One of the most dynamic and exciting bands these days is the Blind Lemon Peel All Stars. On June 9th, they will be holding their first ‘Pop-Up Blues Festival’ at Harvelle’s in Long Beach. Blind Lemon Peel, their charismatic lead singer, sat down to talk about the band, some songs from their recent Don’t Tear My Clothes album and their plans for the upcoming Pop-Up Blues Festivals. Known for their hard-driving yet classic blues sound with just a touch of soul, Blind Lemon Peel All Stars is a great band to see live.
Q: How did you and the band get their name?
A: I come from a musical family and all bluesmen have names that tend to start with infirmities and then become fruit. Originally, I think my dad wanted to name me ‘Dyspeptic Rhubarb Pie’, except that was already taken by one of my cousins. My mother came from a long line of Peels; that’s the name on my birth certificate.
Q: What is the ‘Pop-Up Blues Festival’ coming up?
A: The first ‘Pop-Up’ will be on June 9th at Harvelle’s in Long Beach. I have to say, the name of the ‘Pop-Up’ is the brainchild of my publicist, Doug Deutsch. We had been offered to do a monthly third-Thursday at Harvelle’s in Long Beach, which I didn’t want to be about just me. I didn’t want to just do four sets, which we could do, but I saw it as an opportunity to really reach and focus on local musicians and give people an opportunity to make that stage. That to me was my dream come true. When I mentioned it to Doug, that I regarded it as a blues revue, he said “Why don’t you position it as a pop-up blues festival? You can tweak it around and it can pop up in different places”, which to me was genius.
When I met Cevin Clark, the whole concept of opening up the stage to the community was a dream of mine as well as Cevin Clark’s, who owns Harvelle’s, and Lisa Williams, the General Manager of Harvelle’s, and then Scott Lewis, who is the manager of the Blue Beet in Newport. When I told him about it, he said, “This is something I’ve really wanted to do, this is something I’ve wanted in my bar, I’ve wanted to be able to support local musicians”. So this is catching on a bigger wholistic feeling than “we’re going to have the Blind Lemon Peel Blues Band come in on a Thursday night”.
The ‘Pop-Up Blues Festival’ is to promote, feature and give exposure to local artists. To put them on stage, we’ve got commitments from the So Cal Blues Club, Betty Rose, the New Blues Revolution which is Bill Grisolia’s band. There is a great player in the O.C. called Mark Wein who has signed on with us and is going to headline for us at the Blue Beet on August 4th, the BullDawg Band, the Job Striles Band, the Hurricanes, the Sure Thing Band and Kenny Williams and the Blues Blasters. I love Kenny Williams! He will be playing at Newport on July 7th. Another person on that bill that night is Celso Salim, who was the representative of the Long Beach Blues Society, he was the winner—-he went to Memphis for the International Blues Competition. To have a lineup of Celso and Kenny in one night, along with our band which will do two sets, it really will be different kinds of music, just hoping to draw people in and feel like they are supporting their community.
It’s allowing people who are good to come up and get exposure and to be able to be seen and to really make a statement that the blues is alive in the community. It is a grassroots opportunity that we see as a way to partner and it is really critical because we see a lot of promoters that are exploitive of the artist. They have them show up and play for free and the booker puts the money in their pocket. We don’t have a ton of money but we will not ask anybody to play for free. We will make sure that our artists get compensated for something. I believe that not only does everybody believe it is fair, but everybody is kind of surprised. They’re professionals, I don’t expect to play for free and I don’t expect anybody to play for free for me. It’s respecting the music and bringing art into the community.
Q: For blues, many of your songs have a light, comedic touch to them. Why?
A: I think everything is funny! I don’t take anything particularly seriously, especially myself. I like singer/songwriters, I think that it’s an opportunity to embrace the form in its totality, but to also appeal to a wider audience and let them appreciate what the music is about. Loudon Wainwright is somebody that I like, Dr. John is somebody who influenced me, Randy Newman is certainly somebody who has influenced me. Randy’s songs, when you listen to them, they are just so rich on so many levels. I’ve taken to writing a lot of gospel; my songs about redemption and resurrection are pretty funny. There are people who have been offended by them, but I’m not writing about Jesus, I’m not preaching, it’s really about my own spiritual redemption and my own spiritual resurrection, so when I write a lyric like
I’ve got twelve freelance pall bearers Black satanic cowboys Loop Garoo He speak dat Mumbo-Jumbo,
Say I never get with you,
In da hole
In da hole
Yeah Judgement Day’s a comin
There’s a fire in da hole’
It’s about me, a bigger holistic metaphor.
Q: You do a great cover of “My Dog,” which was a big song for Elvin Bishop. What made you pick that song?
