Interview in English with Mike Sanchez

Interview with Mike Sanchez

MIKE SANCHEZ

Entertainer de luxe!

Experiencing a show with Mike most certainly won´t leave you unaffected. His energy and charisma on stage are truly incredible, also his brilliant piano playing and vibrant, powerful singing leave you nothing more to wish for. He´s got the public totally in his hands.

Jesus Miguel ”Mike” Sanchez can look back on a long, flourishing career as a front artist in famous bands like The Big Town Playboys and Bill Wyman´s Rhythm Kings, and as an acknowledged, highly in demand solo artist since 2004. He also can present a most impressive discograhy. His musical preferences are rock´n´roll/rockabilly, rhythm & blues, boogie woogie and blues; a winning concept! I managed to get an interview with this world artist.

Tell me a little about your growing up. When and how did you get an interest in music, and what kind of music?

-I was born in East London on 17 February 1964 to Spanish Immigrants.

-My mother Manuela Bastida had left Franco’s Spain in 1949, working as a helper to a diplomatic family from South America, who were based in the Netherlands for a while, eventually moving to London in 1954 where my mum remained. I had a half brother called Juanjo, who had been born in Spain before mum moved to Holland and eventually England. Juanjo was 18 years older than me and though we were always to remain distanced due to the age difference (he was travelling. working and settling down when I was still in Primary school) John did have influence on me thanks to the small number of 45″ singles that he had collected, which were all from the late 1950’s period of pop and rock ’n’ roll.

-My dad Jesus Sanchez left Madrid for London in 1957 to find work. Together my mum and dad met working − as most Southern European immigrants during those years found work in hospitals but mainly hospitality/hotels/restaurants, etc − at the Cumberland Hotel, Mayfair in 1960, married in Paddington 1962, and once I was born we lived the first 4 years in Paddington before we moved to northern London’s suburban area of Kenton/Kingsbury, where I started my primary school.
We remained in London until I was 11 in 1975, when my dad decided to move away from the racist tensions and unhappiness we saw in London and decided to make a new life in a small Georgian town called Bewdley, north of Worcester in the West Midlands countryside (between Birmingham and Wales), where I attended Bewdley High School.

Growing up in London had been quite difficult due to school bullying and racism towards both myself and my parents, even though London was already such a cosmopolitan city. Go figure!? When we moved to Bewdley my parents fell into good work − my dad was a quality head wine sommelier back in London at some of the most prestigious hotels in the Mayfair area and when we moved to the midlands he quickly found similar work at a nice hotel − and my mum continued with her seamstress wedding dresses for a local wedding dress store. I began to live a safer and happier life in Bewdley, enjoying the local nature and the kinder friends at school, I developed a love for art, drawing and sketching wildlife, especially birds. I also grew a love for particular kinds of rock ’n’ roll and mostly 1950’s music that I used to hear on the radio or on our little TV. Artists with names such as Bill Haley, Louis Prima, Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, The Platters, all kinds of doo wop, Everly Brothers, The Beatles, Chuck Berry, etc.. I particularly enjoyed listening to the most exciting sounds I would hear, such as Little Richard.
My parents really liked the music of Nat King Cole and the country music of Jim Reeves as well as older classic bolero singers such as Chilean Lucho Gatica and Trio Los Panchos. I also fell in love with all that music.

Mum and dad had a few records and we had an old Dansette record player that my half brother Juanjo (John) had left at home when he had started to move away.
It was with those records that I really began to soak up a love for the music.

-At high school I had started to grow a likeness to things that were occurring with teenagers around the country.
I was aware of heavy rock and punk rock and a new ’mod’ revival that was starting to bubble up around the cities of England, but every time I went with my parents shopping to the city center in Birmingham − 2nd largest city in England − I used to see gangs of rock ’n’ roll fans, known as ”Teddy Boys”, roaming around the streets and subways of the city, just like the dreaded skinheads, but they looked better, with greased styled hair and often nice jackets and suits and shoes and the girls tried to look like girls from the 1950’s. Compared to all the other subculture styles I really grew a passion for rock ’n’ roll.

-It was 1977 when Elvis died. The media went mad playing all his movies and songs and everyone bought his records. I was turning 14 years of age and this was a huge influence on me.

