V's Approach to the Blues

June 9, 2004
By Maureen Hayes, Da Blues Traveler

I remember the first time I saw Volker some years ago; He was playing with A Case of the Willy's.  I have been a HUGE fan of his since.  I often thought to myself, ?Why in the hell isn?t this guy fronting his own band?"  He?s great with all the bands he?s in but he?s got loads of songs under his belt and the crowd goes crazy for his stuff when he plays them, he?s a world-class guitar player and yes, he can sing.

Well, after a few years of frustration, seeing him with everyone from A Case to the Ford Blues Band, and a once-in-a-blue-moon appearance by his German band, Blue Zone, the day has come.  Volker is ready.  The band is excited and you can just feel the enthusiasm oozing from them at their shows!  More new songs, new arrangements, top-notch horn and rhythm sections with some world class players.  We are all very excited for the The Volker Strifler Band.

I got to talk with V during his looong lunch break.  We met at the Redwood Cafe in downtown Cotati just down from the Tradewinds.  He is so modest and humble that I just wanted to grab and shake him? ?Don?t you know how good you are?!!?  Frustrating.  But you know?we wouldn?t want V any other way.  Everyone could use a good slice of ?Humble Pie? every once in awhile but few actually eat it.  Volker has the whole pie to himself.  Go get ?em, V!!!



Mo:  Hey V.  I know you?re from Germany but let?s hear a little bit more about where you?re from and the beginning.

Volker:  I was born in Heidelberg, Germany in 1962.  It?s only a few miles away from Frankfurt about 100 miles from the French border.  Pretty uneventful up bringing.  My Dad was a police officer [laughing].  He passed away about twelve years ago.

My mother was a doctor?s assistant and a housekeeper.  She pretty much worked all her life.  She?s still alive; I don?t want to make it sound like she?s dead [snickering].

Mo:  Have any siblings?

V:  I have one older brother.  He is back in Germany.  He?s about five years older than I am.

Mo:  Growing up, did you ever take music lessons?

V:  No, never did.  When I was eight or nine, I wanted to play drums but my parents got me a piccolo flute so that pretty much killed it [laughing].

After that I played fanfare (a kind of medieval ?trumpet thing?) in a marching band for few of years.  That was about all the musical training that I got.

Mo:  What did your parents listen to?  Were they listening to much music at home?

V:  My grandmother actually listened to a lot of music.  Mostly Hungarian.  My mother and father no, not really, just whatever was on the radio.  I did listen to a lot of my brother?s records which were late sixties, early seventies rock ?n? roll like the Beatles, Stones, etc..... All the stuff that was popular then.

Mo:  When did you get your first guitar?

V:  I got my first guitar actually quite late.  I remember I had a little motorcycle and I sold it.  I must have been?I?m not a hundred percent sure---but I must have been seventeen.  One of those little mopeds; you had to be sixteen to ride.  I sold it and bought the first guitar, which was actually a bass in a pawnshop.  So that?s quite late, ya know.

The whole thing was really more of a fluke.  A few of my friends and I got together and wanted to start up a band.  You know teenagers:  ?We?re gonna start a band!?  I was gonna be the bass player, and the other guy, the guitar player. After about six weeks, we traded around instruments and I ended up playing the guitar, my friend Claus picked up the bass.

Mo:  That was your first band, huh?  Who was in that band?

V:  That was with Claus Bubik, the guy that?s on both of the CDs.  He played bass, and a cousin of mine that was supposed to play drums, he dropped out after a while, but Claus and I kept going.  If you want to call those first days a band at all!

Mo:  So you and Claus have been stickin? together for many years.  What were you guys playing?

V:  I don?t remember exactly [laughing].  As I remember it was pretty much rock ?n? roll then.  I wasn?t leaning towards the blues just yet.  That came a little bit later.  As I remember we tried to play rock ?n? roll.  We were teenagers and it was the late seventies.  Deep Purple, Hendrix, UFO???

Mo:  Who was singing then?

V:  Who ever had the guts to.  Claus was always the one that I thought had the better voice. He?s a better singer.

Mo:  Any early influences?

V:  That?s hard to say because what we listened to for that first year when we first started playing didn?t really have much to do with the music we actually went into later on.

Among the earliest influences would be Michael Schenker, the German guitar player for UFO, who was founding member of the Scorpions, then there was Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple and a bunch of other guys in that vein.  But like I said, those were the days after we first bought the instruments.  The people that actually got me going in the direction I am in now were the local guys there, the local heroes.

That?s how we got into it.  Whatever they listened to, we tried listening to too.  They were older than we were, in their 30s and 40s, so they had been through the whole sixties thing.  We started listening to the old Peter Green with Fleetwood Mac, Clapton, Cream, and all that stuff.  Music that actually wasn?t really in or hip at that time.  I remember that time to be the beginnings of ?Glam Rock? time and we really didn?t wanna have much to do with that stuff.

