Eric Bibb is an American Blues musician with a strong footing in Europe. His recent album "Painting Sign" was recorded in England and - like "Roadworks", the album before - is distributed in Germany by Ruf Records. Europe and especially Germany with their attentive audience proved to be a "Mecca" for his music. Now as his reputation in the USA is growing as well, for Bibb it "feels great to slowly be recognized there". Bibb´s career started very early: "Singing probably came first - but I also fell in love with the guitar at a very early age. So I think they go together the singing and the guitar-playing for me."
Before his concert at the Quasimodo, Berlin, Carina Prange got a chance to talk to this unique musician.
Carina: You have been on tour in the United States with Robert Cray. Acoustic Blues vs. Electric Blues - how did it work? Do you and Cray have different views about the tradition of the blues?
Eric: I think it was a very good match. Robert is a very sensitive and wonderful musician who loves the acoustic blues tradition. I think he has had so much of the electric blues world that it was maybe refreshing for him to be associated with another dimension of this music.
Famously we really have a mutual appreciation for each other - so I enjoyed working with him - as much for his personality as his wonderful music.
Carina: How would you define your musical influences - soul, gospel, folk ...?
Eric: All of the above! I have listened to first much American folk music - whether it is blues or spirituals or blue grass, Celtic folk songs. All of that from Leadbelly to Joan Baez was my foundation. And jazz as well.
But then of course as I grew older I was listening to the radio - so: one minute I would be listening to maybe the Reverend Gary Davis or Richie Havens or Judy Collins. And the next moment I would turn on the radio and listen to the Four Tops or Jonie Walker and the Allstars. So all of that is an influence.
Carina: Which are the favorite guitars you play - do you use different instruments in the studio and live?
Eric: The trick is to find an instrument that works great in all situations: in the studio, on stage ... - It is not so easy, but I have found a wonderful guitar actually that has been made recently as a reissue. It´s the "Harmony Sovereign" guitar - it is the black one that I have. And it is a relatively inexpensive guitar, I think it is made in Korea.
And with the Sunrise Pickup - which I use exclusively - it really has a good sound both as a recording instrument and as an on-stage touring instrument. So if I had to pick ONE instrument maybe I would pick that one - yes!
Carina: As a blues-musician, do you follow the footsteps of your father Leon Bibb who plays folk - or is it on the contrary a way of doing things differently?
Eric: It is both - I think I am following his footsteps and continuing to carry on African-American folkmusic, which he has certainly done. But I would say that my music is somewhat more bluesier than my dad´s. Perhaps more "countrified" music than my dad - he is a trained singer, who grew up singing not only spirituals or folkmusic but also Jacques Brel, musical theater. So he is capable of doing perhaps a wider range of material in some ways.
Leon & Eric Bibb - "A Family Affair"
But we are very related and we had an opportunity to make a record together recently - called "Family Affair". And: then you can see the similarities in our approach and even in the sound of our voices.
Carina: What is the difference between touring the USA and touring Europe - or Australia, where you were in March? What about the audience, the clubs and more?
Eric: Very good question - I find, that it´s perhaps an audience with more information, more detailed accurate information about the history of this music, blues in particular, the further I get away from the States.
That´s not to say that there are not people who know the music very well in America, because some of them - of course the collectors and the players and the musicians - they are very well informed. But the general public in America, I think is perhaps less aware of my heroes than maybe my European fans.
Carina: Last year you came without a drummer - this time you are joined by Björn Gideonsson who also plays the drums on one song on "Painting Sign". Do you regularly change your live-concepts?
Eric: (laughs) Well, no - actually it is more the "economy of touring", that decides. Björn Gideonsson is a wonderful musician, who I have worked with for at least eight years, nine years, perhaps longer. Sometimes we can afford the whole quartet and sometimes it is easier for us, when we travel long distances, perhaps America or Australia for example, to travel just with Dave. And we are then a duo: Dave Bronze, my bassplayer and me.
But I enjoy working with both - Björn and Jon Saas (tb) - every chance we can get and hopefully our success is going to continue. So we will be able to feature these musicians on tour more and more.
Carina: As a songwriter - what inspires you, gives you ideas? Many months on the road - does this leave time for contemplating new impressions?
Eric: I have many impressions as I travel around the world and not always enough time to integrate them, very true. I find that the most favorable conditions for writing songs is probably in-between tours, when I am at home having difficulty adjusting to the family´s sleeping schedule.
And I find myself awake at three in the morning and then I quietly go into the kitchen and light a candle. And that is often a time when a song will present itself to me.
Carina: Your godfather has been the singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson. What would you say - does this influence you, and how? What did you learn from him?
Eric: It has certainly been a wonderful influence having Paul Robeson for a godfather. He was my father´s friend and mentor and he was somebody who we all - in my circle of friends and family - admired immensely. This was a man who was very courageous, who was not willing to compromise his very dedicated ideas of social justice. And his humanitarian ideas were what lead him forth. And even though he was a great artist all his life, I think it´s his philosophy, his humanitarianism that was the driving force behind Paul Robeson.
And for me to go to a place like Australia and discover that he has many friends and supporters, people who admired and loved him that far away from home, was a great inspiration. I feel connected to him and: I am very happy to be connected to him!
Carina: "Painting Signs" includes the 'Pops' Staples-Song "Hope in a hopeless world" - why is this song very special for you? What do you think - how much can music influence the people that listen to it?
Eric: This song was first recorded to my knowledge by the wonderful 'Pops' Staples, who is someone who I have admired, loved his music and his famous music for years and years. I had the chance to meet and record with Pops Staples a few years ago, in 1997 - I recorded a song with him and his daughter, Mavis - "the fabulous Mavis" - so I can say that here is somebody who I have admired and then had a chance to work with. And there is no words to describe how wonderful that is.
The song "Hope in a hopeless world" is a wonderful song. Pops Staples made a great recording of it with Mavis. And I think Dave Bronze did me a great favor, when he made this suggestion for the record. Because he suggested a song, that I feel I could get my spirit around, I could feel connected to Pops Staples, I could tell people what I feel about not only music but about the world, that I think it is possible to stay hopeful even though it looks hopeless.
Eric Bibb - "Painting Signs"
I think, message-music - the kind of music that Pops Staples, Curtis Mayfield made - those kind of songs are very important, they not only entertain us because they are good - musically - but they remind us with their message that we have a responsibility as artist and as brothers and sisters to stay connected to our ethics.
So much of the music-world is - as you know - so superficial and without depth and the music that has inspired me or my life is music that comes from the people, from real experiences, from people who have certainly had hope in many hopeless situations.
So that is really the kind of music I want to keep making. I want to make music that people enjoy, that makes them feel good in their souls, in their bodies and music that reminds them to stay in tune with their higher selves.
Eric Bibb im Internet: www.ericbibb.com
Ruf Records im Internet: www.rufrecords.de
Fotos: Website Eric Bibb