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Anthony Gomes

Anthony Gomes
A Continuing Education in the Blues
By T.E. Mattox

riving across West Texas, that endless stretch of highway where 80 miles an hour just isn't fast enough, the CD player is tracking 'Electric Field Holler,' the 12th and latest project from Anthony Gomes. Turns out, it's the perfect blues propellant to traverse that infinite vastness of blowing dirt, tumbleweeds and oil derricks. With the accelerator to the floor, the opening track is all the GPS you need, 'Don't try to stop me once I start, 'cause I got a blues soul and a rock and roll heart.'

For more than a decade now, the music community has known about this true student of the blues, a young Canadian honor graduate armed only with determination and a guitar. He'd come to America in search of the real blues so the first stop… duh! Chicago! Employment came quickly under the tutelage of a Mississippi bluesman named, Morris Holt. Immediately Gomes found himself back in school and learning from the best. You probably know Holt better by his pseudonym; Magic Slim. Although working as a Teardrop is now a distant memory, Anthony's dues have been paid with touring, "250 shows a year for five or six years" and miles, "100,000 a year." The dedication and work ethic is paying off with larger venues and a constantly growing fan base. Anthony Gomes is a bluesman and he's living the dream.

We sat down in a Memphis hotel lobby the day after he tore the end off of Beale Street. With my ears still ringing, he spoke about his road, his blues and where it all began. "I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada," he said. "My dad's Portuguese and my mom's French Canadian so it made for an interesting, eclectic environment."

So…naturally you were drawn to blues! (laughing) "Yeah, I was very confused! Coming from such an environment… well I'm Canadian; I should be a blues player. I always jokingly say, that being Canadian and white is sort of like being white… twice! And loving the blues only felt right!

the writer with Anthony Gomes
Sharing a laugh and a few blues stories with Anthony Gomes. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

The blues aside, was there a musical base or background in your family? "My great grandmother and great grandfather were both professional musicians. He was a vocalist and they met in Buffalo, New York. And she used to play the piano in silent movies up in Canada."

Yet, your musical direction was guitar? "Yes, always guitar. There was just something about it. I always thought it was very much a gun-slinger, badass take-no-prisoners thing… that really attracted me to the guitar."

During the week of craziness surrounding the Blues Music Awards in Memphis this year, Gomes and his band played a special showcase at the club Purple Haze, just off Beale Street. They blew everyone's hair straight back. "You know, I don't like to do anything in half measures," he admits. "So I would rather people live or die for something. That's the way I am. Musically, I'd rather people love us, or despise us. The last thing I want them to say is, 'our music is… nice.' Definitely when we put on a 'live' show, the idea and concept behind it is to make an impression. (laughing) Usually, a favorable one is what we try to make."

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

"….the blues is the blues and it's just how you choose to deliver it,
whether it's an acoustic guitar or a Marshall on eleven…"

– Anthony Gomes

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

What was it that put the blues hook in so deep? "It's just in there, hook, line and sinker! I think I really love the healing aspect of the blues… and in a spiritual way and in a personal way, and an emotional way. I had some hard times growing up, my mom's mental illness, and she was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and it was really a trying childhood but a wonderful…" he pauses. "I couldn't ask for a better or more beautiful mother. And I think that I needed healing, man and the blues is there. My mom once said, 'You know Anthony, sometimes I wonder if what you went through made you play the blues. Sometimes I feel bad that maybe you would have had a different journey in your life.' I said, 'Mom, this is the best journey I could've ever had."

Anthony Gomes performing
Anthony Gomes is a man on a mission!