Also the musical Grease had the whole world looking at how gangs of kids looked in the 1950’s and though I wasn’t keen on the musical I did however link myself to the kind of style portrayed by actor John Travolta. I looked very much like that every day, at home and more so at school where we became a little gang of ”rockers” who started to look the part. Each of my friends would introduce the other friends to any records they had found and bought home, such as ”Elvis – The Sun Collection”, or Fats Domino or Bill Haley’s greatest hits, or Eddie Cochran or Gene Vincent − many years later I was the vocalist on a legendary album recorded with guitarist Jeff Beck that was a tribute to Gene Vincent’s Blue Caps from 1956/7. Released world wide on Sony Music.
I also used to rush home from school to catch a 1950’s based soap comedy called ”Happy Days” where you get to learn how to be ”cool” like the Fonz!
At school I was really starting to suffer a crush or two on some of the really pretty girls but I was always too shy to do anything or even to talk to them.
The rock ’n’ roll music really helped me to understand my emotions and how I was starting to feel about girls.

How did you start to play piano?

-In North London during my primary school years we had bought a house that had an old piano in the living room. It looked 100 years old and it was dirty and black and the strings didn’t sound good, but my dad had a friend, who’s wife was a piano tutor and so my dad started arranging for me to have lessons each week.
I hated it. I didn’t do my homework and was useless at reading music − I have never been able to read music − and the teacher used to get angry with me and it was all a fucking nightmare. But after 3-4 years I had become good enough to enter a large contest where I came 14th out of 200 children, so I guess I had learnt something.
But I hated it all.

It did teach me years later where middle C was and it helped me to try and play Jerry Lee Lewis’ ”Great balls of fire” which impressed my mates at high school.

When did you start to play guitar?

-It was after Elvis and Grease and creating a gang at school that I has asked my parents if they could please buy me a little acoustic guitar for 50 pounds.
Maybe this was around 1979 when I started trying to learn chords on my new guitar. It was a happy time as the more I learnt the more I wanted to learn.
We formed a band called The Rockets and we rehearsed at least 2 or 3 times a week in each others houses, eventually doing a first gig around 1981, just as I was leaving high school and starting a short welding course at Kidderminster College.

-Around this time was when a teacher asked me in front of the class to get my guitar and perform a song or two for the class room, which I did.
I chose a couple of Elvis ballads. Half way through the first song a girl who sat in the middle of the class started crying and had to run out of the class slamming the door! That was when I realized that I had to make a career and a life out of this!
If I can make girls cry by singing, then maybe it’s possible for me to make some money. Ha! I’m still trying to make that money, but after 40 years since I left school and I still haven’t had to get a ”proper” job. Too late for that now!

-So, that was the start of my next life, which I am now still living!


Tell me a little more about The Rockets and what happened thereafter.

-My first band The Rockets was very inspired by having already seen The Stray Cats in 1981 at a show in Birmingham, and wow!!! that knocked us all out!
I learnt guitar well enough to be both singing and playing solo guitar, as we tried to sound like the Stray Cats as a 3 piece power trio. It was a lot fun.
The Rockets never recorded a proper album. We were about to sign up to a famous rockin’ label in London called Nervous Records, but that’s when we disbanded at the start of 1984. What a shame, as we could have been a really hot rockabilly band!

-We were listening and playing in the styles of the current neo-rockabilly bands of the time, some of whom were finding big success such as The Polecats, The Jets, etc..
We had also made a great fan in local rock legend Robert Plant − Led Zeppelin vocalist − who started to attend our shows in the area and started introducing us to some of his good muso friends such as guitarist/bassist Andy Silvester, who became a huge mentor for me and who helped kick off our life with The Big Town Playboys.

-It was a simple and exciting time in our lives! I was 20 years old and hanging out with guys who were 40 years old and who had huge amounts of records and cassettes, and all sort of life experiences and musical techniques and good taste in music that all taught me a ton of lessons! Hell yeah!

-That year, before we formed Big Town Playboys at the end of 1984, was a crazy time for musical influences.
So, first we had the love for classic rock ’n’ roll and we became Teddy Boys until around 1979/80 when we became Rockabillies.
We then questioned and studied the styles known as Psychobilly with bands such as The Cramps who I became a huge fan of.
Also we had found records by a Texas band called The Fabulous Thunderbirds which we so loved. Tasty blues and rockin’ grooves.
Then we started hanging out with Robert Plants friends and there we discovered a ton of music, from everywhere.
We really grew to love the rhythm & blues music that had already been around in America since 15 years before it was all known as rock ’n’ roll.
From New Orleans to Texas to California across the Route 66 to Chicago and across to New York and back down again.
The mellow sounds of Percy Mayfield with Maxwell Davis or the swamp blues styles of Slim Harpo or Cosimo’s house band for Larry Williams, Little Richard, Smiley Lewis and a thousand other legendary artists.
It’s all just too overwhelming to try to remember!

