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Ken Wallis Chats With Blues Legend Tom Hambridge


By Ken Wallis.



Every once in a while, you discover something new that somehow escaped your notice. It took Betsie Brown of Blind Racoon to open my eyes to Tom Hambridge. And what a revelation it was! Tom Hambridge is one of the most prolific songwriters, producers, and musicians on this planet. I won’t do my usual preamble to introduce the artist, because most of it is captured in this interview. Just read and enjoy a massive talent. More info at hambridgetunes.com


Ken Wallis interviewed Tom Hambridge for the radio show BluesSource International. The following are excerpts from that interview, amended and edited for brevity and length.



Ken Wallis

The term legend is bandied around in the music industry quite a bit, but when you meet up with a guy that's produced a hundred albums, written over a thousand songs, a four-time Grammy winner, that word really suits Tom Hambridge. He's a drummer, composer, writer, producer, you name it he does it, and he's joining us. Tom, thanks for coming on the show.


Tom Hambridge

It's great to be here, thank you for having me.


Ken Wallis

It's a wonderful album, but first I think we should let our listeners know the meaning of Blu Deja Vu. Why did you pick that title?


Tom Hambridge

It was deja vu, you think you've been there before, but it's Blu Deja Vu and I think everybody's been a little blue at times and been into the blues at times. It's a familiar feeling and hopefully the songs take you there.

Ken Wallis

If you were to describe the album to somebody who hasn't heard it yet, what would you say about the album?


Tom Hambridge

I would say, first of all, it takes you to a lot of different places. It starts off with Buddy Guy and Ain’t It Just Like Love, which is very uplifting, and boogie and positive. It goes into That's My Home, about traveling, with Joe Bonamassa, and kind of everywhere you are that's your home if you're a musician. And Wear You Out is kind of a boogie fun ZZ Toppish thing, but then it draws you into Smarter Than I Was, which is a little darker. There's an instrumental with James Cotton. I think it encompasses all sides of blues and blues rock.


Ken Wallis

And your last album was in 2018, so you've been doing some other things rather than recording your own music in that time period?


Tom Hambridge

That's right. I think somebody said I produced a hundred albums since then and I hadn't followed up my last album, my last solo album. I always want to go into the studio and make my next record to follow up the Nola Sessions record, but I'm easily sidetracked. If an artist reaches out to me or a band, and they say it's time for us to do another record, can you start writing for that? I kind of get into that and I don't think there's anyone around that's saying, hey no, you got to do your record. At one point, I just thought I need to button this one up and get it out to the world, because I'm sitting on something that I think is pretty cool and I just want to get it out there.


Ken Wallis

What's your first love? You wear so many different hats. You're a drummer, you're a singer, you're a record producer, you record your own music. Is there one aspect of the music industry that you lean towards the most?


Tom Hambridge

I think I Iove it all so much that I never set out to be one or the other. I've always been a drummer, so as far as I know, I've always been a drummer. I started playing when I was really young, like three or four, so I don't have a memory of not being a drummer. I've always been banging on things and playing along with records. I think that's probably my first love. But the minute I heard the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and everything, and I was in a band, I just wanted to write songs. I wanted to write our songs and a lot of the musicians in my early bands when I was in junior high, they would say, Tom just learn the Aerosmith song and we're good. I'd go but why don't we write our own Dream On, and they go well we don't know how to do that. I was constantly writing, and I said well here's an idea, and slowly but surely I would be in these bands and they would play one or two of my songs. I was always trying to do that and then I said, let's try to record It, and they would go why would we want to record? I go well because they recorded their record, and so that's how it just kind of evolved. I just love the whole process. I just love music so anything to do with music I'm game.


Ken Wallis

You've mentioned so many of the guest artists that are on your album. Buddy Guy, Joe Bonamassa, Christone Kingfish Ingram, and of course James Cotton. The song that really struck me and really surprised me was the Johnny Winter tune. I never realized that Johnny Winter was not in the Hall of Fame, that just shocked me


Tom Hambridge

It's crazy, it doesn't even make sense to me that he's not in the in the Hall of Fame. I was just sitting around thinking about that one day, and I'm really glad you brought that up, because that song, it comes across maybe as funny. Hey, I walked into the Hall of Fame, I'm looking around, why isn't Johnny Winters’ picture on the wall? The song is meaningful, there's truth in that, it means a lot. I cut my teeth on guys like Johnny Winter. Everyone was influenced by Johnny Winter, I mean everybody, Stevie Ray, everybody was influenced by Johnny Winter, and Jim Hendrix. And Johnny’s not in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and it just blows my mind. So, I just thought I would at least touch on it, and maybe it'll find its way into some people's consciousness at some point.


