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Brad Webb: MBS Feature Story

(Originally published in the October 2013 MBS Newsletter)  

As told to Mark E. Caldwell

 

 

Brad Webb is a longtime friend of the Memphis Blues Society. He’s shared his multiple talents as a musician, mixing/recording engineer & producer with the MBS. He has a broad influence of music including Gospel, Blues, Rockabilly, and 50’s-60 Rock ‘n Roll, R&B and Soul music. I met Brad at Webb Recording Studio to talk about his history and experiences in the Memphis Blues music scene. This is his story.

 

The Early Years and the Music

Brad was born and raised in Memphis. At age 12 he started singing in the Church choir. In junior & senior high school he played in the school band. Brad says “that taught me more than I realized at the time, like playing with other people and hearing it all as a whole instrument.”  When he first heard Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley on the radio, the music struck a nerve. Around 1964, Brad and his cousin Nick Kourvelas were beginning to listen to records on his grandparent’s stereo. Brad’s Grandfather was a member of a record club. They enjoyed a Blues compilation record he had that included John Lee Hooker’sBoogie Chillen’, a record by Dave “Baby” Cortez (a Hammond B3 organ player) and Elvis records his cousin had.

 

Guitars and Learning the Instrument

At age 14 Brad got his first guitar, a $13 Kay acoustic with a painted on pick guard. The next year he got a Silvertone guitar. Brad’s first guitar lessons came in 1966 from neighbor Tom Brewer. Tom taught him valuable lessons, including ear training and Travis picking. Brad says “I had four lessons with him. Tom would turn his back to me and have me name the chord he was playing”. Wayne Thompson of the Counts gave him his next lessons. “I had 6 lessons with him, mainly songs, but no theory. At my last lesson, I asked him to show me ‘Over Under Sideways Down’ by The Yardbirds. He said show me what you've got, and I did. He said “I think you’re on your way.” Brad recalls he was playing his Silvertone guitar with one pickup. “Wayne let me play his 1958 Les Paul guitar. That's when I learned about 1950s Gibson Les Pauls.”

 

In 1966, Brad and his cousin started riding the bus downtown to check out the pawn shops on Beale Street. Brad bought old guitars there, and rebuilt them to make money. Brad also started playing live gigs. His first band, ‘The Beauxman’ included Larry Water (drums), Jimmy Magnus (bass) and Chris Bond (lead guitar). Brad also received a 1962 Stratocaster for Christmas that year. “Chris Bond taught me I, IV, V progressions. We didn't know that was the musical number system that all musicians should know. The following year Mark Goodman taught my band 3 part vocal harmony. That also taught us music theory.” In 1968, Murphy Odom (studio technician expert) taught Brad guitar techniques. Brad says “I first saw Murphy playing Bass guitar in 1964 with my neighbor Gene Dawson. I would listen to Gene when he practiced guitar on his porch. They played instrumentals of the mid 1960s like ‘Wipe Out’ and ‘Walk Don't Run’.” Others that influenced Brad include: Travis Wammack, Ricky and Mickey Caughron, Murphy Odom, and David Priola in the Outfits, 60s rockers Lee Baker of the Memphis Blazers and Moloch with Phill Durham & Fred Nicholson, Glen Cammack and Roland Robinson (bass guitarist, producer, band leader & song writer for Infatuation).

 

The 1960s Memphis Music Scene

In mid-1960s, the music scene exploded. Some of Brad’s favorite musicians were Chuck Berry, John Lee Hooker, The Beatles, Elvis, Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape, Canned Heat, and others. Brad’s mom didn’t have a stereo, but he was still learning about music. All of the local garage bands were close to his house. Local dances with bands were held every Saturday night. Young teenagers could go out and see the local musicians. WHBQ radio’s local DJ George Kline also contributed to the music scene. He hosted the 30-minute TV show Dance Party on Saturday nights. Brad remembers watching Charlie Rich, The Gentry's, Booker T & the MGs and others.

 

In the late 1960s the Overton Park Shell was having Blues concerts. In 1969, Brad saw his first Blues show that included some great acts. Johnny Winter headlined the show. Mississippi Fred McDowell, Bukka White, Fury Lewis, “Sleepy” John Estes and James “Yank” Rachell played, along with local favorite Moloch. The show was a huge Blues lesson for Brad.

 

The Vietnam War was gripping the country during this time. Brad had draft number 17. Instead of waiting to get drafted, he joined the Naval Reserve. The war ended not too long after he joined. Brad played with the Tarbaby Band for two years. In 1975 his service in the Naval Reserves ended. He then played in a band with Roland Robinson (Eddie Floyd/Buddy Miles Band). They played original and cover songs at local clubs. Brad went on to play with the Silverstreak Band, Spur Band, Southern Jam Clan Band, Quito Boogie Band, 5th House, Cruisin’ Blues Band and Blues Delegation.