Let's talk blues influences. Who for you was first? "B.B. King!" He says without hesitation. "He was my main guy, you know? See, I listened to rock when I was a teenager and I didn't know about blues. None of my friends listened to it, but I made my journey there. You know, I love Stevie Ray Vaughan, I love Clapton and I love Hendrix. I started off with Z.Z.Top and Eddie Van Halen, you know hard rock, but then it took me to Hendrix and these guys." Gomes even remembers the trip to get there. "Then… I'm gonna' go buy a blues CD, a B.B. King CD. And I took three buses and the subway from the suburbs of Toronto and I went up three flights of stairs. Because on the third floor is where they kept the blues and jazz and classical. Well I know B.B. King, but I don't know anything really about him and I got 'Live at the Regal' on sale for $5.99 on CD. And it said, 'one of the quintessential blues albums of all time!' I said, 'OK!' I put it on the CD player and immediately found home. Meaning, I felt like it was the missing link. If music was a house for the first time I was inside the house looking out, as opposed to outside… looking in.

People say, 'what does the blues mean for you? And did you ever love the blues?' I said, 'Yes, I love the blues but all my life I'd been eating apple pie, but I'd never had an apple. And I'd been loving apple pie because there were apples in it. And now I'd gotten through the sugar and the crust and the dough and I'd gotten to the essence, which was the apple… the truth, the ground zero."

Then you moved from Toronto to Chicago. "When I moved to Chicago, I came prepared. I had a little three-song demo tape and was ready to get some gigs. Thankfully, the guardian angels were looking out for me; I started to work right away, as a side man. I did some work with Magic Slim."

There's got to be a story there. "I was like a fish out of water, man. Not only trial by fire, I'd just moved to the states, I'm Canadian. We're good-hearted, slightly naïve, peace-loving folks, I'd just graduated college, I'm white-twice you know? I was in my twenties and here I am rolling with these elder statesmen of the blues…it was like, 'Whoa, this is crazy!' I learned a lot, boy did I learn a lot!"

"Magic said to me, 'You can play, but can you listen?' And how to really play a shuffle, you know? There's playing a shuffle and there's REALLY playing a shuffle."

And Anthony was motivated to listen. "Oh, I had to or I'd get my ass kicked! (laughing) But I wanted to do well. It's funny; because I played some things on the guitar that was outside the blues scale, but a minor scale, let's say a nine or a six in the scale and Slim looked at me and said, 'Oh, you can play those other notes, too?' It was very eye-opening. I tell you the main thing that I learned, here's a really cool thing. I used to listen to all sorts of blues, Memphis blues and Chicago blues, whatever. So I would play a slow blues and maybe I would play some jazzy chords. I wanted to create diversity in the show, my voice things and my guitar playing. But Slim would look at me, instead of playing a slow blues like T-Bone Walker, right? That's how I would play it. And Slim would go, 'CHOP IT! CHOP IT!' I'd go, 'What does Chop It mean?" (Gomes sings notes in cadence) "Da, da, da…da, da. So if it was a fast blues it was dadada,dada, if it was slow blues it was da…da….da……da…da. And there was no varying that."

'Blues in Technicolor' was your debut. "It was a mission statement, in many ways." Gomes says, "One… everybody's got the blues. The shade of your skin don't matter, my brother, 'cause I see the blues in Technicolor. But it was also a mission statement for my career, meaning that I would explore all the palette of the blues. And I've done acoustic albums that have shocked people because they aren't contemporary, then I've done stuff like 'Electric Field Holler' and people are saying, 'there's like some AC/DC in this' as well as B.B. King. And yeah, there is. As an artist I've really wanted to express in my lifetime the different emotions of the blues."

CD cover for Anthony Gomes' Electric Field Holler

Can you describe the blues you play? "I think maybe being Canadian has a lot to do with it and a part of it. Canadians don't look at the world as a melting pot; we look at it as a mosaic. Not as one but different things coming in to create a whole. I think my world view, being Canadian has shaped the music some; my parents shaped the music… and their love. I would just say that the blues is the blues and it's just how you choose to deliver it, whether it's an acoustic guitar or a Marshall on eleven with feedback and insanity. It's still coming from that source."

Your music catalogue stands currently at 12 albums, amazingly prolific… "Or insane! (laughing) Can you talk about the diversity you incorporated in the album, 'Unity?' "Unity had a lot of horns on the album; it was very Stevie Ray Vaughan meets Tower of Power, maybe. Because I really loved the San Francisco funk thing going on, and of course I love Stevie Ray Vaughan. It's funny too; in the blues world nobody ever thanks Stevie Ray Vaughan for being an influence at these Blues Awards… C'mon the guy was amazing."

