Friday 13th April 2018
Eric Bibb was back in the studio in September and October (2016) working on a new album -‘Migration Blues’- for French label Dixiefrog Records. For this project Eric is joined by US-born, Canadian-based multiinstrumentalist Michael Jerome Browne and French harmonica virtuoso JJ Milteau.
Bibb’s music has been called “classy and consistent”, “uplifting” and “inspiring.” There is a spiritual aspect indelibly etched into its core. “Almost gospel, but without the preaching!”
“Even if I branch off in different directions, I try to stay close to my roots. My style and sound was never consciously designed, but I tend to gravitate towards certain music. Over the years this has gelled into some kind of a brand.”
Grounded in the folk/blues tradition, the Bibb sound is unique, no matter which direction he chooses. Never trend-led, never dictated to by commercial concerns, not chasing chart positions or volume sales. Eric follows his heart and it hasn’t steered him wrong yet, propelling the blues into a new century.
In a fifty year career, Eric has performed for Nelson Mandela, for the King of Sweden and other international dignitaries. He plays an average of 150 shows a year and has toured in circa 25 countries. Bibb has released 38 albums – his debut was “Ain’t It Grand” in 1972 – and he has been a part of many collaborations on record and on stage.
Eric is one of a growing number of contemporary artists keeping traditional country blues and related American folk music alive and evolving. As a singer-songwriter he’s finding it easier than ever to attract and reach new audiences, especially among younger people.
“There’s an increased interest in Americana (which, of course, includes blues) and a lot of younger players are discovering who I am through YouTube. Fortunately, I have managed to stay current without veering from my musical path.”
In 2015 he released “Lead Belly’s Gold – Eric Bibb & JJ Milteau and received a standing ovation with his “show-stopping” performance at the Lead Belly Fest at London’s famed Royal Albert Hall, with British Royalty and members of Huddie Ledbetter’s family in attendance.
“Lead Belly’s music hit me hard as a youngster. My link to the African American songster tradition has only gotten stronger through the years, which tells me it’s a kind of destiny thing and this is what I am supposed to be doing. Not only by playing the songs made famous by my heroes and sheroes, but by writing new material in the spirit of the tradition. That’s important.”
“We need to create material that can stand next to the older recordings we cherish. We’ve had other influences and other experiences, but we still need to write songs that are authentic – as their music was authentic and true to their experience.”
A passionate reader of history books, Eric calls upon that knowledge in his songwriting, inspired by how those events of the past have impacted him on an emotional level. “The key to understanding how we got to where we are is studying history.”
Eric come’s from a show business background: His father Leon Bibb was a celebrated musical theatre star on Broadway, and part of the dynamic 1960s New York folk scene. Leon was in the original production of “Annie Get Your Gun,” in the 1940s, performed at the first Newport Folk Festival in 1959 and had his own US TV show ‘Someone New’.
Leon Bibb released more than 12 studio albums of his music, one live album and several collaborative albums - two with his son: “Leon & Eric Bibb: A Family Affair in 2002,” and “Leon & Eric Bibb: Praising Peace: A Tribute To Paul Robeson,” in 2006.
During the late 50s and early 60s, Leon Bibb was one of a number of American entertainers, such as his good friend Paul Robeson, blacklisted for alleged ties to left-wing groups and causes. In 1963, Mr Bibb travelled to Mississippi to join in the fight against racial segregation.
Eric’s uncle John Lewis was an important jazz pianist, composer and founding member of the Modern Jazz Quartet. Singer, actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson was Godfather to Eric and his twin sister. Growing up in Queens NY, in a house often full of famous folk such as a young Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, Pete Seeger, Judy Collins and Odetta had a lasting impression on young Eric.
At 16, Leon hired Eric to play guitar in the house band for his own TV talent show "Someone New." He went on to study Psychology and Russian at Columbia University, before a semester taking him to Europe but his musical destiny was calling.
