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INTERVIEWS ANDY WALO|
LIVE YOUR LIFESwedish export ANDY WALO loves America. his love for the States has nothing to do with the GEORGE W. BUSH PR machine and everything to do with the blues. Growing up in Sweden, WALO was given an education in rock n roll by way of his older siblings' hand-me-down record collection. It was an education that emphasized sixties rock by the likes of THE BEATLES and THE STONES and later on, an interest in LED ZEPPELIN. This was music that spoke to him in an era where techno pop ruled the airwaves and MTV.
BLUES ARTIST ANDY WALO TALKS TO ROCKWIRED ABOUT
COMING TO AMERICA
HIS TENURE WITH JUNIOR WELLS
AND DISCOVERING THE BLUES
INTERVIEWED BY BRIAN LUSH
However, his search for "that sound" had not ended. It was just beginning. ANDY read numerous interviews of various rock icons and their influences all pointed to one general direction - the blues. In time, the music spoke to him and WALO picked up a guitar and hopscotched back and forth between Scandinavia and England, making a living as a professional musician. During one gig, the members of ALBERT COLLIN's backing band witnessed a performance by WALO and shortly afterwards spent the next three days convincing this kid to come back to Chicago with them.
Here is where the love affair with the United States began. Pretty soon, WALO was sitting in with the likes of BUDDY GUY and other luminaries of the legendary Chicago blues scene. His reputation grew and grew until his playing caught the attention of the late JUNIOR WELLS. ANDY became a member of WELL's touring band and played on his last two CDs. From there, WALO set up shop in Los Angeles, eschewing celebrity-dom and the glitz and glamor of Hollywood, in favor of establishing THE ANDY WALO GROUP and recording a no-nonsense blues recording in LIVE YOUR LIFE.
ANDY WALO is currently in the process of making another CD. ROCKWIRED had the chance to speak with him over the phone. Here is how it went.
You are the second person in a row that I have interviewed that has played STURGIS in 2004
Before you, I interviewed this band called KING KARMA. Did you meet them?
There were so many people up there that I can't remember. I saw a couple of other bands but i can't really recall that name, no.
According to your bio you grew up in a very musical family. Does anyone else in your family play at all?
I'm actually the only one that plays an instrument. My brother wanted to be a drummer but he never put the time and effort into it. I was the only one in my family who actually started playing even though all of us were really into music.
Yeah, you inherited a lot of your siblings albums.
Yeah thank God! Growing up in the eighties there wasn't much for me except FLOCK OF SEAGULLS and DEPECHE MODE, so I grew up listening to music from the sixties and seventies instead.
Yeah I grew up in the eighties too and I love DEPECHE MODE actually.
I liked some of their early stuff. I really wasn't into any of the synth pop stuff. I was always onto classic rock, and blues, and THE BEATLES and THE STONES and stuff like that.
Since your Swedish I might as well mention that I used to love ROXETTE. Still do actually.
And from the eighties, I liked U2 and I liked INXS.
A lot of the music that you grew up listening to is English speaking. Is that common in Sweden?
Yeah. English is the second language and it's elementary from eight years from second grade. Everyone has to speak it. That's only in Scandinavia though. Scandinavia is only and hour away from England. We're pretty much the same kind of people. Back in the day the Vikings used to come to the British Isles and rape and pillage. So the Brits have a lot of Scandinavian blood from the old days.
It's a lot different from here. In this country we are pretty isolated and I think that kind of shows in a lot of people's temperaments.
Comparing Scandinavia to Great Britain is like comparing the Midwest with east coast like New York and Vermont. There are just little differences.
Obviously it was the guitar sound that spoke to you the most. When did you get your first guitar and what kind was it?
I was about nine years old. Actually I got a toy guitar first. I started playing BILL HALEY's ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK over and over again on that one. Then My dad got me a nylon string Spanish acoustic guitar when I was about 10 and then I started playing much more when I got that one.
