A truly unique voice in contempory guitar, we hope you enjoy this interview
Barrelhouse Blues ("BB") had with the one and only, Kid Bangham:
BB: Tell us a little bit about how you got
started in music, and what drew you to the Blues?
KB: Well, Tommy James and The Shondells had a single called Hanky
Panky. Remember that song?
KB: I heard that at the age of five. And that’s kind of what
got the whole thing rolling. So I didn’t know it was Blues,
I didn’t know it was rock n’ roll, it’s proof that
I was always, for some reason I was always drawn to that form. It’s
Blues, really. I didn’t know that was a twelve bar blues, I
just loved it. So, I started to try to make the same sounds and my
father ended up getting me a ukulele to play back then. And I just
kept going and lovin’ it, just kept going. And not being part
of the Texas scene, these Texas guys, being up here in Boston, they
were all going to these old shops and being influenced by the old
records they were finding. I wasn’t lucky enough to have that
happen. I had to leave Pennsylvania where I was to go find people
who had these records. I wasn’t able to wander into the stores
in my hometown and see these things like the Texas kid, or other people
in the country – depending upon where you were. So, I ended
up hooking up with the Bluetones and they were Blues fanatics so they
had a lot of these old records, they had a lot of these old recordings,
they had been collecting these records for many years. So I had to
catch up and these guys turned me on to a lot of great stuff, you
BB: The Bluetones from Rhode Island?
KB: Yeah. And they were older than I was, you know?
BB: How did you hook up with them?
KB: I was watching Duke Robillard one night and I’d given the
band some recordings of me doing my own Blues stuff. It was pretty
horrible. But at least it succeeded in getting them to realize I was
a player, or at least attempting to play. And the drummer, came up
to me during the break and said, “Hey, I heard your tape and
it sounded pretty good to me. I know this other band, Sugar Ray and
the Bluetones and they’ve got this tour booked in Spain. For
some reason they’re having a hard time, they’re losing
their guitar player so you can hook up with them.” So he gave
me a number and I called Sugar, and they didn’t know who I was
at all. I was a complete unknown. I was not part of the scene. And
I auditioned and ended up landing the job and kept on with those guys
for many years.
BB: And through them you learned about some of these older records?
KB: That’s right. Yeah, those guys were really knowledgeable
and I was not at that time. They were really knowledgeable about all
the really inside stuff. You know you walk into like, Cheapos in Central
Square, it’s overwhelming, you know it’s just...I haven’t
been there in a while, but I know when you go into a place like that
and they specialize in Blues, it was just a sea of albums, two floors,
upstairs and down. Back then you go in there and it was just an incredible
amount of stuff, you just wouldn’t know what to do. I mean you
couldn’t buy it all and sort through it. And the Bluetones were
great that way cause they knew all the good stuff. All the kingpin
classic stuff. We’d spend hours in the van driving to gigs and
that’s all we’d do is sort through and play cassettes
of all this great stuff, so on the road touring with these guys I
was hearing Ike Turner, for the first time. Johnny Guitar Watson,
Guitar Slim, you know, all these great guys. Little Milton, Otis Rush,
Albert Collins, Albert King
BB: You have a pretty unique style. Who are some of the people you
have named or have yet to name that influenced your style? Is there
somebody that rocked your world?
KB: It would be hard to say that there was one. I tell you, I’m
not trying to avoid answering your question, It’s just that
I tell you, I’m forty seven years old, and I have been digesting
music in a serious way, in a real intense way since I was five. I
mean, I went through a period before I even came to Boston where I
was really into Jimmie Rodgers, The Singing Brakeman, not the Bluesman.
The Singing Brakeman. And for a while that was all I was listening
to, was Jimmie Rodgers. I was obsessed with his music. Obsessed with
getting all of it, listening to all of it, finding all the great songs.
And that was just one phase of probably thousands, you know. Or at
least hundreds of phases I’ve been through. But if I had to
boil it down for guitar playing, I mentioned Guitar Slim, I’ve
always loved his abandon. I think that’s a big part of my approach
for playing guitar is do it with abandon, and not do it in a controlled
way. So if you look back, look at the people who came before me who
had a big influence on me doing that, it would be Guitar Slim, Johnny
Guitar Watson, for the older players. But there’s just so many.
