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'Direct From Austin, Texas', by way of Salt Lake City, and in London for a three month college exchange with his law student wife, we met Zach for lunch in the Spitz and then showed him the 'delights' of Brick Lane while we chatted about the state of the blues both here and in the US...

Words by Ricardo, Pics by Mr. Hall

What's your background? Where are you from?

Parrish: I was born in southern California, and I lived in Eastern Washington till I was about eight years old when my dad died. Then I moved around a lot, but I lived in Salt Lake for about fifteen years and that's where I started playing music, and started playing in my first band.

About the only thing we know about Salt Lake is Mormons...?


Parrish:
Well it's a weird town - half the people that live there don't go out, don't drink, don't smoke, don't like popular culture at all, but the other half are just like everyone else. It's a really beautiful place.

Where does your style of playing come from?

Parrish: Well when I was a teenager I was homeless, living in San Diego and it's a long story but a guy gave me a guitar, a brand new Stratocaster and I played it for years and years and traveled around quite a bit. I wound up in New Orleans in 1987 and that's where I really got into the blues. The history of New Orleans is really singular - from my point of view it's the place where American music really started. There's a place called Congo Square and it was the one place in the Southern United States where slaves were allowed to congregate, and in my opinion that's where the blues, and jazz, and rock n' roll really began.

Listening to your playing, it sounds like you're not someone who follows a single path - that there's a lot of different influences in there?

Parrish: Well I'm not a purist - it's all the blues to me, Jimi Hendrix, Hank Williams, Louis Jordan - they all played the blues in my opinion.

I can hear a bit of Leon Redbone in what you do - the blending of old styles that don't get played so much?

Parrish: Yeah, I saw him a long time ago and he really turned me on to the old acoustic styles. Interesting though, I'm like most American guys my age - we got turned onto the blues by the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Hendrix... You know I absolutely love, and who were a huge influence on me was Peter Green and Fleetwood Mac.

So it's interesting how it's British bands that are the portal through which most American people get into the blues. It's a testament to how racially divided, how segregated America was, and still is. When I was a teenager, when I went to New Orleans I was completely shocked by racism, because I'd grown up in eastern washington where my parents were hippies and I thought racism was some old wives tale, and it just blew me away, you know, when I just walked down the street, went to the wrong neighborhood and got the shit beat out of me... I couldn't understand what was going on!



So what's the state of play with the blues in the US at the moment do you think? We hear much about the Fat Possum connection and the Black Keys etc. and it feels like maybe something is happening, but is that noticeable on the streets of Austin?

Parrish: Well times are tough for blues artists, but there's definitely a little resurgence of former punk rockers that are getting older and getting turned on the roots of rock and the blues. It feels like there's a backlash against the Stevie Ray Vaughan clone syndrome, certainly that's true in Austin because people are so overloaded on SRV - the whole concept of a guy with a strat and and an hat and a wah wah pedal just turns people off now.

It's really a shame because Stevie was great, and he did a lot to re-vamp the careers of his idols - he really brought blues back into the mainstream a bit but then when he died it just got completely out of control.



So what about Austin?

Parrish: Well, there's a lot of hype surrounding the music scene there, and for good reason because there are a lot of incredible musicians that live there. Everybody from Dallas and Houston and San Antonia - which are huge cities - who are liberal, that want to be an artist, are bohemian, they move to Austin, so there's this flood of talent there. Austin is basically the only little liberal oasis in a sea of rednecks!

There's an incredible glut of talent there, but there's no paying gigs for anybody... Even the successful bands don't make money in Austin. There's a lot of infrastructure - music biz - there, so a lot of touring bands are based out of Austin, but you know, some band, that's world famous - you'll go see them in Austin and there'll be five people there.

And the blues in Austin - dead, gone... All the blues cats from Austin live in Dallas, because they can't get paid in Austin. In fact Antones, the famous nightclub, the 'Home of The Blues', they have blues just one night a week. On a Monday. Every other night it's rock and pop...

But at the same time there's a lot of incredible blues musicians there... You show up to a blues jam on a monday night you'll see incredible players, but they never play out, which is kind of a shame.

Does account for your relative lack of activity in the last couple of years?