Your were introduced to a lot of different music growing up. What drew you specifically to blues and the early rock n roll sound?
Most of my siblings records were of THE BEATLES and THE KINKS, you know the -
The British Invaders?
Yeah. People like THE YARDBIRDS and all kind of stuff but later on I got into things like LED ZEPPELIN and BLACK SABBATH. When I was sixteen I was really into the heavy rock sound. At that time the happy sixties sound for me went away a little bit. I read interviews with JIMMY PAGE and I learned that his influences were people like LITTLE RICHARD , ELVIS and CARL PERKINS and that was what made me want to check these guys out. And in finding out about these guys that lead me to the blues because LITTLE RICHARD and ELVIS were all based in the blues.
In fairly short order, you became a professional musician living in England and Denmark. Was it easier to do it there as opposed to Sweden. Or did you just want to get away?
Yeah I wanted to get away. I like to travel. When lived one place your whole life you get the urge to travel. Sweden is pretty good musically but Sweden is pretty conservative.
Yeah compared to other European countries. I mean all European countries are pretty liberal compared to the States but Sweden is very conservative in the way you do things. It doesn't have the same night life as Denmark or England. Bars close very early in Sweden and everyone has an ID and if you are too young you can't get into any of the clubs. Copenhagen in like the New Orleans of Scandinavia . The bars are open 24/7 and it's just a great place for blues and jazz. That's why I sort picked that city. It's kind of like growing up in Sacramento and wanting to go down to Los Angeles. After Copenhagen I went to England for a little while, just o check it out. The English Music Scene has a tendency to become pretty trendy. There are always looking for the new thing and the new thing at that time was THE SMITHS and THE CURE which I love but at the time every band in England tried to play like them. It was hard to do anything else. Because I was into blues and rock n roll, I was a little out of place.
There was a show in Denmark back in 1992 where you met AARON BURTON. It sounds like that was pivotal moment for you. You wanna talk about it?
That's the reason that I'm here in the States today. I started playing full time with this band in Copenhagen. We were local favorites, playing a few times a week. This band from Chicago came to tow. This was the band that used to back up ALBERT COLLINS and they were touring Europe and they came into the club one night and saw me play. We had a few drinks and right from the start, they kind of forced me to go to Chicago. I didn't know why they were so insistent but we ended up spending 3 days together going out and talking about ways to get me to go to Chicago. I thought they were kidding at first. It was kind of pivotal because a few months later, I went. I never would've gone otherwise, cause I was happy where I was in Denmark.
So Chicago was your first introduction to the States?
How did it feel?
It felt great. I was going over for five weeks and I ended up staying three months. I totally fell into it. There is so much blues in Chicago so I started getting a lot of gigs with a lot of different people in the Chicago area like people who used to play with HOWLIN' WOLF and MUDDY WATERS. This was the real deal.
What was going through your head sitting in with people like BUDDY GUY.
When you look at it like an outsider, the scene looks much bigger than it really is. When I came over to Chicago and met these people, they were all very down to earth. there was no rock star attitude or anything like that. I felt that was really cool and I felt that I needed to stay here a while. I'd lived in Europe all of my life up until that point. It's a good place to live and they have a good health care system and all that stuff.
Better than ours.
Yeah but people in Europe have a tendency to be a little bit lazy in Europe because everyone has it so well. They have five weeks paid vacation and I had never really been into that. I always liked to work, work, work. Coming to the States, it was more in tune with the way I've always been like. I've always been against things like benefits and social welfare, so I guess I picked the right place
You've got the perfect president for it now.
I like to work and thing about Chicago is that people play here all of the time, like seven nights a weeks. I've always wanted to play music full time and I can do it here.
What was it like touring America for the first time?
It was great! It was awesome! Especially going through the Prairies. I love going through the country and seeing all of the different vegetations and habitats. It's beautiful country. I love being on the road some people can't stand it but that's where i feel at home.
