|25 October 2011
Dr Dave: A Genuine Chicago Voice in Turku Blues
Dr Dave and All Scars Blues Band is one of those rare line-ups, which have
been fortunate enough to find a genuine singer-harpist from Chicago. Work
brought David Rios to Turku, Finland's oldest city, in 2008.
It seemed like destiny when he walked into Bar Graceland, the living room of the
Turku blues scene, on his first day in town. Rios admits that when he initially got
to know his band-mates-to-be, Skanky Stixx (Antti Laakkonen, drums) and
Rami Mahka (guitar), they all seemed more interested in enjoying the beer than
talking about music.
However, not much later, Graceland started monthly blues jams. They soon hit it
off on stage as well.
- Later I met lead guitarist/vocalist Michele Ferrari (also known as Mr Ferrari)
and then bassist Esa Salminen. I don't want to swell their heads so don't let
them read this... but they are a great bunch of guys, Rios praises his band mates.
Skanky Stixx looks back on his first meeting with Rios:
- I was in Graceland, I think Pepe Alhqvist was playing there. Suddenly, I heard
this guy blowing a harp under his jacket collar at the bar counter. It was Mr. Rios.
I practically pushed David on stage, and the two gentlemen proceeded to play a
couple of songs together. The impression given was that Rios had accidentally
forgotten one harmonica in his pocket, but the truth was revealed afterwards:
the lining of the jacket concealed an entire arsenal of harps. We kept on bumping
into each other in Graceland, and an idea of a band was born. The All Scars Blues
Band was formed in 2009.
Deciding on the name of the band was relatively easy. There have been, and are,
countless All Stars line-ups around the world, but we are a bit less smooth than
some other blues bands, so we thought the name could just as well reflect that,
A Serious Hobby
Rios is very excited that there are bars and venues genuinely dedicated to live
music and blues in Finland. And why shouldn't he: he has met, and in many cases
played with, such distinguished musicians over the last few years in Graceland:
Pepe Ahlqvist, Dave Lindholm, Honey B. & T-Bones, The BluesBakers, Erkka
Makkonen, Jo Buddy, and so on.
Rios explains that as a youngster he was too busy to study music seriously. Nor
did he take piano lessons. He did sing in the church choir though, and like so
many of his generation, he grew up listening to the radio.
- When I was growing up, The Beatles and Stones were big. Later I was into
Tower of Power and Steely Dan. I guess you could say that for me this is still a
hobby, because it is not my main job. I do take it seriously but I also like to have
fun with my band mates and folks in the audience. My attitude toward the music
is "If it ain't fun, don't do it".
Rios has eight siblings, all of who are good singers. In fact, he claims that he is
the least accomplished singer of the family.
- All my brothers play at least one instrument and the girls all sing like angels.
As a singer, Rios says he was above all inspired by Elvis, Sonny Boy Williamson
II and even by Robert Plant to some extent. His favourite harp players are
Williamson, Little Walter, Kim Wilson and Lee Oskar.
- But the guys who graciously allowed me to share the stage a few times and
really inspired me to get back into the music were Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater,
Mike Patterson and Toronzo Cannon.
Finnish Blues Audience Is Knowledgeable
When asked about differences between playing the blues in Chicago and Finland,
Rios says there are practically none.
- Honestly, it is not that different. The blues is such a global language. That
means I can go just about anywhere and shout out a song title or start tapping
my foot and playing a little thing on the harp and, just like back home, everyone
jumps right in!
However, Rios goes on to point out that maybe that simplifies things a bit too
much. Good blues is born out of a perfect combination of deep emotion, and
physical musical elements, such as great tones and catchy tempo.
- I think Finland is an ideal place for blues music, with long dark winters and
biting cold weather. It seems that one would really need the blues as a creative
In a way, joining a band in Finland probably felt like home again; on his home turf
Rios gigs occasionally with his band The Gurus of Blues. The band has played
major festivals around Chicago.
Another thing Rios is pleased with, as far as Finns are concerned, is their
thorough style of doing things: when people decide to do something, they do it
with a serious intent. He claims he cannot even begin to estimate the number of
times he has met people in Graceland who know ten times more about the blues
- artists, playing techniques, history - than he does. He even jokes about it being
an embarrassing situation for an American blues musician.
- But it is a lot of fun to see and hear the Finnish Blues in action. I have seen
some incredible players and singers here. In particular, harp players seem to
have a lot of soul.
