If you’re willing to do what you like, you can survive!
Most blues critics and blues lovers agree that Michael Hill is one of the “chosen few” who would take the blues into New Millenium. With his each new project Michael gets closer to his goal setting new standards to the idiom. Blues fans in Macedonia had a rare occasion to witness his qualities, when he played here on our traditional Skopje Blues & Soul Festival two years ago. His gig is still talk of the town among blues lovers and one have to bear in mind that B.B.King, Ray Charles, Lucky Peterson and others played here!
In his exclusive interview for “Blesok” Michael speaks about his musical path, future plans and wishes.
VI: Could you tell more about your recent activities?
Michael Hill: At the moment we are promoting our latest CD “Larger Than Life” which has been released in Europe by French “Dixiefrog” label. We plan to do a world tour soon with a number of dates in Europe. After three successful albums for “Alligator” I thought that some changes were in order regarding some concepts in production, so some changes were necessary so that we could continually strive for goal to achieve as better recorded blues feeling as we could get. That’s why I think that our latest album is the best so far and we’ve been doing a lot of promotion lately, playing some European festivals, solo gigs and I could tell that reception of new material has been very favourable so far. We did some gigs in Poland, England, France, Holland, Germany, Belgium. We also have lined up some gigs in Yugoslavia this Spring, then probably going to South America and USA, you see we are busy bluesmen at the moment!
VI: Speaking of work, is it possible to make a living by playing the blues?
Michael Hill:Yes, you can if you’re B.B.King or Buddy Guy, ha ha ha! It’s much tougher for others, but if you’re willing to do what you like, you can survive!
VI: After so many gigs on both sides of Atlantic you are definitely qualified to say if there’s any difference between audiences in Europe and USA.
Michael Hill: Well, the audiences are basically the same, because we are speaking about the matters of the heart and feelings, people getting fun and understanding our messages. I don’t see much differences when we play on both continents. I think there are more things that connect people than there are differences and I, personally, feel very good when audience is pleased to hear me, no matter if I play small club or large festival. It’s some fluid that generates artist and his music to audience making some vibrations of togetherness and that is what makes it worth doing what you do. That bond between performer and listener is basically very important component of blues music, you have to touch hearts of the people and if you do that, then your mission is successful.
VI: Some people think that only Americans can and know how to play the blues.
Michael Hill: I think there are a lot of concepts regarding this matter. It’s a common fact that this music is part of Afro-American cultural heritage, based on experience of black population in USA and what’s most important is its beauty and possibility to express that universal human feeling here anybody can express his own in his own way I believe that anybody can play the blues if it comes from the heart.
VI: Your blues is evidently influenced by a lot of different stuff?
Michael Hill: Yes, the blues for me is a musical style, but also a basis of Afro-American culture. My parents were from South of USA and used to tell me stories in my childhood, about our ancestors, their customs and culture. For me the blues is also literature, when I read books by Tony Morrison, James Baldwin and others, I find a lot of blues there, so literature and poetry as in everyday life reveal a lot of blues feelings, it’s expression of how we live. After all, blues like music is important foundation where from emerged all other today universally accepted music like jazz, rock and roll, rhythm and blues, soul, than you also have reggae, different music which is based on Afro-Americam traditions. All these music genres are somehow connected and when I create music, all those rhythms and tastes of various music sounds find their way into my notes.
VI: I think that your blues in particular sounds very original.
Michael Hill: Thank you very much! It’s very important to me, because I always try to make my music have some distinction. When you’re born in New York and want to play some blues, you can’t start with Mississippi Delta blues or something like that. First you absorb the music which surrounds you, like in the Seventies very important names for me were people like “Earth, Wind & Fire”, “War”, Isley Brothers” and “Mandrill”. Beside them I grew up on music by Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Marvin Gaye, Curtis Mayfield and other soul legends. Also I have accumulated a lot of rock and roll energy, so you see, I’m not your typical bluesman! I find great exciement in stuff by “Led Zeppelin” and often do some of their stuff when I feel like it, and it happens often, ha ha ha! And audiences like it too a lot! I have spent years working with people who share my ideas in music, like Vernon Reed and other impressive personalities in music, literature and poetry whose active and creative support to the blues couldn’t go unnoticed. They all managed to contribute for its progression. Then, as an artist, if music comes from your heart, it’s very disctinctive because it’s only yours.
#1 VI: Who are your blues favourites then and now?
Michael Hill: My all-time hero is Howlin’ Wolf, he really is something special. Of course, B.B.King is very influential on me and others. From what I hear on today’s scene I like Corey Harris a lot, he really is wonderful. Then C.J.Chenier is great, I met him some time ago in Germany and he told me how he had a great time in Skopje at your Blues & Soul Festival, a lot of positive things about Macedonia. There are other musicians who I regard highly, such as Joe Louis Walker, he’s special! A friend of mine in New York, Bill Perry, you should really hear him play! And not forgetting my dear friend Shemekia Copeland! There are many musicians whose work I really appreciate.
VI: So, the future of the blues seems a rosy one then?
Michael Hill: Personally I think and wish so. There are many young musicians who bring new ideas while respecting traditions at the same time. With sch fresh blood, blues will last in the future. Recently I’ve been on the cover of “Blues Revue” with Corey Harris and Alvin Youngblood Hart and that was good company!
VI: You had a chance to play with many well known blues people, any special moments?
Michael Hill: Of course! I have played and worked with numerous excellent musicians and had a great deal of pleasure. I wont forget when my band played a session with B.B.King and Buddy Guy, wow! Those moments you cherish forever!
VI: So, when we’ll see you in Macedonia again?
Michael Hill: Hope to see you soon. I still remember our gig at Kurshumli An, too bad we couldn’t stay in Skopje longer. I hope to have a chance to play there again and meet more people, not only music lovers.
VI: What would you say to Macedonian blues fans?
Michael Hill: Try to love each other and keep the faith!