BluesWax Sittin' In With Alex Schultz
By Bob Putignano
Alex Schultz could be categorized as a musician's musician; his fat tone and expressive guitar lines are more improvisational than a majority of Blues guitarists and more akin to a Jazz player. Thus the fact that Alex has been united with Soul Jazz organist Raphael Wressnig from Austria jamming vintage Seventies and Eighties Soul Jazz classics is not surprising.
A brief history: Schultz's best known and most recorded body of work is deep rooted in Blues, harmonica-based Blues, mostly as a sideman for harpists William Clarke, Rod Piazza, and Tad Robinson. The latter is a harmonica player, but is probably best known as a Soul Blues vocalist. In 2004 Schultz released his first solo album, Think About It on Severn Records, which was a marvelous recording, so much so that if you are not hip to Think About It you should checkout some sound bites to understand how gifted Schultz's playing is.
Recently I had the opportunity to check in with Schultz while he was making a brief pit-stop at the home of his birth, New York City, and just at the same time that Raphael Wressnig's and Alex Schultz's Don't Be Afraid to Groove was released.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: Good morning, Alex, did we get you up early today?
Alex Schultz: This is definitely a world's first earliest interview with Alex Schultz ever.
BW: Well, then I feel honored. And besides you are always on the move and being that I caught up with you back at your home here in New York City, well let's just say that I am just glad we were able to carve out this time to talk.
AS: That's true and good that we could intersect at this moment.
BW: The new album with Raphael Wressnig and yourself is really nice and funky.
AS: Thanks, I dig this record, too.
BW: This is kind of a departure for you, at least as to what we've heard on record thus far, wouldn't you say?
AS: Definitely, and I am happy about this, too.
BW: Do you and Wressnig work often together when you visit and live part-time in Europe?
AS: We've been gigging a lot over the last few years, which became the reason we thought about making this new record. So we decided to put something together that represents what we do in a live show and to show a side of the type of music both Raph and I like.
BW: How old is Raphael?
BW: My God. And he has already cultivated a fascinating history of who he's played with. Plus, in speaking with him over the last couple of years, Wressnig possesses an amazing knowledge of that bluesy Soul groove era that both you and I grew up with.
AS: He's incredible Bob and I have never pinned him down to ask how he found out about this music.
BW: And he's from Austria of all places.
AS: Southern Austria, you have to see where he lives, he lives on the border of Slovenia. It's beautiful there, but, wow, how did Soul Jazz reach the border of Slovenia? It did, man, it did.
BW: Raphael has played with a lot of interesting guitarists, like yourself and Enrico Crivellaro, as well as another favorite guitar player of mine, Jim Mullen, who used to be with another great organist, Brian Auger. So that's an impressive trio of guitarists. Over the years as you and I have spoken you've told me that Enrico used to come to your gigs in Los Angeles.
AS: That's right, many, many times. Enrico was a young guy hanging out in L.A. soaking up a lot of influences. He also spent some time on the East Coast and did a workshop with Ronnie Earl.
BW: You got to love the passion of musicians who seek out other musicians so they can improve their trade.
AS: Incredible, especially coming from Europe.
BW: What else have you been up to?
AS: So much stuff, in Europe I do a lot with Raphael, and often with Sax Gordon Beadle sitting in, we call ourselves R&B Explosion, which has been pretty wild, so that's been real good.
BW: You are really re-identifying a newer direction with this new CD with Raphael, as well as all your work with Tad Robinson too, especially the more recent efforts with Tad. Plus your solo record was excellent.
AS: Thanks, and like I said in the liner notes, Think About It was definitely a labor of love. I'm still very proud of that record and I know that it will stand up well over a period of years; it always felt and still feels timeless to me. And on that record is where I started to straddle the fence, where I did Blues without harmonica, got more vocal-oriented, and more horn-focused; more jazzy Blues music with Hammond B3.
BW: Those instrumental B.B. King tracks you did on Think About It just knocked me out! You captured that period of King's vibe, which was so right on!
AS: I know you dug those tracks and people in general reacted well to the same B.B. tracks, so I may have to do some more tunes like that, it's home for me too. B.B. was a major influence to me. Funny story, just last week in a tiny town in Germany near where I'm living in part-time, turns up Robben Ford's trio. So I got to see Robben in a very small little club inside the wall of a castle, that holds maximum one-hundred-and-twenty people, so it was so interesting for me to see Robben so close-up like that. Then I went and read an interview someone did with him and it turns out we have so much in common with our musical influences, too. So, cats of our generation grew up with the same kind of stuff!
BW: Neat, Alex. Please tell me of other influences.
AS: B.B. King I saw him in '69 and he killed me. Michael Bloomfield was also huge for me and I got to see him a few times in New York City once at the Super Session gig at the Fillmore with Al Kooper.
BW: You are not old enough to have been to the Fillmore are you?
AS: I'm almost fifty-four, but my folks were pretty hip and allowed me as a thirteen-fourteen-year-old to go to clubs and the Fillmore to check out shows. My dad actually took me to see Jimi Hendrix in February or March of '68 at Hunter College, too, which was a life-changing thing. I actually got to see Jimi five times in New York City! I'll never forget when Jimi picked up a black Les Paul and played what a he called "The Blues," which was in fact "Red House." So for a fourteen-year-old kid, I was knocked out, plus I was already pretty deep into music, guitar, Blues guitar, so you can imagine that those experiences were some major influences for me right there. Along the way the Mayall/Clapton Blues Breakers was huge for me, as was the first Butterfield record, too, also B.B. Live at the Regal, wow! These records are just holy to me.
BW: Would you like to add any last words to this conversation?
AS: Well I'd say, "Don't Be Afraid To Groove!
Bob Putignano is a contributing editor at BluesWax. You may contact Bob at: email@example.com or via his web site at: www.SoundsofBlue.com
Bob Putignano www.SoundsofBlue.com
Radio Host WFDU's "Sounds of Blue"
President of the NY Blues and Jazz Society