NewsStand    Festivals    Gigs    Clubs    Interviews    History    Research    Books

Early Blues Interview
Alvin Youngblood Hart
Singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist - the 'musician's musician'

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

"Known as a 'musician's musician', Alvin Youngblood Hart's praises have been sung by everyone from
Bob Dylan to British guitar gods Eric Clapton & Mick Taylor".

I caught up with Alvin at the last gig of his short UK solo tour at The Blues Kitchen, Camden, London.

Alan:    You were born in Oakland, California, then your family moved to Los Angeles, then Ohio, then finally settling in Chicago.  What were your earliest musical memories?

Alvin:   One of my earliest musical memories is my Bugs Bunny Ukulele which had a music box and when I broke all the strings I put rubber bands on it, and the Beatles cartoon show.  I didn’t see the Beatles on Ed Sullivan like everybody else because I was only about a year old.  Also, the band that lived up the street from us when I was a kid called the D Dynamics.  That was a really cool name for a band back in the 60s.  We used to go up there during the daytime when I was about 3 or 4 years old. It was a family band and the younger of the brothers used to let us come in the garage when he was practicing and let us strum on his guitar a little bit, step on the drum pedal.  They were a pretty good little neighbourhood band, they played The Beatles, Sly and the Family Stone and whatever else was going on back in those days.

Alan:    You spent a fair bit of time visiting your grandparents in Carrollton in Carroll County Mississippi. That must have had a musical influence on you?

Alvin:   Well, the thing was, everybody assumes that because my parents’ generation left the state of Mississippi that they didn’t bring anything with them.  They brought everything with them, cultural things, music, food, so all that was there anyway.  Mostly what I did, soaked up in Mississippi was just country living.  My grandma was still basically living in the 19th century even though it was 1966.

Alan:    Did you always want to become a musician?

Alvin:   I think that was one of the things I wanted to be for sure.  I was always pretty athletic so I was in the various sports and, yeah, just music.  I liked the way the guitars looked when I walked past the music store and pawn shops. 

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Alan:    Who has influenced you the most in your music writing and playing?

Alvin:   Err, I don’t know.  There was a lot of influence going on with everything from James Brown to the James Gang, Leadbelly to Led Zeppelin, just a ton of things, just good music man.  A big fan of Free when I was growing up – that was the first time I heard the combination of a Marshall  and a Les Paul together, although I didn't know what it was. I was just 7 years old when Alright Now was on the radio and I was like, “Wow, what is that? That is so cool, I want that!”.

Alan:    Now, it's well documented where you got your “Youngblood” name from - the older musicians on Maxwell Street, Chicago, when you used to playing guitar there with them.

Alvin:   Yeah, I was the youngest sibling as well, so it was just that I was the youngster there.

Alan:    Now, the name Alvin, I read somewhere that it came from Alvin and The Chipmonks, is that true?

Alvin:   Nah! It came from Alvin Lee, man!  I had a guitar, like a Gibson 335, it was like the Japanese cheap version of the Gibson 335 with a bunch of stickers and stuff on it.  And I had a baseball hat with A on it.  It was a good disguise!

Alan:    Your music goes beyond the confines of the blues including elements of western swing, pop, reggae and rock. What is your view of the blues as a music genre and do you regard it more as 'world music'?

Alvin:   I really hate genres!  It’s just become to be such a stifling thing.  If you ask about influences I have to say Bill Graham the promoter because when he put on shows at The Fillmore and stuff he’d get everybody, he’d have John Lee Hooker and Cream on the same bill, Miles Davies and Blood, Sweat & Tears.  It got to a point where some people started to get a little bit too serious about the whole genre thing and particularly with like the blues thing.  I think if you get too serious it starts scaring the kids off. 

Alan:    Certainly in England, a lot of the old blues festivals are changing to Blues/Rock or even “Music” festivals, because it covers everything.

Alvin:   Yeah, it starts to scare the kids off.  When I was a teenager, man, in the late 70s, I had the old cassette player, walking around, hanging out with everybody else, I was the only kid I remember in my peer group that was listening to Freddie King.  It was really cool because my friends might want to go to a show and we’d go see something like Judas Priest or UFO, then my brother would want to go to a show and we’d go and see Albert King or something totally off the wall, Stanley Clarke or something like that back in those days.  It was just really fascinating to me to see people playing live music.  How do I get to any level of proficiency?

