It’s a great month for lovers of British blues as there is a new album by Sunjay, “Black & Blues Revisited,” released by Mighty Tight Records on Friday, October 14th.
“Black & Blues Revisited,” produced by Sunjay and Josh Clark at Get Real Studios in Bath, UK, marks a significant passage of time in Sunjay’s life. “I’d just started recording the album when my mother suddenly and tragically died,” says Sunjay. “There was so much to deal with, the shock was huge, and it took me a long time to recover.” Thankfully, Josh enabled us to keep the momentum going as he continued to work on various things until I could record again. Music has always been my catharsis. I’m grateful that I’m now in a much better place both personally and musically. “
Sunjay – Vocals, Acoustic and Electric Guitars
Josh Clark – Drums and Bass
Bob Fridzema – Hammond Organ, Piano, Wurlitzer
Josh Jewsbury – Bass
Lee Southall – Harmonica
So, with all things blues in mind and a new album to discover, we sat down with Sunjay to discuss the new project and touring plans.From the start, this is a fine blues album, yet listening to it through, it has a strong country vibe as well, almost country blues. We all loved a track called “Key to the Highway” at the office (it has almost an Elvis feel to it) and it’s described as a Big Bill Broonzy/Charlie Segar co-write. Segar, a blues pianist, recorded it first in 1940. It’s swinging blues that’ll have you clicking your fingers or clapping your hands, with an ‘I’m leaving you and won’t be coming back’ kind of song to it. You will hear the walking bass lines on the guitar with swirling Hammond riffs and more wailing harmonica.
Sunjay- It’s funny you should say that about the country vibe as the last studio album I put out, “Devil Came Calling,” I saw that as more of a blues/pop album (more of a 1970s pop feel), and that is more of what I was going for, to try to do something new with blues. Then I had a lot of feedback from people, and I have various friends who are musicians who saw that album as blues, and then people who knew me in other ways who checked it out on streaming or whatever; they also felt it had a country vibe. I didn’t at the time recognize that, as country would be Hank Williams and so on, But I take the country blues thing, there is a track called “Monday Morning Blues” on the new album which is a Mississippi John Hurt tune. That is country blues as far as I’m concerned, so it was never intended that way, but the syncopated rhythms, it’s all in there.
Of course, in Rock the Joint Magazine, we spoke recently to Laura Evans, and she is part of the country/blues style of British Blues. Laura Evans felt that the British Blues were rockier and the American Blues were more rooted in the traditional Southern Blues.
Sunjay- It is like saying, “Define a folk song.” In the folk scene it’s been a question for so long as to what constitutes one. I enjoyed playing blues and have never been a folk singer, but I found I identify strongly with people like Tom Rush and Jackson Browne, James Taylor, and so on. I regard them as folk singers in the broad brushstroke of that term. In America, blues is far more taken into the folk banner, as is bluegrass, but here in the UK, bluegrass music is not part of the folk scene. The odd blues song thrown into the set in a folk club is accepted, but it is accepted in a token format. I found this difficult for a few years, and I was told not to go down the blues route, as then the folk clubs wouldn’t book me. It has only been recently that I have realised that is not true. People who like me will book me.
I do enjoy the harmonica in the music, and there is a track called “Big Fat Woman.” Definitely a tongue-in-cheek piece! Josh (Clark) finds a groove that immediately feels cool. It has growling vocals, Chicago style harmonica from Lee. Interestingly, this was originally written by Leadbelly, who the magazine did a feature piece on recently, but Sunjay first heard it sung by Tom Rush. There is a guitar break in here that reminds us of a guitar piece by George Harrison in “For You Blue,” and the harmonica is just gold!
Sunjay- Not consciously Beatles! I like all that late 50’s and 60’s material, but I do love the Stones and that era. I musically draw from there. I like the idea of themes and during lockdown I was a little late to the party for live streaming (mainly because I stepped on my laptop) the day before the first lockdown, so I couldn’t get it fixed! But people were repeating the same songs every week, and I thought it would be great to grab an opportunity to do something different and do some tracks people may not have heard before. But with a CD you do it one year and maybe it comes out the next, but I could rehearse 10/15 songs that wouldn’t normally be part of my stage set quite easily at home, and there was nothing else to do in lockdown. I was so depressed for the first week of lockdown that I honestly felt it was the end of the world. I knew instinctively what it would mean for the music business and that it would take at least two years to recover. But then, I am a positive person, and I thought about how I hadn’t had a break for an age from touring for a decade. So it gave me a chance to write, catch up with things, and use the time.