Gomes should know. As a history scholar he completed his Master's thesis on the racial and cultural evolution of blues music. In 2014 he published his thesis as, 'The Black and White of Blues.' Yet, even as a man of letters Anthony still feels he's a 'student' of the genre. "Oh yes, Yes absolutely! It was very conservative parents that initially weren't very supportive of my desires to pursue music professionally. So school was a good way of killing time, (laughing) while I could get my music happening. It was great man, and it taught me so much. Writing a song is like writing an essay and I learned a discipline and a work ethic. When you're in college you've got to read, or at least fake read three books a week, so writing twelve songs in a year seems like a walk in the park."

Before we run out of time, I wanted to ask about your charitable endeavors, and specifically about Music is the Medicine Foundation? Instantly, Gomes' eyes light up. "Music is the Medicine.org is the website. In 2010 we started a foundation called, Music is the Medicine and the goal was, we're just like hippies, we believe that music can impact tangible change in the world. In fact we look at music as being the biggest force of change in race relations, whatever… making the world a smaller place. We can impact change because music reminds us of what we have in common despite our differences. So we believe that music is a healing force, a changing force. So what we did, and continue to do is, how can music change people's lives? We've given guitar lessons and guitars to war veterans with post traumatic stress disorder. And we had one guy that said he didn't talk for years… he moved us. One of the guitars we gave him got him to communicate musically, which got him to communicate verbally. He wanted to learn how to play a Hendrix lick, so he's taking a lesson and he looks at his friend next to him and goes, 'how did you do that?' After not talking… forever!

Hardly taking a breath, the programs that are near and dear to the musician just gush out. "Kids with non-verbal autism… and now our big thing is homelessness in America, child homelessness. And we just raised $2000 for homeless kids and families in St. Louis. It's not a million, but man, we're impacting change and bringing awareness. And because it's all volunteer every dollar that goes in… goes out! There's no… you donate a $100 and $95 goes to pay the administrative fees. No! We're so proud to say that you give a dollar and a dollar goes to change."

Another song that connects with your fans, 'Listen to the Universe.' "To me that song is, every road leads to somewhere, listen to the Universe, trust your gut. There's a saying, 'God laughs while you're busy making plans.' And we all have our journey and it's over in the blink of an eye, have no regrets. That's one part of the song, but the song is also… it's heavy in a way I almost feel that describing it, minimizes what I'm feeling about the song. It's a snapshot of life. One day you're riding in a Cadillac, and the next day you're in a hearse, man. But every road leads to somewhere. When we're done here, we're going somewhere else. I hope they got blues there!" (laughing)

No matter what you do, it seems the blues are never very far from Anthony Gomes, is that a fair statement? "Yes, absolutely! I'm a blues man in my heart and my soul. You know, the thing I love about gospel music is its intensity and passion. I think gospel music is just as heavy as heavy metal and I try to bring that intensity when a choir is singing, or Martin Luther King is going, 'I Have a Dream.' I'm trying to bring that to the guitar and blues… Blues on Fire."

You turned me on to your album 'Before the Beginning,' and again it seems like a departure from earlier projects. "The mission behind that album is there is not one piece of music that's created with electricity. Acoustic drums, acoustic piano, acoustic bass, acoustic guitar and voices and the whole idea was, we're known for this loud, crazy, Hendrix… but what if we took all of that away? Is there anything left underneath that? Or is it just a bunch of tricks and mirrors?"

Anybody give you grief for being exploratory in your music? "Absolutely, every story needs a good villain and I'm happy to play the blues villain. But to me, I look at blues traditionalists like they're civil war re-enactors. It doesn't exist. Muddy Waters was breaking ground when he was coming out in the '50s. He was wild. But then you get these guys and they are wearing the hats and the suits and they are going through the motions of creating something that's not real and in the moment."

