If this ain't the blues

SINGING THE BLUES: Grant Haua has the voice of a true bluesman. He is one half of two-piece grass roots blues band Swamp Thing. Picture by John Borren
For his spot at the Blues and Roots festival, Gisborne guitarist-singer-songwriter Richard Alexander plans to pull out of his arsenal a twin-necked cigar box guitar.

NOT many musicians rock a guitar that is part swordfish but Gisborne Blues and Roots festival guest Grant Haua does. The body of his cigar box guitar is a cigar box but the neck is all broadbill.

“It’s still a bit rough,” he says. “The sword is porous. It sounds dirty and original. I’ll bring it to the festival.”

There is a chance he could also bring to the Blues & Roots on 35 Festival at the Soundshell later this month the box-shaped percussion instrument of Peruvian origins. The acoustic guitar-driven album he is recording now is deepened with beats he gets out of his cajon.

“I’m digging the simplicity of it,” he says. “A local guy makes them. I passed his house one day and heard this crashing and banging noise. It didn’t sound like regular drums. I poked my head around the corner for a look. He was making these cajon.

“He’s attached a kick pedal and a snare inside of it.”

As the guitar half of hard-out duo Swamp Thing, Haua describes his solo sound as a combination of soul and blues.

“I love southern blues, Louisiana blues, New Orleans blues — those flavours just come out.”

He uses an open string G tuning on his guitar for some songs.

“I use it for that country sound. The G tuning lends itself to a happier tune. You can still do some gnarly, dirty stuff with it though.”

Haua got into the blues as a teenager when he heard 1980s rocker Stevie Ray Vaughan on the radio.

“That was pivotal. Then I went back down the track to Robert Johnson.

“I have a broad palette. Swamp Thing is collaborative. When I perform on my own I don’t stick to blues and soul numbers.”

Asked if the gravel in his voice was cultivated by good and/or bad living he says his father had a deep voice and he might have inherited that.

“You can belt out the soul and blues with a big voice. I’m at ease in that depth, bro.”

He doesn’t obsess over guitar parts or vocals. The finger-picking you hear on Knucklehead’s title track is not played by a purist.

“I don’t play the same song the same way ever,” he says. “Spontaneous energy comes from pulling it out of your arse.”

For his spot at the Blues and Roots festival, Gisborne guitarist-singer-songwriter Richard Alexander plans to pull out of his arsenal a twin-necked cigar box guitar.

Alexander has built about 20 cigar box guitars but this one is made up of a Cyclone staple box with two fret boards.

One neck is a diddley bow — a single string fret board.

The second has three strings. Alexander tunes his diddley bow to a low C which means he can play bass and guitar on the same instrument at the same time.

Diddley bow was the origin of blues master Bo Diddley’s name.

“The single string could be nailed onto a wall and played there,” says Alexander.

Mississippi blues musician Lonnie Pitchford did just that.

He stretched a wire between two nails hammered into the wood of a vertical beam in his front porch to demonstrate the instrument. The late blues musician’s headstone has a playable diddley bow on the side

“It’s amazing,” says Alexander. “People make music out of everything. It’s a drive that needs to be fulfilled.”

Like Haua, the Gisborne soloist isn’t a blues purist.

“My sound is blues based but it’s not 12 bar blues like most people think.”

Twelve-bar is a narrow view of blues, he says.

“What excites me about the blues is there’s always room for improvisation. There are points you have to refer to but it’s open to interpretation. How you play that changes all the time depending on your mood.

“If things are going well you can make it cook a bit longer.”

He doesn’t listen to a lot of blues but whatever moves him, whether it’s acoustic, metal or pop, he says.

“I can do pure Delta blues, and a lot of people make the assumption that’s what I do. I’ve got some soft acoustic stuff and some upbeat driving stuff. It’s a wide range — from Abba to ZZ Top. I take it all on. If I hear something in a song — a line, a lyric, a musical hook I pick up on it.

“What I’ve found about music is its constant journey of discovery.

“Someone once said if Robert Johnson was alive in 1967 he would have used a wah pedal. The essential Delta-based spirit is there but we’re in 2017 now.”

The three-day Gisborne Blues and Roots on 35 Festival begins at the Dome Room on Friday, November 24, at 7pm with the music/visual experience of Shibby Pictures, and musicians Richard Alexander and Grant Haua. $10 at the door.

The festival day will be held at the Soundshell on Saturday, November 25, 12pm-8.30pm. Koha entry, $5 family pass. VIP $20/$50.

After-party, 9pm at Smash Palace, $5.

