Festival Q&A - Tom Gray, Delta Moon

Delta Moon herald from Atlanta, Georgia and have won international acclaim for their take on swamp blues. The band was founded by two slide guitar players – Tom Gray and Mark Johnson. Franher Joseph playing bass and Vic Stafford on drums complete the line-up. Delta Moon have recorded 10 albums and are heading for the North Wales Blues & Soul Festival as one of only two UK dates on their 2019 European tour. Tom is Delta Moon’s principal songwriter and took over as lead vocals in 2007 during the recording of their fifth album, Clear Blue Flame.

Q: What is swamp blues? It's Southern, it's rural, it’s sloppy and slidey. Tremolo guitar is a big part of the sound. I think of Slim Harpo, Credence Clearwater Revival, people like that. It's blues that never moved to Chicago.

Delta-Moon-Mark-Johnson-Tom-Gray-WE.jpg Q: It's been 16 years since you started gigging outside the USA? Yes we came to Britain for the first time in 2003. Mark and I had started playing together in the 1990s. We were jamming and swapping these sloppy slide guitar licks and figured out we could actually do this in public. We started as a trio with a singer, then we added percussion, drums and bass, playing in clubs. It was great fun, but we didn’t take it all too seriously until the 2000s. In 2003 we won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and the tours really took off. In 2004 the singer left us. We hired a new vocalist, but she left a year later. So I decided to take over the vocals myself.

Q: How did the International Blues Challenge affect your career? It’s a big deal. It made our name known. That year we got an invitation to the Montreal Jazz Festival and performed in Europe and Scandinavia for the first time.

Q: What got you into the blues? Partly a love of slide guitar but I was inspired by Elmore James, Muddy Waters and especially Blind Willie Johnson and Mississippi Fred McDowell. Mark introduced me to countless other influences, since he was already deep into the blues.

Slide.jpg Q: How would you define your style? It reflects great respect for the tradition of blues. At the same time we have found a lot of influences from our personal experiences, our life. Blues must be truthful. Merely copying other musicians, even great historical models, is not enough. Otherwise you will never come to your own sound. The fact that we use two slide guitars naturally contributes to our originality.

Q: When Americans go oversees they often get questions about Donald Trump, just as Britons are asked about Brexit. Your songs 'Babylon Is Falling', 'Long Way To Go', and 'Refugee' seem to reflect on troubles in the world? It's hard to live in this country, in this world, and not let some of what's going on come into your music. The civil rights struggle in this country...we really do still have an awful long way to go. I try to comment without being direct like Neil Young who just comes out as ‘We should impeach the President!’ I'm not going to write that song. But I try to put something in there, yes. The song 'Refugee' is based on people we've actually seen in Eastern Europe. We were over in Serbia, Hungry, Italy and Spain. See these people coming in. And in the United States they are coming up from Mexico. They've got nothing. It's a tough world.

Q: What does the Blues mean to you personally? It’s the foundation of American music of the past 100 years. Nothing more, nothing less.

Q: How have you kept the band together? We do play with other musicians to stop it getting stale. I write and record some of my own songs that don't really fit into the direction we have with Delta Moon. Mark plays with a few other people in Atlanta and Franher, our bass player, works quite a lot around Atlanta.

Q: You have played in Wales before? Yes we played a festival but we were just barely over the border from England. If there's time on this trip we'd love to see some of North Wales.

Q: What can the audience expect in North Wales? We draw on all our ten albums, including the most recent, Babylon Is Falling. There's some songs that always go down well and you just can't leave out - 'Clear Blue Flame', 'Hellbound Train'. We do a few covers including Blind Brothers Of Alabama, 'You Got To Move'

Q: Tell us about your stage set up? The backline is provided by the festival, so they are not our amps but we can usually get close to the sound we want. Mark likes Fender guitars and has a Tele and a Strat. He also has also got a couple of the Danelectro copies made by a guy called Jerry Jones, which have very high quality parts in them. They are great, sound like nothing else. I have a lot of lap steel guitars. They are not very popular in the United States so you can pick them up on eBay or in pawn shops. Mark has a pedal board and is always slapping pedals on. I just have a clock on my board and a Styrmon Flint and Tremolo which is basically [the unit] often built into a Fender amp. You don't always have an amp with that available. So I like to have it on the pedal board. I just like the raw sound of the guitar.

Q: Can you survive on festival food? Mark and I are both vegetarians - and I can't eat diary anymore. We've learnt to make it work on the road. We don't like to make a big fuss.

Q: How did you come to write a song for Cyndi Lauper? I was in a new wave band in the early 1980s, The Brains, and we did a couple of albums for Mercury. I had a publishing deal with New York and the publisher pitched one of my songs, 'Money Changes Everything' to the producer Rick Chertoff, who was working with Cyndi. She didn't have enough material for an album and picked a song of mine, plus one from Prince, 'When You Were Mine'. I worked with Cyndi a couple of albums later, we co-wrote some songs.

Q: We looked at your Spotify profile and saw what you have been listening to... It’s very strange that it's public! I just had a hankering the other night to listen to 'Little Egypt' by The Coasters. And then just last night I decided to go exploring and listened to 'Chain Gang' by Sam Cook.

Mark Delta Moon.jpg

Q: What's your funniest festival experience? One time I had an amp catch on fire during a show. The following week we played a festival and they had a smoke machine on stage. When they turned it on everyone turned around and looked at my amp.

Posted in artists on Jun 20, 2019