Chris Dair is the long-popular French bluesman that plays one seriously mean blues guitar! His interesting influences, from Flamenco to Jimi Hendrix, give his style a sharp and unique edge. We got a few minutes to talk to Chris recently, and he had some interesting things to say!!
Okay, let’s do this!
Chris, when did you start playing the guitar?
I’d be about five years old, I remember finding a phrase, making up my own scales I suppose, and working out a pattern, way before I even knew about scales. I now call them Dairian scales [laughs]. I even made up my own chords. The phrases were based on flamenco because that was mainly what I had heard at the time, and continuously playing this pattern. I’d fall asleep playing and wake up thinking about this pattern, subconsciously it was going in. Over time I changed the pattern somehow to another one, still incorporating things I’d done with the first one. Eventually over a period of time, around 10 years old, I learned hammers and slides and pull-offs and all the other techniques used.
When I was a kid I watched and listened to the guitarist, always tried to get as close as possible to see what they were doing. I remember one time, I couldn’t get close up to the band, and they were playing a lovely slow blues. The guitarist did a sliding chord and I couldn’t see what it was. When I got back home, remembering the sound in my head, I started trying to reproduce the sound. I just persisted until it sounded right, and now I can tell you it is a beautiful slide from the B to the A in an open E blues.
Was there a particular song you heard that made you kind of say “I want to do that”!
Well yes, but it wasn’t a song but a piece of music I heard on the radio. I was too young to know what it was and was told by my Mom that it was Flamenco guitar played by Manitas de Plata. I thought it was just an incredible sound, I fell in love with the sound. It was shortly after that when I asked if I could maybe have a guitar.
Do you play any other instruments?
Yeah, I play bass, drums, percussion, harmonica, and some keyboard, and anything else I can get a good sound out of!
What was the music (Record, Tape or CD) that you bought with your own money?
The very first single I bought with my own money was The Rolling Stones, It’s All Over Now, and I still have it. I used to buy at least one single every week in those days if something caught my attention I’d go and get it. The very first album (LP) I bought was The Rolling Stones Aftermath.
Who has been your biggest musical influence?
I suppose it all started with people like Manitas de Plata, Andres Segovia, basically whoever I could get to hear on the radio or TV. At about the age of 12 I also had a great interest in Indian classical music through a friend lending me an album by Ravi Shankar. From that I developed a deep interest in Indian and World music in general, not only string instruments but percussion, through to pipes and flutes, I sought sounds from all over the world.
I used to follow the TV mags to see what programs there might be with any kind of guitarists playing. I had a little tape recorder that I talked my brother into lending to me, and if there was anything on the TV of interest I would hold the mic to the speaker and record the music. It didn’t work too well but I could play it over again and it was a real breakthrough, if you like, for me, as before I had to keep the sound in my head while I was trying to play it. I used this for quite some time. As I collected a few more records, a friend lent me a record player to play them on, So I learned a lot from a very wide variety of music, from classical to rock and so on. I think it’s important to be versatile in what you play, and listening to such a wide variety of music as a kid has given me the diversity in what I do today. I love Indian classical, African rhythms, Cuban, Latin and so on, it all gets infused into what I do.
When I first heard Jimi Hendrix I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and he completely bowled me over. I guess he was my biggest musical influence at that time. Other influences would be John Mayall, Santana, Eric Clapton and Peter Green, and after that John McLaughlin and so on. I listened also to Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, Weather Report, King Crimson, and Chick Corea much later. I was big into Jaco Pastorius and John Patitucci.
It wasn’t necessary for the artist to be a guitarist to inspire me. I admire many different artists that play other instruments, not just guitar. Through all of this I was listening to a lot of the very old Blues masters, John Lee Hooker, Bukka White, Big Bill Broonzy, Robert Johnson, Lightning Hopkins, Leadbelly and Chicago and Detroit blues, Muddy Waters and even some of the great blues singers of that period, like Bessie Smith, they had so much style and technique to learn from. They just took me away with this wonderful raw blues sound, it was just so gripping to me.
How do you think today’s blues scene compares to that of say 15-20 years ago or longer?
I think that 15-20 years ago blues was not as prominent in the media as it should have been. In the UK there were very few radio programs dedicated to the blues, or TV. I think in Europe blues was listened to much more than the UK. With the break up of Cream, and Peter Green went off the scene and so on, gradually other styles took over in popularity. There were the Blues Legends tours around the US and Europe, but those couldn’t give the exposure to the music that it deserved.
Now, however, I see a big resurgence of Blues, it’s really great to see so many radio stations and shows are dedicated to the Blues. The net has helped to revitalise awareness, and therefore love of the blues. I don’t think people have stopped being into the blues, it’s just not been so available to them to listen to.
What is the blues to you? Can it even be defined?
I guess the blues is a sound that hits you deep inside. I remember a friend playing Dust My Broom and to see that being played live in front of me was such an incredibly emotional experience. I’d be about 11 years old, I have been passionate about the blues ever since.
