Bourbon Road is a blues band from Orange County. I met up with "Cleanhead" Joe McGaha and Scott "Lucky" Hudson at Lamppost Pizza in Ladera Ranch on 19 September.
I noticed you guys have played reggae, heavy metal, lots of different styles. How did you move from playing reggae and heavy metal to blues?
(Joe McGaha) Do you want to go with that first?
(Scott Hudson) You know, I think you take a bunch of different talents. You get a bunch of blues guys, and I donâ€™t mean this in a negative way, you get kind of a stagnant sound, or maybe a predictable sound. But if you bring something from all different directions, it kind of adds a little spice to it and it makes it interesting. And weâ€™re not a traditional blues sound. Weâ€™re more up-tempo. We always hear the term â€œhappy blues.â€ Everybody kind of adds something to it.
(JM) Yeah, absolutely. I wanted to do the blues for a long time, and I avoided it because of the blues Nazis, who are hardcore. Theyâ€™re like, â€œIf itâ€™s not Delta blues, itâ€™s not the bluesâ€ or â€œIf itâ€™s not Chicago blues, itâ€™s not the blues.â€ We played with a lot of those guys and it can be difficult sometimes. (laughs)
(SH) We had a harmonica player one time, and he was saying, â€œOh you guys need to slow down and get more laid back. Youâ€™re not bluesy enough. I said, â€œWell, look at the people in the audience. Theyâ€™re all smiling, and dancing and happy. Isnâ€™t that the goal?â€
(JM) Itâ€™s kind of a coincidence that both Scott and I were in reggae bands. We were kind of each otherâ€™s competition in the late eighties, early nineties. You were in Jambalaya, right? And I was in a band called Foreign Exchange. We heard about each other and I heard about them and I was like â€œLetâ€™s see how good these guys are.â€ We never ended up playing off of each other and we ended up playing together.
There are so many different kinds of blues. I want you guys to come up with a unique term for your sound, which you kind of already did.
(SH) Well, the happy blues, yeah thatâ€™s kind of a good term. You know, we were at a club one night down in Long Beach and this guy came up. He was like sixteen, real young. One of the things weâ€™ve noticed is that all kinds of people really like our sound. All ages, all types, it doesnâ€™t matter. And this guy came up after the show and said, â€œYou know, usually I donâ€™t dance. But you guys are so good, I just had to dance, and the only person I knew who was here to dance with was my mom. So I danced with my mom for the first time ever.â€ Thatâ€™s our music. Music so good youâ€™ll dance with your mom.
Thatâ€™s pretty good.
(SH) You just go back to what makes people happy. Do people go out to a club and do they want to go, â€œWell, I donâ€™t know. That note was sharp or flat or that bass player hit a wrong note.â€ Itâ€™s not really about picking it apart. Itâ€™s about emotion.
(JM) We try to give them a show too. We like to move around the stage and everything. I mean, I know a lot of musicians that just stand there and do their thing. But I figure if youâ€™re going to do that, people might as well buy the CD and stay home. People want to see a show. They paid for the tickets to see it.
(SH) We want to go 110% every time. And if it means that weâ€™re going to jump around the stageâ€¦
(JM) Or if it means weâ€™re going to fall off the stage.
(SH) Or if it means our guitar player is gonna break strings, then thatâ€™s what weâ€™re going to do. Weâ€™re not gonna hold back. Weâ€™ve never had that weâ€™re too cool for you attitude. Weâ€™ve always had the attitude of what can we do for you. Thatâ€™s why weâ€™re always going 100%. Youâ€™ll get those guys and you see them play and, like Joe says, theyâ€™re just totally static. They donâ€™t want to move and theyâ€™re playing and theyâ€™re like â€œIâ€™m really into my music.â€ They wonâ€™t make eye contact and theyâ€™ll stare at the guitar. Donâ€™t these people deserve more than that? Give them more. Give them everything.
(JM) Exactly. Yeah.
That helps people remember you too. It [remaining static] certainly doesnâ€™t give the crowd anything to remember you by.
(SH) Yeah, youâ€™re not memorable. And if youâ€™re not memorable, youâ€™re just wallpaper.
You get to share the stage with any two blues bands or artists. Who do you want to share the bill with?
(JM) Alive or dead?
Alive or dead.
(JM) Alive or dead. Wow! I would say BB King definitely and Robert Johnson. I mean, you canâ€™t do better than that, right?
(SH) You know, there are so many guys that started it all when there was nothing, and I got so much respect for all those people. Those are the guys that went out and they got in an old car and drove from bar to bar, and they had no money and no respect and no albums. So many of those guys died penniless. Those are the guys that really established everything. I donâ€™t know if I could think of a group of people. Who was that one guy we played with in Arcadia one time?
(JM) In Arcadia? Oh God, I canâ€™t remember his name, but he had played with Sam Cooke. He wasâ€¦Oh man, his nameâ€™s not coming to me now.
(SH) He was a super old guy.
(JM) He played saxophone.
(SH) He came up on stage and he was sharp. He had alligator shoes, and his pants were creased and he was dressed to the tee. He goes â€œHey, can I sit in with you guys?â€ â€œYeah sure. Whatever.â€ And we thought we were going to play a song and he was gonna play some sax. And he turns to us and he yelled out something like â€œLucille in G. Ready? One, two, three.â€ And we all jumped in. It was kind of a freaky thing to have it happen so quick but he was so comfortable. He wore the blues like a suit, like he was the blues. And to play with a guy like that and to realize that heâ€™s been doing that for probably fifty years, sixty years and that he was so good. He could walk into a place with a bunch of us and just snap his fingers and play and just be so good. You know, you gotta respect that. So I donâ€™t know. Thereâ€™s just so many guys like him.
