Long Island blues-rock legend speaks about his album
Suitcase Full Of Sorrow And Another Filled
Can you tell us where youre from originally and where you live
now and what you like best about it? Tell us about Long Island and
how living on the Island influences your music. Its easier than
living in the city for sure. Do you have some favorite parts of Long
MOTU: I was born as a first generation American in Manhattan
in NYC, but I spent most of my youth on Long Island. My birth year
was 1954 which oddly enough is also the year of the first documented
use of the abbreviated term "Rock 'n' Roll". It was also
the birth year of the Fender Stratocaster. So growing up, I think
the cultural shift toward new forms of music, social change and the
arts probably had more of an effect on my gravitation toward popular
music of the times than my move east to Long Island. Ultimately, during
the course of my lifetime, I would end up spending time in almost
every corner of the Earth. Thus, having spent time in South and North
America, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Australia, and the
Far East has given me a very global perspective on mankind, which
is reflected in my writing. However, we are all programmed with a
homing instinct, which brings us back to where it all began and Long
Island is my home. My wife and I now live in a beautiful place on
the Long Island Sound. So my own backyard is my favorite place for
mwe3: The title track to the new album, Suitcase Full
Of Sorrow And Another Filled With Dreams is a great rocker in
the spirit of The Band and Dylan fans would also like this. Is it
a life on the road kind of vibe? The song has a country vibe but its
also got a solid rock beat ala Creedence for example. How would you
compare the song to earlier works you've done?
Wow. To be compared to The Band and Bob Dylan is not something I was
expecting. Im honored by your comparison. That title track on
the 19th album release is a departure for me from my previous song
writing efforts. A little more than a year ago, I purchased my first
pedal steel guitar
I got a great deal. Ive been playing
slide guitar since I was a kid so when I saw someone getting rid of
an old 1960s model pedal steel guitar I said to myself, I should
be able to play that. I was right, there was no learning curve.
All my years playing slide guitar made me sound like I had always
been playing pedal steel. So I ended up writing several songs on Suitcase
Full Of Sorrow And Another Filled With Dreams that highlight pedal
steel just because it was a new toy. As far as influences go, I grew
up in the 1950s and 60s, during a renaissance period in music
and literature, which history probably will look back on as the largest
expansion period of the music business. My theory of why this
was so is because new, better recorded albums were
the high-tech software of that time which existed for the sole purpose
of selling the high technology hardware of that time, which were record
players, stereo hi-fi hardware, and speaker systems. Once technology
shifted away from hi-fi systems toward computers and intelligent phones
so did the market demand toward software to support these new tech
platforms resulting in the contraction of the music business. Nobody
cared anymore about big hi-fi systems, so records were now just like
outdated software/old technology and the market doesnt chase
old technology. So, yes, Dylan and all of those other icons influenced
my writing. Remember, I grew up during a period where lyrics held
as much importance as the music did. So, although I have written instrumental
jazz, like my Distant Guitar Whispers In The Wind album, which
is all instrumental and has no vocals, when I do write songs with
vocals, the lyrics drive my creative process just as much as the music
Suitcase Full Of Sorrow And Another Filled With Dreams is the
19th MOTU album. Can you give a brief background about when you first
started recording and how your recording style has changed and progressed
over the years? Is there a way to compare the new MOTU album with
your earlier albums or do you not like to compare your releases? Also,
is there a tale behind the MOTU name for your stage name and your
MOTU: The acronym MOTU is for Music Of The Universe.
It was just shortened by my fans in California. Not much of a story.
As far as my own music/recording journey goes, I actually started
playing around with recording techniques at the age of 11
kidding. I was fascinated with tape recording and spent hours experimenting.
