2011 Blues Music Awards & Blues Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony
Blues Revue • By Don Wilcock
For a genre as cathartic as blues, the venue can inspire or destroy an artist’s performance if not their career. No one clutched at this show, and several of the performers changed my opinion about them or opened my ears for the first time to talents I’d either missed or misinterpreted.
Tad Robinson may not look the part of the deeply inflected soul singer, but his delivery and his original songs suddenly elevated him in my mind to a level shared with Curtis Salgado and John Nemeth. His guitarist, Alex Schultz, played some of the most evocative and understated soul guitar I’ve ever heard. I had heard wonderful things on his Back in Style LP from Severn, but you never know how much of the sound on a soul LP is the producer and how much is the artist. Robinson is a major player!
Click here for full article.
Tad Robinson "Back in Style" Album Review
Mojo Music Magazine • by Tony Russell
Robinson sings mostly original songs - sample Rained All Night or Full Attention Blues - in a bluesy Southern style, with a range and smoothness of delivery that are exquisitely evocative. The same ambience of a late night at the Soul Shack is conjured by the pitch-perfect arrangements for Hammond, horns, guitar and rhythm."
Tad Robinson "Back in Style" Album Review
Living Blues Magazine - by David Whiteis
Tad Robinson’s vocal style owes obvious debts to vintage-era Al Green and other soul sophisticates, but he blows harp with the rough-hewn exuberance of a postwar Chicago juker. In theory, that should make for an uncomfortable tension, but on the two cuts here that feature his harp, he pulls off the stylistic juxtaposition with effortless-sounding ease.
That lack of self-conscious straining is Robinson’s most attractive asset. Unlike many “revivalist” blues and soul artists, he’s found a way to retain his own voice, evoking the spirits of past masters but never sounding as if he’s trying to be something he’s not. Even on an aching deep-soul ballad like You Name It I’ve Had It—the kind of take-no-prisoners vocal workout that has left many a soul man gasping for breath and grasping for respectability—he summons heart-rent passion and gospel-honed hope with unaffected ease. He incorporates stylistic elements of the fabled soul men—Otis Redding, Percy Sledge, James Carr—as he deems appropriate, but they all meld into a voice that remains distinctly his own.
Memphis legend Wayne Jackson contributes his Dixie-fried trumpet to the proceedings, and his presence seems to have inspired everyone to reach for a higher level. The horn charts drip with hot buttered soul, the background vocalists interweave flawlessly, and the rhythm section—bassist Steve Gomes, drummer Robb Stupka—keep the funk boiling throughout, even if they can’t quite recapture that indelible meld of boxy 4/4 elementalism and textural complexity that characterized the work of the Hi rhythm men in their glory days.
It may be wishful thinking to suggest that honest, from-the-heart soul music like this will ever be “back in style,” but listening to this set is enough to make even the most jaded cynic a believer, at least until the music’s over.
About It Album Review
All Music Guide • by Hal Horowitz
If the sepia-toned photos of the
guitarist aren't enough indication that this album is
a throwback to his jump blues roots, the "no Stratocasters
were used in the making of this recording," liner
note should settle it. An experienced musician with
an impressive résumé supporting blues
acts such as William Clarke, Rod Piazza & the Mighty
Flyers, and Tad Robinson (who contributes vocals to
three tracks here), Alex Schultz doesn't use his first
solo album as a showcase for his impressive guitar skills.
In fact, after recording the bulk of the tracks in 2001,
he returned to the studio in 2003 to add three more
instrumentals -- the only originals on the album --
that feature his clean yet tough guitar solos. The result
is a well-rounded, horn-dominated project that recalls
the great jump blues of the '40s and '50s, but retains
enough contemporary sheen not to seem dated. Schultz's
snappy lead lines and sure sense of style guide these
13 tracks. Veterans Finis Tasby, Lynwood Slim, and Robinson
provide vocals on ten tunes, and all are in stunning
form. The various singers mesh with the instrumentals
to provide a diverse but focused album that never lags.
Schultz digs into his influences to cover songs from
Charlie Rich, Jimmy McCracklin, and Eddie "Guitar
Slim" Jones, among others, all of which are delivered
with style, sophistication, and a genuine respect for
the genre. The closing Finis Tasby tune shifts into
swampy territory with just standup bass and brushed
drums as accompaniment. There isn't a false note on
the disc as it swings with finger-popping, toe-tapping
energy that will impress even the most dedicated lover
of classic jump blues.
Rating: 9 out of 10
Think About It Album Review by Beardo
BluesWax • March 10, 2005
Supreme Sideman Going it Alone
After paying dues with the likes of William Clarke and
Rod Piazza, time with Lester Butler in the ill-fated
progressive Blues band 13, and countless guest appearances
as a guitarist/producer, the supreme sideman himself,
Alex Schultz, has finally released a solo album. Even
this CD was conceived from two different recording sessions
that were years apart.
Enlisting people from the previously mentioned recording
projects, Alex assembled a formidable band(s). The vocal
duties are shared by his childhood pal Tad Robinson,
Finis Tasby, and Lynwood Slim. Shultz provides a showcase
for these remarkable singers at the apex of their game
and singing songs that fit each like a tailored suit.
