Endlich ist es soweit. Mississippi Heat stellt das Nachfolgealbum für die 2014 erschienene CD „Warning Shot“ vor.  Die Band ist von ihrem neuen Album „Cab Driving Man“ so überzeugt, dass sie an die äußerst erfolgreiche US Tour für den Oktober gleich eine Europa Tour im Oktober 2016 anfügte. Durch die kurze Vorbereitungszeit waren leider nur zwei Auftritte in Deutschland möglich: 21.10.16 Reichenbach – die Halle und 22.10.16 Hannover – Jazzclub. Ich werde das Konzert in Hannover besuchen und bin schon ganz gespannt. Darüber werde ich in MunichTalk berichten – leider habe ich noch keine Kopie der neuen CD erhalten, die Plattenkritik wird auch nach dem Konzert erscheinen.

Allerdings ist es MunichTalk gelungen, vorab ein Exklusivinterview mit dem Bandleader Pierre Lacocque zu führen. Ich denke, daß er unsere Fragen sehr offen und klar beantwortet hat. Aus Gründen der Authentizität wird das Interview in der Originalsprache veröffentlicht.

Viel Spaß beim Lesen und möglicherweise trifft man sich ja in Hannover.


(Das aktuelles Line-Up; v. l. n. r.: Brian Quinn: bass, Inetta Visor: lead singer, Michael Dotson: guitar/vocals, Pierre Lacocque: bandleader/harmonica/songwriter, Terrence Williams: drums).

Interview von Bernd Kreikmann am 26. September 2016

MT: Hey Pierre, it’s a great pleasure for us to welcome Mississippi Heat in Europe again.

PIERRE: Thank you, it’s great to hear from you. I’m looking forward to seeing you in Hanover on October 22nd.

MT: Do you plan to do a European tour every year? I suppose it’s necessary so you can build up a strong fan base over here.

PIERRE: Yes. For the past two years, we’ve been with the Andy Loesche booking agency (https://concertbueroloesche.de). He brings us to Europe several times a year. Our next tour is coming up this October. We’re going for twenty days to France, Belgium, Poland, Switzerland, Germany and Greece. We will return to Europe in March to play in the Netherlands and Romania. There are other tours in the planning as well. 

MT: Let’s talk about the music, Pierre. Mississippi Heat for me has a very special and unique sound. The first album I bought was “Footprints on the Ceiling.” I expected to buy a sampler with Southern music. I ended up with a record that seemed like it was recorded by a New Orleans band. I guess it was mostly the sound of your harp that gave me this impression?

PIERRE: For those who have not heard Mississippi Heat before, I can understand that they would think we’re from Mississippi, or Louisiana, for that matter. Yet we are a Chicago-based blues band. We have chosen our name purposefully: we owe our inspiration to the Mississippi Delta, its history and its musicians.

As you know Bernd, at the turn of last century many of these musicians moved up North to places like Chicago and Detroit for jobs, often in the steel mills. They brought with them a sound, a spirit and soulfulness that came through in their musical delivery. Mississippi Heat’s name is an acknowledgment that our music isn’t created in a void. It has a culture, a historical context. 
As you probably also know, another name for the harmonica is the “Mississippi Saxophone.” Or the “harp.” There are many names for the harmonica, but one of them, certainly among African Americans, is the Mississippi Saxophone. We’re also influenced by the Chicago blues sound. It’s an amplified and electric version to the original acoustic Mississippi Delta sound. So there is a direct link between Chicago, where I’ve lived since 1969, and the South. The word HEAT in our band’s name was suggested to me by my then 9 years old son, Jonathan.

You mentioned that the sound of my harp gave the impression of coming from New Orleans. I take that as a compliment, because that Crescent city’s sound is inspiring to me, especially the tempo and the joyful temperament.

While I’ve been influenced by artists like Little and Big Walter, among so many others, I also like songs played in minor keys. They present a distinctive sound interpretation, a different mood. That minor sound has a wide range between sadness and happiness. The whole human emotional gamut is there in New Orleans’ music.

