Interview by Scott Preston
“It’s really honest music and it speaks from the soul and I think that’s why it connects with people from every walk of life”. An accomplished, versatile musician, Colin John commands the stage with both his guitar prowess and passionate singing honed from years steeped in Memphis’ rich music community. His infectious, genre-defying style was described by the British music magazine Mojo as “ferociously entertaining funked – up R&B” and a reviewer in Akron’s Beacon Journal suggested John sounds like “Albert King channeling Steve Vai”. (from colinjohnband.com)
Cincy Groove: How did you and Cliff Starbuck end up playing together?
Colin John: About 2 years ago we were both playing for a guy, Chief Johnny Lonesome at The Thirsty Ear. The band included Cliff on bass, myself on guitar, Jimmy Casto on drums, and Johnny. Thats how Cliff and I had gotten to know each other. We didn’t know each other before that. Then we both discovered we had a love for old country blues roots music. We started to play a little but with that stuff and really hit it off musically and personally.
Cincy Groove: Didn’t you and Cliff play some shows in Hawaii not too long ago?
Colin John: After I discovered we loved the same type of music, Cliff told me a few years back he was going to have some time off. I said why don’t you come out to Hawaii and play some shows with me and he said “Yeah I think I can do that.” (laughing). When we came back from the trip, thats when we decided we were going to record together. Thats what eventually became the General Delivery album.
Cincy Groove: Do you have any new projects in the works?
Colin John: I’m working on a new Colin John album. We have lots of live material, but I might opt for a studio album because my last cd was a live one. We record a lot of our shows, so there’s lots of great stuff. So I have hours of live stuff but I also have some new songs as well.
Then I have another album I just finished with my friend Michael Hill. He is from a band in New York called the Blues Mob. They have several albums on Alligator Records. Michael and I have made a new acoustic album called Fresh Folk Blues. Michael is a very strong songwriter and writes about contemporary situations. So I have the old time acoustic thing going on with Cliff and the contemporary one with Michael.
Cincy Groove: What made you move to London in the early 1990’s?
Colin John: I was in the house band at BB Kings place in Memphis. It was a really fun gig, but I did it for almost two years and got tired of playing Disneyland blues for tourists. Don’t get me wrong it was a great opportunity, I just got tired of playing Sweet Home Chicago 4 times a night. So what happened was a promoter was in the audience from England, and he said “If you ever want to come to England I’ll put you up and back you, kind of be a sponsor.” I discovered I could get British citizenship because my father is English. So I got my British passport, and that took care of the need of trying to get work papers and permits which is notoriously difficult. I kind of lucked out, within the first week of being there I met some guys who were at the time in Eric Clapton’s band. There was Henry Spanetti on drums and Dave Brauns on bass. So we formed a band and got to play a lot over in England and Europe. That was really the first formation of the Colin John Band. That would have been around 1994. Through Dave and Henry I met Gary Booker and Andy Fairweather and a whole slew of great British musicians. Those two guys played with everyone from Eric Clapton to George Harrison.
I had about a 10 or 11 year run in England and I started missing my friends and family back home. So I decided to come back to the states because I had been away for so long. Its amazing when you step away from a place after you have been gone that long to see all the changes taking place.
Cincy Groove: Kind of a funny story, before you sent me the links to all your sites, I typed in colinjohn.com, because you assume thats the most likely domain name.
Colin John: I know what came up (laughing). It was either the Welsh hairdresser or the magician.
Cincy Groove: It was the magician.
Colin John: Thats hilarious! So many people have told me that.
Here is a funny story, about a month ago I got an email from a Scottish friend. He said there were on holiday (vacation) and they were driving through this little village and actually saw that guys magic shop and got the biggest kick out of it.
Its actually my alter ego. Doing magic shows for kids. (laughing). Theres actually some truth to that. I do actually work with kids as well. There is a band in Columbus, OH, Double Barrel. They are a group of youngsters ages 15 – 21. There are 2 brothers who play bass and drums, a really great guitar player and a really great female singer who also plays harp and guitar. I work with a group of kids in Hawaii as well. It’s called the Art Education for Childrens Group. I taught a seminar there last summer and took Double Barrel with me, there were kind of the house band for all the other kids. I thought it would be good to take kids of their own age because they look to them like peers , not adults telling them what to do. So I’m doing that again at the end of June this year.
Its really satisfying because those kids come from all over. From Japan, from Hawaii, from Los Angeles, New York all over the place. I teach them practical things, how to get along with each other in the band, how to listen to each other when you are performing, how to write songs. Some of these kids are quite amazing. Today I think kids have resources , with the internet, dvds, and youtube, they can learn much more quickly that I could when I was starting out.
Cincy Groove: Who do you consider some of your influences?
Colin John: There is a lot of them. Everyone from Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters on through to all the Kings, BB King, Albert King, Freddie King. There’s also Albert Collins, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton. Pretty much every guitar player who you have heard of in the blues/rock genre.
Colin John related links:
Colin John Band – http://www.colinjohnband.com
Colin John on myspace – http://www.myspace.com/colinjohnband
Colin John and Cliff Starbuck – http://www.myspace.com/cliffstarbuckcolinjohngeneraldelivery
Fresh Folk Blues – http://www.myspace.com/freshfolkblues