played 187 shows on harp for Motley Crues “Girls Girls Girls” tour, which added a whole new edge. And karma brought me to Alyssa Barron, who sings back up, some leads, and lets me flirt with her on stage like the creepy old guy I am… She is a dynamic presence, a tiny little thing who doesn’t look old enough to drink, but whose voice packs the power of three
bottles of Jack … Think Etta James meets Janis Joplin… She gives us the stage
presence that makes us the dynamic show band we are. Blind Lemon Peel is
about as close to your one off, tired ass cover band, as Little Richard’s original of
Tutti Frutti is to Pat Boone’s rendition
Ray: I knew Dave when we were playing in this other group that was a cover band, and the lead cat didn’t want to put in the work to learn Dave’s songs. I liked what Dave was writing, so when he asked me if I was married to that other band and I said no, I play with anybody with a gig he asked me to join him.
Freddy: Blind Lemon Peel was inquiring about a harmonica player, I went in,
auditioned and got the gig.
Craig: Ray he called me up one day and said he met this crazy-like wild man singer called who had a bunch of really good songs he wrote and was looking for a drummer.
DJ: We started playing together in August of 2015 after David and I had a few conversations over the previous few months. He was forming a band here in LA after deciding to move here full time, and really wanted to get together a great band. He had heard some of my solo stuff and was really impressed and asked if I wanted to meet. We met and talked, we knew had some good chemistry between us and decided to try a rehearsal and see what happened from there.
Alyssa: I’m in the band because of David, the big daddy and founder of the group. I’d made a bare bones profile on bandmix: no photograph, no sound bite, just a paragraph about who I’m influenced by and what I do. I guess it made an impression on David because he reached out in August of 2015 and invited me to sing with the band at their next rehearsal. Our email correspondence felt so natural, he ended up forwarding three set lists to me, so from even before I met them, it felt like I was in the band.
Thomas: What was that first rehearsal and show like as a newly formed group?
Dave: The first few rehearsals were just Ray on bass, Craig on drums, and Lucky on rhythm and me… Since I had made it clear from the beginning that we were not going to be doing covers, we worked very hard finding our own stylistic
interpretations of songs I had written and performed with other iterations of Blind Lemon Peel. Funkier. Dirtier. Rearranging a song that was a straight shuffle into Congo Square funk. By the end of the first rehearsal, we had laid down three new grooves of our own, which by the second rehearsal became full blown songs that bring down the house at gigs. What we really established was a true
Ray: The drummer from the other band wanted to come along too, but Dave said no cause he didn’t want Scott to think he was pirating his band, so he asked me if I knew a good drummer. So I called Craig who me and him go back years and he said he was available and we both knew Lucky. We went over to a place on Exposition and rehearsed a few times and it really came together. It was hot. And we knew right then if we practiced, we could have something tight.
Freddy: The show was at Harvelles, Santa Monica CA, with only 3 prior
rehearsals before the show, we did 3 sets that night and the crowd loved
us! It was wild. Bouncers and doormen were fist bumping me. No one had
ever heard anything like us before.
Craig: Screamin’ Dave just makes me laugh. For real. He got all these songs, with a real funky groove they is funnier than shit.
DJ: 1st rehearsal was pretty amazing. I actually have the very 1st jam we did on video. Just started playing a blues groove and it was truly awesome. Everyone seemed to gel perfectly and the vibe was totally there. Our first gig at Harvelle’s Santa Monica was more of the same. Although we had not played live together before, we played and interacted well together on stage like we had been playing together for years!
Alyssa: I had to cancel my first rehearsal with the band because of some broken toes, and limped my way in the following week. We were all feeling each other out on that first day, I mean, none of them had ever heard me sing! So on the sound check, I decided to let loose. I scatted and wailed and generally played with the depths and heights of my range. I think the volume alone broke the ice. I had a blast singing with Dave and was outright giddy to sing with such amazing musicians. Lucky and I were so into playing that we didn’t bother to take a break, but tinkered around with some classic songs like Etta James’ “At Last” and a favorite of mine, “Turtle Blues” by Janis Joplin.
At my first gig with the band, which was at Harvelle’s in Santa Monica, David began a generous habit of inviting me to sing the opening song. Looking back, I’m not sure how I made it through that show. I was delirious with the flu and still in my “boot” while my broken toes healed. I somehow got through three sets but after that, my darling dad had to drive me home.