Ken Wallis

Let's hope it does. How do you go about writing your songs? What comes first the lyrics or the music?


Tom Hambridge

It's always different. There are there are times when I get a thought, some words and a phrase I'll hear and I'll be thinking, I got to get out of town, I just might say something like that. Man, this is crazy, I need to just take a ride and I'll get out of town. And I'll be like, get out of town, I might write that down and go, there's a Route 66 song in there called get out of town. I'm gonna write it at some point and then sometimes I'll just be sitting down here at the piano, or in a mood and I might come up with a melody and I'll put words to that. So, it's always different. but sometimes it comes like lightning. You just got to be aware that something's happening and capture it, or else it's gone forever like a dream.


Ken Wallis

0ne of my favourites has got to be Buddy Guy, the man is just amazing. How did you first meet him and how did you develop a relationship with him?


Tom Hambridge

I had got a record deal, I signed a major record deal in 2000, and I put out a record called Balderdash and it was a really big. It was a big label called Artemis, and they signed me, and Warren Zevon, and The Pretenders, and Steve Earle, Todd Rundgren. It was a really cool eclectic label out of New York. And so my record came out, and I was on tour opening for Buddy, and he always gets there after the opener plays, he arrives in the intermission and then he goes on. And one particular night, it was like night number ten in a row, I was walking off the stage after my show, and his manager said Buddy wants to see you in his dressing room. And I go. oh my God, what did I do? I went into the dressing room and he's sitting there drinking a cognac, and he goes “Hey man there's speakers in the dressing room and my driver got me here early tonight. I’ve been sitting back here listening to your set”. And I was thinking, oh boy what's he gonna say? And he goes, “You did this song by Johnny Winter, you did this George Thorogood, you did this Susan Tedeschi. You're kind of doing all this stuff, what's the deal?” And I go, well they're all my songs. And he says “You wrote all those songs? I know those songs.” I go, yeah I wrote them all, that's the common thread. And Buddy says “Well why the hell aren't you writing songs from me?” He's sitting in the dark drinking cognac, and I said, Buddy Guy, I would be honoured to write a song for you and he goes well we got to make that happen.


Then maybe a couple years later I got a call from Sony Music, the head of Sony music, and he said, hey is this Tom Hambridge? you produce Susan Tedeschi and Johnny Winter? Buddy Guy threw your name in a hat to be a possible candidate to produce one of his records. So, what kind of record would you make for Buddy Guy? I told him, I said well man I'm a big fan, I'd love to capture what he does live. What he's doing out there, he's dangerous when he's out there. I'd like to get that on a record and also, I said I'd like to hear him sing about his life. I mean I love hearing him sing Mustang Sally and different things, but I'd like to know what's in his heart and in his mind and try to capture that. And they went okay, well good luck, see you later.


And I didn't hear anything and then like a year or so later Buddy calls and he says, how do we make that record that you're talking about? And I said, well I'm a songwriter, so I'd have to sit down with you and get to know you a little bit, and then I would try to write songs, or we could write songs together that mean something to you, so you're not just reading lyrics off a page when you're singing that mean nothing to you. He loved the idea. But he jokes about it because I would be talking to him, we would be hanging out on his bus and he'd be talking to me and I'd say stop, stop, I got to leave the room for a minute and I'd take out a pen and paper because he was giving me all this information, all this stuff that I wanted to write songs about, just the way he spoke. I said where do you live? And he's like man, I live out in the woods man with the gators. And I’d stop, I gotta write a song and have you say out in the woods just like, that I live out in the woods. That's how we started, and then he would talk to me about his life and that's how songs like Skin Deep and Every Time I Sing The Blues, and all these other songs came about because it was my relationship with him. Sometimes I would bring a song into the studio and I'd say this is called Everybody's Got To Go or something, and he'd start tearing up and he'd say this is exactly how I feel and I'd say well that's because you said to me one time when your brother died, you said I guess everybody's got to go, and I just inspired me to write this about the way you were thinking about it. I'm so blessed to have been a part of all these records, and he's having this huge resurgence in his career and winning all these awards and it's wonderful to just watch him.


