Featured Artist: Blue Day Band

Posted on May 28, 2015




“People identify Memphis with music, and with the future of Memphis is the future of music, and when tourists come to town, they expect live music with Graceland. We like to be a part of this as one of Memphis’ best kept secrets.”- Blue Day Band

Blue Day Band has a passion for music and Memphis. Their jam sessions, which started ten years ago, went from casual to professional as they recorded their first album four years ago and began to play monthly in venues in and around Memphis. Since then, their sound has grown and matured as they learn to play with one another. The band plays once or twice per week in the midst of most of them still hold regular day-jobs. Anna Singletary interviews Blue Day Band as they speak of their beginnings, influences, and the importance of bluegrass in Memphis.
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Can you tell me the story about how y’all started your band out of a jam session?

Tony: “We used to have jam sessions in Collierville in the square, and sometimes they didn’t go so well, so Steve and I got to talking and said to get a banjo player and a mandolin player and go to someone’s house, and he suggested these guys and we got together at my house a couple of times and we really jelled.”
Rick: “Yeah, we really grooved right from the start and really clicked, yeah… we had about thirty-seven songs that first night. Yeah, we played a long time that night.”
Ed: “We all knew the songs because bluegrass and roots is kind of like that, so when we all got together at the house, we decided, well, this is working and we should play out somewhere.”
Tony: “I think our first gig was at Squarebeans Coffee on the square in Collierville.”

How long ago was it that y’all first got together?
BDB: “About seven years ago.”

How long have y’all known each other?

Rick: “About ten years. Steve and I played in another band together, a couple of different bands. We had spoken and jammed together somewhere around the neighborhood.”
Steve: “Maybe since 2002.”

Where did your band name come from?
BDB: (laughs)
Tony: “If you’ve ever tried to pick out a band name, it’s very difficult.
Rick: “Most of them sound stupid or terrible, and we started throwing them out. The worst part is, well, I’ve been in three bands and just to get a consensus is tough because someone always wants to have a joke band name and someone else wants it to be serious or traditional name, so I kind of was open to anything and this is the first thing someone threw out that we all said okay, we can live with that.”
Tony: “And in bluegrass, oftentimes the word ‘blue’ or ‘grass’ is in the name. I actually think it was my wife who threw out ‘Blue Day’ based on Green Day and it’s kind of goofy.”
Rick: “But keep in mind at that time we were playing straight up traditional bluegrass, and since then we have really morphed. We wonder now if the name transformed our sound because we’ve drifted a bit fro bluegrass.”

Where do your music backgrounds come from?

“I played in junior high band and high school and Memphis youth symphony on trombone and was a music major for a while and played in the army band, but got a regular job and always loved music but playing with these guys was probably the best band I’ve ever played in. I probably started to play the banjo about thirty years ago, but couldn’t sit in my bedroom and play the banjo, you have to get out there and play somewhere.”
Rick: “Keep in mind, he can play just about any instrument. Guitar, ukulele, banjo, trombone, it’d be a long list. Tony’s a little more formally trained.”
Tony: “I started when I was about ten, my grandpa taught me. I was in country bands and rock bands as a teen. I actually opened up for Merle Haggard, and that’s my one claim to fame and rock bands through my twenties and thirties. I’d never played bluegrass until about twenty to thirty years ago.”
Rick: “Steve and I are a little more closely aligned, I’m totally self-taught while Steve played in high school. I listened to Hendrix and Clapton and Cream growing up, typical late sixties stuff. Rock primarily and Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. I picked bluegrass back up when my son asked me to show him how to play some guitar, and in bluegrass you don’t need a lot of equipment and you could go to a jam and play with other musicians which is why I chose it.”
Steve: “I played trombone in my high school band and picked up the guitar. My sister got one for Christmas but never picked it up, so I kind of stole it from her and learned from her books and I put it down for forever until early 90’s, and I’m probably the most redneck of the group. But when Allison Krause did that cover of the Keith Whitley song “When You Say Nothing At All,” I fell in love with bluegrass again and went to bluegrass shows, and so I started going to jams and realized there weren’t enough bass players and way too many guitar players and you know there’s a joke that it’s the easiest instrument.”

