Boppin’ the Blues — Little Charlie BatyFeb 1st, 2012 | By admin | Category: Lead Story
by Adam St. James
They was pushed! Iâ€™m talkinâ€™ â€˜bout those rippinâ€™ hot bop-blues lines some witnesses might say fell from the stage last night, wherever it was that Little Charlie and the Nightcats were playinâ€™. Iâ€™m sayinâ€™ they was pushed, and I know who done it too: It was those shady characters always hanginâ€™ â€˜round guitarist Little Charlie Baty and his partner in crime, singer/blues harp master Rick Estrin. And I think itâ€™s Rick who brings â€˜em around too.
I mean just think about the kind of folks he associates with all the time (and then glorifies in his lyrics too): the no-good, the bad-news, and the fast-talkinâ€™. He seems to have a never-ending supply of tales of the perennial louts, the ones always lookinâ€™ for a free ride or a quick buck, the ones with one hand in your pocket and the other on your best girlâ€™s bottom. Troublemakers, the lot of â€˜em. And itâ€™s Rick who brings â€˜em around too. Sorry, Charlie.
Of course they might just be a collection of personalities straight outta some â€™40s Hollywood private eye flick, or maybe even Rick Estrinâ€™s wild imagination? Ah who cares, we love â€˜em, and we love Charlie Batyâ€™s jazz-meets-Chicago Blues fretwork too. With his bandâ€™s latest release on Alligator Records, Nine Lives now out, I tracked down â€œLittleâ€ Charlie Baty to discuss some of the shadier elements of society â€“ namely us musicians. So there. Tag, youâ€™re it.
Adam St. James: Hello Charlie. Weâ€™re calling you early â€“ or early for a musician.
Charlie Baty: Yeah, wellâ€¦ The secret to my success in terms of all my traveling is that I try to stay on East Coast time, even though I live on the West Coast. It smooths out all the jet lag, so I get up pretty early. But I have a hard time staying up until two in the morning anymore, at least in California.
St. James: Then arenâ€™t you a little worn out by the end of a late night set?
Baty: Well, the adrenaline always kicks in. It seems like more and more, the gigs are a little earlier. When we were strictly doing the bar scene, thereâ€™s that 9:30 to 1:30 mentality, where you have to bang out three or four sets. Now we basically do two long shows, and if we do an 8 oâ€™clock show, weâ€™re done around 11. So thatâ€™s a lot easier. Plus I think people appreciate it more that way, instead of it just being background music.
I have a harder time when weâ€™re over in Europe and my body is so confused as to what day and time it is and all that kind of stuff. Lately when weâ€™ve gone overseas itâ€™s been really good. But back, maybe 15 years ago, when weâ€™d be doing some place out in the middle of nowhere, and youâ€™re playing for about 20 people, you start thinking, â€œWhy am I here?â€ But I guess thatâ€™s just what youâ€™ve got to do. Iâ€™m pretty lucky to be able to get out there and play the music in front of all the people I do.
St. James: So tell us what excites you most on the new disc, Nine Lives?
Baty: I like the whole disc, on one level, because weâ€™ve had the same engineer and weâ€™ve been using the same studio pretty much for the past five years. We changed the studio where we did our basic tracks (drums), Shadows of Blues â€“ and then we went back to Bayview. And we really like the vibe at Bay View.
After awhile you get so comfortable in a place that you can just go in there and just make music, and not deal with all the stress of being in the studio and under the gun to be creative in a small amount of time.
I also felt good about the record with the new guys on it. Theyâ€™re great â€“ Jay and Lorenzo are great players. Weâ€™ve been touring with them, but they hadnâ€™t really been on record. But then thereâ€™s some songs on there that are really special too. I like â€œCool Johnny Twist.â€ It had Jay play drums more in the style of â€œShopping for Clothes,â€ by the Coasters. It almost sounds like the guyâ€™s playing bongo drums, because of the way heâ€™s using his hands and part of the stick to get that real quiet accent sound. Thatâ€™s a really nice tune about a real guy, Johnny Twist, who lives in Chicago still.
St. James: Whatâ€™s Johnnyâ€™s story?
Baty: Rick toured with Johnny Twist back in 1972, when he was doing this tour with George McGovern, with this blues revue that had a bunch of different people. Rick was the harp player. But Johnny Twist was one of the guitar players on the original â€œWang, Dang Doodleâ€ by Koko Taylor. Heâ€™s a guy thatâ€™s been around the scene for a long time. Right now he owns a record store on the south side of Chicago. So Rick wrote a ballad about him.