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Alan:    Are there any particular songs that you play that have special meaning to you?

Alvin:   All of em!  Or I wouldn’t play them!  Of course the songs you write, you have to play those, but the songs I didn’t write, it’s always been like whether or not to perform this song.  It’s based on whether or not you feel a connection with the song and if you think you’ll be able to do a proficient job with it. 

Alan:    Now your first album, Big Mama's Door was all blues. Was that intentional to start there "doing your roots" and broaden it out later, or was it just how you felt at the time?

Alvin:   Well, what was going on, in the early-mid 90s was "Unplugged", right.  Everywhere was into that.  That was my version of "Unplugged" pretty much.  I think it worked out okay and it was sort of unique in that “whatever it was” sort of folk music that I grew up on.  It just so happened to be that was my foot in the door in the music business.

Alan:    That was a big foot! You did well!

Alvin:   It wasn’t big enough!

Alan:    Now I've got to pick up on the one track on Big Mama's Door, the beautiful rendition of Pony Blues.  No doubt you're a Charlie Patton fan; how did you go about tackling his complex guitar style – did you work it out yourself, or did you pick it up from somebody else?  

Alvin:   I don’t know what I’ve managed to tackle but whatever I did with it, I just kind of worked it out myself, man.

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

Alan:    Do you try to get close to Charlie's original or do you tone it down for modern audiences.

Alvin:   I just do things differently.  Sometimes I put in things that are specific to my own existence, poetic licence or whatever it is. 

Alan:    Your second album 'Territory' continuing the blues tradition but extending into western swing, ska, blues-rock - who or what inspired you to 'broaden your musical horizons' at that time?

Alvin:   They were already broad!  But it was time to make a record and I didn’t really want to do the "Unplugged" record again. 

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Alan:    In 2004 you received a Grammy Award for your contribution to the Stephen Foster tribute album 'Beautiful Dreamer: The Songs of Stephen Foster' - the track Nelly Was A Lady. How did that come about?

Alvin:   Largely, luck of the draw.  There’s a thing with that whole awards thing to where I think a lot of it is just name recognition.  Not my name, but that record was a compilation with a lot of names on there.  The voting members of the academy; they were looking for something.  I can’t remember but I think it won something like the Best Folk category and the people in the voting membership of the recording academies are probably going to go for what I would call the lowest common denominator, whatever, the low hanging fruit.  They are going to see a name on there they recognise and they are going to think, oh yes, let’s pick that. There were a lot of other names, like Alison Krauss, Raul Malo from the Mavericks, a lot of names to recognise on there you know.

Alan:    Now in 2005 you released the self-produced 'Motivational Speaker' album - you've claimed that's your favourite album, why's that your favourite?

Alvin:   Well, it’s that some of the songs on there I’d written before I made the record and I’d got to know those songs really well, and liked them a lot.  I just thought it was a good representative of me musically.

Alan:    In 2006 you were a guitar tutor to Samuel L. Jackson for his role in the film Black Snake Moan, and you also recorded a duet with the film's female lead Christina Ricci This Little Light Of Mine, which I read was left on the cutting room floor?

Alvin:   Yeah, big Hollywood moment.   It’s in the movie, but it's just that I’m not in the movie.  There’s a scene where the two of them are together singing a folk song ... This Little Light of Mine ... and I’m playing guitar on that.

Alan:    Do you get the credit?

Alvin:   I think so, yeah!

Alan:    In 2007 you toured with Bo Diddley, in what I understand turned out to be his last tour, that must have been some experience?