Wind down on Sunday to the sounds of Brilleaux at the Crawford Road Kitchen (The Wine Centre), 2pm. Free entry.

Full festival line-up in the Guide next week.

NOT many musicians rock a guitar that is part swordfish but Gisborne Blues and Roots festival guest Grant Haua does. The body of his cigar box guitar is a cigar box but the neck is all broadbill.

“It’s still a bit rough,” he says. “The sword is porous. It sounds dirty and original. I’ll bring it to the festival.”

There is a chance he could also bring to the Blues & Roots on 35 Festival at the Soundshell later this month the box-shaped percussion instrument of Peruvian origins. The acoustic guitar-driven album he is recording now is deepened with beats he gets out of his cajon.

“I’m digging the simplicity of it,” he says. “A local guy makes them. I passed his house one day and heard this crashing and banging noise. It didn’t sound like regular drums. I poked my head around the corner for a look. He was making these cajon.

“He’s attached a kick pedal and a snare inside of it.”

As the guitar half of hard-out duo Swamp Thing, Haua describes his solo sound as a combination of soul and blues.

“I love southern blues, Louisiana blues, New Orleans blues — those flavours just come out.”

He uses an open string G tuning on his guitar for some songs.

“I use it for that country sound. The G tuning lends itself to a happier tune. You can still do some gnarly, dirty stuff with it though.”

Haua got into the blues as a teenager when he heard 1980s rocker Stevie Ray Vaughan on the radio.

“That was pivotal. Then I went back down the track to Robert Johnson.

“I have a broad palette. Swamp Thing is collaborative. When I perform on my own I don’t stick to blues and soul numbers.”

Asked if the gravel in his voice was cultivated by good and/or bad living he says his father had a deep voice and he might have inherited that.

“You can belt out the soul and blues with a big voice. I’m at ease in that depth, bro.”

He doesn’t obsess over guitar parts or vocals. The finger-picking you hear on Knucklehead’s title track is not played by a purist.

“I don’t play the same song the same way ever,” he says. “Spontaneous energy comes from pulling it out of your arse.”

For his spot at the Blues and Roots festival, Gisborne guitarist-singer-songwriter Richard Alexander plans to pull out of his arsenal a twin-necked cigar box guitar.

Alexander has built about 20 cigar box guitars but this one is made up of a Cyclone staple box with two fret boards.

One neck is a diddley bow — a single string fret board.

The second has three strings. Alexander tunes his diddley bow to a low C which means he can play bass and guitar on the same instrument at the same time.

Diddley bow was the origin of blues master Bo Diddley’s name.

“The single string could be nailed onto a wall and played there,” says Alexander.

Mississippi blues musician Lonnie Pitchford did just that.

He stretched a wire between two nails hammered into the wood of a vertical beam in his front porch to demonstrate the instrument. The late blues musician’s headstone has a playable diddley bow on the side

“It’s amazing,” says Alexander. “People make music out of everything. It’s a drive that needs to be fulfilled.”

Like Haua, the Gisborne soloist isn’t a blues purist.

“My sound is blues based but it’s not 12 bar blues like most people think.”

Twelve-bar is a narrow view of blues, he says.

“What excites me about the blues is there’s always room for improvisation. There are points you have to refer to but it’s open to interpretation. How you play that changes all the time depending on your mood.

“If things are going well you can make it cook a bit longer.”

He doesn’t listen to a lot of blues but whatever moves him, whether it’s acoustic, metal or pop, he says.

“I can do pure Delta blues, and a lot of people make the assumption that’s what I do. I’ve got some soft acoustic stuff and some upbeat driving stuff. It’s a wide range — from Abba to ZZ Top. I take it all on. If I hear something in a song — a line, a lyric, a musical hook I pick up on it.

“What I’ve found about music is its constant journey of discovery.

“Someone once said if Robert Johnson was alive in 1967 he would have used a wah pedal. The essential Delta-based spirit is there but we’re in 2017 now.”

The three-day Gisborne Blues and Roots on 35 Festival begins at the Dome Room on Friday, November 24, at 7pm with the music/visual experience of Shibby Pictures, and musicians Richard Alexander and Grant Haua. $10 at the door.

The festival day will be held at the Soundshell on Saturday, November 25, 12pm-8.30pm. Koha entry, $5 family pass. VIP $20/$50.

After-party, 9pm at Smash Palace, $5.

Wind down on Sunday to the sounds of Brilleaux at the Crawford Road Kitchen (The Wine Centre), 2pm. Free entry.

Full festival line-up in the Guide next week.

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