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The Delta Blues legend who broadened his range to include reggae, soul, rock and world music influences

What’s your take on the current blues scene?

?I don’t really pay attention, to tell you the truth. Most ?of the blues that I see out there is blues in name only.?I feel like a lot of the people who are celebrated as being blues are only scratching the surface and dealing with a very small part of the culture. For me, as a listener, to really feel like I’m being nourished at the table I have got to be presented with the fullness of the blues and not just a little slither.

In your opinion, what distinguishes great blues players from the merely good? 

“A lot of the people who are celebrated as being blues are only scratching the surface.”

It has to be a personal expression. What we really want is someone who has that unique quality so that we know who it is from the moment that we hear them and it moves us inside.

You recently wrote a book about Malian musician Ali Farka Toure. How did that experience compare with making music?

Writing the book was really like a deep meditation. I couldn’t really think about music during it because I was really trying to get into that mind space. Once I finished I felt like I was surfacing from being under water and I could go back to playing music.

You’ve collaborated with everyone from BB King?to Taj Mahal in your?career. What’s the key to a successful collaboration?

One that is not driven by a record company. It needs to come from the artist. Also you need to know what?sort of artist you are and what sort of artist the other person is and if they are complimentary. I recently worked with Olu Dara, who is the father of [US rapper] Nas, and it worked great. He’s just off the dome with all kinds of brilliant knowledge. It’s nice when it happens like that.

Richard Smirke 

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