Thomas: What did you notice working well immediately?
Dave: Lucky and I had played together earlier on, in a group that was rife with egos, and a leader who bad-mouthed everybody behind their back. I realized if he was shit talking everybody else when they weren’t in the room, I could only imagine what he was saying about me. We call came in, it with a very strict no-dick policy… There are no egos, no assholes, no dicks in the band, no matter how good a player you are… It’s all about the music and playing with people you like who have your back, onstage and off.
Ray: A really good groove. Craig, Lucky and me have played together a really long time. Dave dug what we were doing and kept pushing us to make his songs even funkier, like they were ours.
Freddy: Rhythm section!
Craig: Me and Ray and Lucky we been at this a long time. This is something special. This band is going somewhere, man. I’ve played with a lotta big names, and this band, they have that thing.
DJ: Everyone who David brought into the band was completely professional and all of us really worked well together. We all listened and no one had any attitudes or ego. With that kind of foundation, I could tell writing and arranging as a team we just going to be a lot of fun and very prolific.
Alyssa: The most important thing musicians can do is listen to each other. I was so impressed by this band’s capacity to do this. When learning something new, they weren’t above repeating it again and again until they all nailed it. They make it easy to lay a vocal line over the top.
Thomas: Where did you find inspiration as a group? What other Blues bands helped set the tone for this group?
Dave: Blues is in my blood. My dad was a professional sax player. His brother played clarinet with the Jimmy Dorsey band. My first cousin Art played piano with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee… his brother Ron, my best friend, has, over the years been close with Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal, Bukka White, Long John Baldry, Brownie and Sonny, Rev Gary Davis, etc, has over 100,000 sides of old blues vinyl, and owns a steel body National guitar that had once belonged to Blind Boy Fuller. It’s in his will that when it’s time for him to go, the guitar goes to me. By the time I was 11, Ron and I would stay up all night listening to records by Bill Broonzy, Jimmy Reed, Rev. Gary Davis, Lonnie Johnson, Charlie Patton, Big Joe Turner, Buddy Guy – one of my absolute favorites, Furry Lewis, Son House
Frank Stokes, Gus Cannon, Mississippi Joe Callicott, John Lee Hooker and
Lightnin Hopkins – two more of my all time favorites… Buddy Moss, Blind Joe
Taggart, etc… As obscure as any artist you can name, Ron will probably regale
you with everything you want to know. He is one of the world’s foremost blues
authorities… As my tastes evolved, developed and then morphed again, I
developed a real taste for gospel, house, techno, jazz, early r&b… Right now my
favorite band is Alabama 3… But I can’t leave out Tom Waits, Dr. John, Buddy
Guy, The Hook or Captain Beefheart either… Given Ray’s years with James
Brown and Craig’s with Solomon Burke, we just keep bumpin the funk.
Ray: We found the inspiration in Dave’s songs. They were wide open and left too for interpretation. Dave encouraged everyone to participate, and bring something new to it. We grabbed a lick that felt right.
Freddy: We are a show blues band. We’re not a ‘sittin’ around cryin’ in your beer’
Craig: We just set the groove and let Dave take off. Swamp boogie, Shuffle, Congo square, Cuban jazz. We just keep changing it up and lettin’ him go.
DJ: I think we all are inspired by the love of blues music and our passion to play and share that with our audience. I feel we are a combination of great blues bands old and new, Influences range from artists such as Howling Wolf, Albert King, BB King, Stevie Ray, Janice Joplin and a little James Brown funkiness, and I feel we are a good mixture of all those.
Thomas: Describe the most challenging song to arrange, and why it was challenging?
Dave: We’re working on a song right now, a love song about hate called “You’re Gonna Miss Me When You’re Gone You Bastard Me”… it’s got both male and females solos, a duet, and a spontaneous spoken back and forth/give and take, piece of performance art. The first time we ever played it out live, was the very first time Alyssa has ever heard it; she had missed the rehearsal at which I had brought it in to teach the band…. The entire arrangement was all about trust, intuition, listening to the other person, and the ability to improvise of the spot… It was like walking the tightrope without a net… That’s the kind of spontaneity I hope for in everything we do.
Ray: I’m not the arranger, I’m a bass player. I feel something and I play it, feels good or it doesnt. Dave knows how he hears it, he knows how he wants his song to sound.
