" Interview "
Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Clarence Spady, a forty-seven-year-old Blues musician, born and raised in Paterson, New Jersey, now lives in Scranton, Pennsylvania. After his debut for the Philadelphia-based Evidence Music, Nature of the Beast, Spady was cited as one of the "Top 40 under 40" Blues players to watch in the future by Living Blues Magazine.
Spady learned Blues from his father and played his first professional show as a five-year-old in kindergarten, where he performed B.B. King andJames Brown tunes for his classmates. Spady cites B.B. King and Albert Collins among his main Blues influences, and throughout his formative years Spady honed his skills playing with various Rock and Gospel groups. After he graduated from high school in 1979, Spady hit the road with regional groups and spent most of the 1980s with the Greg Palmer Band, which opened for major touring acts like the Temptations, theFour Tops, and the Spinners. After getting off the road in 1987, Spady played lead guitar in several Scranton-area Blues bands and also directed the Shiloh Baptist Church Choir. By the early 1990s, Spady decided to "step-out" and lead his own band.
Spady has the potential to be a force in the Blues world for a long time to come; he backs up great singing with creative guitar playing with a strong knack for songwriting, which is extremely refreshing.
I recently caught up with Clarence just has is new CD (the first for Severn), Just Between Us, was released.
Bob Putignano for BluesWax: Hi Clarence, I am just loving your new CD, Just Between Us, which is your first release in quite some time and your first for Severn.
Clarence Spady: Yes, this is my first for Severn and I am looking forward to many more.
BW: How did this new relationship with you and Severn get started?
CS: Severn owner David Earl took a gamble with me, but we've known each other for years and we used to tour together, not in the same band, but we would bump into each other from time to time. David's a fine guitarist.
BW: I've known David for years and I did not know he played.
CS: Oh yeah, he's a very fine guitarist. Anyway, he heard I was just coming back on the scene, David was looking to explore and I was looking for an element to explore in.
"One of the new explorations for me
was adding background vocals..."
BW: Sweet! But your new CD really came out well, which is no surprise considering your abilities combined with Severn who always does a great job with all of their recordings, as their production value is always very high. There's no doubt that they are a high-quality record label.
CS: That's right and David has an awesome cast of musicians that he uses down there to support any artists they record.
BW: Who's that great keyboard player that Severn uses a lot?
CS: Benjie Porecki, who is from Philadelphia, is out of this world, andSteve Gomes on the bass, plus I brought a few of my guys down and it turned out to be a really nice collaboration of everyone getting together.
BW: As I am sure you know, a lot of labels want things the way they want it, but that's not the case here.
CS: David Earl is very open to a lot of ideas.
BW: Well this project really is sweet, as all the tracks on here worked well for me; so much so that your disc is definitely one of my favorite recordings for 2008, as the more I listen to it, the more I like it.
CS: Well, thank you, Bob. There are a lot of influences on there, too, where I went for that old Memphis Soul sound. I also like the Southside of Chicago sounds, too; so there's some of that on there. "I'll Sell You Out" almost has a smooth Jazz sound, too. One of the new explorations for me was adding background vocals, I had never worked with background vocalists, which added a whole new dimension for me. Karla Chisholmand Meg Murray were primo when it came to putting down the vocals.
BW: One of my favorites on your new CD is "King of Hearts," which has such a solid groove, and tell me more about "Enough of You."
CS: Most of my songs are pretty much life-related; "Enough of You" was written because of my son and the breakup with his mother and me, where finally it was "That's it, enough of you!" [Laughs.] But that pertains to a lot of other things in my life too, like telling my employer "I can't make it today." And he had enough of me, too. [More laughs.]
BW: You told me you are from the Jersey area?
CS: I'm originally from Patterson, New Jersey, but I grew up in Scranton, Pennsylvania. My dad was stationed there in the army and thanks to my dad and my uncle, Fletchie, that's how my musical career began.