At the time my first instrument was violin so by the time I started
teaching myself guitar at 12 years old. I realize now, looking back
that I was pretty ahead of the curve in understanding audio recording
technologies. My first influences were all of the popular new music
of that time which included folk, blues, rock, and jazz. My first
instrument emulations were of Paul Simon, BB King, Muddy Waters, Miles
Davis, John Coltrane, Wes Montgomery, Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and
Rolling Stones. When The Jefferson Airplane hit the radio waves in
1967, I became obsessed with a young guitarist by the name of Jorma
Kaukonen when I heard Embyonic Journey on their 1967 release
Surrealistic Pillow. Even today I still sometimes perform that
instrumental tune at shows. When I do finger picking blues tunes you
certainly can hear Jormas influence in my playing.
Now, at age
65, I play many string instruments and guitars of all stylespedal
steel, slide dobro, banjo, mandolin, violin, and even the balalaika.
On my 19 released albums, some of which are now out-of-print, I have
always been changing, growing, and never standing still. As I mentioned
earlier, I did a jazz-instrumental album not so long ago yet this
newest album is American Rootsencompassing Americana / country
/ blues and rock. This new band is a 6-piece band but, if you go back
just a few years ago my band was a 15-piece band. Three of my own
past favorite albums are Fast Food Blues, which was heavy on
horns, Distant Guitar Whispers In The Wind, which was a jazz
guitar instrumental album and Time Runs Faster, which was heavy
on dobro. Im very fond of my newest album Suitcase Full Of
Sorrow And Another Filled With Dreams, which is very heavy on
vocal harmonies. So I cant explain the evolution of my music,
and writing, except to say that each album is a time capsule of where
my head was at the time when I did that particular album.
mwe3: What guitars are you playing on the new album and what
pedal steel are you playing? Are you recording with amps or do you
record directly into the soundboard? The guitars are superbly recorded,
especially the pedal steel and what about amps and do you use computers
to help you edit or record?
Thanks for recognizing the sound engineering. I record direct and
also using mics on mostly old Fender amps. Most of my audio techniques
are old school analog on the instrument side but going into a digital
interface. Im very anal about sound engineering and sometimes
my best mix downs are the 100th or so attempt at 2 AM in the morning!
I dont use tape anymore even though I still own some truly vintage
tape equipment. I own over hundred guitars and will use many of them
for specific sounds that Im looking for. On Suitcase Full
Of Sorrow And Another Filled With Dreams, the acoustic guitars
are by Taylor (T5), Gibson (Humingbird), National (Resolectric), Paul
Beard (Dobro), Ovation, and Carlo Robelli. The electric guitars are
by Gretsch (White Falcon), Fender (American Telecaster), PRS (24)
and Gibson (LP Standard and ES355). The pedal steel is by Sho Bud
(Maverick), the mandolin is by Morgan Monroe and the banjo is by Gold
mwe3: Just A Fools Game is classic country-rock.
Dee does a great job on the vocals. Is it kind of a New York style
blues and how about the chord pattern? Is that a standard blues chart?
Its very original sounding. What guitars are you playing on
that track? Theres a very heavy guitar solo, perhaps reflecting
the heartfelt lyrics?
I hate violence and wish that more women would not stop making excuses
for it when their man beats them. I think this is a perfect subject
for a blues-human-interest song
but in my song the woman leaves.
It is a deviation of a 1,4,5 blues progression with the addition of
inserted 7ths and minor chord changes off of each dominant change.
There also is a strategically placed Cm. Although it isnt a
standard blues pattern, it is based off of a standard pattern. So
even though it is unique, there is a blues familiarity to it. It definitely
works. Thus, I felt that the recording needed some powerful guitar,
both picking on the PRS and slide on the Gibson LP, as well as Bob
Rushs awesome Chicago style harmonica and blues piano to offset
the beautiful purity of Dees voice. I also brought up Mark Loebls
bass guitar and Ed Modzels bass drum on the final mix to accent
the highs of Dees voice. She is an amazing vocalist. One of
the past officers of the Long Island Blues Society remarked that you
can tune a piano to Dees voice, which is true. One time
the two of us were practicing with just my acoustic guitar and Dee
singing. Dee told me my guitar wasnt tuned correctly. My guitar
sounded perfectly in tune to itself but when I checked it with a tuner,
the whole guitar was actually less than about a quarter step off but
still in tune to itself! Amazing that her ear could pick that up.
