Maybe India is not known as the “home of the blues,” but we don’t see that mattering when the smoothest sounding blues are heading our way. Doctor Lincoln is a name we’ve featured before in the magazine, we reviewed his single “Break the Ice.” The doctor is out and about, appearing at festivals and working on new music, so it seemed like a great time to break the ice and have a chat. He is an ambitious musician with eyes on the west, and with the ability he has, here at the magazine, we think he has what it takes.
First of all, he is a real doctor, in fact, he was a heart surgeon until he decided to concentrate on a career in the blues. The doctor also does some very funny short films on Instagram, one of which is a sketch about an Indian lad telling his dad that he wants to follow music rather than medicine (the career of choice for most Indian parents). We began the interview with this point, how did he get past his parents?
Doctor L- Well, first, I used to moonlight, usually when I got in from work. Even in medical school, whatever I was doing, I was there with a laptop and a cheap guitar, writing. I think my parents assumed it would be just a phase and I’d grow out of it. But that sketch you refer to on Instagram is actually true; that is pretty much how it happened. My Dad’s not a doctor, but he married a doctor, and of the three children, he picked me and felt I should be the doctor; the other two are off the hook! I was the guinea pig, and it’s okay, as I began to value being needed. But music kept pulling me, and I knew it was my calling. When I started working as a specialist about four years ago, I got opportunities to release my music, and I became more independent , started to make money, got my own studio, and even had a television slot for a little while. All the time, I would be doing the job and making this happen.
We noted then that the decision to move from medicine to music was fairly painless, and it is a move he is content with.
Doctor L- I practiced medicine for twelve years, but the medical system and administration in India are difficult to manage, and I became disillusioned with medicine, not because of the people but because of the conditions we are expected to work in. So in November 2021 of last year, I called it, went to HR, and said I was done. My wife was supportive, and I had enough songs ready to go, so it was the start of a journey for me. I began to work with some of the producers here in Kerala, who provide you with quality production. So it was now or never, and I was able to tell my parents.
The first album, “Wallflower,” came out in 2016, and that album was recorded at a time when Doctor Lincoln was working as a heart surgeon and recording. We wondered how he reflected on that album now that, as a debut piece, it is still available and was noted in “Rolling Stone Magazine India.”
Doctor L- It was a good start, but I wouldn’t say it was my best work. There are loose ends with that album, and I wasn’t able to get the sound I wanted. I feel sometimes it sounds as if it were made in the bedroom by a couple of guys; it sounds a bit too homemade. But I’m happy with some of it. It was a stepping stone, and you learn from mistakes. One thing I did was borrow four songs from “Wallflower” that were very personal to me, “Don’t Let Go” was one of them. I was unhappy with how those songs ended up in “Wallflower,” but those songs were important as they connected my personal struggles and experiences. I write about how life treats me, and I reach out to people. But “Wallflower” was what it was.
We have been talking to a number of artists who have raised concerns over the difficulties of making a living from music in the age of the download, where the companies offer so little for songs that are downloaded. For a small amount of payment, the customer now has access to thousands of songs. Given that decision to leave medicine and move to music, we wondered how hard it was in India for musicians at present.
Doctor L- To be honest, it is brutal. and especially for me, as I predominantly record and perform in English. I am pitching my music more to the West; my audience in India is more limited. But we have merchandise as a revenue stream as well as live performances. I have a merchandise store, but it is set up for India only. But we have people from abroad reaching out.
It is hard to do the merchandise; we have a store too with exclusive designs, and with the content of the magazine being free, we need the shop to help this magazine function and prosper. So we completely agree with Doctor Lincoln on this point. On the English side of it, we feel that Doctor Lincoln has such a great voice and this lovely blues guitar. But even though everyone in India seems to speak great English, it appears the record buyers there don’t necessarily want their songs in English.
Doctor L- I think it is naturally relatable; people like the language they are most familiar with, and in India, Hindi is the main language. They like regional languages in the southern states, and they can connect to the lyrics better. As an English lyricist, you may be able to connect in conversation, but the nuances in your lyrics may be lost. The audience may not buy into the English here so easily. The narrative for “Break the Ice,” for example, and the message behind those lyrics were missed here; they were more appreciated abroad, but here in India, they maybe missed the deeper connection. But we have a small audience.
“Don’t Let Go” is a great track, and in the magazine, we largely present Doctor Lincoln as a blues artist who has lyrical roots in folk style music. Is this a definition that Doctor Lincoln is happy with?
Doctor L- for sure. I draw inspiration from early folk and blues sounds. It is not a deliberate thing, but I have mixed DNA from all those artists that I listened to.
It’s exciting to connect with international blues musicians and see how the blues manifests itself in so many different ways around the world. Doctor Lincoln is first and foremost an entertainer, he has an image, and now in his 30s he has experienced life. Shirley King, daughter of BB, in an interview with us here spoke about how the blues artists of old may have sung about the blues, but they were never depressing, always seeking to entertain.
Doctor L- Yes, I am actually in that headspace. I try to be an entertainer first. I may talk about my problems and how I felt pain, but I don’t want to depress anyone; I want my music to make people laugh and tell them they can get through it. I may sing about pain, but my music is happy. My physical appearance is more akin to that of a western artist; I have blues DNA, but who knows I may one day add a Bollywood style backdrop to a song!
Doctor Lincoln is active in the autistic community in India and is working to get autistic people involved in music. This is something we did want to note before we said our goodbyes.
Doctor L- I have connections with autistic singers and artists, and I am here to help support them. There was one guy who was popular, but once he was diagnosed, people abandoned him and left him. Are they scared that if he comes to the studio, he will have a meltdown or something? They can’t deal with it, but because I am a doctor and record music, I was able to help him, and we got a piece out. It is a vision that continues; I am doing my album, but the vision is to bring in more underprivileged artists to the studio and to music.
And last of all, we wanted to know what was on the horizon for Doctor Lincoln.
Lucky Ali, a massive artist here, is headlining a festival in Assam, and I’m sharing the stage with him. So that is a big deal, the Majuli Music Festival. It’s a three-day festival from November 25th–27th.
Doctor Lincoln has the talent and the songs to go far, and it’s a great opportunity for us to take world blues and connect our Western readers to India’s larger blues scene. We hope you enjoy his music; there is a little version of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” that we thought we’d throw in for good measure given the season!
By Benny (The Ball) Benson
Mark C. Chambers