Thatâ€™s a different kind of thing, because a lot of his songs are about humorous things that happen in life. And this is more like looking at a guy, as a legend â€“ especially for Rick, thinking back now about what a great guy Johnny was, and that heâ€™s still alive and goinâ€™ after all that time.
And then we have the piano player from Lavay Smith and the Red Hot Skillet Lickers. Chris (Siebert) played on our last record too. Heâ€™s a great piano player and he came up with some nice ideas. He plays on the guitar instrumental, â€œTag â€œYouâ€™re It)â€ and the other guitar instrumental, â€œSlap Happy,â€ a real raunchy rocker.
And that song was a lot of fun too, because it was almost the last day of mixing and we all felt like playing some loud, screaming rock â€˜nâ€™ roll. So we did â€œSlap Happyâ€ in one take. Itâ€™s loose and it sounds like drunk people at the end of the night â€“ which we werenâ€™t; we were tired. It was a good experience.
St. James: â€œSlap Happyâ€ has that Johnnie Johnson piano kind of treatment.
Baty: Yeah, exactly. And then do you remember when I did that video with you in the back of Fitzgeraldâ€™s, and I was using one of those Vero amps. [Editorâ€™s note: Charlie is referring to a guitar video lesson we shot together, not currently available.] Iâ€™ve used the Vero amps on the road a lot because the one I had before was just too loud for the studio. So he came up with a new one called the 20th Century Limited. Itâ€™s a 1×15 old, Gibson-style amp. I used that on the record, and I think itâ€™s got a real nice sound to it. Thatâ€™s on â€œTagâ€¦â€ Itâ€™s got a real nice, warm sound to it.
St. James: Isnâ€™t that amp builder out of Illinois, near me somewhere?
Baty: Yeah, heâ€™s out of Joliet. Heâ€™s got a new amp called the Chicago Zephyr that I use on the gigs. I didnâ€™t have it up and going when I did the record, but Iâ€™ve been using it on pretty much every record since then. Heâ€™s a great guy, and heâ€™s really into making the amps exactly right.
St. James: And these Vero amps are beautiful works of art too.
Baty: Yeah, his brother is a carpenter. I went over to his house, and heâ€™s got all this really elaborate stuff, and his brother was making furniture that was designed by an architect. He had all these blueprints, and he was making this huge book case. Heâ€™s a talented guy.
St. James: Now this isnâ€™t the same guy that builds the Victoria Amps, is it?
Baty: No, there are several guys around Chicago that are building great amps, and Victoria is a nice amp. But for me the Vero has the punch the old Fenderâ€™s had. To me, a lot of these so-called â€œboutiqueâ€ amps, they look really nice, but then, when they get on the road, either theyâ€™re not loud enough for bigger stages, or theyâ€™re not durable enough for road work. When youâ€™re van-ing things around the country like I am, Iâ€™ve got to have something thatâ€™s not going to fall apart when itâ€™s being bounced up and down. We canâ€™t always bring road cases, theyâ€™re just too hard on your back. But anyway, thatâ€™s the difference to me. I guess people got tired of everyone spending big bucks on old Fenders.
St. James: Whatâ€™s the guyâ€™s name at Vero Amps?
Baty: His name is Steve Fazio. His website is Vero Amps
Most Popular Instructional DVDs:
CLICK ON THE PICTURES TO ORDER!
St. James: The song â€œTag (Youâ€™re It)â€ is sort of a T-Bone Walker kind of groove.
Baty: To me, itâ€™s a combination of Charlie Christian â€“ and everybody says Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker studied from the same guitar teacher, so they have a lot of similarities. So itâ€™s got that bop kind of a sound, but itâ€™s got that swing-blues stuff too. And itâ€™s got a different format. Itâ€™s got an AAB song format, which is just a little different. And we play in odd keys â€“ we play in the horn keys a lot of the time â€“ and that song is in A-flat. And it didnâ€™t slow down the piano player at all.
St. James: Why do you do that?
Baty: Part of it because when I tried to learn how to play bebop, listeninâ€™ to records, all the songs were written in horn keys, usually in B-flat, F, E-flat, and sometimes A-flat. And after awhile I started playing that way and I realized, itâ€™s the sound. A-flat has a really cool sound that C doesnâ€™t have. And thereâ€™s a certain darkness and certain richness about it. I donâ€™t know how to explain it, but sometimes you can just feel what the right key is.
St. James: You know, Iâ€™ve never thought about it before, but now that you mention it, it may very well have something to do with the tone of the guitar strings at those particular frets. Just like people talk about thicker strings having better tone, or how you could play a riff on the higher strings, but you like the riff better on the thicker strings up a few frets (not an octave down). This may be part of that same thing.
