Ritchie Dave Porter is a well-established and respected UK blues guitarist who has a number of notable blues-based solo albums to his credit. We can namecheck “Rocking the Blues” (2014), “Acoustic Blues” (2015), “Working Class Bluesman” (2016), and “Fast Train Rollin” (2019). However, his last album saw him team up with Debra Susan, a singer with a musical theatre and opera background, and their 2022 album, “The Story So Far,” was well reviewed by Stevie Ritson for us here at Rock the Joint Magazine. Working with Debra infused the album with new vibes and was successful, achieving plaudits within the blues community and support as far afield as Australia. It was time to sit down with Dave and talk about all things blues; we have grabbed our chance now as we can hear that “Train a Coming,” and who knows where it will take them!
We started by noting Ritchie’s place in the blues world, and how he saw himself as an archetypal bluesman.
Ritchie Dave- I’m so much more! I’m a blues based guitarist, or more accurately, a blues-based rock guitarist. Obviously, everything I play is heavily influenced by the bluesmen of old. I like to combine blues pentatonic guitar scales and licks with Spanish and jazz scales, and I’m free to do whatever I want. If I want to do a country rock song, then I will dip into country, like when I do “River and the Preacher,” which is Southern style. If I want to turn to the Hendrix kind of heavy blues rock, then I’ll do “Sugar and Spice” or “You’re Bad in a Good Way.” If I want to rock out 100%,% then I’ll write “Sweet Treacle.” I play what I want to play and don’t like to be pigeonholed, and that’s probably why Jimmy Page is such an influence, he played folk and blues, classical, whatever he chose. As a guitarist, just express yourself as honestly as you can through whichever style suits you best.
In discussing the last album, we noted how Ritchie Dave Porter is very much a singer songwriter, and that the material for albums is largely written in house. I noted a favourite of ours in the magazine was “Sugar and Spice” and we wondered how that one came about. It has a certain country touch to it.
Ritchie Dave- It started off like many of our songs; they all start with me on my own, sitting down and playing with riffs and chords. I get into my Zen state when I am composing in my own world for a few hours. There was no intention for a specific style with that one, but it came out with a late-60s funky blues vibe, and that’s what it is. But “Sugar and Spice” or “You Make Me Feel Bad in a Good Way” are the types of songs that could have been made in the late sixties. Then again, you have material like “I Can Hear the Train A Comin’,” which could have been written in the late fifties, as it has that jazz or blues feel to it. The thing about “Sugar and Spice” is that it’s something you can dance to.
Of course, the tradition of blues artists is to entertain. Look at BB King; he took part in variety shows and had his own look and personality. He was all about providing entertainment and bringing his energy to the stage. It was never the case that the blues were the caricature of the man sitting on the gate, sadly playing his guitar about how he had wronged his woman! We wondered how Ritchie saw the blues as a music vehicle.
Ritchie Dave- I agree with what you say. Let me say that many years back in 2012 I was fighting stage 3 cancer, and I have been playing guitar since 11. That’s 40 years of playing. But when I went through the horror of cancer, tumours and chemotherapy – it made me feel and play the blues deeper than ever before. It was expressing the soul. Back in the days when I was a solo artist, I did an instrumental called “Morphine Blues.” Now, that track was recorded in a chemotherapy ward by Michael Tingle. I thought then it might be my final guitar statement, but I survived, and everything turned out fine. I then did those acoustic blues albums, but people forget there were a lot of electric tracks on albums one and four, and I’ve done acoustic Spanish. Those were albums I’m proud of.
There was a solid maturity of style and songwriting on the 2015 acoustic blues album, which we really liked and had played around the office.