When I started to play the blues harmonica at 16 years old, I was attracted to the Chicago Blues harp music. I also was taken by to the work of Lee Oskar, though I never studied his harmonica style. Oskar – who played with the famed rock-funk fusion group War from 1969 to 1993 – created and sold harmonicas tuned in natural minor keys.

I was attracted to their band sound, as I am to Klezmer and Russian music, for instance. These are played in minor keys that convey incredibly deep emotions. You can play Chicago blues in a minor key with the help of a special Lee Oskar harp tuning, which suddenly opens up sounds that fit perfectly well with the blues context. Chicago-based guitarists Otis Rush and Jimmy Johnson are masters at this approach. The typical Marine Band harmonica did not have those natural “blue notes” or “minor thirds”. Yes, we could work around this and bend them with a harmonica tuned in a major key. But Lee Oskar harmonicas gave those blue notes ready-made for you to play.

MT: Even today I feel that I hear Caribbean vibes in your music. Listening to a Mississippi Heat album puts me in a good mood. What’s the secret?

PIERRE: First of all, I am married to a Cuban woman. My love for her brought me to listen and to appreciate Latin music from her country and elsewhere. Me and my wife Vickie have been married for 36 years now, and she’s opened me up to new and inspiring musical ideas.
I would say the artist in the Latin genre who’s influenced me the most is Carlos Santana. He grew up playing the blues. He studied the blues music genre. He brings the melody and tempo of Latin beats into a bluesy framework. He integrates the two worlds. His approach also moves me because he uses a few notes to say so much more. That’s why I like Albert King and B.B. King. Junior Wells on the harmonica. Big Walter Horton on the harmonica. Little Walter on the harmonica. They expressed so much melodically, yet with fewer notes than most harp players. I like using silent pauses when I play the harp.

So Carlos Santana had a definite impact on me. I’ve never studied Santana’s guitar style. But I enjoy his approach.

MT: Let’s talk a bit about the band’s lineup. Kenny Smith has been the drummer since early 1997. He is surely one of the best blues drummers alive. Inetta Visor has been with the band for 15 years too. I feel she sings better than ever now. Michael Dotson is your guitar player for the past 5 years. I’ve seen the band play with Carl Weathersby and Lurrie Bell on guitar. When I saw videos of Michael I felt that he is a more rock-orientated guitar player than Carl or Lurrie are. Is that a change in the Mississippi Heat sound?

PIERRE: Thank you for asking me that question Bernd. I need to rectify your statements. Michael Dotson is probably the most cultured Chicago blues guitar player that I’ve had the pleasure of having in my band since the early 1990’s, when Billy Flynn and James Wheeler were members of the Heat. For the first time in a long time, I now have a full time band member in Michael who thrives on the pre-and post-war blues culture. For the past 10 years or so, I have invited Giles Corey as a second guitar on our recordings. While he definitely has a rock background and is likely the one you are referring to here, he is also an amazing blues player. He was also a member of the Otis Rush Band (as was James Wheeler). As with Carl Weathersby, Giles can play A-N-Y-T-H-I-N-G with awesome beauty. He also has Santana’s guitar style when he wants to. He is that good.

Lurrie Bell and Carl Weatherby have Michael’s gift and pedigree as well. Of course, Kenny Smith has the same divine gift. He’s been with the band for 19 years. And you are right: he is the best blues drummer alive today. Because of that fact, he is in constant demand. Kenny is family to me. Forever. But I had to make a decision about which drummer would eventually be appointed as Mississippi Heat’s full-time member.

Terrence Williams has now taken his place. Up until recently Kenny’s position in the band had been sacred and non-negotiable. But our drummer Terrence Williams – Kenny’s ongoing replacement for the past 5 years – was available and eager to join us as a full time band member. While Kenny is on a few of the songs on Cab Driving Man, it is Terrence Williams who appears on most of the 16 songs. Terrence is an amazing musician. He’s got a wonderful sense of timing, and he brings a wide range of rhythm and musical beats to boot. He is as adept in the Chicago blues style as he is with the jungle or Santana-type beats. With Terrence, we can play other musical genres than straight Chicago blues, including reggae. Terrence is a great musical fit.