At the Sun Studio in Memphis

-I almost stopped playing guitar and started learning blues and shuffles and boogie woogie licks on the piano and creating a visual style and a strong voice in the style of my new heroes. While the rest of the world were doing what they were doing, we were going down a totally different route with the black music and trying to make it all sound as authentic as we could.

The Big Town Playboys 1985

The music of vocalist pianists such as Amos Milburn, Floyd Dixon, Fats Domino, Little Willie Littlefield, Cecil Gant, Ivory Joe Hunter, Charles Brown, Ray Charles and many more, along with the saxophone honkers and arrangers, the drummers and bassists and the amazing guitarists, all too much to mention, but basically the sounds as far back as the mid 1930 right through to the mid 1960’s. And oh, how I fell in love with good rockin piano boogies! Yeah man.

 

Photo: Brian Smith

And we do it all in the old school way, like Fats Domino, playing the piano to the side, wearing a nice white suit and smiling at everyone in the room and belting out the blues and the rockin music. I still don’t understand why there are not that many people in the entire world who play and perform like I do. We are such rare creatures! 🙂

Which are the biggest highlights of your career?

-Biggest highlights? Oh dear, where do I start?
I was 21 when we performed a huge charity event for MYV at the Birmingham NEC as Robert Plants band to 12,000 people. At the time that was the largest audience I’d ever played to and I was so nervous. Everyone on stage was!

My involvement with many famous names from the world of UK blues and rock since the 1960’s. We had Procol Harum singer, dear Gary Brooker manage us for a while, introduced us to his friends Eric Clapton, Andy Fairweather-Low, and many others. With Eric we have done countless shows as his support band at Royal Albert Hall and across Europe and even recorded a session for a blues track that ended up in the movie The Color of Money and where we even worked with legendary Atlantic Records producer Tom Dowd. The word countless comes to mind every second that I think of all the rock stars that we’ve had the pleasure of meeting!

Mike with Charles Brown. Photo: Andy Silvester

It’s all a mish mash of memories with names such as Ike Turner, Charles Brown, Floyd Dixon, Ronnie Wood, Charlie Watts, Chas Hodges, Georgie Fame, Richard Berry, Sonny Burgess, Brian May, Kate Bush, Lemmy from Motorhead, Herb Hardesty, Albert Lee, Jerry Hall, Jimmy Page, Jools Holland, Marvin Rainwater, Barbara Lynn, Gaynel Hodge, yes, Eddie ’Knock On Wood’ Floyd, way too many memories and other famous names and proper legends that I can’t remember right now. ..

Mike, Bill Wyman, Ike Turner, Albert Lee

-Some of my best memories have been when I’ve met and shared stage with rhythm & blues legends such as Big Jay McNeely, Young Jessie, Little Willie Littlefield, etc..

Mike with Young Jessie

-I was a member/frontman of ex Rolling Stones bassist Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings for 4 years, 2001 to 2004, where we toured extensively across Europe.

-The last shows I shared with Bill Wyman were his 80th birthday event at the O2 London with a large bunch of pop and rock stars. That was about 4 years ago.

-Also I sang with Bill’s band as the opening set before the famous Led Zeppelin reunion, also at the O2 in London, December 2007.

-Ooh, another thing I did with Bill was to be part of a session of Elvis related songs, playing alongside Presley’s original guitarist Scotty Moore, and recorded/filmed at the world famous Abbey Road Studio, London. It was released worldwide as a DVD.

-Oh yeah, and the connection we made in friendship with Fleetwood Mac from when they toured promoting their album Tango In The Night and me hanging out and being flown out to Los Angeles to stay, record and enjoy such a fabulous time with Mick Fleetwood, who would invite me over the years to be involved in different events, such as when he auctioned off the original John Lennon Imagine piano at the Hard Rock Cafe in London.

-I’ve also had the immense honor of guitarist Peter Green visit my home on different occasions.

-Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe who and what I have seen over the years. For those who are interested, I had an official authorized biography called ”Mike Sanchez – Big Town Playboy”, published around 8 years ago, which has a lot of this information in it.

 

Where do you live nowadays?

Since 12 years I have lived in Spain.