 

Beale Street and Recording

Since 1986, Brad has been writing, producing, recording and playing guitar with Blind Mississippi Morris. In the mid-1980s after Beale Street started its comeback, they played there with Uncle Ben and His Nephews. Brad started recording music in 1985. Tourists from all over the world came to Beale Street to experience the music. Yet none of it was being recorded. Brad wanted to record the musicians that were playing the Blues on Beale. The first musicians Brad recorded were Uncle Ben, Ollie Nightingale Hoskins and Roosevelt Briggs. In 1987 Brad opened Webb Studio. He went on to record Willie Foster, Fred Sanders, John Weston, Henry Townsend, Eric Hughes Band, Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms & The Wompas Cats, Phillip Dale Durham (of the 60's local favorite Moloch). He also recorded records with The Pocket Rockets (featuring Suzanne Buell) and with Blind Mississippi Morris. Brad and Blind Mississippi Morris also recorded Country Days together.


The Pocket Rockets
In 1994 Brad playing in White Lightning with David Daniels, Dan Cochran and Tony Adams. Tony and Brad played in high school band; they soon found together they had a writing ‘mojo’. David Daniels moved on, and 1995 Morris Cummings (aka, Blind Mississippi Morris) joined to play harp and provide the vocals. Brad previously played with Morris, along with Scott Dodge (one of Brad’s guitar students in 1987). The band was now called The Pocket Rockets. They used Webb Studio to record and write songs. Johnny Phillips of Select-O-Hits told Brad “All of The Pocket Rockets material coming to him was a true gift.” From 1995-2011 The Pocket Rockets played music together and recorded four CDs with Blind Mississippi Morris, You Know I like That (1995), Bad To Worse (1997), Back Porch Blues (1998) and Walk With Me (2003). In (2000) The Pocket Rockets CD Tell The World (featuring Suzanne Buell) was recorded.
 

Brad Webb and Friends

Brad plays gigs around Memphis and the mid-south as Brad Webb & Friends. He draws from a pool of some of Memphis’ best or veteran musicians to play in the band. Brad currently works with David Hudson (vocals & harmonica), Tony Adams (drums), Mike Stoker (bass guitar), Bill Marshall (drums), Jason Rice (bass guitar), Groove Parker (bass guitar), Joel Williams (drums), Russ Wheeler (keyboards), Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms (keyboards), David Daniels (guitar) and James Cunningham (drums). Brad has recorded four volumes of Brad Webb And Friends CDs. Some of the musicians on the records include: Uncle Ben, Joe Turner, Roosevelt Briggs, Joel Schumacher, Ollie Nightingale, John Weston, Richard Hite, Tony Adams, Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms, Dan Cochran, Blind Mississippi Morris, Howard Grimes, Miss Zeno and Eddie Juke.

  

Equipment

Brad has favored guitars and amps he uses when he’s out playing gigs. For guitars he uses a chambered Gibson sunburst Les Paul, a St. Blues Mississippi Blues Master, a Fender Stratocaster (with noiseless pickups), and a Silvertone or Danelectro open tuned for playing slide. His favorite amp is a 1957 Fender Tweed Super; he also uses a Fender Mustang III, and a 1962 Fender Blond Bassman


The New Record: ‘All Over Town’ Brad Webb & David Hudson (2013)

 

Q: What inspired you to record the new "All Over Town" record?

Brad: Each day brings different moods to us all. As I listen to the songs, I think we may need this or that to round out a CD rotation. Sometimes there’s no reason at all where a particular song came from. Sometimes we may have a story or idea and run with that within the Blues idiom. Other times I have ideas come to me for no reason at all. Some may work for this CD, some are just ideas. I seem to be blessed in that area. I'll hear a song an artist is doing and maybe I hear something they don't. I'll tell them what I'm thinking, but they can toss the idea or use it if it feels right. If I'm producing and writing, I may be more persistent but the bottom line is, it’s always what's best for the song. Being from Memphis makes me draw from all our roots. That is not always this or that type of music, it’s just Memphis Music.

 

Q: What special things can you tell me about the record?

Brad: That's a tricky question. Usually we start out with me writing on guitar, bass or mandolin to put me in different zones. Plus, this lets me see where our heads are. Musicians can get locked into their certain styles, so sometimes I write on a different instrument so I don't do the same things.

Track 1: All Over Town is just an upbeat partying in Memphis song.

Track 2: Up Town Woman really is just about a party girl with a shuffle beat.

Track 3: Dog In Me was written for Earl “The Pearl” Banks. Some women can bring out things in a man that you aren't always ready for. It doesn't always make sense.

Track 4: Last Time is a new and old school mixed boogie about a man fed up with his woman.

Track 5: Country Road was written on a gig off the cuff, or on the spot. We all would like to go to the country or a getaway place sometimes.

Track 6: Trouble is an old school drop tuned or open D song about when you’re young. Some men like women that are wild, but more trouble than they’re worth.

Track 7: Biscuit Blues was written about the King Biscuit Blues Festival and all the things that make it a one of a kind place.

Track 8: Let's Have Fun. Another party song sung by me talking about a lot of musician friends having a good time.