Baty: Yeah, I think thatâ€™s part of it. But even just other instruments sort of sound right in those other keys. I donâ€™t know what it is, but itâ€™s odd. When you listen to country and all those open string keys are good for that sound too.
St. James: So by this time youâ€™ve probably recorded something in almost every key.
Baty: Well, I make the guys in the band learn all the different keys. I donâ€™t know if weâ€™ve actually recorded in every key â€“ but I know weâ€™ve played in every key. We always open sets in odd keys. And itâ€™s really been hard when you have a new bass player come in, and all the sudden youâ€™re playing in D-flat or something, if theyâ€™re not used to thinking that way. But they learn how to do it. They learn the advantages of playing in different keys â€“ because each key has certain little advantages to it.
But I think thereâ€™s probably a couple of different keys we havenâ€™t gotten to, because a lot of what we record has to do with Rickâ€™s range. He has sort of a lower voice, and heâ€™s not going to sing in some of the higher keys.
St. James: And most of the time, your bassists are playing stand-up, fretless basses.
Baty: Yeah, and thatâ€™s the challenge. You canâ€™t be off in your intonation if youâ€™re playing in D-flat.
St. James: Yes. And theyâ€™ve been playing D all their lives, and now youâ€™re throwing a D-flat at them. Thatâ€™s a new learning experience all together.
St. James: Iâ€™ve got to ask about Rick and his characters that he sings about. A lot of them are straight out of the school of John Steinbeck â€“ the scoundrels. Iâ€™ve just got to hear either the truth, or a real good, made-up story: Is that really Rick, the scoundrel? I love the characters he sings about. Where do they come from?
Baty: (laughs) You know, thatâ€™s interesting. I donâ€™t know. Maybe he likes to think of himself as a scoundrel (laughs), but deep down heâ€™s a pretty nice person. I think that the characters that he sings about are either his way of looking at things, or maybe heâ€™s picked up a story from a friend of his, or somebody heâ€™s run into who just had a chance line â€“ and heâ€™s written a story about that person. But I think the key thing, and somewhere between him and Steinbeck, is that theyâ€™re both telling stories.
Itâ€™s not just writing rhymes and trying to hurry up and write a song based on another old blues song. Heâ€™s just looking at it sort of like Leiber and Stoller would do: Come up with a catchy theme, then tell a story, and hopefully have a melody that people want to hum too.
For instance, from what I know, his songwriting idols would be Leiber and Stoller. He likes Willie Nelson a lot. Heâ€™s played me some pretty obscure Willie Nelson records that had great stories to them. And Percy Mayfield â€“ Rick loves his voice and some of the songs he wrote. Heâ€™s into that whole kind of thing.
More Popular Instructional DVDs:
CLICK ON THE PICTURES TO ORDER!
St. James: And how do you put his stories to the right groove?
Baty: Thatâ€™s always a bit of a challenge. He usually has an idea of what he wants the accompaniment to be. It usually revolves around a simple bass line, or some chords. And then we try to orchestrate a little bit, or work with it. Usually the best thing is to have a couple rehearsals, get a groove for it, and then take it out on the road and see how it works. Weâ€™ll see if people dance to it, or react to it, then maybe weâ€™ll speed it up or slow it down a little, maybe change it around a little bit. And sometimes maybe adjust the key a little. Sometimes maybe he can sing it at home, but when he gets out on the road it may be a little too high or too low for him. It takes us about a year to really get the songs honed in.
Even then, in the process of making a record you learn so much about the song. You hear it back so many times, that you get new ideas. And by the time youâ€™ve finished the record, itâ€™s almost like youâ€™ve changed the song. Youâ€™ve honed it even more. The process is really good. I donâ€™t think weâ€™ve ever had a song where we sort of just snapped our fingers and said, â€˜Itâ€™s got to be done exactly this way.â€™
St. James: So do you guys play a lot of gigs around Sacramento when youâ€™re not on the road?
Baty: Not as much anymore. Weâ€™ve gotten to a point that, when weâ€™re home we might play a couple of high-profile gigs during the year, and then maybe a smaller gig. But we donâ€™t do a week run some place. Or even weekends at the same club, like we used to. Now when weâ€™re home, anything up and down the West Coast is a local gig. We can drive up to Oregon for the weekend, or something. But when weâ€™re on the road, weâ€™re basically working six or seven days a week.
St. James: So my next question is, are all those Sacramento people hearing the early versions of all your songs before they come out, or are people world-wide hearing them before they hit a CD too?
