When I asked Brad Absher if I could interview him, as he is one of my favorite players around Houston, he said he had to run up to Austin to lay down a guitar track, but I was welcome to ride along. It seemed like the perfect idea to me, to see some wide open spaces, and have plenty of time to chat.
Who would you consider to be your biggest influence in the Blues?
“The three Kings. Albert King, Freddie King and BB King. In that order too. I discovered Albert first, then I discovered Freddie. He just blew me away. Freddie is my favorite of the Kings. Freddie’s the guy. Then I found BB later on…everybody goes through a BB phase at some point. Another big influence on me was Snooks Eaglin who just died a couple of years ago who was a blind guitar player from New Orleans. He played on all the Professor Long Hair records like Tipitina, and all that stuff by Professor Long Hair. Taj Mahal is another one who is a big Tulsa connection. The three guys in his band were all from Tulsa. I later got to play with them, but yeah…they were all ‘Okies’. So through them I got to meet him, and I feel he is my greatest influence as a singer. I mean Taj is the man. I’d rather hear him sing than anybody.”
Your last album ‘Big Shugga’ came out in 2009, right? What was your personal favorite track on the album?
“Right. Oh man. Well, I like all of ‘em. I was trying to get back to songs of the sixties. Like cheatin’ songs and ‘If Loving You Is Wrong I Don’t Want To Be Right’ kind of songs. Like sixties soul music. But I like all of them. We play all of the songs live, so it’s cool. Sometimes you make a record and four or five of the songs you never play again.”
Did you have any guest artists come in on that one?
“No, except for Barry. Barry Seelen played the Hammond. He played on almost every song, either piano or the Hammond organ.” The other members of the Brad Absher Band are Ed Starkey on bass, Corey Tice on drums and Steve Hitt on lead guitar, bass and vocals.
So, the track you recorded today at Yellow Dog. Who was that for?
“That’s going to be for a guy named Brandon Jenkins. He’s one of those red-dirt singer/songwriter guys that I’ve known forever. I’ve known him since I first started playing music. We both started our bands the same year.”
And you both came from Tulsa and went to Texas?
“Yeah. He’s always gone more country with it.”
And they guy we met at Yellow Dog Studios was…
“Dave. [Owner]David Percifal, a genius among men. He’s great with the board, and the gear they have is state of the art, and he’s great using it. When I first met Dave he had two machines strapped together, and that was the whole studio. Just like everybody does starting out, he had taken his garage and sound proofed it, and it had one little room where you could set up your drums, and everybody had to be in the same room. So that’s where he started out, and he’s just gotten bigger and better and now he has a really cool place in Austin.”
How did you meet Dave?
“He was a producer, just a local record producer around Tulsa and asked me to be on a Christmas compilation record that they were doing, with ten or twelve local Tulsa artists coming in and doing Christmas songs. I went in and did a Blues song, Charles Brown’s ‘Merry Christmas Baby’, and that was it. We just instantly hit it off. We were like brothers. We were drinking buddys for years, and then we ended up being in a band together for years. It’s just comfortable working with somebody like that. He knows what I can do. He’s not going to say come play something like Van Halen or anything, or something that sounds like Queen on this track. So it’s real simple. I know what he wants too, and the guys are all pretty relaxed around Dave. They’d never met him before, but we just showed up, set everything up and started recording.”
On a side note, when Dave found out I (Abby) was a Blues writer, he offered to have me get with Pinetop Perkins while they were producing his latest album. As you know, we never made it to that interview before Pinetop passed, but David is dedicated to getting the album mixed and released, and sadly it will be Pinetop’s last album.
What year did you first come to Houston?
“2001, so technically I’ve been here ten years. I was in Tulsa for twenty years before that…and Lake Charles before that. So I’ve lived my whole life in the same…I’ve gone up and down but in the same little corridor of about two hundred miles.”
Brad is living in Manila, Philipines currently, (traveling back and forth frequently for shows and festivals) due to a three year contract his wife accepted with her job, so I asked:
Is this the first time you’ve ever lived overseas?
“Yeah, at least full time. My dad used to work in the oil industry and we lived in Iran, but I was only three or four I think. I barely remember it. I remember we had a pool. That was cool. It was back when the Shah was in power, and they were all pro-American. And then when Amy and I first got married, she got a job auditing for Texaco, (at the time) before the merger. We lived in Europe, just out of our suitcases for about three years while she audited, because they paid for spouses to travel. We were like twenty-three, twenty-four? Our daughter Madison came along about eight years later.”
Next Brad turned up the stereo and said: Listen to this impossible tempo. It’s so slow it would be impossible to keep a good intensity for most people. It’s John Cleary. John Scofield is the guitar player, but he doesn’t sing. John Cleary is singing, George Porter on bass, from The Meters.
He began to sing along, so I turned off my recorder to enjoy the sound for a bit.
Who are some of your favorites out there now?
“John Cleary, Citizen Cope, Black Dub…Did you catch John Cleary at The Big Easy?”
No, sorry I missed that.
“Citizen Cope, (citizen’s name is Clarence Greenwood).