Ritchie Dave- The reason I did that album right back to basics was I wanted to return to a stripped down sound like Robert Johnson the great American blues musician. I wanted a guitar and two microphones, and after years of making mostly acoustic based records with a few electric tracks I felt like I had all I had with the blues rock acoustic stuff. I returned to electric, but wasn’t feeling it with the Gibson guitars at that time, I had Gibson Les Pauls, but I went into a music store a few years ago and fell in love with a telecaster. It is that icy tone that cuts; nothing to me matches the feeling of playing a telecaster. So every single track that Debra and I wrote for the “Story So Far” album, all thirteen tracks and singles were played with the telecaster through a Fender amp, no foot pedals. I write all the music, and Debra writes the lyrics and melodies, so I’m never sure what she will come up with for the chords and riffs I provide. She surprises me.
Speaking of Debra, her background is musical theatre. We felt that this heritage must now be appearing both on the album and in their work together.
Ritchie Dave- I believe it has from the start. When I first invited Debra round for coffee and said, “Listen, I have written this song, “One Hell of a Ride,” I’ve structured and arranged it, and I know it’s not for me to sing.” I just wanted to hear how she would sound and what she would come up with. But it was a magical meeting, there was a real vibe, and as soon as I started playing the riffs, she was tapping her foot and coming up with the words. Then we rehearsed it, and it was written quickly. I knew there was a magic there that I never had with anyone else, so Debra was the icing on the cake. It came with an incredible energy, and we’ve written about seventeen songs now, thirteen on the album and a couple out that weren’t on the album; “The River and the Preacher” was one of them, a southern rock style song. We have been highly creative, and it is a melting pot of jazz, southern rock, and blues.
It is often interesting to see how we change musically, both in our listening tastes and creatively. How would a teenage Ritchie Dave Porter view his current album?
Ritchie Dave- I think the teenage me would have loved it. When eleven I discovered Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and BB King, Jeff Beck and the greats through my Dad’s record collection. He mostly listened to blues and jazz guitarists, he played jazz drums.My first exposure to guitars would have been BB King, Freddie King, and jazz guitarists like Barney Kessel. Then my dad bought Smash Hits, a Jimi Hendrix hits album, and that blew me away. I remember sitting there and working out note for note “Manic Depression” from Hendrix, or “Purple Haze,” I was learning it. So the sixteen year old me would still be there with me. Now I listen to Van Halen, and I like his pure tone, I have respect for him, but the sixteen year old me would really dig “The Story so far,” as you can hear the influences there, you can hear the Stones and Hendrix in there. And that is my side. You also have Debra, with her classical training in opera, she has brought her love of other traditions to the music as well..
There is so much positive at the moment in the vibrant UK blues scene. We have featured some great acts here recently, showing how alive it is. Bands like Catfish, Five Points Gang, and solo singers like Emma Wilson and Laura Evans are fusing different musical traditions to create a powerful UK blues scene.
Ritchie Dave- There is a huge variety in the UK blues scene. Every now and then I see a solo artist or band that I love, with some great players. For me it is all about the riffs, and I have a commercial feel, but I have a succession of number ones on the indie scene in Australia. We were also voted the third best blues track in Australia in 2022 for “Sugar and Spice.” I’ve never been down under, but I’d love to go.
We finished with talking about the changing nature of buying music and the place of vinyl in a childhood of the seventies and eighties when the album had to be listened to as a whole, with tracks chosen in a certain order. With downloads, that experience has somewhat gone, along with keeping a record ‘collection.’
Ritchie Dave- I am so glad we did a physical CD release of the album “The Story So Far,” I liked it when the CD arrived, and the artwork done by Mike the producer was so nice. To be honest, I only use downloads when travelling; I will enjoy putting on the headphones on the train, otherwise, I like the physical sensation of the CD.
And so we draw a conclusion. There are exciting days ahead for Ritchie and Debra, including a wedding on the way! So please accept our heartfelt congratulations to both of them. If you want to catch this duo live, they are playing The Great British Rock and Blues Festival at Butlins, Skegness, from January 13–16, 2023, along with Five Points Gang and The Milkmen (among others). We will be performing with the telecaster on the ‘Blues Matters Magazine Stage.’ That is the next gig that I would recommend you to come and see and sadly that is the last of the festivals they are doing at Skegness. There is also the new single to check out, “Working in the City.“
By Benny (the Ball) Benson
Mark C Chambers.