Sons of Blues has become a frequent term, as many legendary artists children grow up to keep the tradition alive. Some already established artists are, Lurrie Bell, Eddie Taylor Jr., Larry “Mud” Morganfield, Big Bill Morganfield, Tutu Jones, Chris Thomas King, Shuggie Otis, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Wayne Baker Brooks, John Lee Hooker Junior, and certainly some more.
Shawn Holt is a recent comer in this generation. He is the new bandleader for his father Magic Slim’s legendary band The Teardrops. He debuted as a 17 year old teen in the band, first as a substitute and apprentice. Nowadays his concerts and tours achieve international recognition. Shawn Holt and The Teardrops contribute to the Chicago Blues representation on international festivals. His record debut, Daddy Told Me, on Blind Pig Records, is a tribute to his father. The record has achieved awards by organisations and blues magazines. One is the classic W.C. Handy Award, initiated by The Blues Foundation in Memphis, Tennessee. Another award he is proud, of is by the online magazine Blues Blast. Yours Truly met father Magic Slim several times, and was excited to hang with Shawn and the band, at the Skanevik Blues Festival, Norway.
Being born with the Blues may be a cliche for many. But you can claim it, right?
– Yeah, you can pretty much claim what you want. I was born in a house where they played Blues 24/7. And I was around some of the biggest names in the business throughout my whole childhood.
So, it started very early. Did your father teach you how to play the guitar?
– I didn’t start playing guitar until I was 16. Yeah, he showed me a couple of things. I took that and ran with it. But I learned more on my own.
Did you play around with friends, doing bands in school and such?
– What made me want to play was being friends with a couple of guys who played guitar. I thought it was cool, so I learned to play guitar too. I pretty much taught myself, I never took lessons, or nothing.
That’s interesting. Did you play Blues from jump, or…?
– No, not at all! I really didn’t listen to Blues when I was growing up. I was more into the neighbourhood stuff, you know. The first song I learned on guitar was by Jimi Hendrix, and Electric Ladyland. was the first song I ever learned to play. I stuck with Rock’n’Roll for a while and then I switched to Blues. I figured it was my birth right. You know, it came really natural to me.
When about did your father pay attention to your playing?
– Ha, ha. He caught notice after seeing us play at an open stage in Lincoln, Nebraska. He was always told that we could play a little bit. But he finally saw it for himself, and that’s when he took interest. Like, “ok well, you can play guitar, so let me show you how to do this”. And then he started to talk to me about the business. Making sure that’s the path I wanted to go down.
Did your mother have any influence on your music too?
– My mother? She kept me sane, ha, ha, ha! And how to take care of my body, and stuff like that. She would tell me about the long nights, and warned me about the down part of the business.
When about were you ready to play with your dad? (Sorry for asking you a lot of questions about your dad, but it feels just natural).
– That’s alright. I was 17 and his guitar player couldn’t make it. He couldn’t go on a certain tour. I can’t remember if he was sick, or something. My father knew that I could play, so he told me to listen to a couple of CDs. Then he took me out on the road with him, and I toured with my dad for a while. I figured out that this is what I wanted to do. So, I started to take it seriously after that.
So, you joined The Teardrops as a regular rhythm guitar player?
– Oh yeah, towards the end of my fathers career. He asked me to join the band to help him out. I think he knew that he didn’t have much time left. So, I joined The Teardrops and played with him for a couple of years, or something. And when my fathers passed, I took the lead and I hired another guitar player.
I met Jon McDonald. Did you play with him too?
– My father got rid of Jon, so I could be a sideman. I mean, I’m his son you know.
I understand that you’re staying true to Chicago Blues and that tradition.
– Oh yeah! That’s my heart and passion. That’s where I get my fire! Chicago Blues is based on driving guitars and booming vocals. And I love that sound, I love that heartbeat. A lot of people out there are not doing it, so I figured I’ll keep it going. That’s how my father made a name doing it. Maybe I can make a name some day myself.