Someone to definitely look into is Daniel Lanois of Black Dub. He’s great because he’s a producer and a wonderful guitar player. He produced for U2 and Peter Gabriel. He produced Yellow Moon for the Neville Bros…their best album. And the singer of Black Dub is Chris Whitley’s daughter, Trixie Whitley.”
“I like it best when I sound like Lowell George. Little Feat. Google him, and there’s an amazing Dutch television clip where he and his guys are sitting around a table, no instruments, but he has a guitar, and obviously an amp, and he does this little ten minute thing on the slide guitar. It’s absolutely unbelievable. I just love the way he played and the notes he picked. He’s one of my favorites.
There’s a famous story about how they sent him to New Orleans to work with Alan Toussaint on some horn charts, and since he was afraid to fly, he took a train instead, and by the time he finally got back he had lost the charts, which nobody had the money to get them done again.
The record that probably changed my life more than anything was the Little Feat ‘Waiting For Columbus’ that a brother of a friend of mine from High School had. If you haven’t heard it, then run out today and buy that album. It’s the best live American Rock album, ever. It’s got the ‘Tower Of Power’ horns on it. It was the biggest record of their career.
Anders Osbourne from New Orleans is another favorite of mine. He’s way underrated. He wrote a big song for Tim Mcgraw I think. Playing live he’s more of a ‘jam band’ type than people think. He’s another really great slide player. He’s got to be another Lowell George devotee for sure.
Ry Cooder too. Since I’ve been in Manilla, someone burned me a copy of this Ry Cooder concert he did in Japan. Every guitar player is going to tell you Ry Cooder is one of the greats.”
What are you planning to do next? Are you writing now?
Yeah, I’ve got a few new ones. I’m not totally in the mode for writing a new album yet though. I’m kind of a slow writer. I don’t like to rush it. When it’s time to cut a new record, then I’ll have some songs.
What would you do then, go back to Yellow Dog?
Maybe. I’d really like to work with a guy in Houston named Jack Saunders. I really respect his stuff. It might be taking someone like him over to Yellow Dog, and using him to produce it there.
How long will you be over in Manila? “For another three years at least.” So you will travel to do shows and festivals here in the meantime? “Yeah. I’m also looking into doing some over there. They had a two day festival this year in Jakarta for the first time, and they have them in Bangkok, and Singapore. I mean the Blues is out there. They’re catching on.”
“I’d love to write for Amy Winehouse. There’s a song on Big Shugga called ‘Just Don’t Feel It’ the third song maybe? I had Amy Winehouse totally in mind when I wrote that. I’d also like to write for Robert Cray. I’d love to pitch him some songs. I’d love to pitch Clapton some songs. There’s another song on Big Shugga called ‘Up To You’ which would make a great Keith Urban song. Cheryl Crow is another one I’d like to write for. I figure if I just keep writing good songs I’ll get them into someone’s hand eventually that will take them higher. I’m realistic about it. I’ll just keep writing good songs. I’m 50 years old. Who was the last 50 year old guy that got a record deal? But that doesn’t mean I can’t keep on doing good music.”
“I have actually secretly been enjoying not playing for a while. I know it’ll get old, but it’s nice to take a break sometimes.”
What about producing? “I’d love to do that. In fact, I know who would be the first person I would want to work with and that is a girl singer that used to sing with us in Tulsa, Christine Taylor. She was singing in a band called Snapdragon. She’ll do an album at some point in her life, and I think that would be a good place for me to start”.
Back at Brad’s loft in Montrose he has a Les Paul guitar displayed in an art niche with a spotlight, very art-gallery-esque and it is obvious that it is a much-treasured item for him. He tells a story of how he got it signed.
“I went to New York to get Les Paul to sign my guitar, and while standing in line to get in the place, I was asked if I was here to meet Les, or to ‘sit in’ with him, (I guess because I had a guitar in my hand) and I was so nervous I just said, ‘I’m here to get this signed’. I have been kicking myself ever since to think maybe they would’ve let me actually ‘sit in’ and play with Les Paul!”
The night before I wrapped up my writing, Brad had a private gig at Taft St Coffeehouse for one of the local swing-dance groups.
They really love his style, and even though he wouldn’t be considered a swing artist, he can pretty much play anything. One of these guys who can scoop up fill-in players and mix and match when a band member is out, and nobody is the wiser. He’s got a lot of experience and it shows.
In getting to know Brad I am happy to count him as a friend.
He’s great fun to hang out with. He’s very laid back and seems to just be riding the wave. No agenda, just playing music and appreciating it too. He is a great fan of a great many other artists, which would make it really cool to see him writing for some of his favorite musicians. One can only hope, but until then he has a great sound of his own, and a big following in Texas and Oklahoma. Soon, I’d wager, he’ll have a big pool of fans in the islands of Southeast Asia too!
Copyright 2011 – Abby Owen – All Rights Reserved
Photos Copyright 2011 – Abby Owen – All Rights Reserved
Photos (used by permission) Copyright 2011 - Brad Absher - All Rights Reserved