INTERVIEWS and FEATURES
Interview: Blue Boy - Mike Sanchez
A performance by Mike Sanchez is unforgettable, whether is it solo, with his R&B revue or with Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings. His energy and frenetic action is unmatched by his contemporaries. He sings, plays keyboards and guitar and is the most amazing showman. Jon Taylor caught up with what our three-time Keyboard Player of the Year has been doing recently.
Since leaving the Big Town Playboys at the end of 1999, after fifteen years with the band, Mike Sanchez has been a very busy man. Not being part of a regular outfit, the man voted British Blues Connection Keyboard Player of the Year for three consecutive years performs as a solo, with his own groups of various sizes, and guests with other bands.
The 13th Burnley National Blues Festival at Easter saw the debut performance of the Mike Sanchez Rhythm & Blues Revue, which involves eleven or twelve people, described in this magazine as 'possibly the finest non-American act that Burnley has experienced in its history.' Fellow ex-Playboy Andy Silvester is on guitar, former Biscuit Boy Al Gare handles double bass, while current Playboy Mark Morgan is at the drum stool. Another former BTP colleague, Al Nicholls, on tenor sax, is joined by top trumpeter Dave Priseman and the Playboys Nick Lunt on baritone sax, although at Burnley Olly Wilby, usually to be seen with the Extraordinaires, was on baritone. Sharing the vocal duties with Mike are the doo-wop trio The Extraordinaires, Imelda Clabby and, at Burnley, Paul Ansell (whose previous includes The Blue Rhythm Boys and Number Nine).
'I did Burnley and Colne festivals last year as a solo act and [festival booker] Gary Hood asked me to do something for this year's Burnley festival,' explains Mike. 'So I put this idea to him and he went for it. The idea is based on The Johnny Otis Show. It's something I wanna see take off a bit because no one seems to have created a show like this before. At least not in this part of the world. It really belongs on large festival stages for a lot of people to see. Yeah, I'm most interested in future shows with the Revue.'
Footage of that Burnley show was recorded for the 85-miute video Mike Sanchez Red Hot… Live; along with footage from London's 100 Club - with the seven piece band shot in glorious black and white - a quartet date at Shrewsbury's Jazz & Roots Club and a solo gig at The George at Lower Brailes. The material is a mix a favourites from Big Town Playboys' days such as 'Girls All Over The World', 'Shake Your Hips' and 'Driftin' along with material from Mike's solo CDs and features for the guest singers. The revue also appeared at this year's Great British R&B Festival at Colne, as a late replacement for Big Joe and the Dynaflows (see Festival reports).
During May, June and July, Mike was part of Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, replacing vocalist and keyboard player Gary Brooker (who was busy with the reformed Procul Harum) on their tour, which covered the UK and Europe. 'It was a lovely thing,' Mike enthuses. 'Played to thousands of people who had never seen me before and I'm there fronting a band made up of Georgie Fame, Albert Lee, Martin Taylor, Beverly Skeete, Nick Payn and Bill, and everyone is loving it. A lot of fun! For Frank Mead and me, booting piano stools across the stage, it's business as usual!'
'I did a song on each of the first two Rhythm Kings albums and so I sang them and some of the things that Gary normally does. Bill and the lads have labelled me 'The Lunatic' in honour of my stage antics, but you know me, I do get carried away when the music moves me. There has been so much positive reaction to the tour, with many flattering comments coming my way. I'm very much looking forward to touring and recording with the Rhythm Kings in the future, so stay tuned on that one too.
'Another thing I've been doing is guesting with European bands. Knock Out Greg & Blue Weather I tour Sweden and Norway with two or three times a year. They are a fabulous six-piece vintage R'n'B style band based in Stockholm with several albums under their belt. They look and sound great. Anders Lewen is a world class guitarist, Marcus Andersson is a hell of a drummer. They used to feature more harp-led Chicago style blues but since they've had a horn section the music has been able to expand itself over to the jump blues and rock'n'roll styles as well. Great guys! I'm hoping to bring them over here for UK audiences to see for themselves. Good Time Charlie, a four-piece from Norway, are another great outfit featuring a gem of a young guitarist called Kjetil Grande. We've torn the house down at events like the Bergen Ole Blues Festival.'