Robinson's take on the classic, "Who Will Your
Next Fool Be" and Tasby's work on his own composition,
"Walkin' and Talkin,'" are but the shiniest
gems in this highly polished setting. Add veteran Larry
Taylor on bass, The Royal Crown Horns, plus factoring
in the first session was just days after 9/11, you realize
just how special this recording is.
Alex figured out, and rightly so, that a guitar player's
CD should have some six-string-laden instrumentals.
Session two was added with three Schultz-penned tunes
that again included the horns and this time old band
mate Bill Stuve on upright bass. Included are a big
band arrangement, "Big Time," a West Coast
Swing tune, "Lexington Express," and the self
explanatory "Rhumba & Orange."
Think About It was what Alex Schultz did for a couple
years and it was worth the wait.
Think About It Album Review
by Jeff Harris
Bad Dog Blues • February 2005
There's a number of great blues
session players out there, those hired guns who who
can step add add a some extra sizzle when called upon.
Guitarist Alex Schultz has been one of those guys for
nearly two decades and finally gets a chance to step
out front on his classy debut, "Think About It."
Blues fans will know Schultz from his lengthy stint
as the axe man in Rod Piazza's band, appearing on "Blues
in the Dark", "Alphabet Blues", "California
Blues", and "Live at B.B. King's Blues Club."
He also freelanced with Tad Robinson, Big Joe and the
Dynaflows, Benjie Porecki and William Clarke. Schultz
played on Clarke's great "Blowin' Like Hell"
album, which won a W.C. Handy.
"Think About It" is a long overdue debut and
while Schultz's name is on the cover this is an ensemble
project all the way. He sums up the project this way:
"I believe my own strengths lie as an ensemble
player, so for me a solo project needed to be about
an exceptional band - a classic "uptown" ensemble
playing swinging tunes and highlighting some remarkable
singers." That's exactly what we get here as Schultz
and the band swing and jump through a vintage set of
tunes all with a distinctive West Coast sound punctuated
by Schultz's tasty, understated guitar work. Alternating
on the vocals are three terrific singers: Tad Robinson,
Lynwood Slim and Finis Tasby. Tasby is a veteran singer
who can flat out sing the blues and has guested on a
number of fine records recently including those by Kirk
Fletcher, Enrico Crivellaro and his most recent effort,
"The Mannish Boys", with a stellar roster
of West Coast all-stars. Tasby shines on a slinky cover
of Guitar Slim's classic "Done Got Over",
a smoldering version of Freddie King's "I Love
The Woman" and the rock solid groove of Jimmy McCracklin's
"Think" featuring background vocals from Tad
and Lynwood and some big toned stinging fret work from
Schultz. Robinson's soulful vocals are a highlight on
the swinging "Act Right" featuring some marvelous
B-3 from Alberto Marsico, a stripped down and stately
version of Charlie Rich's timeless "Who Will The
Next Fool Be" while Lynwood sparkles on the hand
clapping, 50's New Orleans feel of "No Use Knocking."
Schultz steps out on three instrumentals backed by the
excellent Royal Crown Horns and ace piano man Carl Sonny
Leyland. "Big Time" has a lazy, retro vibe
as Schultz really stretches out, "Lexington Express"
jumps and swings and "Rhumba & Orange"
is a fine rhumba styled number that really cooks.
As Schultz states this is "not a typical "guitar-slinger"
record by any means." "Think About It"
is a first class ensemble record featuring great singers,
songs and plenty of wonderful guitar work. Hands down
one of the year's best.
Blues Bytes Album Review
by Bill Mitchell, December 2004
One of the more vastly underrated
guitarists on the blues scene today is Alex Schultz.
He's known to many as the former guitarist with The
Mighty Flyers, and more recently has done some outstanding
session work for Maryland-based Severn Records.
Schultz's work on recent Severn releases has been frequently
applauded in Blues Bytes, most notably for his incredible
playing on Tad Robinson's latest album, Did You Ever
Wonder? Severn gives Schultz the opportunity to spread
his wings and show off his prodigious talents on Think
About It, his first solo release. The result is a superb
album of blues guitar, with side trips into other styles.
Schultz is a guitar player ... period. He doesn't sing
on this disc, but he's lined up a solid array of guest
vocalists: Finis Tasby, Lynwood Slim and the aforementioned
Robinson. Each singer brings his own style to the sessions,
resulting in a widely varied but consistently excellent
collection of songs.
Kicking things off is a mid-tempo Louisiana swamp blues,
"Done Got Over It," originally recorded by
Guitar Slim. Finis Tasby brings a relaxed down-home
quality to the vocals, with Jim Jedeikin contributing
a blazing baritone sax solo just before Schultz launches
the first of many memorable guitar breaks. He has an
uncanny ability to lure the listener into thinking they
are getting something good but not great, then turning
up the intensity and delivering incendiary guitar licks.
Schultz is at his best when he's playing jump blues,
and the Chuck Willis party stomper, "Be Good, Be
Gone" showcases his abilities with this style.