An Instrument Dearer Than Harmonica
Looking back at his family history, Rios figures he has been a singer since was
still in his nappies, though he first actually fronted a band on stage, as the lead
singer, when he was in his late thirties. Despite this, and the fact that he has
played harmonica since he was 14 years old, he would choose his voice over the
harp as his main instrument. The preference of voice over a mechanical
instrument stems out of the notion that one's voice is always more personal in
nature, and thus more controllable, too.
- I feel pretty good about my harp abilities, but I feel I am locked into a pretty
basic harp style and not expecting to learn a lot more about it at this age. I
mention a lot of famous harp players here but I would not put myself in the same
category with them.
A fellow singer-harpist Kim Wilson has mentioned in an interview that his wife is
quite a blues critic. So what about you, Mr. Rios, do you get brisk critique after
- Kim Wilson is a lucky man! My wife is not a big blues fan. But I think this may
also make her a good critic, because she will make a good comment only for
something truly impressive and it generally agrees with what I was thinking.
Right Instruments Sound Right
- When I was 14 years old, my Dad found an old Hohner Marine Band somewhere
and gave it to me. I never stopped to think about who had been playing it before
me, I guess due to my excitement about making music.
Rios says that just weeks after getting his first harp, he had put together his first
garage band. His favourite harp is in the key of B Flat, which is the one Sonny
Boy Williamson used for his track "Help Me". The song appears often in the All
Scars set list.
- To me there seems a certain sad, deeper, blues quality to playing cross harp in
this key especially on this song which is in F-minor. This harp also came in handy
recently: I joined the Flat Broke Trio onstage with "Bright Lights, Big City", which
is usually played in the key of A.
- On this song, you need to play straight harp but bend the upper-range notes
with overblow, as Jimmy Reed would have done it. Well, almost like Jimmy Reed!
Rios also likes to play guitar now and then, usually to accompany himself when
relaxing singing his favourite tunes.
- I also play a bit of the conga drum and occasionally when a band is desperate (i.
e. no real drummers in a 100 km radius) they may force me to play drums on a full
set. Just to keep the beat.
Finally, it is clear that the following quote captures the essence of Rios
relationship with the blues:
- I don't consider myself a real bluesman. I am more like the guy who paints the
Golden Gate bridge every day. Someone else dreamed it, designed it and then
some very strong dudes built that beautiful thing. And now this guy helps to
preserve it by painting it. You could say I am a sort of bridge painter for the Blues!
All Scars Blues Band
The band plays cover songs, thus concentrating on arrangements rather than
writing their own material.
- The concept is clear enough: why attempt re-inventing the wheel when there
are so many great songs out there. It's actually more fun to play the classics and
put them through the All Scars treadmill. Inevitably there will be original touches
to the arrangements, and that is only a positive thing, figures drummer Skanky
- My main work is with the band Sister Manik, and I get to create quite enough
with them, so I suppose it is only a good thing that I do not have to worry about
composing here. On the other hand, we have been tinkering with an idea, titled
Reversed Blues, so never say never, as they say.
All Scars members are strongly connected to the local music scene in the city of
Turku, from playing to organizing events, and professional is quite the right word
here, though this particular band does not provide the daily bread to any of
them, and only a couple of them are professionals in the true sense of the word.
Skanky Stixx, for example, is a man behind several local events, Portsa
Woodstock, Portsa Winter Rock and Navettarock, to name a few. Guitarist-singer
Michele Ferrari is a student in Abo Akademi, and fittingly, he is also the president
of the university's rock association. Ferrari started playing classical guitar about
nine years ago, and he got into blues only later.
Guitarist Rami Mahka has an academic background as a researcher, but he plays
music in a few bands as well. The revamped Paha kuu line-up is currently honing
their original material for recording and gigs, while another cover band, Simple
Rock, play their somewhat 1970s themed rock regularly around Turku. Finally,
bassist Esa Salminen is a heavyweight with a long list of bands, many of them
acknowledged, under his belt: Doctors' Special, King Bream, West Coast Blues,
Arizona Train, Taivaanrannan taiteilijat, Bags' Groove, Slow Mojo, JJ & the
Aces, Judo and the Black Belts are some of his current, as well as past, groups.
The number of gigs he has played has four figures in it.
Stixx hopes that the band will keep on playing together well into the future, and
says the blues scene in Turku is splendid.
- My impression is that the blues crowd is really relaxed. At least I have not
encountered that notorious envy and sullenness sometimes connected to Finns.
It is great, as that never leads to anything good and positive. The scene for
blues and other roots music is better now, with Graceland being a place where
one can go, play it and listen to it every week. So in all, as David once put it in
’Londonese’: "We're keeping it alive, man!"
INTERVIEW BY PIIA LEINO
TRANSLATED FROM FINNISH BY RAMI MAHKA
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