B.B. King is a big influence on me.
But over all, kind of rough, kind
of wing it, swing it players, I guess. And then for contemporary
players, I came into Boston in the 1980s, many years ago, I hadn’t heard
about Ronnie Earl. So Ronnie Earl is somebody who was older than I
was. He had come before me. He had played with the Bluetones before
me. So here I was watching Ronnie Earl, a contemporary now, seeing
how he handled himself. Seeing how he interpreted these same sources
of Blues. And watching what he was spitting out. After hearing all
that stuff, I was also being influenced by Duke Robillard, who once
again is older than I am and studied the stuff probably much earlier
than I had. And Jimmie Vaughan, in Texas, was also a big influence.
Jimmie Vaughan especially had a big effect on me because I was really
struck by how far he had taken this idea of just playing with
simplicity, and not really just showing off. When I was a kid, great
playing was defined by how dazzling you could be and you had all these
visions and dreams of playing these amazing guitar solos and girls
dropping and fainting because you were playing so fast. Jimmie Vaughan
was the one that really turned my head around – that’s not
really where it’s at. It goes deeper than that. And that’s
when I started to really understand that it’s OK to not play.
(Laughs) It’s OK to not play! When I first heard Jimmie Vaughan’s
playing, I was literally embarrassed for him. That’s how deficient
I thought his playing was compared to what I thought guitar playing
had to be. I was very, very embarrassed for him. I was thinking to
myself, “This guy sounds like an ancient trying to play the
guitar or something.” That’s how weird it seemed to me.
Then I began to realize over time how ingenious it was. How heavy
it was. So I think if people are honest, a lot of them are not, they’ll
have to acknowledge that Jimmie Vaughan leads the way – has
been leading the way for many, many years. And that goes for everybody
in the world. I mean he really is the leading player as far as I’m
concerned for contemporary. People who have broken new ground and
really taken it as far as you can possibly go, it’d definitely
be Jimmie Vaughan above and beyond anybody that I know.
BB: So you consider him an influence?
KB: Yes. Yeah, definitely, his whole approach. Not so much the licks,
although they do rub off, but just his way of speaking with the guitar.
That’s always been the way that I’ve approached the instrument
too. From Day one, I’ve always wanted to speak with it. You
know, I phrase with it and actually tell a story. There’s a
certain way of expressing yourself with it that has to do with phrases.
You’re speaking. It’s just a different language, that’s
BB: I’m intrigued because you said you’ve been listening
intensely to this music since you were five. Five is when you first
heard “Hanky Panky” and started listening to The Singing
Brakeman. Did you actually start playing an instrument at that age?
KB: Yeah, I was playing guitar, and I also had country leanings so
I was also playing a lot of Hank Williams. Your
Cheating Heart and
that kind of stuff.
BB: At that age, that’s amazing.
KB: Well my father was a music lover, so was my mother. But my father
was a free lance greeting card artist. And he worked for Curtis Publishing
in Philadelphia. And he was always free lancing at night. We had a
big family and he was always supplementing his income by stuff at
night, drawings and things like that. His Wollensack tape recorder
was always going. And he had things like Dixieland. A lot of Dixieland
which I loved, and he had all kinds of stuff playing. And jazz, things
like that. So I was always listening to music and always being influenced
by stuff. And my older brother was turning me onto all the things
that came down the pike – Stones, Beatles, when Cream came along.
Eric Clapton, all that stuff. I was lucky, I had an older brother
that was going through all that stuff and he’d be bringing the
albums home. I’d go through that stuff and pick it apart.
BB: It was like a blast furnace listening to live Cream for the first
time, wasn’t it?
KB: Yeah, (laughs) it was incredible! Who else? I guess, Earl Scruggs,
Flatt & Scruggs, remember that band? My dad was into them, so
he was always bringing them home. Yeah, Earl Scruggs and Lester Flatt.
Lester Flatt, of all people, was where I started to pick apart picking.
That’s where I started to get alternating thumb picking. Things
like that which came in handy as I started to get into ragtime and
Blind Blake and all the old pickers, like Blind Boy Fuller. Going
through all those guys and Lester Flatt when I was a kid, I would
be going through that picking stuff, the alternating thumb was what
you need, you know?