(JM) Like JJ â€œBad Boyâ€ Jones too.
(SH) He passed away a while back and he was great. Thereâ€™s all these guys. The big guys made a little name, but all these guys that never made a nameâ€¦
(JM) But played the chitlins circuit for years and years and years.
(SH) Those are the guys I have the most respect for. I guess thatâ€™s a long answer.
Thatâ€™s all right. Youâ€™re allowed.
(SH) Youâ€™ll edit it down. Lucky said, â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
Tell me how you came to the name Bourbon Road.
(JM) Iâ€™ll let you take this one too.
(SH) We originally were called the Barnburners. I have this barn at my house. It didnâ€™t have any electricity in it, so we would run extension cords for the amps. Weâ€™re kind of pushing it electricity-wise, so we used candles for lighting. So it was sort of like fire, barn, barn burners. That was great until we started playing a while and we released a CD. And then the lawyers came after us and we werenâ€™t allowed to use that name. So then we changed to Burninâ€™ Blues. Same thing. The lawyers came after us. You can get the creative part together but to get past the legalese part. Itâ€™s so tough. And we do a lot of road songs. â€œDown the Road,â€ â€œFurther on Down the Roadâ€ that type of thing. I think it was just sort of like weâ€™re bummed because weâ€™re battling the lawyers and itâ€™s sort of like going down the road, and bourbon kind of representing drinking your sorrows. Itâ€™s a rough road.
(JM) Which also fits the blues and itâ€™s southern. So it kind of fit. We threw out a bunch of names. We had this long list and we had this long meeting and wrote down literally probably two hundred names. Then I went and started searching them out and broke it down to one name that was good and safe. And it felt good and we all liked it. Which was the most important thing. Itâ€™s really tough to get five guys to agree on anything.
But there are no ties to Kentucky or anything like that?
(JM) Not really.
(SH) Ohio. Our guitar player is from Ohio. Thereâ€™s a big music scene in Ohio and our drummerâ€™s from Missouri.
Because thatâ€™s what I think of. Iâ€™m actually from Ohio too, so when I hear Bourbon Road I think of Kentucky.
(JM) Kentucky bourbon, yeah.
(SH) Itâ€™s more like a metaphor for a hard road than anything else. The music partâ€™s easy. Itâ€™s dealing with the lawyers and the legal stuff lawyers that makes it hard.
(JM) And I liked it also, and this is really obscure, but I was born in Spain and the Spanish royal family, the original Spanish royal family had the last name Bourbon. (laughs)
(SH) Where in Ohio?
(JM) Eddie is from Mansfield and we had another guy from Parma who played drums for us for a while. The song Amrap, itâ€™s on the CD, thatâ€™s Parma spelled backwards has a lot of references to the burning river and The Flats.
(SH) A lot of the Ohio humor in it. When our guitar player was playing there, he said he put himself through college playing in bands. He goes â€œYou can go out and thereâ€™s always music. It wasnâ€™t like weâ€™re going to see Bourbon Road. â€œIt was like weâ€™re going out and then weâ€™ll just see whatâ€™s there.â€
(SH) He kind of brings that to the group, that spontaneity.
What would you be doing if you werenâ€™t making music?
(SH) Weâ€™re all doing other stuff too.
Thatâ€™s generally the case.
(SH) Weâ€™re all involved in a lot of different things but the music keeps bringing us back. You talked about the different styles. Weâ€™ve all done music for years and years and years. You never quit being a musician. You go on and you do your stuff. And you keep coming back.
(JM) Lucky is a race car driver, NHRA. He also announces and has a television show on the internet called Speed Scene Live.
(SH) But everybody does different things. We have careers, but a lot of times your passions are more into the music than anything else.
(JM) Iâ€™m sure if we werenâ€™t doing this, weâ€™d be doing something else artistic. I was a theater major in college. And I kind of fell into music because I dropped out of college to become an actor. I was auditioning for six months and I wasnâ€™t getting any parts. Every day, auditions. I was twenty-one and I got real depressed and I started drinking a lot. I met some other musicians and they were just playing.
(SH) Itâ€™s a good place to meet musicians, the bottom of a bottle.
(JM) Exactly. They liked my voice and I joined a band and Iâ€™ve been in bands ever since. Then I found out later on that a lot of bigger actors, like Kelsey Grammer, auditioned for years without getting a part. So maybe I should have just waited. This worked out too. The good thing about music is you donâ€™t have to wait for it to come to you. You can create something, create a product and thereâ€™s always a place for it.
(SH) You know, thereâ€™s so many things about the blues community thatâ€™s so vibrant. So many other styles of music are so hit-and-miss, but thereâ€™s such a great following of people involved in southern California blues. Itâ€™s great. Weâ€™ve been able to share the stage with Robben Ford and some great names and itâ€™s just the people. Even though they maybe donâ€™t know you or theyâ€™re there to see someone else. They always embrace us and really enjoy our music. I donâ€™t want to say itâ€™s an easy sell but it seems like people are open to hey, what are these guys doing.
Blues fans out here are pretty supportive.
(SH) Itâ€™s true. Itâ€™s not like, â€œI donâ€™t know you, so Iâ€™m not gonna like you.â€ But if youâ€™re bad, theyâ€™ll let you know. But if youâ€™re good, we get people that come to see us again and again at different shows.
Bourbon Road will be playing at Java Joeâ€™s in Yorba Linda on 29 September and 27 October. On 20 October, the band will play the sixth annual Rods, Rides, and Racers benefit at the Cox offices in Rancho Santa Margarita. You can also find more information and songs at www.myspace.com/bourbonroad.
WORLD - CULTURE
Copyright © 2010 Gary Schwind
Music So Good You'll Dance with Your Mom
Copyright © 2010 Gary Schwind
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