Mick Hucknall
" Interview "

Part One

Tribute To Bobby, as in Bobby "Blue" Bland, was recorded last summer at Mick Hucknall's home studio in the United Kingdom with his longtime collaborator Andy Wright. While the twelve songs on the new collection benefit from a twenty-first century production, Hucknall's delivery remains rooted in the honesty of the Blues.

"His music has this sophistication to it, a Jazz tinge," says Hucknall about his adoration of Bland's take on Blues. "There's also the darkness of his lyrics - Bobby sings with a really twisted pain and sorrow. He's one of the vocalists who influenced my singing style long before I became a slave to Pop success."

Some history: The British Soul-Pop band Simply Red was formed in 1984 by Hucknall. The group was signed to Elektra Records and released Picture Book in October of 1985, which featured "Money's Too Tight (To Mention)," a Top 40 cover of a 1982 R&B chart single by the Valentine Brothers, and "Holding Back the Years," a Hucknall original that topped the U.S. charts. The single and the album went platinum and made the group one of the top success stories of 1986. But the band's next three singles all failed to get into the top forty and it looked like Simply Red might be just another flash in the pan. In 1986, "Holding Back the Years" was reissued, got radio airplay, and reached the number two position on the U.K. charts and went to number one in the U.S. This song and many more hit singles, established Simply Red as a white blue-eyed Soul act, however they had to wait until 1995 for their first UK number one, "Fairground." Several other Simply Red recordings were released from 1995 till 2007, which leads us to Hucknall's first solo disc, Tribute To Bobby, on the revived Atlantic subsidiary label Atco via the Rhino label.

I recently caught up with Hucknall just as his debut 2008 solo CD was about to be released.

Bob Putignano for BluesWax: Mick Hucknall, how are you doing today hanging out just outside of London?

Mick Hucknall: I am doing fantastic, thanks for asking, Bob.

BW: So, Simply Red is no more?

MH: Well, they will be no more after 2010. We are starting our farewell tour near the end of this year.

BW: I enjoyed your most recent Simply Red CD, Stay from 2007, which had a harder edge to it than some of your previous work.

MH: Thank you. What's interesting about that is that CD got rolling in the second half as the first several tracks were designed for what we felt was our typical Simply Red audience. Then I set myself free at around track five, which was an important lesson for me, as I realized that I was going through some kind of stylistic change. So I wanted to move on to another place, which I felt I could not do that with the band Simply Red. People have certain expectations of our sound and I did not want to be encased with those limitations. MH: I guess you can call it a solo record as it is the first recording under my own name.

BW: So how did this concept of recording Bobby Blue Bland tunes come about?

MH: I felt that I was listening to more and more music of the Fifties and Sixties and I started to reacquaint myself with Bobby Bland. Let's face it, a lot of people in Western Europe and to a lesser degree in the States don't really know who Bobby Bland is, especially some of the great songs he recorded. So it made sense to me to pay tribute to Bobby and then use it as a springboard for myself as I want to start writing new material that is similar to that era of music. So when I do my next record it will be original songs using the influences, but not copying it, to give my music a bit more bite, which will be a challenge for me in writing original material.

BW: It's interesting that you went back to Bobby's early recordings from the Fifties and Sixties.

MH: Actually that is the only Bobby material I knew! Much like the Ray Charles at Atlantic, I was listening to that music when everyone else had on their flared pants digging disco. I first heard Bobby as an eighteen year old and started to listen to Blues records from thirteen to fourteen years old. I got my first record player at eleven and I bought Beatles records and, of course, Sticky Fingers by the Stones - that I still have on a red Decca label imprint - which got me curious about tunes like "Can't be Satisfied." Who wrote that? Oh, Morganfield! Right, Muddy Waters. And then I went out and bought Muddy's Best of Chess. Then came Little Walter, Sonnyboy, Jimmy Reed Live at Carnegie Hall, so all of a sudden everything started to workout for me. I also dug Al Green on Hi Records, and Brother Ray, and Bobby Bland, too. And what became apparent as I am nearing my forty-eighth birthday was that I was keeping a lot of Bobby's music on my iPod. So that's really it.

BW: I think you said right, Mick, when you said that Bobby has that Jazz tinge, which for my ears keeps him fresh and refreshing.

MH: Yeah, especially his early material, like "Woke Up Screaming" brought out his originality, which was greatly aided by his liaison with Joe Scott.

BW: No doubt about that, Mick.

MH: Plus, I thought Joe Scott did really well with choosing the songs for Bobby, as they all had that same pain theme which was beyond the cliché of a lot of the Chess or Checker Blues. It just had that twist to it that I am sure you also realized.

To be continued..

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com