Track 9: Cigar Bill is about an old friend that loved guitar. It was written on mandolin.

Track 10: I'm Down is a sort of North Mississippi Blues rocker, really going down that same old road that we've been down before, but can't stop.

Track 11: Save It For A Rainy Day is about early love with a Memphis style shuffle, or we call it a greasy groove. I'm not sure why I rocked up the solo, that's what I felt at the time. None of these songs were ‘pre-tooled’, so there are freckles so to speak, or imperfections. I didn’t have another engineer to punch me in or out, just me doing it all.

 

 

Q: Who are the musicians on the record?

Brad: David Hudson (vocals, harmonica), Brad Webb (guitar, bass guitar), Tony Adams (drums), Bill Marshall (drums), Henry Weck (Brownsville Station) drums, Sam Parte (drums), Todd Webber (drums), Mike Stoker (bass) and Jeremy Powell (keyboards).

 

Q: Does the music on this record compare in any way to previous records you’ve recorded?

Brad: Maybe a little because I'm producing and playing guitar. But I don't think about past songs when I'm in a writing zone.

 

Experiences

I asked Brad if he had any unforgettable experiences that occurred during his music career in the studio, on the road or with people he met. “When Jim Holt (Memphis in May) had Morris and I booked on the Presidential yacht on 9/11/01, we had to move the date. When we finally went a few months later, the captain wanted the Blind Mississippi Morris and The Pocket Rockets ball cap I had on. It was one of only six made. I told him I would trade for his Presidential ball cap. He said they are rare. I said there are only six of these. He traded.”

 

“When Dennis Brooks was alive, he booked Blind Mississippi Morris with me in Norway. He went with us on the trip. When we were coming home through Chicago’s O'Hare airport, it was closed. We had already been on four planes for twenty two hours coming home. Airport personnel said we could be on the first plane out in the morning. We slept on the seats in the airport with my guitars wrapped around our arms. We got home the next day, after thirty four hours. It was a grueling road dog trip. Dennis said now he understands why we say playing music is free; it’s the other bull----which we want to get paid for, ha. We miss old Dennis Brooks. The main thing is most people I’ve met along the way have love in their hearts and all we have to do is show them love back. There's nothing that we can't overcome in music, or anything else. We all have a place in this world. I've met so many wonderful people in my travels, some musicians, some club owners, some fans, and some wonderful volunteers that just help the cause (music).”

 

Favorite Musicians and Venues

When Brad listens to music, his favorite Blues musicians include many of the ‘old school’ greats: John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Johnny Winter, Elmore James, Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Freddie King, Sonny Boy ll Williamson (Rice Miller), Allman Brothers/Duane Allman, Albert King, Phill Durham, Lee Baker, Early Fleetwood Mac (Peter Green/Danny Kerwin era), Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Lightning Hopkins, Eric Clapton & Fury Lewis. Brad sites Freddie King, Albert King and B.B King (in that order) as the most influential Blues musicians on his career.

 

I asked if he had a favorite venue to play in the mid-south or elsewhere. “One of my favorite places in the U.S. was the Bamboo Room in Lake Worth, Florida. They loved the music and musicians and showed it.  Also, I loved Beale Street in the 1980s when it seemed like we all had a common cause. I love playing where people are, no matter where they come from or where they love music, that's where I like to play. From Muscle Shoals, AL to Mansfield, England, you know what I mean. I love to play music for them and they love me back, that's where I want to be.”

 

Free Time

I asked Brad what he does when he’s not recording, playing music or teaching guitar lessons. “I love my family, and as a musician I probably feel guilty for not spending enough time with them, even when I'm home. My free time is just hanging out at home with family or friends. I may have an idea for tricking up a guitar and that would be free time for me. My mind doesn't go far from music ever. It could be a blessing or a curse, I'm not sure but that's how I work.”

 

Quotes

“Growing up in Memphis was very instrumental in my roots of music. All the music that surrounds us and influences us (outside of here, or the whole Delta region) has so much to offer. The people that I've met along the way opened their hearts and knowledge to me. I think we call this Memphis Mojo.” Brad Webb

 

You know we're all just one spoke in the wheel (Blues Wheel of life), and it takes us all to make it go round." "Careful what you wish for” and “it’s not easy and of course nothing is." Also, I send my students down to Beale St. to learn many things about playing the Blues. “If you can play Beale St. you can play anywhere." Steve Bryson (I-55) borrowed this one from me, but it’s mine. Brad Webb


Brad can be seen playing gigs around Memphis and the mid-south as Brad Webb & friends, and with Earl “The Pearl” Banks and the People of the Blues Band. He also is the Jam Master (host) for the Memphis Blues Society Sunday evening Jams at Rum Boogie Cafe on Beale Street.

 

Brad Webb YouTube (select) videos:

 

 

To purchase Brad’s music, visit: http://www.BradWebb.com

 

 

The interview for this story took place on August 05, 2013 at Webb Studio, Memphis TN

© 2013 Mark E. Caldwell, All Rights Reserved.

 



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