Freddy: My personal input of the arrangement is zero. The songwriter Dave, the
guitar player D.J. and the bass player Ray figures that out. Then practicing
the endings. The endings of the songs have got to be tight.
DJ: Honestly arrangements do not seem to be too much of a challenge. I think we have a vision of where the songs is supposed to go and kind of feel our way through it, and it seems to be working quite well that way.
Thomas: How did you feel the mix of instruments was initially? What adjustments did you do to your own playing to help propel the group?
Dave: I had a dream and this band is the embodiment of it… The flexibility of this group has permitted me as a singer to define the role of my voice in every song we do… whether I’m blues shouting, cajoling, flirting, seducing, doggin’, channeling my inner Barry White, Big Joe Turner or Howling Wolf… to insert myself as an additional textural instrument to round out our sound.
Ray: This is a good group. We put in lot of rehearsal time. The ore time you practice, the tighter you get.
Freddy: When playing percussion, I just ‘stay in the pocket’ No more, no less.
While playing my harmonica, some songs more than others, I do some
bass-line fills or some rhythm fills and the occasional solo.
Craig: This is one hot show band. We gonna entertain you from start until finish. Leave you begging for more. That’s the way to do it.
DJ: Like I eluded to earlier, the mix was fantastic! There was definitely some Magic in the air, as they say. My personal goal was to listen to the group as a whole, play within that environment, to compliment each song, not stepping on any toes but adding soulful touches and feel to what was happening. I’ve played in smaller single guitar player groups as well as larger ones and you just have to adapt to what’s going on around you.
Alyssa: David really wanted not just a back-up singer but a vocalist who can share the stage with him. His example for me was how Merry Clayton sang with Mick Jagger in Gimme Shelter. So my focus has been to hold my own with David, developing a playful onstage rapport with him and backing off in the right places to give the best dynamics to each song.
Thomas: Do you think artists nowadays have too many influences from other artists due to the internet?
Dave: I’ve never believed there was no such thing as too many influences… unless it was Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez or the untalented chick on the third year of American Idol.
Ray: I mainly use the internet to look at clips, and listen to different songs I’m going to be playing with other bands I play with. I don’t spend a lot of time listening to other musicians, unless its something I find on facebook.
Freddy: No such thing as too many influences. That’s like saying you have too
much knowledge, it’s all how it’s applied.
Craig: I don’t pay much attention to the internet. Mostly I just use it if there’s a song I want to listen to.
DJ: I’m not sure I would say that. Whatever the medium is, I myself and a lot players I know, try to soak up as much as possible from as many great artists out there when learning. As long as the focus is to remain true to yourself as an artist and create your own style from that, I don’t think there is any harm there.
Alyssa: Absolutely not. The information age is wonderful for artists. We’re exposed to so many things we might never have otherwise heard. It’s like writing: you learn the rules of grammar and punctuation in school, then you use poetic license and break them. You don’t have to bombard yourself by trying to take inspiration from everything you hear out there. If you’re discerning, the most apt (and often surprising) influences present themselves. Plus the instant gratification of hearing a song you like and being able to immediately download that artist’s album is pretty frickin’ magical.
Thomas: How did the internet and listening to the vast sea of music influence your part in this album?
Dave: YouTube is a remarkable resource… just the other day I found a clip of James Brown’s funeral in 2006… There was Ray front and center… I’ve also found stuff I’ve never heard or see before from both artists I admire… like A3’s amazing Cigar Box Sessions, which you really gotta check out… to great old original performances by the classics like Otis, Lightin’ (if you haven’t, check out The Blues According to Lightnin’ Hopkins by Les Blank… damn if Levis jeans didn’t just up and rip off that documentary for the 501 Blues commercials..) Just the other day I saw just performance stuff Solomon Burke did I’m gonna make mine.
Ray: It don’t really matter at all.
Freddy: I use the internet as a refresher after a band discussion, if we are
looking for a particular sound, we toss around different names of artists. I
got online, research it, practice it and apply it.
DJ: I joined the band after the current album was recorded and released.
