The Real Blues Festival of Orange County was started as a response to the Doheny Blues Festival, which has been known to book headliners that are not blues artists at all. In an exclusive interview, the festival’s founder Papa J discussed his new album and revealed a new location for the next Real Blues Festival of Orange County.
Tell me about the new album and how it differs from previous recordings you’ve done.
I brought in a female singer which we don’t usually have because I want to expand from end of the blues horizon to the other. I think we did a pretty good job of that. We did some pretty good tunes that shows where the blues is at from slow grindy kind of stuff to upbeat dancy kind of stuff. It was really fun to do.
You did a lot of classic blues tunes. Is that something you just wanted to explore?
We just wanted to show where it came from. We were really eclectic about it. We tried to go that whole range from really early blues to more modern kind of stuff. We’re already in the new CD mode. We’re gonna go really classic. Back porch blues is my new thing. You’ll see a big difference in how we’re doing things now. We pulled it way back to simple having fun kind of blues. The new CD is going to be like that and it’s going to be all original. I’m doing a lot of two-piece and three-piece stuff. We’re doing some stuff at Memphis Cafe in Santa Ana, a blues and brunch kind of thing. We did it once and it was just a guitar player and myself on harp. It was a lot of fun. We’ve got the Real Blues Festival of Orange County coming up in August.
You got a new location for it, right?
We’re going to be at the Muckenthaler Cultural Center in Fullerton. It’s a very nice place, lots of parking, a really big stage that you can seat 200-300 people around. It’s going to be a lot of fun. We’re going to downsize a little bit. We’re going to have four or five acts this time around. I’m going to bring in a lot of young players to play with Papa J and Friends. There’s some good young blues players out there. That’s what I’m all about: keeping the blues alive. It’s an American art form and it needs to be kept alive and it’s not being done right now as far as I can see. I’m gonna have circus acts. It’s going to be very family-oriented.
What do you think the new location will do for the festival?
It will be family-oriented. It will bring a lot of young people to listen to the blues. It will be some new sponsors to the blues. My major goal is to bring the family into what’s going on. Ray Goren will be 12 by the time the festival happens. He’s insane. He needs to learn the ins and outs of the business, but the kid can play guitar. There’s a 15-year-old kid we’re looking at. That’s what I’m about. I’m not playing for money anymore. It’s about getting things done like that. It’s fun. Let’s face it. There’s no new chords being written. I can put all the verbiage I want and change it around, but it’s still 1-4-5 or whatever. It’s the blues. It’s all about feeling, interpretation, emotion. That’s what it is. There may be better blues singers than me but there is nobody in the world who gives you more feeling. I give you everything I’ve got in every song. You know you’re getting everything I’ve got. I don’t pretend. Right now I’m surrounding myself with good players. It’s why I’m doing Papa J and friends instead of Blues Gone South. I found That I would call people up and they wouldn’t be available. I was switching players all the time. I wanted to be more in control of what I was doing. Now I bring in Kofi Baker, Ginger Baker’s son. Bubba Bryant, the road drummer for The Temptations. I can bring in some good talent and everything changes. Every show might be a little different. It might even be the same songs, but the different players make them different.
You’ve kind of hinted at this, but what do you think Orange County needs more of as far as the blues?
I do a lot of work for the House of Blues, but look at their schedule and I defy you to show me a blues act within six months from now. I’m talking to the House of Blues. I’m doing a show at The Voodoo Lounge in February. I’m told that their coorporate directive is to bring in more blues, more local blues acts. I’m hoping that’s the case. They give me a lot of work for corporate gigs. The show in February is a Papa J and Friends show from 10:30 to 1. I don’t know who I’m going to bring yet, but it will be fun.