BB: And you still use that today on the guitar.
KB: Yeah, I’m still picking quite a bit. I’m glad I picked
that well from the beginning because it came in handy years later
when it came to being chosen for jobs or whatever. It was that picking
background that really set me apart. Cause a lot of players, they
can play lead, they hold the flat pick, you know? But I was always
doing all kinds of funky stuff. And that was with my right hand. My
right hand was really good. And I can really do some funky stuff you
just can’t do with a pick. All the great players are like that
if you think about it, they can all use their fingers.
BB: Jeff Beck.
KB: Yeah, all my favorite players are actually using their fingers.
Gatemouth Brown, all of them, you know.
BB: That’s a perfect description. You said that it sets you
apart, and that was what was going through my mind. You really set
yourself apart from almost everybody else.
KB: Yeah, there weren’t a lot of players that were able to
digest the stuff and then actually spit it back out in a genuine way.
There weren’t many and I guess I just always loved the music,
that’s why, you know? I had a real love for it.
BB: Tell us a little bit about how your relationship with The Fabulous
Thunderbirds came about and what the experience was like when you
were touring with them.
KB: It was an exciting time, it was a fantastic experience, but I
have to say it was very intimidating in the beginning. I’m pretty
much a fighter, and I’m pretty tenacious so I handled it OK,
but I definitely had to find my way and find a way to contribute in
a valid way.
But in the beginning, it was very intimidating to be
following somebody as stylized as Jimmie Vaughan. You know, when
you come in and you’re replacing somebody who in many ways defined
the band, that was a predicament that I didn’t particularly
enjoy in the beginning. At the same time, I was traveling and I was
making better money, and getting better treatment. You know I’d
gone from carbon monoxide filled vans, you know, waking up on top
of your bass player in a van without a shower for a week, you know,
freezing cold somewhere in the Midwest. You know it was just horrible
conditions. Being treated terribly by the club owners, you know, everything
was your fault. To, all of a sudden, everything was everybody else’s
fault. You were treated like a king and paid a lot of money. You automatically
had a whole lot of admiration from a whole lot of people. But I had
a lot of fun with it and I didn’t get too carried away with
it. I still don’t let the audience define who I am, and didn’t
then. But it was a lot of fun. Just a lot of fun.
It was great traveling,
and I loved the guys in the band. I got along with them really well.
There’s just so much to tell I don’t know where to start.
It was such a great experience. It was fantastic.
BB: How did you tie up with them?
KB: The Bluetones were doing a tour, we were going around the country.
We went to Austin, Texas and at that time Jimmie had given his notice.
I don’t think anybody knew, but he’d quit the band. Contrary
to what all the papers said and what everybody said, he did not quit
the band, The Thunderbirds, to go play with Stevie. That was just
another side project that he’d planned to do – one of
many. He’d quit for a number of reasons.
So, they knew they
needed a replacement. And like I said, it was pretty much well known
and understood that there are only a few people in the world that
were playing in that niche, that were going to fit in there. They
weren’t really a rock Blues band, even though they were. They
were really a small niche. There were only a few people that could
have filled that job, I think. Ronnie Earl might have been one of
them, and there were reasons why that couldn’t work. You know,
Stevie had his own thing, and that left Duke and I. So we were gigging
in Austin, and they came out and saw me with the Bluetones. And
we had a great night that night, and we were performing well, and
I was doing well, and based upon that gig I got back from the tour
and they called me and offered me a job at that point. Cause they
had knew about me. Kim had been coming into Boston and we had been
jamming together, the Bluetones with Kim. And Fran knew about us,
and Fran had relatives in Rhode Island who were recording down there, “I
just saw all the Bluestones last night and Kid was really smokin’,” or
whatever, so they were getting reports here and there and hearing
about me for a while. So I was one of the people they were considering.
And that’s how it went.
BB: This Music School is something new for you, is that correct?
KB: Yeah, it’s about a year and a half old, maybe a year and
three quarters now. I just wanted to do something different. I’ve
been a musician for many, many years – not to mention I was
seeing the whole scene just really go south. I’m not sure what
you’re seeing, but you must be getting a lot of information
too, about how dismal it is out there.