Ken Wallis

Skin Deep is such a fabulous album. Another Buddy Guy tune that I just love is Who's Going To Fill Those Shoes, which really does a lot for me. And I read your lyrics from End Of The Line “I promise till the day I die. I'm gonna keep these blues alive“, and that's you, and I think that's marvelous.


Tom Hambridge

Thank you very much, and that comes from him. He did tell me one time, the last conversation he had with Muddy Waters, and he didn't know Muddy was going to pass, but Muddy did say to him, he must have known that he was near the end, but he said whoever's last, got to keep the blues alive, of all of us. ‘Cause at that time B.B, was alive, and a lot of these guys John Lee Hooker was alive, and he said whoever's left got to do that. Buddy said I want to do this, I want to make sure to represent, that's why when he plays live, he does a Muddy Water song, and he does a John Lee Hooker song. People say, why is he doing those covers? He has the reach of all this audience, that they don't know about, but we know about John Lee Hooker, we know about Muddy, but they might not know. 80% of the crowd out there, might not know but they're going to know at the end of the night, because he's going to tell them that this is where this stuff came from. So, it's an honour to work with him. The last song on the record, Blu Ja Vu is a song called End Of The Line where I do use that line “as long as I'm able I'm gonna try to keep the blues alive”, my little part. He actually recorded that song on one of his records too.


Ken Wallis

So, one thing that I am really excited about is I go to a lot of festivals, go to a lot of concerts, and I'm starting to see more and more young people starting to flock towards the blues and they're actually digging into the past as well.


Tom Hambridge

That's how I discovered the blues. You dig into the past and you learn. You listen to something current and you go why do I like that? Oh, they didn't write that, whether it's Stevie Ray or The Black Crowes or whoever, you go Hard To Handle why do I like that so much? I remember hearing Get Your Yas Out by The Rolling Stones and hearing O Carol and Little Queenie and these songs are just rocking. These two were written by this guy named Chuck Berry, I gotta research this dude. And that's how you do it and plus a lot of these artists are young artists that I've been fortunate to produce their records and write songs with. From Ally Venable to Quinn Sullivan to Christone Kingfish Ingram. They're younger and they're out there doing it and so young people are coming out flocking to them, and in the middle of the show when Kingfish does Fresh Out, or Stone Cold Blues, these people are jumping on the bandwagon which is good.


Ken Wallis

In Canada here, there's a whole new resurgence of young blues artists and they're just taking this country by storm.


Tom Hambridge

Oh, that's fantastic, I hope to get up there and play. I opened for Buddy Guy a couple months ago at Massey Hall, his last performance at Massey, three nights in a row and a lot of people came up to me and said you got to play Canada more. I get up and I play Buffalo a lot, so I'd love to come up and do a festival.

Ken Wallis

Well, there's a lot of festivals up in Canada and I would love to sit in the audience and watch you play. It's a fantastic album and again it is probably one of the better albums I've heard this year. It's called Blu Deja Vu and Tom where can folks get a hold of the album?


Tom Hambridge

You can go right to my website, hambridgetunes.com. Just Boogie my name, and Google my name, boogie and Google 😊 and I'll send you a signed copy of the record. You can get it on all the platforms, Spotify and Amazon, but I’ll sign a copy if you reach out to my website.


Ken Wallis

Tom, it's been a great pleasure chatting with you. I could chat with you for another hour.


Tom Hambridge

Likewise, I'm enjoying this


Ken Wallis

It's been great, thanks so much for your time, I really appreciate it.


Tom Hambridge

Thank you for having me, have a great day.




Side Note: Let’s start a campaign to get Johnny Winter into the Hall Of Fame. Send an email to info@rockhall.org or go to https://www.rockhall.com and hit the chat button. Enter “put Johnny Winter into the Hall Of Fame”.





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