Lynwood Slim is an appropriate choice for vocals on
this tune; in fact, he comes across so well on all three
of the cuts on which he's featured that I went scurrying
into my CD collection looking for past Lynwood Slim
CDs. Mando Dorame (tenor sax) and Alberto Marsico (Hammond
organ) are also both featured on their respective instruments.
Lynwood Slim is also heard on the late night, smoky
blues of "I Don't Want Your Money, Honey,"
with Schultz playing extremely tasteful, jazzy guitar.
Dorame chips in with another nice sax solo.
The always fine singer Tad Robinson takes lead vocals
on three cuts: the soulful blues shuffle "Let's
Start Again," the Wynona Carr song "Act Right,"
and the slow, mournful Charlie Rich number "Who
Will The Next Fool Be," the latter undoubtedly
being the high point of this disc. All three cuts are
highlighted by great Hammond playing from Marsico, a
native Italian who is one of the unsung heroes of this
In addition to the opening number, Tasby does an outstanding
job on The Five Royales classic "Think." Robinson
and Lynwood Slim provide backing vocals here. Schultz
backs Tasby with nice B.B.-style guitar on the slow
blues "I Love The Woman."
Tasby's final song, and the disc's closing number, "Walkin'
and Talkin'," is an original that could easily
be mistaken for a Slim Harpo song if a harp break was
inserted somewhere in the tune. Schultz assembled a
different group of backing musicians, with the exception
of retaining the same Royal Crown horn section, for
the recording of three instrumentals for this CD, including
the slow blues shuffle "Big Time," the jumping
"Lexington Express," with red hot T-Bone Walker-style
guitar, and the self-descriptive "Rhumba &
Think About It will hopefully give Schultz more recognition
in the blues world. He certainly deserves it.
Think About It Album Review
by Billy Hutchinson
The name may not be too well known,
but his guitar has served up licks on albums from William
Clarke, Rod Piazza & The Mighty Flyers, Tad Robinson,
Jimmy Rogers, Mickey Champion, Robert Lucas, Enrico
Crivellaro and a host more besides. Mr. Schultz doesn't
even slip in a single vocal track as fellow West Coast
guitarist Kid Ramos does; he has left the singing duties
to Finis Tasby, Tad Robinson and Lynwood Slim. Amongst
the assembled musicians are bassist's Larry Taylor &
Bill Stuve, with piano man Carl Sonny Leyland. This
album has been in the making awhile as 10 were recorded
in Sept. 2001, with the remaining three tunes on May
19th 2003. As to be expected from West Coasters swing
music is on here, but there are slow burners, soul/blues
and R&B. The instrumental "Rhumba & Orange"
manages to mix B.B. King & Freddie King's style
all in one; "I Love the Woman" also shows
his love of that big guitar tone. The sound is lush
with lovely mix, and plenty of horns with saxophonist
Mando Doramo deserving a mention. I told West Coast
styled harp player Bryan Lynham about this release,
and within days of Brian playing it, three other local
musicians were into it too. Schultz comes from the very
tasty league of guitarists, who favour crafted solos
rather than flash-off-the-plank, but note this is definitely
not for those who dislike retro. Sadly due to time constraints
I have dashed off this review, but in the short time
I have played this disc I realise that I will be coming
back to it several times soon…
"A Why-Not Guy"
Interviewed 4/5/99 by Cathi Norton
After years of sampling both, I
finally came up with a description of the difference
between the East and West Coast. I once told a friend,
"The attitude East Coast attitude is 'Why?' and
on the West Coast it's 'why not?'" It's a definition
that still works for me. So somehow I'm not surprised
to learn that Alex Schultz calls California home. This
is a why not guy.
Born a white, upper middle-class kid in Manhattan in
1954, Alex came up in unusual circumstances. His mom
was rapidly building an international reputation as
a fashion designer and his stepdad was a big jazz fan.
Their house in Greenwich Village was full of "artists
and avant-garde people" and Schultz remembers his
folks as "the coolest people I knew." By age
ten Alex was playing guitar and listening to the contemporary
music his young parents also dug. The late Sixties were
ripe years for music in New York and Alex was exposed
to everything. His introduction to blues came when he
heard the Paul Butterfield and Michael Bloomfield play,
discovered the Bluesbreakers with Eric Clapton, and
was powerfully affected by "B.B. King Live at the
Regal." He saw Jimi Hendrix five times, impressed
with his wild improvisations, and his dad played a key
role in furthering his listening and playing education.
"He was smart. He encouraged me in all I liked,
but then right at an important time he started to feed
me Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian, and Wes Montgomery,"
says Schultz. As Alex's guitar playing improved by leaps
and bounds, so did his love for jazz. As a matter of
fact, it was after seeing Hendrix at age 13 that his
dad pointed out the similarities. "As we were leaving
the show, he said 'Jimi is a great jazz musician!' I
said, 'What do you mean?! He doesn't play jazz!' And
he said, 'Well, it was improvisation. He was improvising
Schultz built his guitar chops steadily. "Through
my teens I was jammin' around and getting pretty good.