Baty: People world-wide. For instance, last fall we went to Poland, Austria, and then Russia and Turkey for a long tour. It was like months long. And this was right before the record, so we were going to iron out a lot of this new material on the Russian and Turkey tour. But what happened was â€“ we didnâ€™t know exactly what it would be like â€“ and we thought weâ€™d be playing for a few hundred people every night, and we could sneak in a song here or there. Well, it turned out that we were playing in front of thousands of people â€“ as much as 10,000 people. And thenâ€¦
St. James: In Turkey?
Baty: Well, in Russia. And in Turkey it was more like a couple of thousand.
St. James: Wow!
Baty: It was this big blues festival sponsored by a beer maker in Turkey.
St. James: Beers â€˜nâ€™ Blues â€“ what a concept!
Baty: Yeahâ€¦ So they brought us around to all the big cities in Turkey and Russia. It was part of this big American or International blues festival, or whatever they called it. It was a younger crowd, and they loved it. So we were trying to work out this new material, but we were playing in front of all these people. And so the songs that we thought were strong enough to fit into that slot got a lot stronger, because everyone got used to playing them in front of big audiences. But with some of the newer ones, we didnâ€™t think it was right to break it out. You really want to put your best stuff out there when youâ€™re playing in front of that many people.
St. James: So whatâ€™s up for the band now that Nine Lives is out (May, 2005)?
Baty: Unfortunately it came out about a month too late to coincide with our Spring tour in the Midwest and New England, but weâ€™re going to be going back out and doing a couple of short trips in June and July. So weâ€™re just working. The record debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard blues charts â€“ thatâ€™s the highest weâ€™ve ever had a record debut. So thatâ€™s exciting, and especially in a week when they had Marcia Ball come out too â€“ and herâ€™s did No. 3! So Alligator Records is pretty stoked about that.
So right now weâ€™re just in this Goldilocks environment (laughs), where everything is just perfect. The band is sounding great. Everyone gets along â€“ usually thereâ€™s one guy who is unhappy or something, but not right now. Everyone is enjoying each otherâ€™s playing. For two of these guys itâ€™s their first major record to come out, so theyâ€™re both really excited about that. Our bass player, Lorenzo Farrell, has played in all these different jazz groups.
Weâ€™ve got to be one of the only blues bands that has two guys who went to U.C. Berkeley. These other guys are like 20-something years younger than Rick and I so itâ€™s sort of strange, after all these years, we almost have this sort of generation thing going on in the band: the young guys who have all this energy and are still excited about touring and all that, and the old guys whoâ€™ve seen it all and done it all.
St. James: So is there anything out there you havenâ€™t seen that youâ€™re going to be looking for this time around?
Baty: Well, I donâ€™t knowâ€¦ We havenâ€™t been to Africa yet. I think thatâ€™s about that only continent that has music that we havenâ€™t been to yet. But I think weâ€™ve played in just about every different kind of setting. But each time you go out and play itâ€™s fun because you see the way people react to it, and how important music is to people out there. And just the excitement of being creative, and the reward of the applause and all that.
Itâ€™s a wonderful career to be in. And itâ€™s nice to be in a position to inspire people. Iâ€™m seeing more of that, more younger people who are getting into blues and the guitar, and theyâ€™re coming up and asking questions. I always try to be helpful with that because you never know who the next B.B. King or Stevie Ray Vaughan is going to be. I feel like thatâ€™s part of the responsibility of bands like ours who are accessible to the audience.
St. James: What kind of guitar-related questions are people asking you?
Baty: Sometimes they ask what kind of scale Iâ€™m playing, or what kind of guitar strings do I use. Sometimes itâ€™s just the local musician who wants to know what itâ€™s like to tour all the time. I think people have this idea that itâ€™s like the perfect existence. Itâ€™s got itâ€™s tough things. You canâ€™t have the same kind of home life that other people have, and you canâ€™t ever call in sick. Thereâ€™s definitely downsides to it.
But I guess the questions Iâ€™m most interested in answering are, â€œWho should I listen to?â€ or â€œWho do you listen to?â€ Then I realize that theyâ€™re more serious about it, and Iâ€™ll try to find out what it is they want to do, and Iâ€™ll give them some suggestions. And sometimes Iâ€™ll come back a year later and the same person will say something like, â€˜Yeah, I listened to that Charlie Christian guy you told me about and boy, itâ€™s really helped my guitar playing!â€ Then I feel good.
St. James: Well, Charlie, your playing sure makes us feel good around here, and we look forward to your next visit to Chicago. Thanks so much for your time!
Baty: No problem, Adam. Thank you!
More Cool Stuff To Help You Tear It Up on Guitar
CLICK ON THE PICTURES TO ORDER!