Blues has this rawness, a simplicity and an undisguised passion in it’s expression of life’s experiences. There is something almost primitive about the rythms, it’s not called roots music for nothing. I play many different styles of music, but my whole core of what I do comes from the blues, whether it be a Fusion Jazz or an Eastern improvisational piece, or a percussion piece it contains elements of the blues that grew up with me.
When a band kicks off a slow blues rythm and your in the blues room listening, it resonates all through your body, you feel the whole thing, the life in it, it is an incredible experience, and you know that the whole audience feels that.
Blues has a resemblance to flamenco, it has that same passion and origin. Creating music is a passion, if it is not, it isn’t music.
How helpful has the internet been to you in spreading your music to a worldwide audience?
Absolutely crucial, there would be no other way of gaining worldwide exposure without it unless signed to a label with considerable promotional resources, but even then if you were signed to a label you wouldn‘t have that personal interaction that you can have with your fans via the net.
Music fans look to the net now for their music fix in all genres, and it has made music completely accessible. I also think live performances are vital and we do just that.
What advice could you give someone just starting out and trying to make it in the music business?
If an artist is determined to make a career in music it’s very important that they become very proficient in what they do before they start to gig or record. I can’t stress enough that they must push their limitations way out, be your own very tough critic. OK, there’s a great deal of short-lived success out there, but if you want to survive, it’s only great music and total dedication that will keep you there.
Take a step back, listen to what you’ve recorded, ask yourself is it clean, flawless, accurate and says what you want to say – then try to get it to someone on local radio, get a reaction from as many other people as possible. Listen to the feedback and use it constructively.
Be as dedicated to your fans as they are to you. They are friends that will stay with you.
I read that you played with Jimmy Page and some other members of Zeppelin. Was that just a jam or did it happen more than once? Also, what was that experience like for you?
It was just a jam. Led Zeppelin were invited to open a new dance club in my local town in the late 60s. I had friends who had contacts at the club and I was introduced to Jimmy Page before they went on, and subsequently Robert Plant. It was just a small opening night, but needless to say it was packed. I chatted with Jimmy Page for a while and he asked me if I’d like to try his Les Paul. Well what do you say to that? I remember it being a beautiful guitar to play, the action was very low. Before we plugged it into the amp it appeared to buzz a bit on the strings, but once the amp kicked in it was perfect. Jimmy played on acoustic and we did some kind of blues boogie thing. They were very well known at the time, but they just came over as really cool guys. It was a great evening.
The club is still going to my knowledge today and has since moved location in the same town. When they reopened they wanted a Led Zeppelin reunion but that wasn’t possible. However, they hosted the Marshall Roadshow, and Jim Marshall was present himself. They invited the Climax Blues Band, and myself as I’d played at the original opening, I’d also played with Climax for a short while before.
Is there any artist that you have heard in the last year that really blew you away? If so what was it that drew you in?
It would be the band Sigur Ros! What drew me in was the ethereal way they play their music, and the combination of the elements infusing rock. folk and classical in their own unique style. The vocalist makes the whole thing stand out even more, he’s such a powerfully individual vocalist. I only recently discovered this band from Iceland, and realise now that they’ve been around a while. I find their music a great inspiration.
You’re newest release “Crossroads To Freedom” has been out for a little while now and I reviewed it and enjoyed it. How well has it been accepted and how do you feel it compares to your earlier stuff?
Crossroads to Freedom was uploaded online end of Dec 2010, but we didn‘t start to send it out until the end of Jan 2011, so it‘s very new. Yours was the first review of the album, and it was fantastic! Reviews are exciting, it’s an edge kind of thing, you never know what will be said!
Crossroads to Freedom is being universally accepted, and great reviews are coming in from the major blues sites. There are more to come and obviously I hope that it will continue to be as well accepted. For me, if people enjoy my blues, I’m happy !
I don’t think it’s any more or less than my previous releases, it’s just that with the blues I’ve been able to focus on that genre and extend this focus to the listeners. I have always been diverse in musical styles, and this is OK, but I feel that concentrating on the blues has enabled people to recognise me as a blues and blues rock or blues jazz guitarist, I think if that continues to establish itself in peoples minds, they will not be so surprised when they listen to say Strange Island. I think the blues always has some influence in whatever I do. The most recent review from John Stracey at The Blues Connections has really blown me away, and his referral to the album as a World Blues is particularly gratifying. I’m currently working on another blues album but at the same time an album of Blues/Jazz/World Fusion is emerging, that I call Guitaraga.
Last question….what is the thing that makes you keep going in regards to playing music?
It’s like breathing, if I stop, I die. I’ve been playing all my life and I could never give it up, that would be unthinkable. It’s more exciting now for me than it ever was. I wouldn’t know what to do if I didn’t have my music and didn‘t play. For me, what else is there?
Thank you, Glen…