Kirk Fletcher has a reputation as a bonafide can’t-miss performer. Widely considered one of the best blues guitarists in the world, he has commanded the respect and acclaim of critics, peers and fans across the globe and played with a host of artists including Joe Bonamassa and a three-year role as lead guitarist of The Fabulous Thunderbirds.
Currently on tour in the UK, we sat down with friend of dBs Music Bristol FE, local bluesman and Red 2/Little Britain actor Kirris Riviere and Kirk prior to his show at The Tunnels for an exclusive chat about what he’s learned and his view of the blues and music today...
What's the current blues scene in the UK and USA like?
"A lot of people are misinformed about the blues. You may get people who play it not so good, so people think the blues is all about the bad. Some kids don’t relate to it now unlike they did in Muddy Waters day, it was the dance music back then! Now people think it’s it’s sad all the time, but it’s not and a lot of it has to do with the attention span these days. It’s a community and over here, people really come out to shows and it’s been wonderful to see the growth in the tours and my fan base brick by brick.
"There’s less places to play in the states, there are people that come out to shows but it’s harder to travel and more expensive for the fans. It seems like there’s more roots music supporters in the UK and Europe. I hate to say that because I love my home, but my home is so different now, it’s almost like a curse if you’re a musician sometimes. I play different places in the state and festivals, but most of my shows are in the UK and Europe and I dig the people as everyone has a good time. I’m the last person to be negative about anything."
How does the different venues, crowds and your approach to shows change?
"There’s something to be said for American artists that are digging the blues as we’re very vocal, we’re playing on home turf and have that advantage, especially in LA where I grew up. It might be more of a quiet crowd in the UK, and that’s cool but they’re enjoying it just as much as the rowdy folk. Playing big shows at Red Rocks in Colorado and The Greek Theatre in LA with Joe Bonamassa, he turned those into a big club gig. Everybody is there to have a good time as blues rock and guitar fans and they love it. Bigger shows are less dynamic but Joe tends to make it dynamic and it’s fun to be part of such a cool band.
How are you before a big show like that?
"I like to be a little quiet in my thoughts before a show, but most of the time that doesn’t happen... It’s like ready? GO! The way things are now you fly somewhere the day before, it’s a different band, different gear so you kinda just get in this ‘kill mode’ and do the best you can as you appreciate being there, the people who have sent for you and the good people that come out to see you. You know, I grew up in church in Compton LA, my Father was a Pentecostal preacher so I’m always looking for the gospel thing where everyone is up singing or whatever they can do. That’s the way I still feel about music. People always tell me I should play bigger places but I love the small clubs where everybody is into it, there’s nothing better than that.
What's your advice for performers and our dBs Music students studying music performance?
"Firstly, you really, really need to serve the song. You need a certain amount of chops to execute ideas and how you’re feeling but serving the songs can be difficult for a long time. The unexpected is cool for me. I like to play the form of the song, start and end it the same but everything else is fair game man! If you can find the mixture of education for a harmonic knowledge and still be on the bandstand four nights a week playing top 40 that’s cool and you’ll find a voice.
"Some players worry they’ll lose their feel if they learn too much theory, that’s why you just gotta go out and play with people and not sit in your bedroom the whole time. Your personal touch comes from being thrown out there into the fire, playing in any kind of band. Robben Ford told me when I was young, just play as much as you can but with a band. I’m sure there’s plenty of places with open mic nights here - just go to one a week and if you get a chance to play two songs in front of a crowd, that’s a start. If you really want to play, you’ll find a way.
What do you think of modern genres and the trends of music?
"You know, I grew up in Compton in the era of the drum machine with beatboxing and funky samples from the West Coast where Dr Dre, Ice Cube and those cats were mixing old records like Parliament and Funkadelic so it was all kinda in there and they made it funky. So yeah, that did influence me in the way I think about the groove. When it comes to rap/hip hop I really dig what was happening in the late 80’s/early 90’s but that’s where I start and end with it.
"The way you can make blues more interesting is that you gotta dig into the records more and go farther back. If you know what Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Charley Patton were made of, then you got a lot of information there.It’s like being a Doctor, you gotta know a lot of information. People think you can slouch when you play the blues, but those guys like John Lee Hooker had their own thing which made them a great musician. When Muddy played “Da nana na na” it made people wanna have sex! I always like going back and thinking why did those guys play it like they did at the time?"
How do you find singing?
"I’m self conscious about my singing because that’s the newest thing, because with the guitar, I’ve been doing it my whole life so if I make a mistake on guitar, I don’t really care. But, with singing and the way singing is going now, everything has to be perfect. When you listen to a modern soul, R&B or pop record, it’s perfect. If it’s not perfect, they auto-tune it to make it super perfect instead of like the ‘60’s where there’s guys just wailing but it’s awesome man! Think about Neil Young, some say not the best singer in the world, but his lyrics, content and vibe - wow, that’s what I want somebody to be like. I’m not knocking people here but I think that’s kinda missing sometimes now, that human element you know?"
Any advice for guitar players?
"It would be cool if guitar players wouldn’t think about guitar all the time. I know others have said it, but you gotta try to figure out how the rhythm section works. What makes it feel like this or that is just as important as what you’re playing. If you’re playing a groove and you got the cool pocket going on, you can almost play anything and that comes from dissecting records to figure out why any record swings like it does. There is music that is busy, like Chick Corea, but that music still breathes because of the way it grooves. My big thing now is listening to non-guitar stuff to try and develop more as a songwriter and a singer."
Tell us about your Les Paul...
"My Les Paul is a Gibson Custom Shop Collectors Choice ‘59 called Nicky. It was patterned after Charlie Daughtry’s original ‘59 so it’s made to all of the specs of an original ‘59. I’ve played some original ‘59's through my friend Joe, my one sits right in there. It may be a little bit more solid sounding and it does have an original PAF pickup in the bridge so it has a little bit more brightness in it. It’s sounds real clear than a lot of other modern Les Pauls I’ve played that you can buy off the shelf."
Any final thoughts about music?
"Music captures moments in history. What’s been happening in the States hasn't affected me yet as such, but it kinda has as I’m starting to write songs about it so I guess it has. Now I’m 40 years old I am looking back over the earlier part of my life and the way things are going and I often get really nostalgic for my younger days ‘cos it was innocent or I was naive to a lot of things. So, you see the way the world's going now and it’s kinda scary - we just all gotta be good to each other and help each other out, whoever you are or where anyone is from. Like music - don’t judge, just listen and be open to it all, put your phone away and enjoy the experiences you can.