Of all of the people that you have shared stages with, who was the most thrilling?
I think BO DIDLEY was pretty cool.
Tell me about it.
BO DIDLEY is kind of a nut. He still has the same square guitar that he had in the fifties and since rap came along in the eighties, he's put rap into some of his older songs. He raps to his own tunes. He does what ever he pleases. He's got no rules whatsoever. You wouldn't expect that from an old blues man.
How did you get to be the lead guitarist for JUNIOR WELLS?
The JUNIOR WELLS thing came by word of mouth. I was out there and I got a call from his road manager. He called me and asked if I would do an audition for the JUNIOR WELLS band and I was very excited. The next week I auditioned and a month later, I was on the gig so it happened pretty fast.
What was it like working with him?
He and I did two albums together. The thing with JUNIOR WELLS was that he was in his sixties yet they pushed him like he was the SMASHING PUMPKINS or something like that where he was doing 29 shows for 30 days in Europe and he was the one who was always up and would never go to sleep. He was a hard core trooper. It was non-stop touring for him. it was great. I used to listen to him when I lived in Sweden.
What prompted your move to Los Angeles?
It started after JUNIOR had passed away from cancer in 1998. I felt that after he passed away that I didn;'t want to play the clubs in Chicago again. I felt like I needed to move on and in touring with JUNIOR WELLS, I liked California. I'm not into the whole movie thing or the stars of celebrities. I've never really cared about any of that but I like the climate and I like the vibe. Me and my wife at the time moved a out here to California instead of staying another winter in Chicago.
Now is your ex-wife from this country or is she from Sweden?
I met my wife in Chicago. We divorced in 2000 but we're still good friends. She was flight attendant for United Airlines and I was a touring musician. After a while it was hard to coordinate a good relationship.
What are the differences between the scene in Chicago and the scene in Los Angeles?
Chicago is definitely better for the blues. It's to the blues what LA is to the movie industry. It's really that big, but at the same time, Chicago can get stuck in the blues a little too much and there are a lot of bands out there that play original rock n roll who have a hard time making it except SMASHING PUMPKINS.
When did you start the ANDY WALO GROUP?
I started it in 2002. I had a brief stint with a band called THE MAMA'S BOYS from Long Beach.
Who are the members of this band other than yourself?
It's me on guitar and vocals. In Los Angeles it's hard to nail down a band so I've got two or three sets of rhythm sections on hand.
Tell me about the CD LIVE YOUR LIFE. Is this your first or your second?
It's my second but it's the first official release of the ANDY WALO GROUP. My first CD was just a compilation of recordings that I made back in Chicago.
And you're working on a new one at the moment?
Yes. I've got twenty new songs and I'm trying to pick the best ten or eleven because I don't think that a CD should be more than that. I expect to have it done sometime this year.
(The conversation is interrupted by an incoming call)
I don't think I'm gonna answer that.
It's probably my neighbor wanting to me to watch AMERICAN IDOL with her.
Yeah. Don't answer that. This country is really turning into an AMERICAN IDOL culture.
I know it's frightening!
It's like a big Karaoke show. It's kind of disturbing the thought that you can vote in an artist
That's what is so frightening. This country can't even pick a president.
what we need is another show like - I can't think of what it was called but he had THE BEATLES and THE DOORS and -
THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW
Yeah. That guy had all of these great artists on his show and ti was live. It was all real.
There was another show back in the seventies.
Was it that DICK CLARK thing.
No, that was AMERICAN BANDSTAND. This other show was called MIDNIGHT SPECIAL. This was the days before MTV where you had all of these great bands playing live.
They should bring that back. I think that kids are really into rock n roll again. A lot of the shows that we do we've got these twenty two year old kids rocking out to what these guys in their 30's are playing. The last few years have changed for the better. I think it's cool to have a guitar again. So, I think there's hope.