|4 June 2010
Live Swedish Delta Blues in Finland: Bottleneck
In June 2010, Sweden’s renowned blues and gospel singer Johan “Bottleneck
John” Eliasson will be playing his first Finnish gigs, armed with his brand new
“Northern Heart, Southern Soul” CD. I first met John in Slovakia in 2005 and
was floored by the power of his vocals. Since then he has travelled all over –
from the UK to Italy, Estonia to Mississippi.
How come you haven’t played Finland before?
I have toured in Denmark and Norway, but strangely Finland just hasn’t
happened yet. I can’t see no reason why really, other than that I’ve been busy
touring elsewhere – I’ve been meaning to, but there’s always the matter of
getting proper contacts going and having someone to book your act for a club or
festival… But finally it has happened and now I am really, really thrilled to do my
first gigs in Finland!
What sort of material will you be performing here?
Acoustic blues and spirituals, plain and simple! This time with a double-bass
player named Fredrik Eriksson. Classic tunes from Robert Johnson, Son House, Bo
Carter, Blind Willie Johnson, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, Bukka White, etc.
Some of my own songs as well. What better way to get your audience in the
mood than with a set of laidback stuff from the Delta?
You have been singing and playing in a great variety of styles and band
setups. What keeps bringing you back to the classic blues and spirituals?
It’s true that I like to keep a very broad style of blues, this helps me find more
opportunities to play at clubs, festivals etc. I’d say that half of my gigs are solo
gigs and the rest is some kind of collaboration. You just say what kind of blues
act you’d like and I can offer you just that! But it does seem that I’m always
drawn back in time and place to the Mississippi Delta of the 1920’s and 30’s.. I
guess this is THE music that touches my soul the most?! It must be, I haven’t
found much contemporary music that can compare to these old recordings in
terms of soul, feeling and honesty.
Who would you say are your greatest influences/inspirations?
Son House for the amazingly strong vocals, Blind Willie Johnson for his truly
remarkable bottleneck guitar playing, these are two bluesmen I just can’t hear
too much of, I just love their music. And a whole lot of other blues singers from
way back when.
You have yourself toured in the Mississippi Delta. What was that like?
Grand… “Incredibly wonderful” are the first words that I find to describe my trip
to the home of the blues! To see this landscape with my own eyes was totally
awesome, any blues musician’s dream come true, really.
I did a small tour in the Delta with gigs in Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas.
Among other things, I was invited to play the Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival
in Helena – most blues fans know it by its former name, "The King Biscuit Blues
Festival". It was a great honour and a fantastic event, playing at "The Biscuit" is
one of the highlights of my career! In addition, I was able to see and hear a lot of
amazing blues musicians there, including the late Robert Jr. Lockwood’s last
concert there, and I have it on video!
The reception was very warm and positive, people were very puzzled and
delighted that Europeans came to their districts and played the blues in the old
style. I travelled around and got to see the poor side of the Delta as well, it was
educational to see the vast cotton fields stretch out in the South and think of
those early bluesmen, the originators of the blues music form as we know it
today… Oh man, what a hard life it was for those who had to pick them cotton
balls by hand in the incredible heat and with lots of nasty insects that can bite
real bad! I can now say that I understand the blues on an entirely different level.
There was a plan for me to go back in October 2009 but then my daughter was
born and I had to re-schedule, but I definitely will be going back!
You’ve got a new CD out – can you tell us about that?
Absolutely! The new album is called “Northern Heart, Southern Soul”, and the
title says it all, haha. My new, looong over due solo project, to finally deal with all
the songs I've written over the past few years, arranging, recording and
releasing my songs on this CD. The songs have been written and tucked away in
piles of paper for years, I didn’t really know what to do with them, or when or
how, but I've done this now and my music has been overwhelmingly well
received, I’m truly proud and happy about it. Lots of vintage instruments were
used and a whole bunch of my good friends appear on the CD, great guys and
awesome musicians, too!
And finally - why did Johan Eliasson become Bottleneck John?
It’s way bluesier, LoL! It tells the audience what I’m all about before they’ve
even heard me. I guess I found that getting people outside of Sweden to
pronounce my name wasn’t quite as easy as saying BJ, so I just stuck with it, it
works well and I can now use my real name for my singer/sonqwriter stuff,
another side of me that not too many have heard yet. Hopefully, I’ll get a chance
to perform this material live somewhere too!
Bottleneck John will appear at the Kaavi Blues Festival on 11 June. On Friday 10 June, he
gives a church concert in the municipality of Janakkala.
Links: Bottleneck John website, MySpace, YouTube
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