Home' Rhythms Magazine : 2016 Jan-Feb Contents I recently had a great gig in
Sydney, sharing the bill with
The Blues Preachers. They
comprise ‘Brother’ John
on guitars and vocals, and
‘Captain Bluetongue’ on
harmonica and vocals. Drawing
from the deep well of classic
early country blues and then
some, they exhibit a passion
and dedication to the art that’s
infectious. A combination
of lovely fingerpicking and
tasteful harmonica is further
enhanced by convincing and
often harmonised vocals.
The major blues influences
are obvious to aficionados
but I also notice some more
diverse elements in your
John: I also have a background in Celtic folk,
Appalachian folk, bluegrass, gospel, Hindustani
classical music and rock ‘n’ roll.
Captain Bluetongue: My more diverse influences are
from the pre-war harmonica era. I love players such
as Noah Lewis and DeFord Baily. I am also inspired
by Jerry Murad’s Harmonicats.
Captain, I particularly like the restraint you
exhibit as a harp player. You seem to be really
song-focused. Can you tell me a little about your
approach to the instrument and how you arrived
at this point?
It’s all about melody and the instrument adding
colour and harmony to the song rather than the
music being a base for which to add a wailing
solo. I like to play across different positions to add
a different voice and feel when required. I also
enjoy playing around with bass harmonica and the
Chromatic. The harmonica for me is icing on the
cake. The song and the melody is the cake!
John, always delighted to see a serious
fingerpicker without that all-pervading stomp-
box! It’s a light and lyrical approach, I suspect as
a result of your eclectic taste?
I love Doc Watson and Mississippi John Hurt. After
all these years I am still fascinated by Blind Blake’s
ability to play thumb notes on both the on and off
beats and I am still listening to Blind Willie Johnson’s
entire repertoire. My idea of a fun afternoon is to
take an obscure folk song or a well-known pop song
and arrange it for fingerstyle guitar. I am a guitar
nerd through and through!
John, one of the highlights of a Blues Preacher
show is the vocal harmonising. It’s not that
common in blues. How did you arrive at that?
Captain’s vocal background is a little more rock
‘n’ roll than mine. He is also able to sing with the
roughness and the forward projection of the likes
of Son House. My vocal style is more traditional
with folk, gospel and hillbilly influences. Our vocal
harmony arrangements are very simple, just as they
would be in a bluegrass or country band or a gospel
choir. What stands out is that we are blessed with
strong voices that blend.
Great sounding guitars John!
On stage I use two 14 fret OM style guitars and a
parlour guitar all made by Sydney luthier Gerard
Gilet. My resonator is a National Style O. I use EMG
magnetic sound-hole pickups on the OMs and a
Fishman humbucking active rare earth sound-hole
pickup on the parlour. The National has a National
Hotplate system which has an inbuilt magnetic
pickup. I run all pickups through an AER Compact
60 acoustic guitar amp and run an XLR out the back
of the amp to the PA. To add more natural acoustic
sound to the mix I mic the bodies of the acoustic
guitars with a Rode NT5 condenser microphone.
Captain, I know there’s a world of tones and feels
in harp world, what do you play and how do you
approach stage sound?
I play a variety of Hohner and customised
harmonicas as well as a bass harmonica and
Chromatic. Because we are an acoustic act, my stage
sound is all about the harmonica adding colour
and not overpowering the sound. I play through
my vocal mic which allows me to move in closer for
definition and away for subtlety. This also allows me
to use hand techniques which are relatively limited
when playing through a bullet-style mic.
What can listeners expect when they put on a
Blues Preachers album?
Our latest release, Dead Catz Can Bounce, goes
one step further than our previous, more traditional
releases in that it contains many original songs
about the big issues of today: the global financial
crisis, greed, relationships, global warming,
materialism, life and death and the search for truth
and meaning in the great age of misinformation.
We have a traditional country blues sound with both
contemporary and folk undertones. Our songs are
anthemic and full of melody and harmony.
THE BLUES PREACHERS
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