Any outrageous or crazy club stories you could share? "When you're on the road sometimes the beds and pillows… suck! (laughing) So I got no sleep one night and I had this big crook in my neck and I looked like Frankenstein. We were playing at Ground Zero in Clarksdale, MS. and we're setting up for sound check and it was really bad. I hear this voice, this bellowing voice and I'm going to do the world's worst impression. (Gomes in his best deep, Southern Canadian drawl) 'You must be that boy with the crook in his neck?' And I turn around, not with my neck but my whole body, and there's Morgan Freeman. And he was so cool, he actually hired at his own expense a masseuse/physical therapist to help my neck, so I could do a good show, came to the gig and before he left he told my friend, 'Tell him he's not bad for a white boy!' I was like, 'I'm puttin' that on my press kit.' Morgan Freeman, 'Not bad for a white boy.' Thank you, Morgan.

Any plans for the immediate future, new projects? "We're gonna' begin work on a new album in a couple of months… Lucky 13. It's going to be called, 'Peace, Love and Loud Guitars.' I already have 30 songs written for it. (laughing) It's going to be 'Electric Field Holler' the next progression and step. All the energy, but maybe a little bit deeper."

Related Articles:
BB King; BLUES… the Next Generation; Dennis Jones: Between Rock... and a Blues Place; JW-Jones… Breaking the Ice; Phil Gates Plays it Forward


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Let Tim know what you think about his traveling adventure.

I was there at the Shrine to see Bob come in riding on a baby elephant. He says in the interview it was either '68 or 69: it was both – it was New Year's Eve (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Debbie Hollier, Nevada City, CA

* * * *

Who else played with Canned Heat and Deep Purple at the Shrine in '68?

Bill, LA

I think the Shrine show on New Years in '68, where Bob Hite rode out on the elephant, also featured Poco, Lee Michaels, Black Pearl, Love Army and Sweetwater. Don't know that Deep Purple was booked on that evening.

Bill, maybe you're thinking about the International Pop Fest in San Francisco a few months earlier that featured these fine folks... Procol Harum, Iron Butterfly, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers, Eric Burdon And The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grass Roots, The Chambers Brothers, Deep Purple, Fraternity of Man & Canned Heat or possibly the following year in Jan of 1970 when Deep Purple appeared with Canned Heat and Renaissance on a triple-bill in London at the Royal Albert Hall.

One final note: The current Johnny Otis piece didn't mention it, but it was Mr. Otis that took Canned Heat into the studio the very first time to record in 1966. Small world, ain't it?

Tim

* * * *

Thank u for posting it! Bob is still boogin' around!! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Stefano Di Leonardo, Fisciano (Salerno, Italy)

* * * *

Great Read! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite) I will post it on Bob "THE BEAR" Hite Official Facebook Page,

Dave Tohill, Brandon, UK

* * * *

Hello Tim, thank you so much for letting a huge Canned Heat fan check out this
interview with the Bear. I really enjoyed it.

Best regards,

Rick Caldwell, Fairfield, Ohio

* * * *

I knew Bob Hite in the 60's. Canned Heat played at our high school prom 1966 Rexford High. The Family Dog, Chet Helms, Skip Taylor.

Max Kalik, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Tim,

I just discovered you from an email I received from Preston Smith disclosing his next event. I wanted to tap into his website Prestonsmithmusic but it would not link from your site for some reason. I have to say Preston really is a genius and I met him in Glendale at a jazz club about three years ago, after a fatal accident. By chance, I was invited to spend time hanging out with Preston and some friends after his gig. He is everything you say and I will never forget his amazing creativity and his positive influence in my life.

Janelle, Palm Springs, CA

Love the article! (on Lowell George) Lowell was my father.

Forrest George, Warren, Vermont

This Bob Hite interview is the most interesting thing I have read concerning Canned Heat. I have Fito's book, but I always was interested in learning more about Bob Hite. You did it here my friend...great interview!!!!!

Tony Musto - Pittston, PA

Hey Tim, Great article on Preston! I really enjoyed it and you did your homework. I'll probably catch PS this weekend.

