Wednesday , August 06, 2014 - 12:00 AM
Not many of us remember taking our first steps while learning how to walk, and that’s how blues legend Michael Charles describes learning how to play the guitar.
“I don’t remember the day I was not holding a guitar,” he said, “I don’t really remember actually the first day I picked it up, it’s always been there.”
The musician is celebrating his 30th year of recording as a solo artist. This year also marks the release of his 30th recording. To commemorate the special anniversary and milestone, Charles has embarked on a tour across the country as well as Canada and Australia, and is making a stop in Ogden on Aug. 15 at the Wine Cellar.
Charles, an Australia native, owes his love of the instrument to his father, who taught him everything from basic chords to country songs. Although his father died while Charles was in his early 20s, he still refers to his dad as his biggest influence and hero.
“One day he came up to me and said, ‘Well, you’re on your own now because you’ll have to start showing me things because you’ve learned everything I know,’” Charles said, chuckling as he told the story. “To this very day he is my hero, and I always feel that I could never be as good as he is in everything. But he is my biggest influence in my life.”
Aside from his father, Charles cited generations of blues musicians and even early rockers that influenced his unique take on the six string. He would sit and listen to the radio, practicing and playing music from the likes of Cream, The Rolling Stones, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Derek and the Dominos.
What he didn’t count on was his little radio practice sessions changing his music style for the rest of his life.
“They are all so blues influenced that I was learning the blues without really realizing I was learning the blues,” he said.
Charles noted how his biggest influences were in turn influenced by a generation earlier, but that it all comes full circle with the blues.
“There was an era back then that I don’t think will ever return. You know, B.B. King and they are all getting older, and we’ve lost a lot of them, but their influence just stays in the air,” Charles said, noting others like Muddy Waters and even Buddy Guy. “I feel it’s going to be a long time before we have that kind of generation again, it was just a magical time.”
Charles had his American debut when he was invited by his idol, Buddy Guy, to join him on stage in Chicago. Charles made his exodus from Australia to Chicago permanently in 1990 to continue pursuing the blues circuit in the Midwest.
When Charles played with Guy for the first time, he couldn’t believe the opportunity was actually real, he said. Charles had listened and learned from recordings of Guy and other luminaries like Junior Wells, Jimmy Dawkins and Eddy Clearwater.
“Just to be able to rub shoulders with these people… it’s a whole different level, it’s like, ’Wow, is this really happening?’” he said, laughing. “I think you’re always going to get a little weak in the knees when you get the opportunity to be able to share the stage with someone who’s influenced you musically. I think it’s just a normal thing, if it doesn't, then I think something is wrong with you, like your ego is too big or something.”
Thirty in 30
Perhaps the most remarkable part of Charles releasing his 30th recording this year is the fact that he didn’t plan on it also being his 30th anniversary. He said it was, “More luck than anything else,” and it worked out great for him.
Charles didn't release a record each year during his prolific career. Even energetic guitarists like him get the blues. During his move to America, there was a period of four years that Charles didn't record or release any new music.
“I remember waking up one morning and it just hit me like, ‘Wow I haven’t released anything new in like three or four years,’ and so I went back into the recording studio and that’s when I released ‘My Shadow’,” he reminisced.
But Charles said he could not recall a time when music wasn't a major part of his life and career as a bluesman. During that four year dry spell, Charles was actually hustling to establish himself in Chicago.
“I just, I live and breathe my career. I’m kinda a workaholic when it comes to that.”
The special release was also a way for fans to get their hands on never-before-heard studio sessions of early music from the archives.
“(I wanted to) tell a story of where these songs have come from and why they weren’t on any recordings,” he said, noting that typically, hours of music played in the studio never makes it onto a CD. “I just thought it was a great opportunity, and this stuff was just going to stay in the archives, and no one was ever going to hear it, so why not let people hear it?”
This will be the second time Charles has ever traveled to Utah on tour. He promised the show will be longer than the last. That’s because he has more material to play.
“It’s only fair to let them hear as much music as possible that you have done throughout your career. I try to cram it all in,” Charles said, laughing. “Each year my shows get longer and longer. That’s just the way it goes.”
Contact reporter Raychel Johnson at 801-625-4279 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @raychelNEWS.
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