Alyssa: Most of my influences with Blind Lemon Peel are old school. I grew up listening to CD’s of Janis Joplin, Etta James, The Beatles. In fact, The Beatles are a main reason I can harmonize. I was crazy about them in middle school and knew pretty much every song by heart. I remember the very moment I was first able to pick out a harmony. I was sitting in my mom’s car one day, singing along to one of their songs from, I think it was the Help! album, or maybe A Hard Day’s Night…and I just suddenly heard it. Something shifted in my brain and I was able to detect harmonies ever after. Not that I’m amazing at it, I’ve met some naturals who can sing really unique harmony lines while they’re hearing a song for the first time, but that moment in the car with The Beatles changed the way I hear music. With Blind Lemon Peel, I often add harmonies and vocal atmosphere, so thank you John, Paul, George and Ringo for your contribution.
Thomas: Do you hope that other musicians take notice to your contribution in the group? And/or the group itself?
Dave: Absolutely the greatest honor I could ever possibly achieve!!! I have nothing but the ultimate respect for other musicians.
Ray: I hope so. I’ve been playing for a lot of years, and made a lot of good friends from music. When you love what you do like I do, people will recognize the groove, what you bring to the show.
Freddy: Yes I do, ‘fore that is who we play for: other musicians.
Craig: People thinks the blues is easy but it’s not. When you think its simple, that’s when it’s hard.
DJ: Definitely! I always strive to be my best as a player and while I don’t particularly play to impress my fellow musician, I hope we get that across both as individual players and as a band, which I feel we do. In this band there is a lot of room for musicianship and we all step up when we get our spot and I think it gets noticed.
Alyssa: They’ve kept me around this long, so something is working out right.
Thomas: What are your fondest musical memories of the the shows you’ve done, to date?
Dave: 2002. Varsity Theatre. Minneapolis, Minnesota… We’re touring to promote our new record, we’re on a small indy label and can’t afford to take the whole band on the road. It’s me, my producer/guitar player Steve Burgh, and our keyboard player, Joel Diamond. We pick up a local drummer, horn section, and girl singers… Steve has a buddy in town, Danny Counts who plays bass in the
Fabulous Flies. We’ve never met before, but totally Vulcan mind bond. Joel
misses rehearsal because he’s on an Internet sex site, trying to find a date for
after the show. First set, I’m just waiting for the tomatoes (that happened in ’76). The newbies don’t have a handle on my songs one iota. I’m no classically trained musician; I put bridges where tunnels should be, there’s no communication between all these strangers, I’m convinced this is going to be Springtime for Hitler… I spend the whole set trying to control what is out of my control but somehow Burgh pulls it off… Between sets, Danny Steve and I just say “screw it”, agree that second set we’ll just agree on a key, find a groove, and take it from there. We literally decide make up the entire set right there while we’re playing. Everybody just hits their spot, I scat eleven new songs, the crowd goes crazy, we never miss a beat, It’s the single best show I ever did in my life. Joel goes home with the three backup girls. We still have a big following in Minneapolis.
Ray: There are so many I can’t begin to name them. I used to work with James Brown so I have played around the world for kings and presidents in Europe and Russia and Saudi Arabia and all over America and all over the world. I met the nicest people. I have lived a blessed life.
Freddy: When we all lock in and become steady as a train and sharp as a
Craig: I worked with Solomon Burke for nearly twenny years. I been around and around the whole so many times, I have so many stories, so many memories, I could put em in a book. Ain’t gonna give em away for free.
DJ: All of our shows just get better and better. Musically we’re getting really tight and the groove is just unstoppable. Our last show, at the Seabird was off the hook. A lot of on stage interaction, musically, dynamically and vocally as well. Just a nice feeling at the end of the night!
Alyssa: I have two favorite shows that really stand out. The first was our Halloween show. I’d always wanted to play on Halloween, so it was a little check on my bucket list. Getting to dress up and sing themed songs like, “Boogie Man” and “Put A Spell On You” was spooky fun. In fact, that’s my favorite song we do: “Boogie Man.” It’s down and dirty, it moves through molasses and it especially set the mood for Halloween. My ultimate favorite show we did was at the Catalina Jazz Club in LA. David offered me the entire first set, so I got to sing my original songs with the band at this classic and inspiring venue. The show fell upon the night before the one year anniversary of my mother’s death, so it was already emotionally charged. Plus, my dad accompanied me on guitar and mandolin, something my mom would have absolutely loved to have seen. I think it’s safe to say it was one of the best nights of my life so far.
Thomas: What do you think makes the group so solid? Is it the personalities or the gelling of the musical talents, or both?