I knew I was getting advanced, but I was developing
a strong interest in jazz." He studied with George
Barnes, a contemporary of Charlie Christian's, and in
the mid-Seventies enrolled in Boston's Berklee School
of Music. Commuting back to New York on weekends to
play with pop and rock bands, Schultz soon realized
there were a "million guitar players" in the
world, so he switched to bass guitar. This move led
to a surprise decision to move to L.A. in 1979. "It
looked like we might have a major label deal with a
songwriter out there…something early Tom Petty,"
but the deal fell through and Schultz starting picking
up sideman work there on bass. "I wasn't a flash
bass player, so all of a sudden guys started hiring
me because I played simple, solid, and with a good feel."
His bass led him to gigs with Hank Ballard, Coco Montoya,
and William Clarke, and each time, his habit of noodling
on guitar during breaks led him to the guitar chair.
It's interesting that his bass playing remained spare
while his guitar work grew more improvisational, but
although Alex's love of jazz and blues are found in
every instrumental he plays, he seems to be able to
resist overplaying with an uncanny sense of exactly
what is needed for the groove.
With William Clarke, initially on bass and then on guitar,
Schultz found a musical soul mate. "We had a very
natural musical communication…he liked the way
I played and I understood his stuff. It made so much
sense to me; we had a similar approach." Working
with Clarke Alex did small tours up and down the West
Coast and recorded the 1990 W.C. Handy winner "Blowin'
Like Hell" album.
Things never happen very linearly with Schultz. While
playing with Ballard, he also played with Clarke, Coco
Montoya, Debbie Davies, Steve Samuels and others. He
usually had a first-call playing commitment and filled
the rest of his time doing free lance projects. After
two years with William Clarke, he accepted the guitar
chair with Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers, filling
the position left by his guitar mentor, Junior Watson.
Then after his tenure with the Flyers Schultz worked
with Lester Butler until his death in 1998. Now he free-lances
and his projects are "all over the map." He's
recorded with his old friend Tad Robinson, Big Joe and
the Dynaflows, and Benjie Porecki, among others on his
recording discography of over 25 albums.
Future projects are possible with David Maxwell, Tony
Z, an Italian trio, a solo jazz organ and guitar album,
and more work with Robinson and Porecki. "These
are my gravy years," he laughs when quizzed on
the wide variety of things he's doing all at once. The
man is not afraid to dance on the highwire. As a matter
of fact he makes his home there.
CATHI: So you confess to liking Eric Clapton and Bloomfield/Butterfield
ALEX: (Laughs). Well, I'm a little apologetic, but it's
because I like to be honest about it. Literally there
are guys in blues that say, "I grew up listening
to Wolf and Muddy," but you kinda doubt…"Aw
c'mon man!" I didn't know for years how much of
that first Butterfield album was really just Little
Walter and Muddy -- just good interpretations.
CATHI: Sounds like you hit it off with blues from the
ALEX: Yeah, immediately. As soon as I heard B.B. I would
sit and -- I found I could imitate that pretty quickly.
CATHI: But then you sidetracked into jazz?
ALEX: Yeah, in the Seventies I was a real jazz snob.
By the time I was 17-18 I was really interested in Charlie
Parker and bebop. But I was still playing in New York
bands - bass. Bass was more in demand than guitar players…especially
in blues. I knew blues pretty well already and had studied
jazz already so I had a good harmonics background. I
had always taken to the bass. It's funny, I can play
better rock as a bass player than I can as a guitarist
because when I play guitar it always comes out pretty
blues-based. But as a bass player I can be more versatile.
CATHI: So then you found yourself playing bass in L.A.
How'd you get involved in the blues scene there?
ALEX: I was dabbling around on guitar in the breaks
of the first band I played with, and some buy took me
aside and said, "Forget this project. You should
be playing Freddie King!" So I started to get some
encouragement for my blues guitar. Then in '81 or '82
I went to a blues jam. Coco Montoya was there and he
was really encouraging. Right away I got good feedback
from some of the best guys. So next thing I started
getting some gigs and a little more confidence. And
really, I never imagined I could have a career playing
blues guitar because I was a white, middle-class kid
who couldn't sing!
CATHI: Did you feel like you had to know a lot of the
blues standards before that started happening?
ALEX: Not really. I'm not a guy who knew all the Muddy,
Sonnyboy, Little Walter, and Wolf. I was more coming
at it just by hearing and playing it. I'd heard those
styles and could emulate them, but I wasn't a blues
scholar; I was WAY into jazz. I knew a lot about jazz.
CATHI: Were you hanging out at jazz clubs too?
ALEX: Not as a player. That was way out of my league.
Blues I felt like, "Wow I can get up there and
do okay without being a scholarly guy.
CATHI: But at first you mainly played bass in L.A. right?
ALEX: Yeah, I started to slide into some good gigs.