Parrish: Yeah, in fact in 2002 I had established a really good and fairly lucrative circuit os ski resorts and resort towns in the inner-mount West - Colorado, Idaho, Utah, and when the World Trade Center blew out it all just went out the window... My whole season just got cancelled - the olympics were coming to Salt Lake City where I lived and I was set to make a lot of money and it all just went down the toilet.

Nobody would fly, and the tourists stopped coming. Salt Lake city had planned to have the whole downtown inundated with crowds, but nobody came. Even the locals were staying away. A lot of people I know experienced the same thing.

I gave up for about two weeks, but you can't give up, you know? I play every Wednesday night on 6th street in Austin for free, I just do it because I have to do it, I get depressed if I don't.

How long have you been in London?


Parrish: About two months, and I'm really impressed with the music scene here, everyone seems nice and English audiences are really reserved, but they pay attention, they listen. It seems like they're more interested in originality. I look out at the people watching and they seem to respond to the lyrics. In America most people are just trying to get laid!

The blues crowd in America is mostly ageing baby boomer 40 something middle class white guys, and that's what's wrong in my opinion... The blues was the music of the oppressed and dispossessed, the marginalised people, and now it's good time music for yuppies. It used to be this really deeply personal expression, very individualistic, and now it's becoming this cookie cutter conformist thing. People ask why isn't the blues popular, and I thinks that why right there.

I'd agree with you, but I'd have said it's the same situation here, do you think it's less so in the UK?

Parrish: A little less so... People in America want to hear things they're familiar with - 'Mustang Sally', 'Stormy Monday' etc. but here I think people are a little more interested in originality.

So how has this visit to the UK been going?

Parrish: Well I got pretty lucky - I sent out quite few promo packages but got a couple of really good gigs so it's been pretty good.

I guess you've got a bit of a head start, with where you're from, your accent, and your moustache!

Parrish: Well it's kind of a shame that people have that pre-conceived notion that American musicians are somehow more authentic. It's total bullshit - the musicians here are every bit as good.

Yeah but it's when they open their mouths and start singing in a fake American accent and singing about picking cotton...

Parrish: Well I have the same problem with American musicians who do that. They don't pick cotton! They say 'Baby Baby Baby' less here. I went to a blues jam is Stratford - the Coach and Horses - and there was a whole legion of really great musicians. The guys that I'm playing with while I'm over here are just guys the I found on the internet and it's worked out really well.

So basically what I'm trying to do is make some contacts and create an infrastructure so I can get little European circuit going. I want to come back around easter and in the summer play a few more gigs and then when I've got my professionally produced album together I want to try and get some distribution together. Nowadays there aren't really any booking agents left. There are very few venues left that are self promoting, so the people that book the gigs now I think would be considered promoters. A couple of them responded to me and it's been great.

There's kind of a myth in America that American musicians come to Europe and get treated like kings, but it is true that Europeans appreciate traditional American music more than Americans do...

You're doing some stuff with Pete Feenstra?

Parrish:
Well I'm really impressed with him... He's a dying breed man - he's a really nice guy that's genuinely interested. When I talked to him he didn't sound like some music biz schmoo at all, he sounded like a real fan who really was into it. Both the gigs that I did for him were the first night of these new things he's trying, so I'm glad that I could help him out a little bit, and it was a good thing for me too.

I've been doing better getting solo gigs though - I think that's to do with the law, because any pub can have two musicians, but they have to get a licence to have three... That's a little weird!

The concept of the 'Blues Club' is quite established over here, is that the same in America?


Parrish: The once a month or the once a week thing? Not that I'm aware of, but it seems like a really good idea. The blues bars, in America, for the most part are gone. There's a few of them that are hanging on still, but I'll tell you what, that 'Aint Nothing But the Blues' place here, that's the first time in my LIFE I've seen a line to get in the door of a blues bar on a Tuesday night! And I love the sound in there - with the house drums that are very small, and it's not too loud. I think it's just great.

W hat's keeping the blues alive in America though are the festivals. For the lucky few who are in with this network of festival promoters, that's basically the scene.

What are your plans for the future? Are you going to stay in Austin?

Parrish: I don't know, it depends where my wife gets a job! I want to stay in Austin though. I'm going to be a high school teacher, so I'll get a lot of time off and my goal would be to be able to come here in the summer.

Zach's playing all over until the new year - check the gig listing for details.

You can get more information, and hear some really good tunes, and buy his current CD on his website: www.zachparrish.com