The time is right, because we need new blood in it.
– I know, I hope so! I’m looking forward to it.
Did you have any other influences in particular?
– One of my favourites was Hound Dog Taylor, and another one was Johnny Winter. I never played with Hound Dog, but I was lucky to have played a show with Johnny Winter. It was just two months before he passed away.
As far as touring, did you just started to do Europe, or?
– I’ve been coming over here by myself for the last few years. Again, we had booked shows in Denmark when my father passed away. I came over in his place, they accepted me, and we got standing ovations. So, we were back there at the end of that year.
So, there’s no challenge for you to carry his torch?
– Oh no! I don’t look at it as a challenge. I will never be able to fill that man’s shoes. The only thing I can do is to play Shawn Holt, and play my best. And hopefully I’ll touch people they way he did. I never tried to emulate him on stage. And a lot of people say that I don’t really sound much like him. Two totally different styles. He was from the delta, I was a city kid, you know. His passion, his pain and his heart. No one would ever be able to emulate that.
He was one of a kind!
– Oh yeah, he was very much so!
Looking at the Blues festivals nowadays. They bill them as a Blues festivals, but here they come… All the old, washed-up Rock’n’Roll bands. How do you feel about that? Does it bother you, or something?
– No, it doesn’t, I’m just happy to be here. I want to thank Scandinavia, and their Blues lovers that even put my name out there. That wanted me to come here. And I tell you about these rock bands, they better not start no stuff, ha, ha, ha! Because I can put it on them. I’m a crowd pleaser! But I’m just happy to be here, you know. It is what it is!
Are you a singer/songwriter too?
– Yes I do, I write our stuff.
Where do you go when you write a song?
– I take every day actions. I think about the future and the past, and I get my inspiration from my life. Life experiences make the best songs. My father always had a way of writing songs. He would sit down with me in the garage and write songs. He could write songs about the simplest things. Like how much he loved eating hamburgers, for example.
You have cut at least one CD so far.
-Yes, it’s called Daddy Told Me, on Blind Pig. That album won two major Blues awards. Blues Music Award and Blues Blast Magazine Award. Blues Music Award is the top of all honours. Its formerly known as the W.C. Handy. I got the best new artist debut, for that CD. And I wrote 5 or 6 songs on the album. You can’t stop writing. Music is an universal language, everyone can listen to music.
Who played on that CD?
– John Primer was a special guest on it. I grew up watching John play with my dad. And I wanted familiar Teardrops faces on the CD, for the listeners. And John never hesitated, just said; “Let’s do it”!
Where do you live now?
– I live in Beatrice, Nebraska. It’s a smaller town than Lincoln. My father moved me to Nebraska to finish school, and get me out of Chicago. Which was a good idea.
How’s the music life in that town?
– Nebraska has a very strong music scene! You got a few bands out there, that are touring extensively. It’s just a bunch of great talents out there. And I’m happy to be a part of Nebraska’s Blues scene.
What guitar do you like to play?
– I bring a couple of my dad’s old ones, like I’ve got his Les Paul. I mean, I play some of everything, but I like playing his Jazzmaster, and a couple of Telecasters. I like the older guitars, and the sound of the vintage amplifiers. I mean, that’s where it started! That’s the way to go!
Are you satisfied with The Teardrops and the current lineup?
– Oh yeah! I’m finally in charge of the band, ha, ha, ha. So, I get the sound that I want. I’ve got an all star lineup. Russell Jackson played the bass with B.B. King for like 8 or 9 years. Allen Kirk is on drums when we tour abroad. He was a part of my daddy’s band, when they won the W.C. Handy Award, as the Best Blues Band one year. And I got a guy from Nebraska, Levi William on guitar. Who is a monster! I’m very happy with the lineup right now. My father left this for me, so therefore I’m being in charge of it.. So, if the ship sinks, its my fault, ha, ha, ha.
Text and Photos by Krister Palais