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John Peel OBE, 1939 - 2004

Red Lick Records



Early Blues Interview
Guy Tortora - Vocals/Guitar, The Guy Tortora Band

© Copyright 2008 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.Guy, thank you for sparing the time.

1.    What are your musical memories growing up in Pasadena, California?
The first music I heard was probably my Mom singing!  My parents listened to classical, opera and swing music, Sinatra and such.  My Dad also liked country music, but my Mom definitely did NOT!  My sister, who was the oldest of us three kids, brought rock and roll into the house:  Elvis, the Everlies, Chick Berry, Jerry Lee.  With my older brother it was Beach Boys, Jan & Dean, weird LP’s with drag racing sounds on them, and then the Beatles.  For me it was the sonic assault of the 60’s:  the folk revival, Dylan, the Stones, psychedelic bands, garage bands like The Seeds, or ? and the Mysterians, L A Bands such as Buffalo Springfield, and also blues, soul, gospel.  I devoured it all. 

2.    Did you always want to become a musician?
Me and everybody else I knew in high school.  We were obsessed. 

3.    How did you get started in music?
I started out on the violin as a kid, but gave it up as “uncool” once I’d touched my first guitar,
which my brother brought into the house. 

4. What kind of material were you playing in the early days?
At first it was folk stuff on acoustic, Pete Seeger, Dylan, that kind of thing.  When I got to junior high and high school I was playing in bands at school dances where we played anything that was popular on the radio, rock and roll, surf music, Stones, Beatles, Motown, anything you could dance to. 

5. ‘Roots, Americana and Blues’ – does this sum up what you do?
Pretty much, with a splash of folk and jazz thrown in for good measure! 

6. Who are your favourite blues artists (both old and new)?
Where to start – where to finish?  Old:  The Kings:  both B B and Freddie, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Skip James, Memphis Minnie, Howling Wolf, Junior Wells.  New:  Taj Mahal, Eric Bibb, Bonnie Raitt, Keb Mo, Shemekia Copeland.  Mostly I like the “rootsy” sound. 

7. Who has influenced you the most in your music writing and playing?
For writing it has to be the classic singer/songwriters like Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, but also the traditional songs that have no established author.  For playing acoustic guitar maybe Skip James or Davey Graham.  For electric perhaps Steve Cropper – I don’t see myself as the flashy long solo kind of player – I also like what BB King and Jimmy Vaughan do.  I play mostly with my fingers, not with a plectrum. 

8. What first attracted you to the blues?
The emotional range of the music:  that it could be so profound and yet seemingly so simple, and it was made to make you move. 

© Copyright 2008 Alan White. All Rights Reserved.

9. What was the best blues album you ever bought?
There’s no one album of any kind I’d dare call the best, but B B King’s “Live at the Regal” would be up there somewhere. 

10. What is your favourite instrument?
It has to be the human voice:  infinitely expressive in all its forms.  

11. Are there any particular songs that you play that have special meaning to you?
Every song I do has to have some meaning for me or I can’t put it across.  Of my own songs, “Mama’s Tired” and “Good Morning Mrs. T” are about my parents, “Like It That Way” and “Soulmate” are about long time relationships.  “Cotton Was King” has a lot of meaning for me and audiences really connect with it, too. 

12. What brought you to the UK?
I originally came to Europe with an American girlfriend who wanted to travel – I wanted to be with her.  After we split up I met my wife, who’s British, so I guess you could say it was love on both counts. 

13. Who impressed you musically the most when you first came to the UK?
I first came in the seventies, there was a lot going on then.  Among those who made an initial, and lasting, impression were John Martyn, and also Richard Thompson:  what a great songwriter and unique guitarist! 

14. How healthy do you think the blues scene is in the UK compared with the US?
The scene in the USA is bigger and more integrated into the culture and so more robust.  Even so many venues are struggling these days, and even more so in the UK right now.  But there are new clubs starting up, too, which is hopeful. 

15. Tell me about the band, when did you get together?
This particular band has been going for about six years, but over the last two years or so the rhythm section has been in constant flux.  I’m hoping it will settle down some this year.  My keyboard player Janos Bajtala is now the band member who’s been with me the longest. 

16. Tell me about the making of your new album ‘Living on Credit’?
This album was recorded at a great little studio near where I live in London called The Cowshed.  They have a fantastic set up of vintage and modern gear, valve pre-amps, old mics, and such.  We recorded the basic tracks on 2” tape, and then transferred everything to the digital platform for editing and mixing.  It gave the album a great “Old School” sound without costing me a huge fortune.  My engineer and co-producer Tim Burns must also get a lot of credit for his input and getting everything sounding right. 

17. A lot of music styles are fads but the blues is always with us. Why do you think that is?
So much of the foundation of modern popular music is based on blues and gospel:  the building blocks – the basic DNA, if you will -- of pop music mostly come from there.  So much so that people hardly notice it sometimes.  It has great emotional depth that speaks to everyone. 

18. How do you see the future of blues music?
That’s very hard to predict.  Every form of music has its moment – its prime time of innovation – and then things move on.  The audience for blues music is aging and without more young players and fans there is a danger that the blues will end up in some kind of museum, a musical cul de sac.  But talented players can always bring something fresh to the table. 

19. What are your future plans / gigs / tours / albums?
I don’t plan overmuch.  I make albums as and when I can afford to, so every album sold brings the next one a little closer.  I tour as and when it can be done.  I’m always looking to do more and do it better. 

Thank you so much Guy, I really appreciate your time.

Living on Credit  was released in February 2008, and this latest album brings a slight change of style, aided by the hard hitting harp playing of Giles King on the title track and also on Cotton Was King, a song that's begging to be run over the closing credits of a movie that hasn't been made yet.  The lyrical Like It That Way and the slow swing of White Boy Blues boast the superb playing of Guy Tortora Band keysman Janos Bajtala.  Covers of songs from the likes of Blind Willie Johnson  to J J Cale, Curtis Mayfield and Rick Estrin round out a set containing the musical contributions also of talented drummers Mike Thorne and Mark Fletcher, Richard Studholme on mandolin, and bv's by the UK Family Jewels:  Frankie & Bex. 

The album "Living on Credit" is on Turtledove Records and can be purchased from Proper Distribution:

or by accessing Guy's website:

or by download - try putting "guy tortora downloads" into the search engine at your favourite site.

Artwork used with permission.

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