At 19, Eric left the US and spent a year in Paris learning blues guitar with mentor Mickey Baker and then moved to Stockholm, where he lived for a decade. Back to New York for five years, returning to Sweden for a job as a staff songwriter for BMG, who sent him on periodic trips to New York to cowrite with other songwriters.
In the 1990s, on one of the trips back to New York for writing sessions, Eric was told by a co-writer about a new UK record label Code Blue. Their song demos were sent to label boss and legendary producer Mike Vernon, who called Eric and few over to see him perform in Stockholm.
He brought music manager Alan Robinson with him, they liked what they heard and booked Eric to appear at the London Blues Festival at Blackheath Concert Halls in 1996.
Eric signed to Code Blue for one album, “Me To You,” which featured from some of his heroes and sheroes, including Pops and Mavis Staples – which Eric cites as the best moment of his career - and his idol Taj Mahal.
This resulted in Eric moving to England for four years, joining forces with his then manager Alan Robinson to form Manhaton Records. The albums “Home to Me,” (1999), “Roadworks,” (2000) and “Painting Signs,” (2001) followed, as did the 2005 releases for Opus 3, “Just Like Love,” and “Spirit & the Blues” (Hybrid SACD of 1999 Earthbeat release).
In 2004, Eric Bibb released "Friends" as his debut release for Telarc Records - 15 cuts featuring duets with Taj Mahal, Odetta, Charlie Musselwhite, Guy Davis, Mamadou Diabate, Djelimady Toukara and others. Three more for Telarc; “A Ship Called Love" in 2005, "Diamond Days" in 2007, and "Spirit I Am" in 2008. In November 2011, he signed to Stony Plain Records. He received a Grammy nomination for the 1992 collaborative album of children’s songs, with Taj Mahal, Linda Tillery and The Cultural Heritage Choir, “Shakin' A Tailfeather” and has been nominated and won numerous other awards. Eric appears on the Jools Holland & His Rhythm & Blues Orchestra CD, “Jools Holland's Big Band Rhythm & Blues” (2001).
A gifted guitar player, who heeds the advice he got when he was just 11 years-old from Bob Dylan, at one of his family’s star-studded house parties; keep the guitar playing simple.
His work on guitar is often under-stated; sensitive brush strokes instead of dollops of musical paint. But he’s got the chops when he needs ‘em; his exceptional finger-picking style has perhaps prompted a few players to consider having a large bonfire!
To label Eric Bibb as a bluesman is not telling the full story. Is he a folk artist? Soul man? A gospel guy? Yes; all of that and more. A progressive preservationist, among a handful of traders of the lost art, in the company of the likes of Taj Mahal, Keb Mo, Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart and Guy Davis, among others. His music rooted in tradition, but with a large helping of contemporary sensibility to make it retro AND relevant. Hence a wide age range at his concerts and his fan base.
Original Blues Brother Dan Aykroyd, who hosts the weekly syndicated American radio show “House of Blues Radio Hour” declared to Eric: “You are what the blues in the new century should be about.”
Eric has recorded and performed with Taj Mahal, Pops and Mavis Staples, Cyndee Peters, Charlie Musselwhite, Guy Davis, Hubert Sumlin, Rory Block, Maria Muldaur, Bonnie Raitt, Mamadou Diabate, Toumani Diabate, Djelimady Tounkara, Amar Sundy, Glen Scott, Staffan Astner, Chuck and Darick Campbell, Dirk Powell, Solo Cissokho, Cedric Watson, Larry Crockett, Andre De Lange, Jerry Douglas, Manuel Galban, Big Daddy Wilson, Jools Holland, J.J. Milteau, Micheal Jerome Browne and many more including Habib Koite, who Eric toured with during 2012/13.
There is one mainstay song in an Eric Bibb set which could perhaps be seen as his theme tune; a song his Mother advised him never to leave out of his show: “Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down,” penned by Eric and Charlotte Höglund, from his stunning 1997 Opus 3 CD, “Good Stuff.”
Uber conscious that his recordings are not just a catalogue of work; they are Eric’s musical legacy and absolutely stand the test of time.