Hi Brian, where are you today, how are things with you?
I live in Southern New Hampshire, near Manchester, I’m farming.
How are you coping with this lockdown/quarantine period?
One day at a time. We got thirteen acres here, so we’re able to spread out a bit and get outside. All the kids are home studying, it’s all good!
How long have you been farming?
In about 2011, I started working for a guy on a farm near here, he taught me a lot. In 2015, my wife and I set up a business. We do pasture-raised pork and chicken, vegetables, maple syrup, and honey. It’s a family farm, we’re doing okay!
How does music fit with this lifestyle?
It’s a family farm, not a big operation. The two groups I’m with don’t work often. With The Proven Ones, we are split all around the country. We’ll do ten to fifteen big shows a year. I fly out, usually, on a weekend, it usually works out!
How is the lockdown affecting your music?
It’s completely destroyed it. I’m not able to do much, but we did release the record, You Ain’t Done – I cannot wait to get out and play! Not being able to play live is the worst thing. It’s great to make records but at the end of the day for me, it’s about making a spiritual connection with someone in the audience and preferably all the audience! They give you back that spiritual feedback and it becomes a special thing. Musicians are doing things online, but it’s not a substitute for what you get playing live.
Tell us a bit about your back story, how did you start in the music business?
I started as a rabid fan. Coming from the Boston area in the 1980s, when I turned twenty-one and started going to clubs, I started to go and see blues bands. I wasn’t into that before then. I was a die-hard rock fan, I saw Aerosmith, and was a fan of Queen and Kiss. But when I got into clubs someone turned me on to blues. I went to see a band called Roomful Of Blues, in Boston when they had Ronnie Earl on guitar and a huge horn section. When I heard that music live, something changed inside of me. This was something special and different. You could feel the emotion of the music, and it was closer than going to a big Arena and seeing a rock band.
I started following Roomful Of Blues and other local bands like Sugar Ray and The Bluetones, and Duke Robillard and his band. I started fooling about with singing a bit and playing the harmonica with friends and at blues jams. The big difference was, Ronnie Earl and Mudcat Ford, they heard me sing and encouraged me.
With their support, I joined a band, Rockin’ Jake And The Rollercoasters in 1989. Eventually, I formed The Radio Kings, with Mike Dinallo on guitar. That was when music became more than a hobby. Back then, you couldn’t make a record in your basement on a computer. To make a record you needed a company to sign you. Icehouse Records in Memphis owned by Johnny Philips, son of Sam Philips of Sun Records fame, signed us and did two records, this made us more internationally famous. We got fans from Europe, including Holland and Belgium.
What made you want to be a musician?
I fell into this by accident. Once I got on stage and become the singer and frontman, I was making connections with people in the audience. Doing blues, it wasn’t about the money! Being on stage and seeing people react and enjoy the music, that was the only reason I stayed.
What music did you listen to growing up?
When I heard Bohemian Rhapsody on A.M. Radio in Boston, I bought A Night At The Opera. That made me into an album buyer. Queen, Aerosmith was my genre for years. I listen to jazz, classical music; I love old country music like Johnny Cash, George Jones. I listen to older music now.
Who were your influences on you when growing up and what made you choose the blues?
As a bluesman and harp player, Kim Wilson and Sugar Ray Norcia influence. I was able to interact with them. I was in Jerry Portnoy’s band for a year; he’s good friends with Kim. I was able to meet Kim, he was very supportive. In vocal style, I always tried to emulate B.B. King when he was younger, the high voiced singing. Magic Sam was a big influence on my singing.
In general, since I was a kid I liked The Beatles. My parents bought the Sergeant Pepper album, I heard it about a million times! On our new record, the beginning of Already Gone, a song I wrote, starts with big harmonies, that’s The Beatles influence there! I love singing harmonies. My parents raised me to have a wide pallet in music.
I used to drive Ronnie Earl to his shows and worked as a valet type carrying his guitars. In those two years, I learned a lot. He taught me the people to listen to. After a show, he would play his guitar. He asked me if I knew the song Stormy Monday, “Oh the Allman Brothers one said I”. He laughed and said they just covered it. He got me to sing this in his apartment and said that I should start singing. John Campbell came to Boston and Ronnie produced an album of his. I went to see Roomful Of Blues and John opened up the show. We were singing in Ronnie’s apartment and he said: “You have the voice I think that could be really good if you could give it some wear”.
Are you vocally trained, did you go to college?
No! I’m self-taught. I used to sing in the car with my family. That’s when my mother taught me how to sing harmony.
When did you first write music?
I wrote some bad songs before I was in a band! Once we started The Radio Kings and made the first record in 1994; that’s when I started writing blues songs. Some songs on the first album It Ain’t Easy, were blatantly stolen from songs I loved but wrote my own lyrics. The song, Drowning my first slow blues song had verses from a Ray Charles song. Imitate, emulate, create; was a term I heard and that’s how I got started.
Is there a process to your songwriting?