My dad had died in January 2010 and my mum was ill with dementia, so I moved my entire life over to be with mum, after 45 years of life based in England. My poor mum also died 2 years later, but then I remained here and settled down to a life where my dear parents had built when they retired from life in England.

I too have retired from England since the troubles known as Brexshit, sorry, Brexit.

I am so happy to be here, living in the Sierra Gredos, an hour west of Madrid in the range of mountains between Madrid and Avila. It’s all really beautiful and full of nature with 300 days of sunshine a year, though it can get damned cold in the winter too.

-I work wherever I work. I miss my English band very much but we’re all trying to take care of ourselves since the awful pandemic.

I work solo shows in Spain and across Europe and I also have different bands that are very familiar with my music.

When I perform in Italy I use The GoodFellas.

In France and around I do many shows with Drew Davies Rhythm Combo.

In Spain I work with Mario Cobo, who is a really well known guitarist, drummer Blas Picon and bassist Javier Cortes.

I also have plans with another fabulous outfit in the Madrid area, who in their own right are the very popular band called The Limboos.


I know you have played and toured with Swedish artists and bands such as Knock-Out Greg & Blue Weather, Trickbag and The Beat From Palookaville, and records have been released.

-The amazing musicians that I have had the pleasure to work with in Sweden are some of the greatest I’ve ever met! I’ve only had the fortune to create 2 albums in Sweden:

”Women & Cadillacs – Mike Sanchez with Knock Out Greg & Blue Weather” and ”Babes & Buicks – Mike Sanchez with The Beat From Palookaville”.

-Artists such as guitarist/producer Anders Lewén, saxophone/keyboard player Tobbe Eliasson, harmonica/guitarist/singer Greger Andersson and almost every musician surrounding them are some of the greatest in the world! This is not just my opinion but that of many, many lovers of good blues and rockin’ music.
Oh my life!! And if you’re talking about soulful singers, then the late great Sven Zetterberg is right there at the top of that idiom of blues and soul.

From the left: Mike, Greger ”Knock-Out” Andersson, Marcus Andersson, Jonas Göransson, sitting Jonas Bernholm

What about future plans?

-I can’t think right now.
To be honest I’m just grateful to be able to still travel and perform shows and give pleasure to people and come home with money.
The pandemic really fucked everyone up, and of course we mean almost everybody felt discomfort during the whole Covid time, best especially more so for people in the entertainments industry, whether you’re a driver, engineer, promoter or agent, working in a theater or a band member or just a simple lover of music, never mind the hotel and catering industries.
I suffered very much but there was no real point in mentioning it to anyone because everyone else was going through the same shit.

-My dear parents always gave me advice, telling me: ”Son, save some of that money, just in case you need it one day, for a rainy day!”
Yeah, I never saved money as it all went on having a great time with girls, wine and silly things, BUT I have no regrets, none at all.
I am however deeply grateful that since last year bits and pieces of work have started to come in again.

-As for future plans and recordings:
I do have several different plans with different musicians/bands, but I ain’t gonna say anymore than that.
Each time I say anything about future plans it all then changes or goes totally wrong, so, I’ll just shut up!

Finally, from where do you get your most remarkable energy on scene?

-I’m not sure what to answer regarding your question, Birgitta.
I don’t know what comes over me when I get on stage and start performing. It just happens.
I feel very aware of my responsibility to ”entertain” the audience which in turn is a superb way of creating a level of adrenaline in my soul, so I can sing better, look at everyone, smile and even if I have an awful flu or cold I can still ”kick ass and have a ball”” and at least while I am on stage I don’t feel anything wrong with me,, Ha! Until I come off stage and then I start to look like I’m ill, unwell, etc.

 

Photo: Brian Smith

BIRGITTA LARSSON, text. JIMMY THORELL, photo; the one at the top.  Published on the Jefferson website 3rd of December 2022.

Statements on Mike Sanchez:
Andy Fairweather-Low: ”Mike has got that natural talent. Like John McEnroe at tennis or David Beckham at football, Mike has that on piano”.

Jeff Beck: ”He is our Little Richard, with a bit of Jerry Lee Lewis thrown in”.

Mark Lamarr: ”Mike Sanchez would have invented rock´n´roll if none else had bothered”.

Albert Lee: ”People who see him never forget him”.

Authorized biography: Mike Sanchez – Big Town Playboy. By Michael Madden. Music Mentor Books, 2014. 314 pages, 70 b/w photos. Foreword by Robert Plant.

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