A:. You know, I don’t do a lot of covers, but it’s one of those songs that’s a great song. I tend to write love songs about things. I always wanted to be Otis Redding, I wanted to be able to write Try A Little Tenderness. Everything I try to write just ends up quirky. My wife and I got a rescue dog and his name is Bilbo and I actually changed the lyrics a bit. I love my dog and I love the concept of dog rescues, it’s very important to me and I think that song spoke to me in that way and then I tried to make it my own. When I perform, either before or after I do that song, I always make a point of talking about dog rescue. It’s a cause I believe in and that song to me is an opportunity to express what one’s dog means to them. I want to encourage people, after the fact, to go out to the pound, go out to the shelters, up to Marley’s Mutts; it’s a real blessing when you can save a dog and see it flourish and experience its love.
Q: “Don’t Tear My Clothes” has such an old time blues feel to it. What inspired you to write it?
A: Truthfully? (Laughs) I was at one point in my life very seriously involved with two different women. I knew that I was going to have to ultimately choose between the two of them and they knew that each existed. One day I got out of the shower and I realized my back looked like something had taken a bite out of my back. I had the biggest bruise you’d ever seen! I thought I had some kicking damage. One of the women had given me the hickey to end all hickeys because she knew that the other girl would see it. Basically, she was marking her territory. When I called her, I said “Do you know what you did to me?”. And she said, “Oh yeah, I did it on purpose to mark my territory”. That turned into Don’t Tear My Clothes! “When I get home, my wife will be waiting……she’s going to give me the third degree….ask me where, were there women or just men…..and if she thinks I am lying, she’s gonna sue me for D I V O R C E and that spells trouble…..”.
Q: The musicianship on that song is just incredible.
A: Thank you, it’s actually my favorite song. I’m actually very fortunate, there is Blind Lemon Peel West and Blind Lemon Peel East. Both of them are extraordinary musicians, extraordinary people to play with. Each one has its own signature vibe to it.
Q: What’s special to you about a live performance?
A: Oh, the magic of showtime. There’s nothing better then to make people get up and dance and just see them getting off. Being able to project—-they feel your energy and they project back to you, you project back to them and they project back to you. What I’ve taken to doing lately, and it’s something I used to do—-I don’t know why it kind of went away from my live show—–but Shake Your Love Thang, which is another song I co-wrote with a guy named Tim Arnold, when I would do Shake Your Love Thang I would go into the audience and I would make it an audience participation song. I would just find some hot woman and I would put the mic in her face and have her sing and sing with her. We were doing it in Long Beach about a month ago. There were two clearly gay gentlemen who—-I just went up between the two of them, put my arms around them and had them sing with me and it was just these two guys and me. I like to think of us as a welcoming band, that when you come and you see us, it’s participatory that you are our guests.
That goes back to the Festival. I make a point of conversing with every single person who reaches out to me. Whether they’re right or wrong, or indifferent, or if they send me a link that I don’t think is necessarily what I am looking for, I will go back to them and talk to them more about what we’re envisioning this to be. It’s not an indictment of their music, but can they show me something. Do they have something else? I don’t want to just say nope. There is a guy by the name of Michael St. James. Michael St. James was one of the earliest people to reach out to me and he is a kick-ass guitar player. He’s just remarkable. I wrote back and said to him, “Dude, your links are hot. How many guys are in your band?”. And he said, “Well I would think the music just speaks for itself”. I said, “It does, the music is just awesome, but tell me a little bit about your band”. He said, “Well you can hear the music”. At which point I wrote back and said, “Dude, you’re being very evasive here. I have a sense that you played all the instruments on these tracks and you don’t have a band. If you’d like, I want to consider you for the Festival. You’re local, you’re clearly talented, you clearly don’t have any body and I’ll have my band back you up. Why don’t you come to a rehearsal with us and sit in with my guys and have them work with you and you work with them and I would love to book you”. I just hit it on the head, he didn’t have a band. I subsequently introduced him to a bass player that I know, I’ve introduced him to a drummer that I know and he’s coming in next Tuesday when we rehearse and he’s going to spend an hour working with Ray and Craig and if he wants DJ to play with him then that will be fine. Ideally we will book him in to one of the Long Beach shows. I would encourage people to send us their links if they want to participate. Our email is firstname.lastname@example.org. Long live the blues!
The ‘Pop Up Blues Festival’ will begin on June 9th at Harvelle’s in Long Beach. Locations for upcoming ‘Pop Up Blues Festival’ include the Blue Beet in Newport Beach, Rusty’s Surf Ranch in Santa Monica and the Manhattan Beach Festival. Local vendors and merchants will also be in attendance to complete the Festival experience. In addition, at the June 9th Festival, a local artist will begin to paint a blues-themed painting which will be auctioned off at the end of the show, with all the proceeds going to the artist.