Alvin:   It wasn't quite his last but it was close to it.  It was late 2006 when I was with Bo.  That was great, you couldn’t have told me when I was a kid that I’d be on the road with Bo Diddley at some point playing guitar and maracas with him.  It was really good, for me it was kind of a weird thing, a lot of those old timers, they get their handlers doing things for them that they shouldn’t be doing in a musical sense, hiring the band.  I didn’t think that particular band had a real grasp of Bo, I don’t think they were students of Bo Diddley and they didn’t really get his legacy and so after about a week on the road in a 4 or 5 week tour, they were some personnel changes in the Bo Diddley Band.  It was Ruthie Foster, myself and Bo Diddley; so Ruthie would start the show off solo, then toward the end of her set the house band (Bo’s Band) would join her for a couple of songs and I’d join her for a couple as well.  Then I would play with the house band for a set and then Bo would come out and stay out there and play some excellent guitar.  When I got drafted to fill in that other guitarist’s slot I went out and got some maracas because this is Bo Diddley and that's part of the thing, man.  The first night’s sound check after I’d brought in the maracas was funny because I was playing an open tuned guitar and maracas at the same time and he just turned around, looked over his shoulder and yeah, we got to be pretty good friends then.  We found out that each of us liked to go pawn shopping; he liked to go and look for silver, rings and silver ware and stuff and I’d go looking for guitar stuff. 

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

Alan:    In 2008 you had your silver screen debut as 'Juke Joint Musician No. 1' in Denzel Washington's The Great Debaters; any more plans to be a film star and carry on that career?

Alvin:   Well, that's right. Every film I work on I always ask the Director, when are we going to get together and do that Western or something like that? Yeah, If I’m asked again, I’ll do it.  It’s not something I really actively seek you know.  That role wasn’t really much of a stretch.  I just had to act like a musician!

Alan:    Also in 2008 you played with Gary Moore and original Thin Lizzy drummer Brian Downey, and a year later toured with Gary in Germany I believe, that was a good experience for you?

Alvin:   It was great.  I’d been a Lizzy fan since I was 13. I met Gary actually through Otis Taylor when I was doing this banjo tour in England with Otis Taylor and Gary came to my show and we just kind of hit it off.  It wasn’t too long after we were playing a festival I think, maybe up in Leicester, and my band was on the bill and Gary was headlining that night, so he was kind of hanging around and watching our set and he asked me to sit in with him that night and then later on I got a call that he wanted us to come and open a tour for him in Germany.  That was good fun, he’d come out there every night watching our set from the wings and have me come back to his dressing room and have a Guinness and tell Lizzy stories. 

Alan:    You mentioned Otis Taylor; you played on the “Recapturing The Banjo” album. Any more projects with Otis?

Alvin:   No, but there’s always something with Otis.  He’ll come up with some other idea and give me a call. The door’s always open with Otis.  Well, the door’s half open, or half closed, I don’t know which.

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

Alan:    You've got this 'acoustic super group' The South Memphis String Band, with Luther Dickinson and Jimbo Mathus; how did that come about? 

Alvin:   We’ve all known each other for a few years and we just play around in different situations so we thought we’d do something a little bit different and do something together for a change. 

Alan:    So, that’s separate from the North Mississippi Allstars?

Alvin:   Yeah.  We went out and did a couple of tours and records.  We’ll probably get it together again at some point, it’s just another outlet. 

Alan:    You recently did some gigs with Luther and Cody Dickinson as the Mississippi Mudbloods backing Ian Siegal, are we going to see you in that guise again?

Alvin:   Yeah. We keep having a few schedule conflicts.  I would have done a trip with him in November but I had some things in the States that I could not get out of.  And then I had a little health problem through the summer, a little knee issue, so I wasn’t sure what I could do or when.  They are going to do another tour in the spring I think but I’m going to miss that one. It sounds like Ian's record is getting a little action.  It’s good.

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
Ian Siegal, Cody Dickinson, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Luther Dickinson at Bury Met gig, 6th July 2012

Alan:    Now my friend Dai Thomas is an acoustic blues guitarist (and a big fan of yours) who really enjoys playing Bass for therapy and is really interested in that you seem quite at home playing Bass in bands, do you ever sing lead while playing Bass?

