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Tim: The Zen Blues Quartet

The Zen Blues Quartet:
...Will Work for Risk
By T.E. Mattox

've always loved garage and basement bands. The scenario for the most part, is universally recognized. It usually starts with a small group of musically-inclined, and often-times instrumentally-challenged friends just hanging out, improvising and jamming along to their favorite songs. A simple premise designed around the love of making music and more often than not; the Rock and Roll fantasy of 'living the dream.'

For guitarist John March and the Zen Blues Quartet, 'living the dream' is the perfect analogy. It was an epiphany after all, that John experienced while standing in a misty mountain forest near the town of Assisi in Central Italy. "In that very moment I had a clear vision of this music. Of a day spent recording music with my friends, simply because we can. No other agenda, no mission to fulfill, just music for the sake of music."

It only took one phone conversation with musician pals back in the U.S. for John's moment of Zen to begin cutting through more than just the Italian fog. The path of enlightenment was about to shine on the "ultimate" garage band. (Of course you realize when I use the term 'garage band,' it's with the caveat that the musical combo in your carport has also played, or recorded with Jimi Hendrix, the Stones, Stevie Wonder, Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, C,S and N...)

"I think my entire life I've wanted to do something that has meaning to me. And I've been really blessed that I have friends who are really good artists and musicians and creative people who seem to be willing to put up with my…uh…eccentric views."

Turns out, John's friends were more than accommodating. They happen to include a couple of Grammy winners not to mention some of the recording industry's all time greatest session players. The original ZBQ included Tim Scott on bass, keyboardist Jeff Young and Steve Ferrone on percussion. "I told them I wanted to go into the studio and record nine or ten of our favorite Blues and Soul tunes, but make them ours, play them how we wanted to. I also wanted to play 'live' with all of us in the same room."

cover for the Zen Blues Quartet's self-titled debut CD

The end result was the debut, self-titled CD from the Zen Blues Quartet. The album reflects not only the diversity and spontaneity John was seeking, but is further enhanced by each member's collective and creative influences. Songs ranging from the full service Doc Pomus-Duke Robillard penned 'Body and Fender Man,' through the desperation in Al Koopers's 'I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know,' to the unique and very trippy cover of Mose Allison's, 'Since the World Ended.' (Headphones are highly recommended.) From beginning to end, the project takes you on a fast-paced and personalized joyride that you want to take repeatedly.

March and his friends accomplished what they had set out to do. The Blues in their truest sense, "not constrained by form. It has rules and structure, but the beauty and power are in the moment, and in the humanity that the players each bring to the music."

Fans and critics agreed. But it was an unexpected and encouraging phone call from the Delta-born master himself that alleviated any reservations the group may have had. Nothing like personal approval from Mose Allison to validate your project and corroborate that your approach to the music had been well worth the risk. You can almost hear the smile in John's voice as he quickly adds that it's more than mutual admiration. "I think he (Allison) is one of the greatest blues writers of all time."

As a non-traditionalist, it's to be expected that March's influences run the gamut. "For me Mose Allison and Jimmy Reed as storytellers; I love the lyric and live content, especially Mose. As a blues guitar player, I actually listen to a lot of guitar players; but also listen to a lot of vocalists and pianists. Oscar Peterson is a huge influence on me."

"Blues is powerful music because it is the heart speaking the truth in the moment."
- John March

With the release of 'Again and Yet Again' the second Zen Blues Quartet CD, veteran keyboardist and vocalist Mike Finnigan replaced Jeff Young on the Hammond B3. That wasn't the only karmic shift. To up the risk quotient, along with a few classic covers, this time the band included several of their own compositions for the project. Both Finnigan and Tim Scott contributed songs and shared vocal duties on the CD and John wrote the title track.

cover for the Zen Blues Quartet's second CD: Again and Yet Again

The disc kicks in with the Finnigan romp, 'What a Life,' then right into my favorite track, "I've Had Harder Times from Better Women than You.' (Really, how can you not love a blues song that opens with, 'you buried my dog and it wasn't even dead.'?) Not to mention a tasty, gospel feel to the Becker-Fagan hit, 'Reeling In the Years.' March says, "That's one of my favorites, lots of texture and vocal layering." Amen to that.

The party-like feel to the sessions come from The L.A. Horns and yes, that's Curtis Salgado on Blues Harp. John not only played guitar but produced, engineered and mixed 'Again and Yet Again' and is adamant, "This CD is definitely a labor of love. A love for music that comes from the heart, the soul, for the music of the Blues."

A third CD is in the discussion stage, but as John says, "we're all working musicians. Tim Scott is working up in Seattle right now and Finnigan is in and out with Joe Cocker." But if the project does happen, John says he'd really like to include "all original material."

When the student is ready, the master appears.
- Buddhist proverb

In the meantime, "One project that I'm really proud of that came out recently, there was a very famous and well-respected guitar teacher in Los Angeles named Ted Greene. Every guitar player in the world at one point learned from him. He died very young. He was a solo guitarist that I studied with for 25 years. He was a Mozart-level musician and harmonically on the guitar I don't think anyone has done what he could do. He had this huge repertoire of solo guitar arrangements that are extremely hard to play and I got permission from the estate and his widow to record them. I spent a year recording ten arrangements and built a website…"

http://www.zenbluesmusic.com/tedgreenetribute.html

"You can go listen to the music for free. If you like the music and you'd like to make a donation; the money goes to feed children in Africa or works to fight AIDS. It's my way of repaying my 25 years of getting to study with Ted. I'm pretty proud of that."

Zen philosophy at work, I suspect. As a student of that philosophy, when it comes to blues, John is the first to agree. "I see a direct correlation between the blues and my practice. Both require authentic presence and a willingness to explore the moment."

I personally can't wait to hear what discoveries they make. And with that in mind, you guys are more than welcome to use my garage!

Related Articles:
Blues Storytellers, King of the Blues, Willie Dixon, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, Charlie Musselwhite


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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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