'So I have a lot of freedom that I didn't have before as a member of a band and I'm able to do a lot of different things.'
Mike has a new CD, the third under his own name, entitled Blue Boy, on his own label (see rave review in issue 48). 'It's basically a covers album with one on mine, 'Fast train'. The first track, 'Someday', I learnt from an album that Buddy Holly's band the Crickets recorded with pop singer Bobby Vee. Most of the tracks were good versions of well known songs but 'Someday' was new to me and among my favourites. Years later, Andy Silvester and me worked out the bridge and gigged it a while. We'd never heard about any other bands doing it so we nailed our version down last year. Turned out to be a fine opener on the album. 'Hurtin' Inside' is a Brook Benton and Clyde Otis song, [Billy Myles'] 'Tell Me Who' I learnt from Big Mama Thornton and the title track is from Jim Reeves. Andy plays pedal steel guitar on it, the first time he's done that! There's a Little Walter number, 'Come Back Baby', Junior Parker's 'Love My Baby', Tarheel Slim's 'Wildcat Tamer' and it was good to do another Slim Harpo tune, 'Strange Love'. So it's pretty diverse. It's the rockingest collection I've done. I haven't been as happy about anything I've done as I am with this since the Playboys' Now Appearing album .'
Mike is joined on the album by his rhythm section, with Nicholls and Priseman adding horns to some numbers. Also guesting is Mike's fellow original Big Town Playboy Ricky Cool, on harmonica.
'I had this rockabilly trio, the Rockets, with [Playboys' bassist] Ian Jennings at school. It was around the time that the Stray Cats were popular, and Ricky Cool, or Trix as we call him, was a teacher there, he taught woodwork and metalwork. And we got together and Trix brought in Andy Silvester and that was how the Playboys came together. Ricky left when we started touring, as he still had the day job. And it was Trix and Andy who introduced us to the old R&B stuff.'
Mike moved from his native London with his Spanish parents to Worcestershire at the age of eleven. He had already begun piano lessons the previous year, but soon found his interest waning. A Christmas present of an acoustic guitar in 1980 re-kindled his interest in music and it was the guitar that he concentrated on for the next few years, reverting to his first instrument in his late teens when he began listening to R&B and boogie woogie pianists.
Going back to the subject of his latest CD, Mike adds: 'The album was recorded pretty much live in the studio. Although I'm known as a pianist and people are always interested in my piano playing, there are very few piano solos, but I'm just as happy playing rhythm.'
Sanchez's solo debut, Just A Game, recorded and released while he was still a Big Town Playboy, was just the man singing, along with his piano or his guitar. Its follow up, Just Can't Afford It saw him playing piano, guitar and double bass. 'I recorded the piano and vocals live with Mark [Morgan] drumming and then overdubbed. I borrowed a double bass and practised hard for a couple of weeks and I had an electronic tuner next to me when I played it, to keep me in check.'
When asked about his future plans, Mike replies, 'Wow, been too busy to think of planning anything!' but adds, 'I wish to record a new album every twelve to sixteen months. Blue Boy was a good bunch of classic rockin' songs so the next album has to be somewhere else and with a whole lot more original ideas too.'
'I've always been a working artist on stage but haven't concentrated much on the importance of laying down good studio recordings. Twenty years from now I probably wont have the energy or desire to sweat like a maniac several nights a week, so it feels more and more important that every time I've gathered a good collection of ideas, I record them and move on. So many bands seem to just gig all the time and record one album every five years. I've performed many songs over the years that I wished had been recorded but never got around to it. It's a shame because then people only have the memory of your live shows and in time those shows get forgotten too. So now, when something feels right, I really wanna capture it before it's gone. Blue Boy is my best album yet and a big reason for me to look forward to future recordings.'
'I'm currently singing and performing live better than ever and really enjoying the freedom to work under different formats and with different people. In the last month I've toured in Sweden with Knock-Out Greg, performed some shows in Canada with Bill Wyman, played some solo shows at Norwegian blues festivals, performed with the 11 piece Revue at Colne festival and found time to sunbathe by a pool in Spain for a week. Mm! More of that please!'