101 Guitar Tips: Stuff All The Pros Know And Use Includes tips and lesson ideas from Joe Satriani, B.B. King, The Allman Brothers, and more. Comes with a one-hour instructional CD. Written by GuitarLife editor Adam St. James.
101 Recording Tips Includes tips from Satch, Jeff Beck, B.B. King, Steve Vai, and many others on recording, home recording, and capturing not only your guitar sound, but your whole band! With a one-hour demonstration CD. Written by GuitarLife editor Adam St. James.
50 Licks Rock Style DVD Musicians Institute instructor Tom Kolb teaches licks in the styles of rock guitar masters such as Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Eric Johnson, the Allman Brothers, Keith Richards, Chuck Berry, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joe Satriani, Billy Gibbons, Dave Navarro, Mark Knopfler, and other great players! He explains how to apply the licks over certain chords or progressions, and covers techniques such as hammer-ons, pull-offs, slides, vibrato, bends, octaves, harmonics, whammy bar, double stops, sequencing of scales, intervallic licks, arpeggios, and many more. Includes a helpful instructional booklet. 60 minutes.
Jimi Hendrix: Learn the Songs From the Are You Experienced DVD This fantastic two-hour-long digital video disc shows guitarists how to play the important parts to every song on this influential album. The DVD is hosted and taught by the late Velvert Turner, a student and friend of Jimi’s, with demonstrations by ace Hendrix educator Andy Aledort. For each song, the guitar parts are played first slowly, then up to speed to help players learn each riff and solo properly, and there are backing tracks to play along with. As a bonus, this DVD includes actual footage of Jimi playing many of the songs explored and covered on the DVD. Players will learn: Purple Haze Â· Manic Depression Â· Hey Joe Â· Love or Confusion Â· May This Be Love Â· I Don’t Live Today Â· The Wind Cries Mary Â· Fire Â· Third Stone from the Sun Â· Foxey Lady Â· Are You Experienced? Â· Stone Free Â· 51st Anniversary Â· Highway Chile Â· Can You See Me Â· Remember Â· and Red House – and with the navigational freedom that a DVD provides, they’ll easily be able to go right to the lessons of their choice!
Beginning Rock Lead Guitar DVD This comprehensive DVD introduces you to all the essential scales and techniques used to play rock lead guitar. On the DVD, Dave Celentano demonstrates and will have you playing the following: alternate picking, sweep picking, hammer ons, pull offs, slides, vibrato, tapping, string bending, legato, pinch harmonies, and many tips. At the end of the DVD you’ll put it all together by learning a complete solo and then performing it over the rhythm track. 60 minutes.
Intermediate Rock Lead Guitar DVD This comprehensive DVD picks up where Dave Celentano’s Beginning Rock Lead Guitar left off. On this DVD you will learn exercises to improve finger dexterity, three note per string scale exercises, alternate picking, tremelo picking, sweep picking, advanced string bending, triads, arpeggios, long legato licks, speed licks, string bending licks, connecting licks to make solos, and a complete solo to play over the rhythm track at the end. Transcription booklet included. 60 minutes.
Advanced Rock Lead Guitar DVD In this DVD, Dave Celentano concludes his three level rock lead guitar course by introducing the student to a variety of complete solos to learn and play over the band rhythm tracks. Topics include: ’80s style soloing, modal soloing in rock, acoustic blues soloing, triads, arpeggios, legato string bending, vibrato, tapping, and more. Dave demonstrates all the solos, then breaks each down into small sections for learning and discusses important concepts, theory, and scales. Transcription booklet included. 60 minutes.
Incredible Scale Finder: A Guide To Over 1,300 Scales Learn to use the entire fretboard with the Incredible Scale Finder! This book contains more than 1,300 scale diagrams for the most important 17 scale types, including major and minor scales, pentatonics, the seven major modes, diminished, melodic minor, harmonic minor, and more – in all 12 keys! Basic scale theory is also presented to help you apply these colorful sounds in your own music. Written by GuitarLife editor Adam St. James.
Click Here to Slow Down The Music You’re Trying to Learn without changing the pitch, with Song Surgeon!
Parts of this interview may have previously appeared on or in the following publications: Guitar.com, Musician.com, Guitar World, Guitar Edge, Guitar, Guitar Shop, Guitar World Acoustic, Frets, Bass Player, Maximum Guitar, Guitar for the Practicing Musician, Los Angeles Daily News, Miami New Times, Denver Westword, Orange County (CA) Register, Fender Frontline Magazine, MusiciansFriend.com or any of the other 50 or 60 publications I’ve written for since the mid-’80s. But hey, I wrote it, and this is my archive — Adam