It dislocated the audience from live performance, even though artists became very inventive at getting shows online and using all manner of donation features to try and get some appreciation for what they were doing. I wondered if Sunjay felt that things were recovering now.
Sunjay- No, because after the resurgence due to pent up demand, it could get more difficult now because of the loss of the financial support that had been in place. A lever has two sides, and I feel we are now seeing the other side of the lever, rising inflation and so forth.
We are living through mad times, as they say somewhere in Harry Potter.
Sunjay- I notice the “postponed” gigs and I worry. I don’t see things as busy as they were. With higher inflation, people are cutting back to save on extras, and people are (sadly) inclined to save up and see the big heritage acts, like your Fleetwood Macs, in the big arena, rather than taking a trip to the smaller arts centre. Look how the music business went from CDs to illegal downloading, and then streaming grew out of that as the music industry tried to tackle matters. It’s not the same return, and artists have become totally reliant on live performance to sustain themselves. At the grassroots level, ticket prices have to rise. The whole idea of charging £10 for a solo act anywhere seems wrong to me. Of course there are poor areas, but as an artist today, getting in my car and driving to a gig is costing me double what it used to.
I noted that this is a line of debate taken by the one and only Gene Simmons, that artists are not getting what they deserve out of the music industry and that fans have started to kill the business with downloading. I was a little surprised that both Sunjay and I were Gene fans and had watched his “Family Jewels” show back in the day. Gene has a reputation for being a businessman and money oriented, but I met him and found him to be an intelligent and caring person. One point we discussed with Sunjay was Gene’s dislike of artists who put their music out for free and then ask the public to donate what they choose. His basic message being why pay for something you get for free?
Sunjay- He’s an inspiration. He is what he is, let’s be honest. But what he says about the music business is right. To follow the line Gene gives, you only get the respect you demand. It’s like the argument of the local bands who do the pubs for free, they often want to do the ticketed gigs, but they keep themselves ingrained in the pub circuit as it’s guaranteed and they don’t want to lose their connections. But regarding downloading, my analogy is the car dealership, imagine I go there and say, “I want to pay you £100 a month and I want to drive any of the cars you own anywhere in the world.” They would laugh me out of the showroom. But for some reason, people think they should be able to pay Spotify or whoever and get the entire musical catalogue in the world for ten dollars a month.
We agree, it is cutting the legs away from the artists, but it is ingrained now. It is very much what it is.
Sunjay- That is not even paying the artist, it’s just paying those companies. The positive of Lockdown was a review of music streaming recommended by the government that went to the competition watchdog, and the overview indicates that the artist should get a much better share.
We must hope so, because if we don’t support new artists, then it will kill music at its birth. As a last point, we wondered what was happening at the tail end of 2022.
Sunjay- I’m on tour in November, doing around a dozen gigs. So watch out for me, I’m quiet until about March 2023, and I’m doing some new recordings in September. It may actually be the first album I do with all original material. The reason behind this is that I signed a publishing deal when I was 17 years old, but it kind of tied me up for a long time, and it ended over a year ago. I’m free now to do as I choose, but albums are an expensive business!
It’s one great release for 2022, and the clip below will give you a feel for the album. Have a listen and you will find that when listening to “Statesboro Blues” and “Living With The Blues,” you can feel that raw emotion. Sunjay’s voice sounds more edgy than it has on previous albums. There’s a willingness to sing straight from the heart, to let the listener hear him at his most vulnerable and somehow evoke feelings of, ‘hey, it’s okay, come and sit with me a while’. While on other tracks like “Freight Train” and “Come Back Baby,” we hear the more familiar, warm, sonorous vocals that we’ve become accustomed to hearing from Sunjay.
Recorded at: Get Real Studios, Bath, UK
Produced by: Sunjay and Josh Clark
Engineered, Mixed and Mastered by Josh Clark
Artwork: Alicia Raitt www.milkandbone.co.uk
Photography: Jane Jordan www.janejordanphotography.com
By Benny (the Ball) Benson
Mark C. Chambers