The first important L.A. gig was working with "Hank
Ballard and the Midnighters" in 1985. I got into
the band as a bass player, held it down for awhile,
and then Hank and the guys heard me on guitar. Every
time there'd be a break in rehearsal, I'd pick up my
guitar. Not that I was bored with bass, but I just love
guitar. I think one day some guitar player didn't show
up and Hank said, "Hey man, let's get another bass
player and we'll put you on guitar -- you know the stuff."
So little by little I slipped into the guitar chair,
and then for about a year and a half I was his musical
CATHI: Oh yeah, you were putting arrangements together?
ALEX: Pretty much. I was probably one of the more schooled
guys and I could communicate with everyone. (Laughs.)
They called me "The Senator"--a diplomat kind
of guy. It was my first real time on the road in a big
bus. It was exciting and the music was dynamite. I had
great experiences that introduced me to the blues circuit
a little bit. Like we played Antone's in 1986.
CATHI: Did you meet the T-birds there?
ALEX: No, but I did meet Joe Sublett (saxophone player).
He treated me really good. But it was intimidating at
Antone's because the last time Hank was there he told
me "Some kid asked if he could play with me onstage
because he liked my stuff." That kid turned out
to be Stevie Ray Vaughan! I saw pictures with Hank up
there with Stevie, Angela Strehli and all those people.
And I was also a HUGE Jimmie Vaughan, so I was terrified
either one of those guys would be there.
CATHI: (Laughs) What happens when someone that big strolls
into the audience? Do you clutch?
ALEX: I'm sorry, yeah…if Jimmie Vaughan strolled
through the audience I'd crumble! Anybody else, naw,
not a problem. I'm absolutely in awe of him. He's brilliant
-- everything he does -- he just kills me. But being
at Antone's I felt I'd really arrived somewhere. It
CATHI: So when you were working with Hank, you were
also doing studio work in L.A.?
ALEX: Little bits. I was starting, but then William
Clarke hired me to play bass. I actually got to see
George "Harmonica" Smith. He was older and
not that well, but he was a great performer. The thing
that blew me away was this young white guy that looked
like a biker dude on stage with him. He was just amazing.
That was the first time I saw William Clarke.
CATHI: I heard Smith was a great performer.
ALEX: Oh yeah, and that's where Piazza gets his whole
thing I think.
CATHI: So how did Clarke catch you playing bass?
ALEX: He saw me playing with my friend Steve Samuels.
He was sitting out there with Hook Herrera -- they were
good friends. So Clarke and Herrera are sitting in the
audience --two tough-looking characters looking at me.
I had a bad '80's haircut and some goofy clothes and
I saw them talking about me. I figured they were just
talking trash about me, you know? But on the break up
comes William Clarke. He goes, "Hey man, I got
a gig down at the Belly Up Tavern with Smokey Wilson.
I wanna know if you wanna play bass with the group?"
And I thought, "Whoa, shit…I thought he was
going to kill me!" (Laughter)
CATHI: I heard Bill was a hard driver.
ALEX: He could be. He was just real direct. I didn't
mind it. He always treated me great, with respect. And
I took the gig really seriously. I was really trying
to play the best music I could. We had a natural communication.
And he was pretty jazzy.
CATHI: Holmstrom said he was getting into the idea of
doing a jazz record just before he passed.
ALEX: That's a lot of what he listened to…horn
players. His whole concept was very much more linear
improvisation. So eventually I slipped into the guitar
chair there too. The same thing happened -- I'd get
in the back door as a bass player and then get hired
as the guitar player.
CATHI: Maybe that's because you're so emotive as a guitar
ALEX: I guess that worked (laughs). I mean it was better
for some people than others -- what I had to offer.
I would go down every week to a jam session Bill held,
and then one time he took me aside and said, "Hey
man, I wanna know if you wanna join the group on guitar."
Just like that! And I just about fell off my stool.
I was blown away because I was really honored!
CATHI: Who was playing guitar with him then?
ALEX: Joel Foy. Joel was one of the few other guys around
playing a hollow-bodied guitar that had some conception
of the West Coast approach to guitar. But I stepped
in with Clarke's band and I think I was a bit more fluid
of an improviser on the jazzier jump stuff. Joel was
more a schooled blues guy. He knew more traditional
stuff than I did, but I could just get up there and
blow with Bill on the jazzy stuff and he loved that.
CATHI: I don't think you can take the jazz out of your
playing. If I asked you to go up there and play JUST
blues you'd have to try hard (laughs).
ALEX: Right, and I'm not the ultimate guy to do that.
I can hold my own and do a good job, but I'm not the
baddest guy on the block. I guess that's why the thing
with Clarke was so natural -- it was tailor-made for
me, the perfect slot. I heard what Bill was doing and
went, "Wow, I could go right with that because
I can play all my little Charlie Christian ideas over
the blues and it's going to sound good!"
CATHI: Tell me what you mean by West Coast style? Swing?
ALEX: Call it what you will; it was very different than
what the "Fabulous Thunderbirds" were putting
down with Jimmie Vaughan, different from Bloomfield,
Clapton, B.B., or straight Muddy. What was going on
out here was a jump-influenced, jazzy style.
CATHI: Did you have trouble fitting in with a harp?
Not in terms of music style, but it takes a certain
ability to play support under harp.