Im very lucky to have her in my life and she is an incredible
mwe3: We Need To Find Our Way Back Home is another
highlight from the new album. Its a great track to end side
one of the album so to speakor back in the day when we had a
sides and b sides to an Lp! Is it a sort of a 50 year update to the
Blind Faith song Cant Find My Way Back Home, with
a kind of 2020 hindsight?
MOTU: I had to write this song. The current partisan divide
in this country has become so tribal that it has turned friend against
friend fostering hate and prejudice on a scale that I have never seen
in my lifetime. Even more of a disappointment to me is that I took
part in marches and protests decades ago in order to implement positive
social change much of which I now see has gone down the toilet. Having
been all over this world, including in third world countries, I have
seen the worst and the best of humanity. This song has a simple message
that doesnt take sides but reminds us of how far we have fallen.
It is one of hope and brotherhood, which were the ideals of my generation
when I was growing up. I believe that we can get back to these ideals
as one nation and as one world.
New World Order is very current and topical. Does it sum
up the hopelessness and helplessness we find ourselves in near the
end of the first fifth of the 21st century? What brought that track
on? Welcome to the land with no apology. Are we still the land
of the free?
MOTU: I still have hope that our country will find a way back
to being a beacon of light for the rest of the world, even if it is
not in my lifetime. The song is dark because we are at a very dark
point in our countrys history. Our government is totally disconnected
from the problems most Americans face as these leaders only pass self-serving
legislation that benefit themselves and the very few extremely wealthy.
So this song digs deeper with direct criticism at those at the very
top who are the real cause of the current social and economic divides
that face us. Whereas We Need To Find Our Way Back Home
explores the societal impact of our current divide, New World
Order explores the erosion of our democracy.
It is the frog in the boiling pot of water paradox, i.e. throw a frog
into a boiling pot of water and it will struggle to jump out but put
that same frog in a pot of cold water that is slowly brought to a
boil and it will just sit there unaware of the rising temperature
and boil to death. Americans have slowly lost many rights over a period
of time so that many just have not noticed. This loss is race and
economic class based, eliminating the middle class entirely so that
now, there just exists a lower economic class and an upper economic
class. I have seen this in many third world countries that I have
visited but I never thought that I would see this in our country.
However, our leaders now favor corporations over the rights of individuals,
which is the beginning of fascism. Therefore, the question should
not be if we are still free but rather what freedoms have been taken
from us and what freedoms are at imminent risk of being taken away?
mwe3: On New World Order you and Rich Fry combine
the guitar sounds. How did you balance the guitar work between you
and Rich and what guitars is Rich Fry using on the new album?
On this song I play the acoustic guitar and the pedal steel guitar
you hear at the beginning. I also play the electric lead guitar and
acoustic lead guitar you hear during the break. Fry plays accent chords
on an electric guitar with a phasing effect, which blends nicely with
my acoustic guitar throughout the entire song.
On this album Rich Fry plays a custom shop Gibson LP, a Taylor acoustic
and Taylor T5. Rich Fry and I work great together and never step on
each other. Our styles complement each other. For example, on A
Devil Woman Rich Fry plays the first single picked lead during
the first guitar solo instrumental and I follow on the second guitar
solo instrumental playing slide guitarsort of an Allman Brothers
mwe3: How about the guitars on Queens Empty Throne?
It sounds like Claptons sound on Wheels Of Fire. Searing!
Is that a fuzz box? Also is there a tambourine sound on that track?
Do you use tambourine to add percussion textures? Its an underrated
It is a Boss DS-1. Simple, but does the trick. Im playing a
Gibson LP Premium Plus Standard through the DS-1 because the burstbucker
pro pickups are hot and perfect for this kind of blues lead solo.
