Interview: Q&A with . . . . Paul Lamb

Posted on: Wednesday, Jun 27, 2012

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The great British harmonica player Paul Lamb, on the back of a smashing new live album, “The Games People Play”, with the excellent King Snakes, took time out for a ‘question and answer’ session with Blues In The North West.

BITNW: Growing up as a kid in the 60s in the North East how did you first get to hear the sounds of the great blues harmonica players and was their a ‘eureka’ moment that started it all off for you? Did the likes of The Animals happening up the road in Newcastle reach you at a tender age, and them backing the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson.
PL: In the late 60s a mate of mine lent me the album “The World Of John Mayall”. The track “Have You Heard” with Eric Clapton started me on the blues trail. I was not playing harmonica at the time but trying to find an instrument that suited me and would convey my feelings. The LP that really blew me away was “Sonny & Brownie Sings” on Folkways and that was my ‘eureka’ moment for the harmonica. It was later on that I picked up on Sonny Boy with The Animals and years later John Steel (from The Animals) joined a band I was in called Smokestack Lightin’.

BITNW: I’m guessing this is quite obvious, but who are/were your main influences regarding your whole style . . . and who today do you admire harmonica-wise?
PL: Yes, the number one man for me is Sonny Terry and others that come close are Noah Lewis, aka Gus Cannons Jug Stompers and the great Chicago player, Big Walter Horton. The main influences for my style came from the East Coast players, the Piedmont (tobacco fields) area. They were guitar and piano, rag players such as Blind Boy Fuller, Rev Gary Davis and had a skip and a jump to their playing. As for today’s players, to be honest I don’t listen to many harp players but the guys from my generation who have their own style and paid their dues are Kim Wilson, Rod Piazza and the late, great Bill Clarke.

BITNW: The band has been going a hell of a long time now, and through tons of hard graft on the road sit among our finest . . . are you proud of this fact and also that you have always run one of the tightest outfits around, pulling in great players.
PL: Very proud, this is what I set out to do and believe I have achieved it. Having different players over the years is sometimes hard, having to deal with various personalities and I am sure they would say the same about me and my moods. However I have always managed to keep a ‘tight ship’ and hopefully continue for many more years. The band I have at present are simply the best and I am very proud of  The King Snakes, as I am sure you can tell from the latest live album.

BITNW: What’s it like having son Ryan in the band . . . I remember you telling me once he had the Kid Ramos quiff, guess he’s got some of the licks now too! Also, was it odd not having Johnny (Whitehill) at your side after all those years, I guess you were pretty telepathic on stage?
PL: At the ripe old age of 26 Ryan has honed his skills and matured into a fine guitar player, plus he has great stage presence too. He is now living in Belgium where he fronts his own band and making a new scene out there. Meanwhile, he still is the lead guitarist in the King Snakes and what can I say . . . .that’s my boy! Johnny and I had been together for 20 years and it was great while it lasted. I did feel funny for a while but he was tired of touring and happy to be back in the North East . . . and so the show must go on.

BITNW: I read that you have quite a few sessions and radio and TV music under your belt. I know about the Jimmy Nail stuff – Spender and Crocodile Shoes? – but who else have you worked with. I often hear a piece of harmonica in a TV advert thinking it’s you!
PL: I‘ve done so many shows/sessions but to mention a few would be Mark Knopfler’s Notting Hillbillies and a West End show “A Slice of Saturday Night” with Gary Glitter; the West End show “Tommy”, with Kim Wilde and Pete Townsend; plus a hit single with Pete Waterman in 1994 called “Harmonica Man”, which then was used for various adverts around the world.

BITNW: How do you see the current British blues scene . . seems to be heavily dominated by young guitar players, both male and female, leaning more on the rocky side of the blues . . . you seem to still work a lot more in Europe more than at home, do they embrace the ‘purer’ blues a lot more?
PL: Yes, I believe it is dominated by that “rock” blues style and if that’s what the people want, then so be it. However it’s not my cup of tea and talking to a mate Otis Grand the other day he said the same but in a more forceful way . . if you get my drift!

BITNW: I’m really am enjoying the new live album, would that be representative of the current live show and the influences that people like Chad and yourself bring to the table song-wise?
PL: Yes it is basically the current live show but we are always putting new numbers in and rearranging old ones, just to keep everyone on their toes.

BITNW: You played a lot of acoustic blues initially and was hooking up with Johnny Dickinson a sort of return to this? I know Johnny was also the slide player in the early years of the band . . . I was shocked to hear of him being so ill, do you have any update on his condition.
PL: The acoustic blues is where I started out in the North East folk clubs in the early 70’s. It was a shock to hear about Johnny and I went to see him whilst up in Newcastle, he was still in intensive care but pulling round and enjoying the young nurses looking after him. Talking to his wife he is now out of IC and making steady progress . . . it is still a slow recovery, but please God he’s on the right track.

BITNW: Paul, I know you are friends with the likes of Kim Wilson, Jerry Portnoy, Rick Estrin, etc. – how did you meet these type of guys, and are you still in touch with them – they are certainly among the finest harmonica guys around today.
PL: They are all good friends of mine and yes we still stay in touch but work and distance keep us apart. I went over to Boston for Jerry’s 60th birthday and it turned into a “who’s who” of the blues with everybody on stage for many an encore . . . we certainly had a blast.

BITNW: Do you have anything left in music to do that you haven’t done yet? Or will you just keep ‘doing what you do’ – playing the blues and entertaining the people?
PL: My philosophy is “play what you feel and feel what you play” and I believe this is what I do and hope that the audience will feel it too and be entertained for many more years.

Paul & the Boys

(Thanks to Ardziv at Secret Records, and Grant at Movin Music for additional help – photo credits will be added if required, and names are supplied)

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