By Gary Wien
Tell me about Box of Blues. What are you trying to do with the show each week?
Well, I feel that the show is really about the blues and how the blues has spread to different areas of music. I want to reach as many potential blues fans as I can. In the show, you'll hear Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, and also Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin. Hendrix loved Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, Albert King, etc.. Zeppelin had Willie Dixon songs on their first record. I enjoy acoustic blues very much, and we play a little of that, and I think this area has some dynamite bands and I love to play them. By the time I take the above, throw in a couple of "Oh Wow" songs into the mix, a feature at 11 pm that we call "Box Of Blues Guitar School" (whereby I either do a lesson myself, have someone else do a lesson, or we 'watch a film') and finish up with the "Under 3-Minute Boogie" (perky songs only allowed in the door under 3 minutes in length), it's midnight and we have to go home!
When and where does the show air?
Sunday nights, 9pm - midnight on Brookdale Public Radio, 90.5 The NIGHT.
When did the show first begin? Have you been involved with it from the beginning?
I have been doing the show since the Sunday after John Lee Hooker died. I remember having the show finished by Thursday of that week, and then the news came in about Hooker. So, my first show was pretty much of an all-John Lee Hooker tribute. Hell of a way to begin, but pretty inspiring just the same. As for the beginning of the show, it predates me by several years!
One thing I like about what you're doing is the way you mix nationals with some local flavor. In your opinion – who are some of the local blues artists that people might want to check out?
This area kicks ass for blues!!! There are so many talented people in the clubs, on festival stages, opening for nationals in large venues, and those that peer out from the shadows from time to time to frighten us all with their great sounds. I've never ever felt like it was an obligation for the show to play bands from this area. People like Matt O'Ree, Frank Fotusky, Sonny Kenn, Gary Wright (of Terraplane Blues), Sandy Mack, Filthy Rich Macpherson, Stringbean and the Stalkers, BB & The Stingers, Kerry Kearney, Dennis Gruenling, Southside Johnny, Kevin Ward (Bocci & The Bad Boys, Jody Joseph), Chuck Lambert have either been on the show in person or have been played on the show. Many more, as well. I want to play them, and the show wouldn't be the same without them.
What about your favorite blues artists of all-time?
Geesh, Gary! This one's tough. I think my favorite part of the blues are the 'moments' that the great performers provide us. It could pretty much be anyone who resides in the genre. It's not a form that people run to when they seek careers of fame and fortune at the outset. The artists usually begin their careers by listening to those that came before, and being so indelibly moved by their art that they feel Compelled to play. The heart and heat associated with the blues is the foundation for anything and everything soulful. They bend notes, they cry tears, they shed blood. I respect that. I mean, I couldn't imagine blues without Howlin' Wolf, or Freddie King. But basically, I feel that everyone that gets played on the show has at one point or another sent electrical current through my body with some great moments. You can't help but just shake your head and smile.
Do you feel the blues gets enough airplay these days or has it largely been relegated to specialty shows like Box of Blues?
Well, I understand the pressures of radio, and for better or for worse, the blues audiences are pretty quiet when it comes time to stand up and be counted in the world of qualitative or quantitative research. I know there is a large audience for the blues - but sometimes during official periods of evaluation at radio they seem to be dwarfed by other fans of other genres in the final analysis. Whether it be call-out research from commercial radio or membership drive pledge drives for noncommercial and/or public radio, it can seem as though the fans aren't in large enough packs to encourage radio to allow for more airtime of the genre. People may be a little bit convinced that this is a thing that would be impossible to have - more and more blues on the radio. Our audience is pretty knowledgeable about the commercial trends insofar as they recognize that blues in general isn't in fashion. But it CAN be. People should be louder about what they want. I mean, seeing someone at a radio station (any radio station) or their sponsored event and telling them you want to hear more blues on the radio is not really what I'm talking about (though it probably helps in the scheme of things). But should you ever get the chance to be in a survey, LAY IT ON THICK there. Don't be shy. And certainly support public radio stations that play the blues and let them know via your support and enthusiasm that you appreciate hearing the music and that's why you're supporting them. And that you wouldn't mind at all if they'd make a wider commitment to this form. Sunday night is just fine with me, by the way. It's a wacky time for a lot of people but I hear quite often that our fans tape the shows to replay later in the week at their convenience. That really tickles me, I have to say. I am honored by that as well as honored by anyone who listens. I hope I come somewhere close to reciprocating the honor.
Gary Wien has been covering the arts since 2001 and has had work published with Jersey Arts, Elmore Magazine, Princeton Magazine, Backstreets and other publications. He is a three-time winner of the Asbury Music Award for Top Music Journalist and the author of Beyond the Palace (the first book on the history of rock and roll in Asbury Park) and Are You Listening? The Top 100 Albums of 2001-2010 by New Jersey Artists. In addition, he runs New Jersey Stage and the online radio station The Penguin Rocks. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.