Rennie Trossman gives us the insight on what it takes to be great, while chilling on the seaside in Bulgaria.
Known for his unique guitar style, he frequents all the jazz haunts of Prague, jamming with some of the greatest names in the game. If you're really lucky you can catch him at Chateau for a nice intimate set like no other..
GASHAUS: When was it, and what was it, that made you decide to become a blues man?
RENNIE: It was an Albert King record that I heard in 1969, called "Blues Power", recorded live and it simply killed me! I couldn't believe what I was hearing, so, I put all of my Led Zep and Stones LPs in a closet, and I never, ever listened to that sh*t again, since that day. Really.
GASHAUS: You recently spilt up with your band, and have a new project; can you tell us something about that?
RENNIE: I am putting together a bigger band, 7 musicians and a vocalist, making 8. It is bluesy-jazz, jazzy-blues, in the style of the 50s swinging bands led by T-Bone Walker, Eddie Cleanhead Vinson, etc., with a Big Joe Turner, Joe Williams, Alberta Adams, type of vocal thing happening.
GASHAUS: Besides yourself, who is the best guitarist ever?
RENNIE: Whoa, I am by no means even on the bottom of the bottom of any such list man! Let's get that straight right away! Best... that is too hard for me to say, since it really depends on the style, blues, jazz, and the era, but I would include the following cats: Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Herb Ellis, Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, and Barney Kessell for Jazz.
On the Blues side, BB King (the OLD stuff only), T-Bone Walker, Eddie Taylor, Earl Hooker, Pee Wee Crayton, Tiny Grimes, Bill Jennings, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed, Lowell Fulson, Albert King, Freddie King. I know I left out some great guys, but these are the ones who come to mind right away, and in no particular order by the way...
GASHAUS: You tour Europe quite a bit; do you play a lot of large stage shows, or mostly bars?
RENNIE: Mostly 100 - 200 person capacity clubs. Bigger stages for Festivals, of course.
GASHAUS: How does the music come across differently on the large stage, versus the small bar?
RENNIE: Good question! I prefer the small clubs for obvious reasons: Blues and Jazz is intimate music that comes across better in a smaller venue. I do not like to go see blues or jazz in big venues myself. I saw BB King in the Palace of Culture - Vysehrad, in Prague, and man, that was really the wrong place for a blues show. We once played at a festival in Sibiu, Romania, and it was set up in a huge place, and it was hard to do it.
GASHAUS: Are you working on a new album? Can you tell me something about that?
When this new thing comes together, I definitely would like to do a studio album, with a few different guest vocalists from USA who have been friends of mine for a long time, like Lorenzo Thompson, who is also from Chicago, and Eb Davis, who I met in Europe, and another old friend of mine, Sharon Lewis, from Chicago, as well. They have all played Prague with me in the past, with the band I used to play with.
GASHAUS: Where is the best jazz-blues scene in Europe?
RENNIE: Probably Sweden, Denmark, Holland, Belgium, Germany and Austria.
GASHAUS: Where is the best place to play?
RENNIE: HA! Tricky, because the best response and reaction I ever got was in Budapest, Hungary, but we made no money. Best money is in German and Poland.
GASHAUS: Is it true the blues are better to play and or listen to while high?
RENNIE: Gee Jeffree, I wouldn't know much about that personally, but I have heard that a lot of cats have done it.
GASHAUS: Can you tell me something about the people you like to perform with, a little about their personalities?
RENNIE: The people that I have most enjoyed working with are the ones who truly eat, breathe, and sleep the music, and not people who play it for the sake of the show and the money, and the go home and listen to some crap fusion records.
Eb Davis is a blues-oligist, so to speak, and he has forgotten more songs than most people know! A total pro, and demands of it his bands. Lorenzo Thompson is a raw-voiced hollerer, in the Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf mold. He learned to sing in gospel in the church at a young age and then heard a Muddy Waters record in the neighborhood, and bang, that was that.
Sharon Lewis is a transplanted Texan who moved to Chicago, where I met her in the 80s. She, like Lorenzo, is more of a hollerer, in the Koko Taylor style, and she can send a chill right up your spine, believe me! She is a very sensitive individual and a grandma too!
GASHAUS: What do you think of the local Czech musicians who play in your genre... do they get it right?
RENNIE: Like anywhere and everywhere, some are better than others, and I ain't gonna names, because, hey, all the guys out there who are playing rock riffs and taking long solos 7 times around the changes, you know who you are! That sh*t is just on-stage masturbation. Wake up guys, nobody gives a sh*t...
They should maybe try and listen to the real and right stuff, instead of copying white rockers like Clapton, who himself tried to play like the greats, but something else happened instead. So, why copy Clapton or Stevie Ray? They are watered-down, b*stardized, rocked-out, sh*tty-toned, morons who thought they needed to re-invent Blues - BULLsh*t! Sorry, Jeffree, but those guys do NOT make the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.
I must add that I REALLY hate it when young players proclaim themselves Blues-masters in short time. The stuff takes a long time to play with feeling and sensitivity, and that is not my opinion; it is the f*cking truth man! Whenever I hear someone suggesting that, "Blues is easy to play", I really want to take a BIG swing at their head man! It is not instant coffee, you know?
GASHAUS: Are the blues really universal?
RENNIE: YES!!! While it is "niche" music, there are fans of Blues from Chicago - to - Japan - to Transylvania! Like Jazz, this great music will last. In a hundred years from now people will still know BB King and Muddy Waters are, but, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Eric Clapton, or a piece of sh*t like Eminem...? I seriously doubt it man!
GASHAUS: What make of instruments do you play? How long have you played them?
Right now, in Prague, I have a few guitars, I have a 1964 Fender Duo Sonic II that I have had since 1966, and a 1957 Kay archtop electric I picked up a few years ago, and a 1974 Epiphone - Riviera II, and I recently got rid of a 1974 Fender Telecaster, that I used to play for a few years. I want a Gibson ES-335 type of guitar, but they are expensive. Make that, over-priced! I used to like Fender Stratocasters and Gibson Les Pauls in the 60s and 70s.
GASHAUS: And finally, describe the feeling, the moment, when you just knew you were gonna perform as your profession.
RENNIE: It was actually in a moment when I wanted to give up trying to play blues. My guitar teacher, the great Buddy Scott, a blues man from Chicago who died shortly after I moved to Prague in 1994, told me this:
"Man, you ain't nothin', but, I can hear somethin' right, and you is a whole lot better than most of them other cats hangin' around these jam sessions. So, if you work real hard, you could just make it"
This totally shocked me, here is this great guy, unbelievably great player, and he is telling me that out of all the "younger" guys hanging around the Chicago jam scene, that he thought I could make it. Well, that just made practice like a madman, and go out to the clubs in Chicago (Home of the Blues, for the uninformed out there) every single night, sometimes 2 or 3 places a night, and see all of these monster guys who were tearing it up in the 80s, in Chicago.
I got VERY motivated to make it as a blues player and when I did my first gig, I really knew it.
A guy named Lurrie Bell made a really big impression on me at that time, as well. I never saw a more intense guy, or a guy who could play so hard and emotional, straight from his heart and soul, like Lurrie Bell could.
He used to get up on his toes while playing a solo, eyes closed, forehead all scrunched-up, and just f*cking proceed to bear his goddamn soul up there, and it would just kill me and most everybody else in the place too. I wanted to play like Lurrie Bell, and I still do today!