ALEX: I had to learn that a bit more and I was glad
I had listened to people so much, but Tad (Robinson)
had a lot to do with my upbringing on that side. He
was the harp player in my life (laughter). He schooled
me quite a bit actually, on Little Walter and Sonnyboy.
CATHI: You met him back in New York?
ALEX: Yeah, probably in 1976--through mutual friends
who insisted we get together. Our parents both had houses
on Fire Island and friends literally brought him into
my parent's house and said, "Alex Schultz, this
is Tad Robinson; Tad, this is Alex Schultz -- you guys
gotta meet!" We sat down, started to jam, and three
hours later said, "We gotta take a break!"
(Laughs.) We were instant soul mates. He taught me a
lot. He's a very musical guy and not your ordinary blues
harp player and singer by a long shot. At times he can
sound like Kim Wilson but he's so much more than that.
No slight to Kim, but Tad's got more musical appetite
and was always interested in jazz, folk, pop, and all
kinds of stuff.
CATHI: So what would you say a guitarist must do to
support a harp player?
ALEX: Make 'em sound good (laughter). That's a smart
ass answer, but it's what it boils down to and how you
go about that. It's hard to put into words. It has to
do with nice, fat chord voicings -- not straight rhythm
per se, but more like accenting/answering. With Bill
that was really important. He let me know right away.
And he also took me aside and said, "When I leave
a hole, jump in it! Just know it! Play something; play
anything!" And I was able to anticipate his phrasing
CATHI: That's cool because when I saw you with Tad that's
the thing I appreciated most -- you were listening for
the holes and you continually came up with something
innovative to fill them with!
ALEX: Good! (Laughter) That's what Bill would emphasize.
He'd go, "Man, anything….just play anything…slam
it! BE THERE!" So when Bill was really telling
you to do something, you did it! (Laughter.) Like on
slow blues, Bill would play these long swooping lines
and then leave a hole and stomp his foot. That's where
he wanted accent stuff, so I was listening. That comes
from the jazz sensibility where players are listening
and are interactive. I'd SLAM it! I enjoyed the ensemble
part. With Bill it was natural. We just had a real natural
musical thing. I could play a strong solo, but I wasn't
into being Mr. Flash or a solo kind; it wasn't about
being displayed. Bill and I were on the same wave length;
I understood his phrasing; it made sense to me.
CATHI: So did you record with Bill?
ALEX: Yeah, We did "Blowin' Like Hell" a couple
of years before Alligator put it out. Willie Brinlee
and I put most of the cash up and we had no idea it
was going to come out at all, let alone win a Handy
Award (in 1990). If you'd have told us that we would
have been on the floor laughing. That was our first
CATHI: How long did you stay with Bill?
ALEX: About two years, from '86-'88 -- kind of an overlap
with Hank Ballard. The Clarke thing had just started
to really go great in '88. We played the San Francisco
"Battle of the Harmonicas." It was the "Blowin'
Like Hell" band -- Steve Fedora, Willie Brinlee,
Eddie Clark on drums, Bill, and me. We were the underdogs,
but it was magic. It really looked like we were going
somewhere. Ironically (Junior) Watson put in his notice
with the (Mighty) Flyers two weeks later. "Blowin'
Like Hell" was sitting in the can, nobody picked
it up, and Clarke had no record deal -- no nothing.
Then Honey (Piazza) called me.
CATHI: So you were real familiar with the Flyers?
ALEX: Oh yeah…Way back when I first came to L.A.
Tad told me to look them up -- every harp player knew
Piazza. My friend Steve Samuels took me to see the Flyers
with Junior Watson and the first time I saw them I didn't
get it at all. It was "never mind…too light
weight." I was listening to the Thunderbirds at
that point, so Jimmie Vaughan was real important. I
was always hammering on Steve about Jimmie Vaughan,
Jimmie Vaughn, Jimmie Vaughan (laughs) , and he was,
"Aw c'mon…Watson's the guy!" So we had
this big battle going on. And also Hollywood Fats was
a huge thing around here. I saw him quite a few times
early on with the James Harman band when it was Kid
Ramos and Fats together!
CATHI: Whew! What did you think about them?
ALEX: Fats I could dig (laughter)! Fats was heavy. He
was heavier than the rest of the swing crowd. When he
played the jump stuff, it was a little harder. Fats
was definitely exciting. Finally Steve got me convinced
to go see the Flyers again. So we did and Junior tore
my head off! He just destroyed me! Also, in that very
same moment, I got it that I could play that. I just
went, "This is Charlie Christian, mixed with B.B.
King." I remember just standing there watching
what he was doing, especially on the really jump numbers.
Watson on a good night is a scary thing to behold.
CATHI: He just knocks the air out of me.
ALEX: Yeah, he's an erratic player and an erratic guy,
but when he's on, he's a special voice. He is another
one…stealing a lot of strange influences and creating
a pretty personal sound. From that moment he took over
as chief influence on me (laughs). I started to talk
to him. "Wow, what is that shit? What are you playing?
Where did you get it?" And he told me about Tiny
Grimes and T-Bone Walker. Now I see total connection.