Dave: See answer number 1
Ray: Like I said before, the more you practice the tighter you get.
Freddy: I’ll have to say ‘both’ due to Screamin’ Dave is Blind Lemon’s
personality. When the band is locked tight, Dave comes alive.
Craig: Both. Screamin’ Dave is like nothing you ever seen before, and when your band takes off like a bat outta hell, one bad ass combination to ībeat.
DJ: Both for sure. We are very lucky to a great mixing of both. With 7 of us in the band, we not only play together well but we manage to inject a bit of personality from each one of us that works really well as a whole.
Alyssa: The gelling of the group comes down to David’s ability to bring together good people. Not only talent-wise, but everyone in the band is genuinely a good person. That’s what drew me most to these guys. Each one of them is warm, authentic and fun, and crazy talented, did I mention that yet?
Thomas: What do you think is next for the group?
Dave: We have at least one big festival lined up this summer, the Manhattan Beach Blues Festival in July. I like to do more. I enjoy touring a performing abroad. I think we’d be big in Japan. I’d like to play in Dubai. And especially, Greece.
Ray: I think we’re doing things right and heading in the right direction. We are playing all the right clubs, we just have to keep getting tighter.
Freddy: I don’t know, I don’t care. I just get on the bus.
Craig: As Long as we keep doing it the right way, putting in the time, practicing, keep getting tighter the sky is the limit.
DJ: Upward and onward. I’m looking forward to recording some of the new material and getting out there and spreading the word. Bigger gigs, festivals and lining up some regional tours to start.
Alyssa: What’s next? You can see us around LA and Orange county, check out our website or facebook page for updates. We’re excited to play at the 75th Anniversary Manhattan Beach Music Festival on July 24th, doing a single set from 12:30-1:30pm. It’s at Polliwog Park and it’ll be packed! If you’ve not been, expect beautiful shade trees, fantastic music and tons of dancing! Next after that? Tours, possible recording, gigs in space. The drummer might have a time of it with those sticks drifting off, but worth it!
Thomas: What do you want audiences to get most out of each performance?
Dave: Sweaty, dancing, out of control, 911 on speed dial, losing track of time, going outside to get some air, buy a CD, go home, have non-stop sex while listening to the record for three days straight…
Ray: We just want to surprise them, make them leaving and wanting to come back for more.
Freddy: Besides a free round of drinks… it’s nice to see them leaving with a CD
in their hand while tapping their feet.
Craig: Get up and shake their love thing all night long.
DJ: A great and rememberable time. Leaving them wanting more while making a lasting impression so they’ll keep coming back again and again!
Thomas: Will you be shooting any videos? If so, what are some concepts you have?
Dave: I co-directed a video for the original track of Shake Your Love Thang back in 2009. It cracked me up, and won a silver medal in the International Video
Festival. Our agent would like us to go in and shoot a conceptual piece, but, right
now, I’m just writing new songs.
Ray: I’m just the bass player, up to dave.
Freddy: I have no concepts for I am a harmonica player. I just get on the bus
and put the fills where they belong along with the occasional solo.
DJ: Videos are definitely in the near future but we have yet to pick a song for the 1st one and build a concept around it as a band.
Thomas: If you could give some advice to a teenage blues group starting out, what would that advice be? Both, as a band musician and a solo musician?
Dave: The best advice I could give anyone, was given to me when I was 17 by my dad’s best friend Irv Brickman, who said, “Always be a pro, not a semi-pro.”
I think about it everyday, in everything I do.
Ray: Practice, practice.
Freddy: Not to try to be so versatile, find your blues niche… i.e. Yarbirds/Muddy
Waters/Rolling Stones/Robert Johnson/ Led Zepplin/Little Walter… The
advice would be find your niche and STAY IN SCHOOL! Find the pocket
and stay there.
Craig: Got to study the patterns and never stop. What’s simple that’s what’s hard.
DJ: Study and practice your craft long and hard. Stay true to yourself always and as a band, remember it’s not all about you but about the sum of the players and the songs that you create together. In the end, the songs you create will be the lasting legacy.
Alyssa: Play for the love of it, nothing else. Learn to love rehearsing and do it until you could play the songs in your sleep. Don’t be shy about getting your music out there, online but especially live. Before every show, remind yourself why you love music and let that feeling fuel all the songs you play. In my opinion, the best musicians are the ones who invest so much in each song that they live them. Do that.