Since there's been some interest lately, I thought I'd post this 
interview with Sugar Blue I conducted last summer to publicize the Pocono 
Blues Festival.

This interview is for the personal use of harp-l/blues-l subscribers 
only. Publication (electronic or print) in whole or part without the 
written permission of 2/3X-PERTS is prohibited. Permission is granted to 
publish this article (including (c) notice) in archives of either mail-list
SUGAR BLUE INTERVIEW by Dan Enright    (c) 1994 by 2/3X-PERTS

Sugar Blue is a powerful, outspoken, angry man. At the beginning of our
conversation he was adamant that I take notes instead of taping, "Why
can't you do it the old fashioned way, write it?" When I explained that I
wasn't very good at note-taking and wanted to quote him accurately, he
reluctantly agreed. The man's Mojo prevailed however (to his amusement)
and I ended up taking notes of a lecture that was political and

He was born James Whiting, in the early '50s, in Harlem. His mother was a
singer and dancer at the Apollo Theater, so he grew up surrounded by
musicians and show people, including the legendary Billie Holiday. He said
it was this environment that inspired him to become a performer. "I always 
wanted to be on stage in some way. I couldn't dance so I tried every 
instrument in the band: flute, clarinet, drums violin. Finally, when I 
heard Muddy Waters with Little Walter playing Harp, that was it. I 
decided I was gonna play." 

He began by performing on the streets of NY. "I wanted to play for people
and that's the way everybody did it." When I ask him what kind of music
he'd play, he replied "Blues, Rhythm & Blues, Rock & Roll ? whatever
people asked for. If I liked the song I'd play it. If I didn't I
wouldn't." I asked if he was writing his own music then and he told me
"I've been writing ever since I started, putting poems to music." 

In 1975 he began recording, working on albums by Brownie McGee and
Roosevelt Sykes. The next year he recorded with Victoria Spivey and Johnny
Shines before expatriating to Paris. I asked him why he left America and
his reply was sharp and forceful. "For the same reason Josephine Baker
did. To avoid the insanity of this country's racism, of 20 years under the
yolk of jive and hatred. To be treated as a human being." He added wryly
"Probably saved my life and others, if I hadn't moved I probably would
have killed someone ? or been killed."

He continued "This country didn't avail me. It's a society built on 
genocide and murder. I didn't want to be subjected to backwards and 
dehumanizing conditions. It alienates me from my culture." When (timidly 
at this point) I ask if things were really that bad, His response was 
sharp and his tone of voice angry and impatient. "My perceptions are what 
I see and feel and care about! And what I don't! My music and opinion is 
honest commentary to any one willing to listen with their eyes and ears 
I can't show anyone anything they don't want to know!" 

In my experience, people as outspoken and passionate as Sugar Blue have a
spiritual and moral strength that inspires and guides them. When I ask if
that's true, he mistakes my question for one about religion. "I don't
believe in Spirit 'cause it's been used as an assault weapon on people, ?
a bloody cross pushed through the back of indigenous people all over the
world. I don't believe anymore, 'cause there's nothing to believe in!" He
continued "Cash money, honey! That's what makes me feel good! For good or
bad it's all cash driven. That's what this country's about, and it's
killing the planet!" 

It now dawned on me I'd opened a can of worms. I tried to stay out of the 
way, scribbling furiously, as Sugar continued. "My playing music is like 
a contract between a whore and a john. I don't kiss nobody, I don't have 
to like nobody . I do what I do out of fear and self-motivation, Like the 
Jews during World War II. I'm a product of America from sea to bloody 
sea! I play the Blues to make me feel better and release pressure. It 
keeps me from taking someone's life. If it makes anyone else feel good ? 
so be it." 

I'm curious about what he want's to do in the future. His reply is
incredulous, "I don't dream! I don't have the luxury you do! We walk the
same ground, but it's not the same world! I just have plans for the next
five minutes!" He does admit "I'd like to get out of the music business,"
while acknowledging "I'm not anything but a Blues man." 

When Sugar touches briefly on his wife and two children, I catch a glimmer
of the light and spirit I'd suspected he contained. "When I think about my
daughter, I know if we don't change and make a difference we'll leave a
mess. I want a nice world for my kids, I don't care about nothing else.
It's how you choose to make change, It doesn't have to be blood and sand." 

I usually like to have the musicians tell their history in their own 
words, but clearly Sugar Blue felt strongly about the racisim, hatred, 
and hypocrisy in America today. So let me fill in the facts. While in 
Paris he worked in several Blues bands and attracted the attention of 
Mick Jagger, who invited him to play on "Some Girls" ? remember that 
harmonica riff on "Miss You?" as well as "Emotional Rescue" and "Tattoo 
You". He also toured, and turned down a permanent session spot recording, 
with the Stones so he could return to the US in the early '80s. His decision 
to return was inspired by a desire to learn from the masters, so he went 
to Chicago and sat in with the likes of Big Walter Horton, Carey Bell, 
James Cotten, and Junior Wells. He also spent two years touring with Willie 
Dixon as a member of the Chicago Blues All-Stars before striking out on 
his own. 

In 1985 he won a Grammy for his playing on "Blues Explosion" which was
recorded live at the Montreaux Jazz Festival and was featured on Willie
Dixon's Grammy Award winning album "Hidden Charms" in 1989. He's also
acted in several feature films including " Angel Heart" (he also performed
on the soundtrack), "Johnny Handsome", and "An Unmarried Woman". 

He's recently released his first US solo album "Blue Blazes" to critical
acclaim. Make no mistake. He is an amazing virtuoso, and the praise "The
Jimi Hendrix of the harmonica" is no exaggeration. His performance at the
Pocono Blues Festival promises to be a highlight. Just don't piss him

Dan the Music Guy
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