It wasn't hard to follow the lineage, it's just that
Charlie Christian was a little more sophisticated really.
He had more going on harmonically. T-Bone is the connection
to B.B. and everything else. So I started following
Watson around and unashamedly copying him. But where
I'm going with this is, at that time there was nothing
blues happening nationally except SRV and maybe Robert
Cray. The West Coast thing was very cult at that time--very
far out. The idea of younger white guys using hollow-bodied
guitar was pretty wacky at that time to put it bluntly.
But I jumped on it because I knew I had a feel and tons
of blues background. Anyway, I found myself at this
cool juncture where there were really almost no guys
following in those footsteps.
CATHI: With your two influences (jazz and blues) you
probably fit the pocket perfectly.
ALEX: Perfectly -- the right place at the right time.
CATHI: It must have been amazing to take Junior's spot
with Piazza then huh? Was it hard to leave Bill?
ALEX: It was; it was! Politically there was a lot of
weird tension between those two. So it was a tough call
because the thing with Bill had started to go great
and musically I couldn't have asked for anything more.
I was digging it. But business-wise, at that time, the
Flyers had a lot more going. They were going to Europe
twice and year and that was really appealing. I thought,
"Wow, going to Europe twice a year and getting
paid to play blues guitar?--YEAH!" It was a no-brainer.
And to get asked to take your hero's place is a nice
little stroke. But I really had to ponder it because
I knew it was going to hurt Bill in a lot of different
ways. Bill was really the underdog--a scrappy fighter--and
Rod was bigger at that time and a better businessman.
I really had to weigh that decision and I stalled for
about a week, but in the end it was a business decision.
CATHI: Ouch. That happens so much in music because it's
such a personal sort of love, yet a business too.
ALEX: Yeah, Bill was crushed, and I really loved him.
He had been nurturing musically and personally too.
He was really cool; helped me get some confidence. My
playing improved greatly in that band. I negotiated
with the Flyers. They wanted me to join after the Europe
tour, but Watson told me he was done and wanted out,
so I said I'd do it if they could get me on the tour.
They worked out all the details and I went.
CATHI: (Laughs.) I talked with Stuve (Bill Stuve, Flyers'
bass player), and he said suddenly you were there and
he said, "What are you doing here" and you
said, "What key is this in?!"
ALEX: (Laughter). Yeah that's the way it was…sudden.
Stuve and I were good friends. We had a blast.
CATHI: So was working with Piazza as easy to slip into
as Clarke's group?
ALEX: Not nearly; it was almost 180 degrees removed
because Piazza is so much more of a stickler for detail
and the band was super arranged and air-tight. But that's
kinda what the Might Flyers were all about. Rod once
described it to me: "What I'm trying to do is present
like a little jewel here for somebody who never could've
seen Little Water. This is like a little jewel."
Which was a neat way of putting it.
CATHI: I have talked to a lot of the players who work
with Piazza, for instance, and I think your influence
in that band was really different.
ALEX: Yeah, it is really different and I'm glad you
recognized that. A guy like Rick (Holmstrom) and I are
totally different. He's come up emulating these certain
blues styles, loves them, and has a real reverence for
them. That's where he lives. And for me, for one thing,
the blues that I started with was a little different
-- more Michael Bloomfield, Clapton, and John Mayall.
It was a more urban sound already.
CATHI: Yours is a more all-over mix. You seem to bring
a lot of areas into an Alex Schultz style. That style
is not like anyone else.
ALEX: That's cool; that's great. I mean that's what
any musician should strive for. I also think it takes
awhile. You've got these younger players, some of whom
have great facility, great ears, and more patience.
They are able to sit down and really work at this stuff.
But I think sometimes with age comes the blending of
all influences and also, it gets a little more comfortable.
Frankly, sometimes with Piazza I felt I had to edit
my playing a little. To Rod's credit, he gave me a lot
of leeway, but sometimes I stretched the envelope pretty
much as far as I could (laughs)!
CATHI: (Laughs) I had that feeling.
ALEX: I did, and Rod was very cool about it. He never
put a lot of pressure on me or said "Hey man, don't
play that!" It would be clear when I was getting
near the boundaries and I'd talk to him about it. But
he gave me a lot of leeway.
CATHI: He seems to be a great teacher.
ALEX: He is -- at least for me. He made me learn some
really traditional styles. I hadn't mastered the art
of backing a harmonica or the schools of Robert Jr.
Lockwood or Louis Myers, etc.
CATHI: But I can see where that might have felt more
confining to you.
ALEX: Yeah, but it gave me a certain discipline. Having
learned all that traditional stuff I know I can do it.
I'm not gonna rival Rusty Zinn or Holmstrom for doing
that accurately, but I can do it credibly.
CATHI: All of education is not without math.
ALEX: (Laughs) Right. It was a good experience, but
pretty jarring at first. I pulled them a little bit
to me and they pulled me a little bit to them.
CATHI: Rod told me once that every player added their
piece. He just tried to keep it harnessed into the genre.