Talk about your influences and how Memphis has effected that?

Ed: “Well, I’m a native Memphian so I grew up listening to George Klein on the radio so I can’t say I’m not influenced, it’s probably a huge part of my musical makeup.”
Rick: “Growing up in the 60’s in Memphis, you heard Elvis, you couldn’t avoid it, but in the 70’s I used to go down to the Peanut’s Pub and we’d hear Furry Lois and Moe Vincent and that blues music was a big influence on me.”
Tony: “We end all of our shows with an Elvis song.”
Rick: “We do a lot of blues and electric blues and being here solidified it. We do a couple Stevie Ray Vaughn covers.”

What do you do when you’re not playing music?

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Tony: “I’m air traffic control management type these days, but I’ve been doing that for twenty-nine years.”
Steve: “I’m in IT.”
Rick: “I’m a retired schoolteacher, so all I do is play music or go fishing.”
Ed: “I’m in health care administration.”

What’s important to y’all about being musicians in Memphis?

Tony: “I hadn’t ever thought about it. Being musicians in general has always been my lifelong passion, even if I put it away for a little bit, it’s a huge stress relief.”
Rick:” I would say, to me, Memphis in the 60’s and 70’s was a great live music town and there was always live music and that was a huge part of my young adult life, from acoustic music to the blues and rock n’ roll. It was just a great town for live music and it’s in my blood.”
Ed: “There’s an expectation here because if you’re playing in downtown Memphis, there’s an expectation to be good and tight because people come up to you and say they’re from Scotland to hear the Memphis blues.”
Tony: “There are not a lot of bluegrass bands in Memphis, so we fill the void and there aren’t a lot that do crossover. There’s lots of blues and rock but not a lot of bluegrass.”

Where does bluegrass come from?

BDB: “Kentucky. Bill Monroe. In about ‘46 or ’47. Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. Bluegrass was traditionally part of country music and country kind of took off in one direction and bluegrass stayed traditional. It actually has an African-American and Irish and English input as well. Some songs we do nobody knows who wrote them, but everyone knows them and they’ve evolved and changed. There’s “new grass” now, and people now say they like roots music like Old Crow Medicine Show, but really everything is passed down because it reflects human emotions down generations. It’s profound. We played a song here last time that we had never practiced but we all just knew.”

What is next for the band?

 “For the most part, we have people who are still working day jobs, and initially we wanted to play once a month, but now we’re playing three or four shows a month. We turn down some gigs and take private gigs so that’s one aspect. As far as musically, we playing out to younger crowds and we do enough traditional bluegrass, but we’re really going down the road to do more modern bluegrass and roots. Tony, who’s a songwriter, which we’ve gotten away from due to practice time, but if we’d have more time, we’d do Tony’s songs.”
Tony: “One thing we want to do next is get back to the home studio which we did about four years ago, and we’ve gotten a lot better since then and we’re almost out of those CDs anyway.”
Rick: “We also like to help the audience light up from hearing a popular or old song in a different way because they like to go back and touch part of their musical memory.”

“Do you think being involved in the Memphis music industry is important to its future, or do you think the big music days of Memphis have come and gone?”

Rick: “I think things are cyclical. I think we’re seeing an upswing on live music, even in small venues, and some of the really large concerts are so expensive that they’re hard to get to. You can see this in Overton Square’s revival. These parts of town are coming back and we kind of had the electronic music but people are leaning more toward seeing live bands and we like being a part of that.”
Ed: “I think it’s a key part of the Memphis economy. People identify Memphis with music, and with the future of Memphis is the future of music, and when tourists come to town they expect live music with the zoo and Bass Pro and Graceland.”
Rick: “I think we’re on the upswing, and Memphis will see a lot more live music and it isn’t dead at all. The whole Memphis music scene is becoming more and more live with Crosstown and Levitt Shell and Botanic Gardens and Dixon Gallery.”

Catch more from the Blue Day Band at: http://bluedayband.com

Posted in: Music