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Under The Influence: Danny Bryant Talks 'Blood Money'

Thursday, 28 January 2016 Written by Simon Ramsay

Photo: TX63 Music Photography

More often than not, blues musicians are like the proverbial fine wine and their flavour and class increases as they rack up miles on the clock. That is certainly the case with Danny Bryant, whose latest album, 'Blood Money', completes his journey from rough-around-the-edges outsider to genuine title contender.

The British guitar slinger is currently gearing up for his latest UK tour, and we spoke with him about returning to his musical roots, the current state of the blues and why he was petrified of dropping Bernie Marsden's guitar.   

You've pushed your sound forward in recent years, but 'Blood Money' finds you adopting a bluesier approach. Why did you choose to do that now?

The songs I was writing just came out a little bit more bluesy, or presented themselves in the way they were going to work best with a more straightforward blues approach. And Richard (Hammerton, producer), we always sit down and have our first meeting two months before we're due to record. Straight away he decided it needed a more bluesy approach. It's something I've always wanted to do, but they were the right songs at the right time and because I tour a lot I thought it would be a good album to play live. There's not too much trickery or production.    

You've talked about paying tribute to your heroes on this record.

A lot of people know about the Walter Trout connection, he was a big influence early on and still is.  He's on the album and Blood Money is very much written in Walter's style. Bernie Marsden (ex-Whitesnake guitarist), has always been a big influence too [in] the way he says a lot with fewer notes. When I knew he was gonna be on the album, I wanted to pick a ballad [Just Won't Burn] rather than put him on something heavy because I love his melodic playing. And as I got older I've become obsessed with the older guys: BB King, Muddy Waters, Hubert Sumlin, Howlin' Wolf, Albert King, Albert Collins, Otis Rush. I love blues from all the way back right to up to now.

Talking of Walter, his vocal performance is exceptional and a delight to hear after his past couple of years.

I agree. When we got the track it was really the vocal that stunned me and it was great to hear him back to full power.

It was an incredible thing you and your wife did, organising the donation campaign that allowed him to keep his house, pay for his hospital bills etc.  You must be overjoyed at his resurgence?

It's sort of a miracle to see him looking so well and playing so well, it's just fantastic. A dream come true, really.

And you also took Walter's band out on the road when he was ill so they could keep earning while he was out of action. What was it like fronting those guys and playing Walter's material?  

It was a lot of fun and they were lovely to me. I knew them all very well anyway, so it was nice to feel proactive and like something was being done. It was also great to experience playing music with them for six weeks and to see so much of the States. It was wonderful and became a very happy experience because Walter was getting better and got the transplant.

With regards Walter and Bernie's tracks on 'Blood Money', I like how you call their names when it's time for them to solo as it's like listening to a live performance. Did you record the songs together in the same room?  

Bernie came to the studio because he only lives a couple of hours away. With Walter it was done via modern technology, so we recorded the track and then sent it over to his producer in America.  Walter recorded his part over there and we worked hard to make it sound like we were in the same room, but you can't really tell the difference between that and the Bernie one. They both blend well. But the reason I call out their names is for the audience, it shows where people are playing.

And Bernie let you play his famous Les Paul, known as 'The Beast'. How was it?

Fantastic, I've never played a guitar like it. I doubt I will again. It's unobtainable in terms of how much money it's worth - hundreds of thousands of pounds - and I was a bit frightened I was gonna drop it. I'll ring my wife and say: 'I've just dropped a £500 000 guitar and need to give the man the money back, how are we gonna manage that?' I don't think it would have gone down too well. But it was amazing.    

What can you say, or rather admit to, about the riff on Unchained?

Really, it's an Albert King influence, and not to give away any secrets I basically took the riff from Born Under A Bad Sign and played it backwards. It's basically that in reverse, and then I put some stuff over the top and disguised it.

Well, it works within the premise of the album.

Yeah, you're allowed to do that. There's no rules, you can steal things as long as you put your own slant on them.

There are some very personal lyrics on the record, in particular Slow Suicide. Can you talk about that song?

