At one time the mention of amplified harmonica was considered wild and far out. Little Walter and Snooky Pryor experimented with the idea, always looking for the newest thing. No one threw a parade either when they started using tremolo and inserting country & western themes in blues music to make rock-n-roll. But that’s exactly what Chuck Berry and Bo Diddly did--and you know how they are revered today. Although heavily steeped in West coast jump blues tradition, guitarist Rick Holmstrom is of similar ilk. The unassuming Holmstrom is always reaching for the outer limits of the musical Milky Way.
The impetus for Rick Holmstrom’s genre expanding 2002 Hydraulic Groove release, featuring DJ Logic and loops de jour, was found in the making of RL Burnside’s Wish I Was in Heaven Sitting Down (2000), which his band had just worked on.
“On the Burnside disc they asked us to listen to Lowell Fulson’s “Tramp” and Otis Redding’s version too,” Holmstrom told #TMGR. “Then they asked us to play a version of all that. The producers cut it up, made loops out of it and other crazy stuff, and then had RL sing on top of it. I still like that disc. They kept the tones and grittiness of what we did but boosted it up with hip-hop production values.”
“We decided to try the same type of thing with my stuff. I’m influenced by Pee Wee Crayton. So let’s make something that sounds kind of bizarre using electronica and a Pee Wee Crayton idea. That’s how we came up with the song ‘Pee Wee’s Nightmare.’”
Guitarist Rick Holmstrom leads the Mavis Staples band when they appear as part of the Sweet Soul Harmony tour stopping July 9 at Frederik Meijer Gradens.
Blues music purists can be some of the most intolerant listeners. If you ain’t playing “Sweet Home Chicago” they’re heading for the exit. As you might expect Hydraulic Groove was met with indifference at best.
“For me it was a fun chance to push myself,” Holmstrom said. “I never claimed that it was trying to progress the blues or anything like that. I was just trying to do something creative. Isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing anyway, creating something not just recreating?"
As fate would have it there was a sliver lining to all of this. An associate of Holmstrom’s who helped work on that record went on to a future in artist management.
“One of the guys who worked at Tone Cool records (label for Groove), Dave Bartlett, is now Mavis Staples’ manager. Mavis was his first client. I would have never got the Mavis gig if I hadn’t done that record.”
Holmstrom says a big portion of him landing this current job has a lot to do with his willingness to bend rules and think outside the box. In true big picture form he says Hydraulic and the RL Burnside effort might have attracted music fans to the blues who might have otherwise dismissed it.
“There’s a valid argument against doing it,” Holmstrom said of adding hip-hop to blues. “The criticism of that record was not even half the amount of the good things that happened as a result. I think it widens the umbrella that much more.”
Rick Holmstrom appears with Mavis Staples in the Sweet Harmony Soul tour July 9 @ Meijer Gardens.
Rick Holmstrom website: rickholmstrom.com/