And when it comes to Inetta Visor, you are right. Her singing gets better and better. A lot of our growing success over the years is due to her vocals, to her singing gift. She’s a faithful band member and she is a delight to travel and work with.

MT: Let’s talk about the most important part of the show. You will present your new CD, „Cab Driving Man“ while touring in October. I learned from you that you fulfilled your fans‘ wishes for getting more harp playing.

PIERRE: Yes. My musical joy is the ensemble sound where all the instruments contribute to a greater harmonious whole. In the past, with that kind of vision in mind, I have not always pushed the harmonica beyond one solo verse here and there. But fans and friends would tell me, „Come on Pierre, do more, we love your playing.“ On Cab Driving Man, I purposely did that and pushed the harmonica more, without compromising the ensemble feel. 

MT: What else can we expect from the new CD? I can’t wait to play it for the very first time!

 PIERRE: This album turned out to be quite an exciting project. I did not expect to be as uplifted about it as I am now, and have been. As with our last Delmark Record’s CD „Warning Shot“, the mixing and mastering of the album is again superb. It was done by Steve Wagner (with help from Dave Katzman). 

All the 16 songs, except for two, are originals. We have 2 covers that Inetta chose for the album. Overall, it’s all fresh material and has a lot of musical variety. When I prepare for an album, I always develop a program, a vision. I want change of tempos, of moods, all within a blues context. Of course, you’re going to hear a Santana type of song like „Rosalie.“ (It’s a song about my GPS. I call it by that name in real life. And I’m very proud of that song and of the arrangements).                              

With age and maturity I am approaching my songs – hopefully – with more sophistication and without losing inspiration. I will not play a song if I don’t feel moved. That’s one of the secrets of Mississippi Heat. I’m sure I’m not the only artist who thinks this way. This album also has three wonderful songs by Michael Dotson. It took me a while to know how to navigate within these songs. Some were not your typical 12 bar blues. So it took me time to learn them well: first of all, to understand the structure of the song, but also to appreciate the musicality, to understand why that song was created the way it was. It’s was the same with Inetta Visor’s 2 cover songs.

A new approach for me on „Cab Driving Man“ is playing acoustic harp on 3 songs. I’ve never recorded as many songs like that on our previous 11 recordings. To my surprise and excitement I’m now sold on doing more acoustic harmonica on future Delmark sessions. Since I like the horn sound so much, I typically play the harmonica with an amplifier.

MT: That sounds great Pierre. I’m convinced that the album will be at least as successful as all of your albums before. It might even be the best album you’ve ever released.

PIERRE: That is literally what people tell me about the new record. So I am reassured after so much work went into it. It is one of my best albums. Some say it is our best.

One thing about my recordings is that I try to never repeat myself. I take pride in doing so. Of course, there are certain phrasings that I repeat sometimes, phrasings that are steeped in Chicago blues harp history. On the other hand, I ask myself, “Is there something else that is fresh, genuinely me, genuinely felt from my heart, that I could contribute here?” There’s so much hard work behind this recording.

MT: Many thanks for taking your time, Pierre. Have a great European tour. We will meet in Hanover. Is there anything else you wish to add?

PIERRE: There’s one last thing I’d like to share with you: 
A world famous harmonica player from Belgium passed away a few weeks ago: Toots Thielemans (29 April 1922 – 22 August 2016).

My compatriot’s music crossed over to worldwide audiences. He was a child prodigy and a world-class jazz chromatic harmonica player. He started playing the accordion at age 3. Also played Jazz guitar, but was best known for his distinctive chromatic harmonica playing. He emigrated from Brussels to New York in his late twenties (1951). He became a US citizen in 1957, but we never met. He was also an amazing whistler. He’d played with Billy Joel, Dizzy Gillespie, and Benny Goodman among others. He was an idol of mine. He is hailed as a national treasure in Belgium. We didn’t share the same passion for jazz or other musical genres like pop music. But that didn’t diminish my respect for him one bit. There’s a quote by Toots Thielemans that is well known and that has stuck with me. And I’ll share it with you. He said, „The best place to be when you play harmonica is between a laughter and a tear.” I cannot say it better than that.

Thank you so much for your time, Bernd.

I’m looking forward to seeing you soon in Germany.