I dont remember Ed using a tambourine on that track but then
again this was recorded live in the studio, with no tracking, so maybe
I just didnt notice when we performed it. Im surprised
I missed that. Ill have to go back and listen to it.
mwe3: Not Part Of Their Game is interesting. Who
is the lyrical message directed at? Its kind of a sad song.
Also, tell us about your mandolin sound. The mando adds a lighthearted
touch to the sound and helps lighten up the mood at bit. I happen
to really like that track and its unusual chord structure. Is Rich
Fry playing acoustic on that track too?
MOTU: There is a great song by Van Morrison titled, Professional
Jealousy. This is another take on that subject. On this track
both Rich Fry and I play acoustic guitars. I also play mandolin on
it. And yes, the chord structure I wrote is strange but I wanted to
get an ominous feel to it, which I think I ended up accomplishing.
The vocals minor structure harmonies add to this.
mwe3: Youre Going Down reminds me a bit of
Neil Young. Did you want to feature a heavy lyric with an even heavier
guitar sound and how did you treat the guitar sound on that track?
Dee really nails that track. Its a perfect track for her strong
vocal. Its a powerful kind of message. Was Neil Young an influence
on your song writing on this track? I was just thinking that even
a casual Neil fan would like the entire Suitcase Full Of Sorrow
And Another Filled With Dreams album.
MOTU: It is a real fun jam song and we like to perform this
one a lot live. Funny thing is that this song was not intended to
sound like a Neil Young tune but it did come out having that sort
of flavor. I was originally going for a Patty Smyth-Springsteen Punk
style. In the end I really like the way the tune came out. Dees
voice really does nail the emotional and lyrical feel I was looking
for and, I would certainly be excited by any Neil Young fans that
this album attracts.
She Knows How To Rock & Roll closes out Suitcase
Full Of Sorrow And Another Filled With Dreams on an upbeat groove.
Did you purposely want to end the album on an upbeat note? Dee isnt
singing on this track, though I guess its a tribute track to
her. So an upbeat blues closes out a very introspective album indeed!
MOTU: This was another live-in-the-studio recorded tune and
you can hear Dee at the very end cheering our performance. My core
fan base has always been blues and jazz based so this one is for those
loyal fans that have always supported my efforts regardless of the
odd twists and turns I have made. Plus this song is my first recorded
attempt at improvisational scat jazz singing. At 65, Im still
experimenting with my craft. And yes, it is an introspective effort.
The more years I live, and the more experiences I have, the less I
understand and the more questions that present themselves to me. So
it is meant to be an upbeat end of yet another brief journey.
mwe3: You were telling me youre doing some private shows
this weekend. Do you plan on playing other shows with MOTU and blues
festivals this summer and how about spreading the MOTU sound all over
the US and even in other countries too? Suitcase Full Of Sorrow
And Another Filled With Dreams is certainly an album worthy of
being enjoyed all over the globe.
MOTU: If you check out my many Youtube concert videos you will
see that they were recorded at locations all over the place. But if
you look real close you will also notice that there are several different
bands associated with me depending upon the location and / or venue.
This is by design and not because it is always changing personnel.
There are some obvious configurations. For example, the six people
that perform on this latest album is my standard electric band. Most
of these people have been with me for years and I consider this my
core band: Dee (Chetta) Michelson, Ed Modzel, Bob Rush, Mark Loebl,
Rich Fry, and me. The second most common configuration is what I call
my acoustic trio which is Dee (Chetta) Michelson, Rich Fry, and me.
The third configuration is just me
solo. There are other configurations but those three are the most
typical ones I work with. Also, I will occasionally do the private
or corporate gig thing which also can be anywhere on the globe. Im
glad you enjoyed Suitcase Full Of Sorrow And Another Filled With
Dreams and I hope my fans embrace it as well. This year is my
50th year anniversary in the music business and I hope to continue
performing, writing and releasing albums for many years to come
as long as my fans want me to continue to do so.