BB: I hear it a lot.
KB: The other thing too is, Blues is at an all time low as far as,
maybe you don’t want to hear this, or be dwelling on this but
it just seems, they talked about it being a cycle, but nobody thought
it might actually be disliked. You know, forget maybe reviving it
every so many years. It’s almost like people are like, “Please
don’t play the Blues.”
Whereas before it seemed like it
might always be revived and now it’s almost like there’s
a dislike for it. And people are going more hard rock and things like
that and there’s a lot of great music out there – it’s
not just the Blues, but I’ve been noticing it, in terms of appreciation
it’s really at an all time low.
So, I’m not one to cling.
Never have been. So I’m always one to move forward and try different
things. And I’m loving this right now, I’m just having
a ball. I’m still doing music. I’m still writing, mostly
Americana type stuff. It’s not really Blues stuff. Blues is
always in there.
BB: Do you give individual lessons here as well as group lessons?
KB: I do, yeah. It’s group stuff and individual stuff.
BB: As far as performing, are there any players whom you’ve
not performed with that you would like to at some point in time?
KB: Lately I’ve been thinking about how cool it would be to
work with Merle Haggard. And he’s not a Blues guitarist, which
is what we’re talking about here, but Merle Haggard is somebody
I always thought would be fun to work with. Tom Waits, is somebody
I always thought would be great, a lot of fun to work with. Maybe
especially Tom Waits, because a lot of what I do could fit into what
he’s doing. And I always thought he’d be a lot of fun
to work with and very interesting to work with.
BB: Do you have any unfulfilled goals?
KB: There are a lot of women that I still have not met.
BB: You’re married.
KB: (Laughs) No, I’m not married. Married and divorced.
BB: Oh, we must have read an old interview. But, musically, something
that you have not done yet.
KB: I’m thinking it would be kind of fun, writing. As in writing
a book. I’m not quite sure what kind of book it would be. I’m
into writing as well. But Musically, I’d like to get this school
to the point where I’m not so busy. And if I had some extra
time I could do some writing again, musically. Do some more song writing.
I got a lot of writing to do. A lot of things I still want to express
and create musically. And I don’t have time for it. Because
now, I’m attacking this, happily. But I’m caught up in
running around, trying to do a million things at once, you know?
(Phone rings and Kid excuses himself to answer. Another demand on
his time. Someone wanting to know how soon he will be coming to a
previously scheduled engagement. Apparently a performance with students
from his music school. Kid informs them he is just finishing up an
interview and will be right there..)
KB: (Laughs) They’re freaking out down there. Kids are all
set up and ready to go. Their fearless leader is not there.
BB: One last question. What do you value most about making music?
KB: Umm, well I hope this answers your question. Occasionally, over
the years this has popped into my head. I like the fact that music
bring out the oddball in everybody. I haven’t really though
about the best answer I could give, but music causes people to become
silly sometimes. You know what I mean? In a world that is so serious.
Everybody takes everything so seriously. And music transports you
somewhere else. It’s got another definition to it. It removes
you from the world, the way things are supposed to be. You know what
I mean? I’m not saying music is silly. I’m trying to describe
something that is not describable. But it takes you to an absurd place.
Where I’m more comfortable. Do you know what I mean? I don’t
like being in the serious world. It brings out the individual in everybody.
When I’d be with other people or other bands, say at a recording
project, you have all these people coming together and they’re
all bring their own person. Their own creative self. It’s not
like building a bridge or something. It goes deeper than that.
I’m failing miserably at describing what I’m talking
about. I guess I like insanity more than anything else. It’s
a wonderful thing. And music somehow manages to be a great manifestation
of that insanity. (Laughs) Try to figure that out.
BB: You have only to watch people on the dance floor to see what
you are saying.
KB: Yeah! That’s it exactly! And that to me is what people
are about. That to me is what life is about. It’s not about
everything being in a compartment. Unfortunately, for most of us,
we have to operate that way, very seriously, in order to make ends
meet. In order to survive. But I’m comfortable in the other
world. And music is still my number one way to go the that place.
I gotta go.
BB: Thank you.