ALEX: Yeah, that's what I got from him -- there was
room to stretch but you had to respect the overall concept
of the Mighty Flyers. I think I got a good period in
that band and I feel lucky…we made some good records.
CATHI: So what happened? You felt you had to move on?
ALEX: Basically. We were working like maniacs. It's
a Rod ethic; he's a workin' guy. I realized I had taken
my role as far as I could take it. Artistically I conceded
I'd pretty much run the course and yeah, I was missing
other stuff. So it was a combination of all those things.
CATHI: Did you go to another group, or back to free-lancing?
ALEX: Freelancing. I was lucky to know that I wouldn't
starve if I made that choice. The most major commitment
I've had since then was Lester Butler ("Red Devils"),
which was a TOTAL left turn (laughter). Playing with
another harp player was about the last thing on my mind!
But after the "Devils" he had bad period and
was pretty much just hanging around L.A. He called and
asked if I wanted to write some tunes. I figured "God,
this is so left-field; I gotta try it!" (Laughs.)
It was the opposite of jazz…a real challenge.
He brought out a totally different side of my playing.
He made me get more aggressive and went "Turn it
up! Slam it! Don't be afraid!" It was cool because
I had totally honed this other thing…I was Mr.
ALEX: Yes, exactly thank you. And that was the last
thing Lester wanted. So we recorded some things and
some of them ended up on that "13" album.
It's almost a year now since he died -- it's a bad time.
He really came to mean a lot to me.
CATHI: How long did you work with Lester?
ALEX: Started in June of 1995 and went right up until
his death in May 1998. And I took some breaks in there
because he was exhausting, let's put it that way.
CATHI: High maintenance?
ALEX: Very. But I have a great videotape of his last
gig. Paul Size was there and it was so ironic because
they were reunited for the first time in five years
-- since the "Red Devils." Lester had tempted
me to go to Europe for two big gigs by telling me Jimmie
Vaughan was going to play both of them (laughter). I
said, "Sign me up; let's go!" So we played
these two dates with Jimmie, and we knew that Paul (Size)
would be at the last one so we agreed he would come
up on the encore. The whole show was taped and at the
end, after Paul's up there with us, James Harman comes
out with a bottle in his hand, Billy Branch on one arm,
and Joe Louis Walker on the other. They start in and
I gave Joe Louis my guitar. So it's Joe Louis Walker,
Paul Size, Billy Branch, Lester, Harman, and some of
Harman's band. It was magic. The crowd was going nuts.
When they finished, we (the regular band) came back
out and played "Mr. Highwayman"-- a "Devil's"
tune. That was the last show Lester ever played. It
was weird that Paul was there. It was a heavy night
and within six days Lester died.
CATHI: Wow…well what are you up to now Alex?
ALEX: Lots of things! All over the map. Mostly jazz.
I have a regular gig I'm doing every Sunday -- my own
band with Jerry Angel ("Blasters") on drums.
I call it "Combo a-Go-Go"-- funk, jazz and
lounge-y James Bond stuff (laughter). A '70's porn soundtrack
kind of music.
ALEX: I've also got a little thing with Mitch Kashmar
who is a singer/harp player similar to Tad. I'm doing
as much with Tad as I can and I love working with Benjie
(Porecki). We're going to do another album. I'm going
to do my own album with this great Italian drummer and
Hammond B-3 player!
CATHI: My God…that's a combo.
ALEX: Killer! And I've done one recently with Big Joe
and the Dynaflows. Hope to maybe get something together
with some other keyboardists too -- Dave Maxwell and
CATHI: Unlimited Alex huh?
ALEX: (Laughs) Well, It's great to play with all different
kinds of players -- really exciting.
CATHI: Here comes the gear question…
ALEX: (Laughter) Gibson 330 -- my all-time fave. Very
versatile and a jazz axe. I also love Tele's. I remember
what a guy told me about a Tele a long time ago: "Think
of it this way. If the Army issued a guitar, it would
be a Tele!" Simplicity you know?
CATHI: (Laughs) Amen -- a tree trunk. You gotta muscle
ALEX: At heart though, I guess I'm a Gibson guy.
CATHI: Strings? Nice lights?
ALEX: NO…big fat telephone poles.
CATHI: (Laughter) I knew it.
ALEX: (Laughs.) Very macho. I use 12, 15, 20, 32, 42,
52. Sometimes on a Tele I use elevens…otherwise
it's pretty tough. I like tough strings and high action.
CATHI: I'm intrigued by the relationship of blues to
jazz in your playing. Would you say your playing is
more one than the other?
ALEX: Well, blues is probably a little bit more predominant
in the approach, but jazz came to really influence me.
It's what I listened to probably more than I've listened
CATHI: Well Alex…I don't know what to say about
you. Would you call yourself a blues musician, a jazz
musician, or what?
ALEX: I gave this great trumpet player my card. He was
real encouraging to me, but he looked at it and it said,
"Alex Schultz -- blues guitar and bass." And
he said, "Man, you gotta take that offa there.
It should just say 'music.'" I took that as a real
compliment. So I guess it's just "musician."
CATHI: Why not?