I’ve had songs that start with lyrical ideas or melodies. I’ve had success with a guitar player sending me the finished song they came up with. My local band, The Delta Generators; Charlie the guitarist and I have written a few songs together that way. There are three songs on the new Proven Ones’ album we wrote together. This includes Whom My Soul Loves, with Ruthie Foster on vocals. I love Ruthie’s singing. We did a festival last year, The North Atlantic Blues Festival. I asked her if she was interested in singing and she agreed! She interpreted it her Gospel way, she’s an amazing talent.
Talk about the new album You Ain’t Done, how did it come about?
The band came about when Kid Ramos, Jimi Bott and Willie J Campbell who had played as The Fabulous Thunderbirds and later played with The Mannish Boys; Sugar Ray Rayford was a vocalist with them too. The last gigs they did as that band, then Anthony Geraci joined. They had talked about making a record that is not straight blues. They went out and recorded Wild Again with the plan Sugar Ray Rayford was going to sing on it, but he got so busy and couldn’t do it.
Anthony said, “Try Brian”. They sent me some tracks to sing on as an audition and a few months later I went to Jimi Bott’s studio and I laid down all the tracks. I was on the record before I could hang out with them. The first gig was at The Waterfront Blues Festival the following July in front of 50,000 people! We realised after playing live that we needed to make a record together. So, we opened a DropBox folder full of song ideas.
Mike Zito saw us play at The Moulin Blues Festival and realised we were “a band” with original material and liked the sound. He co-founded the Gulf Coast Record label and asked us to do an album, so we jumped at the chance. We went to the studio in Louisiana and stayed there and recorded at Dark Star in Lafayette. We came up with twenty tracks in the folder. Mike, as producer picked the tracks for the new album. In September last year, we went to Jimi’s house in Portland with eleven songs and then flew back to Lafayette two weeks later and made the record!
Even though we’re not in the same town or in the van together, we feel strength musically. When we were submitting songs one of the goals was that we wanted to go down different roads with it and different styles. For the record we wanted it to be leaning towards blues-rock with some other flavours. Kid’s song, I Ain’t Good For Nothin’ is the only twelve-bar blues song. He had me singing it first, but I said you need to sing it, it’s your song. We wanted that song to sound like a New Orleans street carnival. Already Gone was demoed about ten years ago. It’s a typical song about a taxing, and trying relationship, writing it was therapy for me. It’s close to being a pop song but with a Rolling Stones verse. Kid tuned his guitar to the same open “G” that Keith Richards plays. That’s one of the highlights for me on this record.
Favourite Dress is the only cover tune. My friend was watching a show called The Good Wife and heard a song written by a band called The Tonebenders a band of Alt-Country guys, and that’s where that song comes from. It makes you want to dance. The music for, Get Love was written by Jimi, Kid and Willie when they were coming up with ideas when they were in The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Kim Wilson wrote lyrics for that song, but they never recorded it. Willie put the instrumental version into the DropBox and my wife gave me the idea for the lyrics.
What’s the best advice musically you have had?
It wasn’t so much musically as it was about being a musician and having a sustaining career. In ’95 The Radio Kings played a festival in Belgium and one headliner was Hank Ballard & The Midnighters. I hung out with him, he knew everything and everybody in the business. I asked him what advice he had as someone starting off in the business. He said, “I will tell you two things. Always have a positive mental attitude, if you can, and whatever you do, don’t get strung out on drugs”. I’ve tried to do both these things. Through the years, I’ve had a chance to get sober, I’ve been clean and sober for ten years and have learned, you have to let go of “the self“.
Is your persona on stage the same as yours off stage?
Pretty much, I’m extroverted, I love being around people and talking with people. I love being crazy sometimes. On stage I dance a bit, that’s a difference.
You play the harmonica, was this your first instrument?
I played the drums, in garage rock groups. I didn’t play the harmonica until I joined The Radio Kings. I play piano and guitar but pretty badly, for demoing.
Is there a place for blues music in today’s music scene?
I think only with the fans of the music. Blues music will never be like it was when these songs were international hits. Having a Little Walter type harmonica instrumental at the top of the charts won’t happen again. I can’t imagine a resurgence happening…no. My oldest son who’s nineteen gets some blues influences from listening to John Mayer for example. Modern music lacks a live feel and soul. The audiences I see at festivals are my age pretty much, so what happens when we all die, the music will be archived, but will people listen to it? Who knows…
Is there something that Blues Matters readers don’t know about Brian Templeton?
I’m a devout Christian, a practising Catholic which can be tough in these days but I had a profound conversion in 2005. I’m a farmer out in the fields. I’m a father to six kids, three adopted.
What lies in the future, are you working on more projects?
Yes, The Delta Generators have a single coming out soon called “Inside You’re Blue”. We are doing a video as well. The Proven Ones, I hope we can do two shows at least, but who knows. We have to do something we’ve only played two gigs this year. No plans to play the UK yet. I’ve never had a gig there, ever. Hope this changes! Appreciate you doing this. Thank you, have a good day!
Interview by Colin Campbell
Images: Tony Kutter – Lead image at the top is by Tano Ro
Album Review for The Proven Ones – You Ain’t Done on the next page…
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