BW: So they were playing music around the house?
CS: You know, my dad would listen to Blues all the time and my mom was into Gospel. Then every weekend we would travel to my uncle's house where they would have this huge Blues jam. Plus they would cook and have about twenty-five people there, so eating, drinking, and three people playing the Blues, my dad, my Uncle Fletchie, and my Uncle Wes.
BW: And when did you start to pick up on the music?
CS: I was five and sitting on my dad's lap and I just started playing the left hand for him, and they were amazed that this five-year-old kid was really playing. At that time my arm was too small to get around the body of the guitar, so that's why I just played the left-hand part. I loved to play "High-Heeled Sneakers," which I later recorded and still play live.
BW: You really have a tasty sounding guitar style.
CS: Ah, thank you, man. But back to my growing-up days, we'd play all day, you know, a slow Blues, then a fast one, people were dancing holding a plate in one hand and a drink in the other. It was a great family, plus I never got bored with doing this.
BW: And I am sure your family must have been thrilled that you were able to catch on to this when you started playing.
CS: That's right. And Uncle Fletchie was like an old-style player. He did it as a hobby; he wasn't trying to get noticed. I always felt it was unfortunate that he did not get noticed. Man, he would thumb pick on his old '67 Fender Jazzmaster; the strings were so old on it, but he made it have that authentic sound.
BW: You must have learned a lot from him?
CS: Oh, my God! I used to constantly pick his brain, every week!
BW: When did you get started professionally?
CS: I went through a lot of turbulence because I didn't know what I wanted to do. I always knew I wanted music as a part of my life, but I had a lot of other passions as well. As a kid I was fascinated with Tonka trucks, so I ended up becoming an operating engineer for fifteen years. Once I found out how to use a screwdriver I was always dismantling things, so for me it was always the screwdriver and my guitar pick.
BW: You have been a regular staple at Terra Blues in New York City.
CS: Yeah, I've been doing that for a long time now and I enjoy getting to know a lot of the bands that come in there, like Kenny Neal. Kenny and I are real good friends, he's a great person and personality; we've done countless festivals, not together but on the same bill. We have a great friendship, especially hanging at the Dinosaur Bar-B-Q in upstate New York where he would often come by and sit in with me.
BW: I can watch Kenny play all night.
CS: He's great; his whole family, his brother on bass, his dad, everyone is solid.
BW: Kenny has a new CD out, too.
CS: I was glad to see that Kenny is back in it with his new CD, as he came back really strong.
BW: The title track from your new album is so soulful and beautiful, where did that come from?
CS: That is the first song I ever worked with background vocals, where you get a chance to fill those musical holes without an instrument. Your vocals are an instrument, but the way they put them in there was a whole new ballgame for me.
BW: Did you go into the studio with the concept of using background vocalists?
CS: After we completed all the rhythm tracks, I thought, "Man wouldn't it be nice to add the additional vocals?" And they said, "Man, why don't we do that!"
BW: It's cool that you have a co-producer like David Earl who can share your ideas like that at Severn.
CS: It was a good two-way street as David had a lot of good input, too. And I was open to his suggestions, as well, because I respect him as a guitarist and as a musician.
BW: Every so often I hear a little County music in your playing, too.
CS: I've always loved that Country thing, and Bluegrass, too. Several years ago I did the Louisville Blues Festival, where there were some people in the audience who, after my gig, they invited me to play in the country outside of Louisville. Then I got a little nervous as I was all by myself, and thought, "What did I get myself into now?" Then all of a sudden there was this Bluegrass jamboree going on and I swear I've been stuck and bit ever since.
BW: Not a bad thing.
CS: Man, those guys were playing! It was one of the best times of my life.
BW: As the saying goes, that there are only two kinds of music: good and bad.
CS: That's right.
BW: Thank you for a lovely afternoon, Clarence.
CS: Thank you, Bob. I really appreciate your support; this has been awesome.
Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com