Bandleader Andrew Black has a passion for blues, particularly the music of B.B. King, Albert King and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.
"When I hear these guys play," he says plainly, "it makes me love the blues."
But at the same, Black adds, "we play blues because there's a lot of opportunity to play blues in this town. There are a lot of rooms to play."
Indeed. After a two-and-a-half year stint as vocalist and rhythm guitarist in the Barry Richman Band, Black formed his own group, Andrew Black and the Believers, in 1999. He's found a niche in such local blues venues as the Blue Raccoon and Darwin's in Marietta, Chip's in Winder, the Peckerhead Brewery in Douglasville and others.
Black, 32, will celebrate the release of his first CD, Live Now and Then, with a release party and performance Sat., Dec. 29, at the Blue Raccoon. The CD features live cuts from shows at Darwin's, the Blue Sky Tavern in McDonough and the Tabernacle. The CD features four originals, as well as covers of Luther Allison, Albert King, Bo Diddley and John Coltrane.
While blues opened doors for him on the local scene, Black says that in fact he doesn't discriminate regarding music, and also enjoys jazz, country, rock and pop. His CD bears this out; its originals, for example, reflect the influences of gospel ("Your Loving Sets Me Free") and funk ("The Theme Song"). He also hosts a jazz jam Sundays at the Bayou Room in Marietta.
That versatility is probably a good thing, because Black, who moved to Atlanta in 1984 from Minneapolis, is a practical guy. As a musician and a father of two, he speaks plainly of a grasp that transcends the commercial reach of the blues genre. "We love the blues, but we're having a hard time making a living with it," he explains.
In fact, Black wants much more from music than just to make a living. "I'd really like to have 15 minutes of fame," he says, referring to the famous Andy Warhol quotation. "I'd really like to get to that point where I have a [video in] regular rotation on VH1 or Black Entertainment Television or MTV, for however long that time lasts. What motivates me are my children. Before I had kids, I was content to play a little and work a construction job at $12 an hour. Now I want to put money in the bank for when they need to go to college or buy a car."
With his first CD about to debut, Black is already working on the second one. A studio effort produced by Mother's Finest guitarist Gary "Mo" Moore, it will be "more of a rock record with country blues influence, with more of what you would consider Nashville-sounding harmonies on it," Black says.
Black says his diverse approach caused problems in his appearance at the Atlanta Blues Society Competition at EarthLink Live in October. Judges praised his performance and his band, but concluded that the music was "more rhythm & blues than blues." But Black says he's undaunted by the "blues police," fans and critics who denounce any blues-related music that incorporates other traditions.
"There's nothing wrong with preserving heritage," Black says. "But it's destructive if you're going to hamper the natural progression of music and the way things evolve."
It's a fine line -- a tightrope, really -- that blues artists walk in order to be both creative and traditional. But Black doesn't let that hold him back.
"I think we've fallen off of [that tightrope] a lot, and we're not concerned with it," he says. "It's more important to be true to ourselves."
Andrew Black and the Believers -- Black (guitar, vocals), Hal Mahan (bass, vocals) and Kerry Denton (drums, vocals) -- perform Sat., Dec. 29, at the Blue Raccoon, 188 Garrison Road, Marietta. Stephen Bekersky opens. Show time is 8:30 p.m. $8. 770-426-6400. Black hosts a weekly jazz jam Sundays at the Bayou Room, 2217 Roswell Road, Marietta. Show time is 7:30 p.m. Free. 770-971-1517, www.mamamaes.com.
This column is a weekly feature covering music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.
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