Yeah, it's about a friend who didn't die of suicide, but I just thought of his death as like a slow suicide. It was just watching a friend die and thinking some people die young and never really get to live out their life. It just seemed strange to me, what he left behind and the fact he had such a short life, relatively. But then there's other people that suffer and live on, and that's almost like a slow suicide as well. So it's about life and death.

You've talked about your blues heroes, but a song like Sara Jayne has a hint of Bruce Springsteen about it.   

Well, Springsteen is a huge influence on me. That's the other side of what I love, and that comes out because I listen to him everyday and I'm such a big fan. I almost didn't put that song on the album because I wasn't sure if it might seem a little out of place, but at the end it doesn't get in the way of the flow of the rest, in terms of it being a blues album. I think it was the only place it could go.   

On your earlier records I wasn't quite convinced by your vocals, but on the last couple of albums you've come on leaps and bounds. Is that something you've worked at?

Yeah, and also just because I've gigged so much. I did consciously work on it but you can only take it at the speed it will go. It's not like guitar playing where you can lock yourself in a room for 10 hours. Your voice has to mature and develop naturally, and I was never what you would call a 'natural singer'. But now it's something I really enjoy, and through the years of touring it's become something that has definitely improved.   

I always think blues musicians invariably get better with age as their personal and musical growth informs so much of their music.  

I suppose it's true with a lot of genres, but that is a nice fact about blues. It's not like a sport or something, you're more revered the older and more seasoned you get, and you're kind of more respected. It is, as you say, musical growth and experience, and that's what builds on the music.

It's definitely what I'm hearing from you on 'Blood Money'.  Did you have to reach an emotional and musical maturity to craft a record like this?

I don't know if I consciously realised that 'til I did it, but I think you do. It's definitely a sort of landmark, in the sense that when you start making albums you read reviews and things about yourself and realise you need to get your own style, and that becomes very, very important. And then you reach a point where you get comfortable in your own skin, where you think it's OK to wear your influences on your sleeve because you're proud of them and it's the music you love. With this album I didn't feel I needed to hide them.

More than possibly any other musical style, blues musicians love to honour the guys that founded and shaped their genre. Why do you think that is?

There definitely is a long tradition of handing things down and blues musicians helping younger blues musicians. I think, because the music doesn't get a massive amount of mainstream press, we realise we need to help each other. I can't really speak about pop music ‘cos I don't know, but with blues it's almost like a heritage, like an American art form. It has such a history and I think people are always concerned about preserving and keeping it going. So there's a lot of people mentoring other people, and that makes a big chain of respect, people paying back and being very aware of their influences and how those influences have shaped and helped them.  

Looking back on your time as a musician, there have been some pretty big changes in the world of the blues. What has it been like working through that resurgence in the genre's popularity?

Well it's been gratifying, really. It's very healthy at the moment, and it was a little bit worrying a few years ago when it wasn't, but I think that's been the case with blues all along, it has highs and lows in terms of an overall genre and its coverage. And it's great now, we've got the Blues mag, which is like the biggest selling blues magazine in the world. All credit to Joe Bonamassa, it usually takes one person, one or two, to really light the fire again and I think he's the guy that's done it this time and it's really good for everybody. It would still be great to see a little bit more of it on TV and things like that, but that's just the way it is and I'm sure it's the same for quite a lot of different styles of music. It will always have its periods in the doldrums and then its moments in the sun, but it will always remain because it’s an expression of human emotion.

'Blood Money' is out on January 29.

Danny Bryant Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Wed February 10 2016 - WOLVERHAMPTON Robin 2
Fri February 12 2016 - EDINBURGH Voodoo Rooms
Sun February 14 2016 - LINCOLN Engine Shed
Thu February 18 2016 - DONCASTER Leopard
Thu February 19 2016 - NOTTINGHAM Rescue Rooms
Fri February 20 2016 - CORBY Raven Hall
Sat February 21 2016 - BISHOP'S CLEEVE Tithe Barn
Thu February 25 2016 - HARPENDEN Harpenden Public Hall
Fri February 26 2016 - GRIMSBY Old Clee Social Club
Sat February 27 2016 - NORWICH Waterfront Norwich
Sun February 28 2016 - GRAVESEND Leo's

Click here to compare & buy Danny Bryant Tickets at Stereoboard.com.



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