Alvin:   It’s more difficult than playing guitar because you are playing single notes a lot of time, but I do sometimes.  I think I sung lead on a couple on the Mudbloods’ tour.  Sometimes Luther and I do some performances with different people where we switch off playing guitar and bass.  Yeah, it’s a difficult undertaking and you’ve got to Sir Paul [McCartney] full credit man, for doing the things he did were amazing.  When I was first picking up the instruments I was, like, wow, how do those guys sing and play at the same time?  It’s insane.  But I finally got a little bit of a grip on it!

Alan:    Here's another question from my friend Dai; do you ever play fretless or dog-house bass and which do you prefer?

Alvin:   Nah, I’ve never really played a fretless.  I have mastered that bridle-bit but I don’t really have anything going on there.

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

Alan:    I know that you’re into tinkering with old guitars, banjos, mandolins, etc. Do you restore them to “as-new” or do you just make them playable. Also, do you sell them on when you’ve sorted them, or do you just keep them?

Alvin:   Most everything I would do would just be for myself, things I wanted to play.  That’s how I got started on all that anyway.  I would see pictures of 20s and 30s musicians and there instruments didn’t look like the ones you buy off a rack nowadays so I was like, well where are they and I found out that a lot of them were, not so much poorly made, but it was a long time for them to survive and you’d find 70 year old guitars and they’d need to be rebuilt.  I kinda learned how to do that.  I was an electronics technician in the US coastguard where I learned to work on valve radio transmitters which was basically like working on a giant guitar amp so I’d build a lot of amps and things like that

Alan:    Any albums in the pipeline?

Alvin:   Well, hopefully, the whole record making thing is changed so drastically anyway.  I made Motivational Speaker record for a label who claimed, yeah, we are going to use our publicity machine, blah blah and they made the record, the next thing you know they are bankrupt so now I don’t think you can buy that record as a hard CD anymore, you can only buy it as a download now.  So I’m hoping to just kind of be careful with who I make any kind of deals with or not with any next thing that I do. Next week I’m talking with my engineer friend and we’re going to try something unusual, different.  We did kind of come from the tail-end of old school recording, you know the last days of tape and all that.  We’re going to try recording some stuff on cassette tape in the future and see how that sounds.  The funny thing was I listened to the four track cassette demos of songs I did for Motivational Speaker and I swear they actually sound better than the record sounds.  It’s worth looking into. 

Alan:    Alvin, many thanks for your time.

© Copyright 2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.




Big Mama's Door, 1996, Okeh Records / Sony Music Distribution
"The debut recording of 33-year-old Hart is extraordinarily simple and simply extraordinary.   .... he succeeds so well in blending technique and feeling, structure and spontaneity, tradition and freshness that he produces a minor gem of a blues record, evocative of the blues masters of the 1920s and '30s".
- Steve Hoffman,


Territory, 1998, Hannibal Records
"Hart is so determined to display his stylistic dexterity that he winds up wandering all over the map: country swing, blues, reggae, gutbucket rock".
- Tim Sheridan,


Start With The Soul, 2000, Hannibal Records
"Hart doesn't go out of his way to appeal only to blues followers. He has the natural ability to fuse twangy country, Hendrix, funk, and reggae into his Delta blues style without regard to genres".
- Al Campbell,


Down In The Alley, 2002, Memphis International
"Hart runs down fairly obscure tunes from Son House, Charley Patton, Leadbelly, Skip James, and Sleepy John Estes, infusing them with a jolt of energy while staying true to their original versions and invigorating them with inspired interpretations. Hart's voice is magnificent throughout -- yowling, moaning, doleful, yet proud as he pays tribute to the Delta and country blues masters".
- Hal Horowitz,


Motivational Speaker, 2005, Tone Cool
"Motivational Speaker is a solid, rootsy raucous chapter in the unfolding saga of the era's most diverse bluesman".
- Thom Jurek,

For more details check out Alvin's website:

Click here for more photos of the gig at The Blues Kitchen


  Thanks to the staff at The Blues Kitchen, Camden, London for their hospitality.


   Thanks to Mike and Grant at Movinmusic Agency who made this interview possible.


Return to Blues Interviews List

Website, Photos © Copyright 2000-2013 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.
Text (this page) © Copyright 2013 Alan White & Alvin Youngblood Hart. All Rights Reserved.
For further information please email:

Home Page
Click on the logo for the main menu