Best,

Dave - Northridge, CA

* * * *

Hello, what a great article on Preston Smith! I actually met Preston one evening after an Acoustic set of my own at the Prestigeous Carlton Hotel here in Atascadero, Ca. We were loading up and he happened to be walking down the sidewalk and stop to say hello. I must say that he is a truly interesting and talented man that NEVER forgets to let me know when he is playing around the Central Coast where I live. It was so fun to read about who he truly is...(as if you don't know him the first time you meet him)! My adventures have only just begun as I recently returned from Nashville recording my self titled debut EP. I can only hope that my adventures down the road are as enlightening as Preston's and that I have the honor of a great writer such as yourself to share them with the world. Thank you for doing just that, sharing "Preston Smith" with the world.

Sincerely,

Amy Estrada - Atascadero, CA

Hi Tim,

My name is Bert, I'm from Italy and I'm a blues harmonica player...I read your article and it reminded me of the two trips I made in the Delta, in 2008 and 2009. I love Frank's music and I think it's a shame people don't really know his work. It's important that people like you write about him. Thank you! In the Delta I was only a "stupid" tourist, but it was a great, unique experience I consider one of the most important in my life: driving on the highways, Listening to the blues everywhere, jamming in places like Red's and ground Zero in Clarksdale or the Blues Bar in Greenville... are priceless things, something I will keep in my heart for the rest of my life. I met a beautiful, lovely woman there too (named Hope), but I behaved like a stupid kid and I lost her... Alas! I will never forget that days and the chance I had to find happiness...Well, I also wrote something about Frank on a website, but it's in Italian... I give you the link of the first part (the second will be published in the next weeks) anyway if you know some Italian or somebody who can understand it... Even if I'm thinking of making a translation ...www.bluessummit.com

Cheers,

Bert - Pavia, Italy

I wanna be Tim!

Brent, Seattle, WA

* * *

Those pictures give you an idea of what the Rockin' Pneumonia actually looks like and it looks BAD! But the man can still play! Enjoyed the article - give us more TRAVELING BLUES BOY!

Steve Thomas - NA, INDIANA

* * *

Good Stuff, Tim. Having been a Johnny Winter fan since the first time I heard Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo, it was great hearing his take on some his highlight moments that defined his blues career. His affiliation with Muddy Waters was particularly interesting. Kudos for bringing that out. Thanks to your dedication to covering the blues scene, this "one of a kind" music still lives for servicemen & women around the world. Keep it Up!

Brandon Williams, Moreno Valley, CA

* * *

Impressive! What a legend and how cool that you got so much time with him, Tim.

Don, Louisville, KY

Tim - Great article, enjoyed Little Feat/Lowell George story, really brought me back in time. Did not know he was a fishin' man! Wonder what surfaces out of the abyss of your memory next?

Steve Thomas, New Albany, IN

* * * *

Tim,

I really liked your travel back in time with Lowell and Little Feat. As a long time Feat fan (mostly the stuff with Lowell) it was cool to read. I learned several of their songs back in the day and they still stand up today when played live. Another singer I really liked from back then is TimBuckley. Thanks for the article.

Chet Hogoboom, Arroyo Grande, CA

Loved your last issue of TB, especially the Mayall piece. I want that guy's job!

Brent, Seattle, WA

Tim,

This is a great write up. Has it been printed in any magazines? It's better than a lot of things I read in my guitar magazines, so props for that.

Caejar, Moreno Valley, CA

Tim,

I can tell that you have this passion for jazz. I wonder if you yourself play any instrument. Or are you just a groupie like most of us?

I talked with a mid-aged flute jazz artist a few weeks ago and he lamented that despite his talents (and he is extremely talented) he says that the industry hasn't been kind to him. He said jobs are few and far between. He said the music industry is combating piracy and competition due to technology being readily available to private homes and that they are not as profitable as before. So they are replacing live talent for synthesized or digital instruments.

Do you see the same trend in your relationships with your music network?

Bob, Pasadena, CA



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