Mo:  That was in Germany so when did you come here?

V:  I came here in 1985.

Mo:  What brought you over here?

V:  I met my wife, Lisa, over in Germany.  She wasn?t in the Army but she was working for the Army.  She was a civilian managing an NCO [non-commissioned officer] Club.

As a matter of fact, that?s how we first started out playing professionally.  Every town the size of Santa Rosa [Sonoma County, California] had an American army or Air force Base and on every base there was at least one club.  It was a really good way, at least then, to get a bunch of gigs all strung together.  These gigs were usually booked through agencies that would specialize in just these clubs.  Once a year there were these ? showcase evaluations? where every band would have to play for a room full of agents and they would decide which bands they would book for which clubs.  We played a lot.  Sometimes 25 shows a month.

Mo:  It was you, Claus and...?

V:  Different people.  This was just a couple of years after we got started and we were in several bands together.  We got into it fairly quickly like I said, after we bought the gear, guitars etc.  We played all over Germany.

Mo:  You guys were playin? rock ?n? roll at that point?

V:  Those bands were mostly club bands, rock and top 40 music of the day.  I remember playing lots of ZZ top, Deep Purple, Lynard Skynard and later on even some Spandau Ballet believe it or not---that kinda stuff.

Aside from these club bands though, we had another band, which, looking back, was probably the most important of all of the early bands.  There was an ex G.I., originally from Texarkana who lived in Heidelberg.  He was a real blues player.  His name was Lee Reed.  Lee is probably one of the main reasons I got interested in the blues.  He was one of the big influences then.  He was the first real blues guy I played with.  He sang, played harmonica and he played keyboards.  He had a couple of records out, was pretty well known in the area when he first heard us play.  I am guessing he probably just thought it was funny that these two skinny young white German kids were playin? blues, so he took us in.

Mo:  So you had a band over there and you were playin? NCO clubs and stuff, then you met your wife, Lisa, and came over here, right?

V:  Yes, a lot of things came together for me then.  One other reason I left home was that there was still a draft in Germany.  At that time I did not feel like I wanted to join the Army.  Also, I really didn?t have many prospects there at the time.  I was playin? music, but the top 40 club scene was not really what I enjoyed and making any money playing the music I liked was next to impossible.  The other thing that hit me hard was that Lee Reed unexpectedly passed away from meningitis.  And above all I was young and just went for it without thinking a whole lot about it.

Mo:  Now you?re here.  Where was the first place you lived?

V:  We moved to Santa Rosa.

Mo:  Did you jump right into the music scene then?

V:  No, actually I didn?t.  When I first moved here?I don?t know?just because of the whole thing of tryin? to make a living and tryin? to make things work, I got a regular job.  It was a challenge to say the least.

Mo:  You jumped right into a day job?

V:  Yeah, just basically jumped right into it.

Mo:  What did you do?

V:  Construction---next thing I knew I was digging a ditch in San Francisco. 

Mo:  Tell us about your first band out here?

V:  The first real band actually was with Randy Bermudas (later with Little Charlie and the Nightcats) and Mike Gutsch.  We were called The Night Crawlers.

This was after about seven years or so of not playing out much at all.  I played at home and stuff and was even writing some songs, but I was not actually in a band.  I was frustrated for this whole entire time because I really wanted to play music, but for no reason other than myself [I] never could get myself off the ground.

Finally, I started going out to jams, open mics etc.  Ralph Bryan was the first guy I met.  He kinda got me back out of the closet.  I remember sittin? there for hours and hours, waitin? for my turn to get up there.  Once I got my turn, I was usually so nervous I couldn?t play the first note.  Ralph introduced me to Mike Gutsch, the drummer.  I don?t know if you know him?

Mo:  Oh, yeah.  He?s with The Aces and others.

V:  Yeah, The Aces.  That?s how it started, ya know.

Mo:  Has it been musically fulfilling for you here?

V:  Yeah.  Aside from the fact there?s not enough clubs around here to play, I think there are some really good musicians, the people are good and the audiences are good.

The unfortunate thing to me is that I just don?t think there are enough places to play.  For a place this size and with the demographics of this area, there are really few places to play music.  I don?t quite understand it.  The only club venue in Santa Rosa designed for concerts aside from the Burbank Center is The Last Day Saloon.

Mo:  It used to be the hub for live music in Sonoma County.

V:  Used to be.  There used to be Magnolia?s but it shut down.  I know a lot of people disliked Magnolias for one reason or another, but I thought it was a cool club.  It had a stage, it had a sound system and it was a place where you could fit a couple hundred people.  Then there was a succession of other venues that did not make it.  Like the Studio Caf? and others.

Mo:  Do you think this area?s saturated?  We?ve got many great musicians here.

V:  I know, but I don?t know how it could be saturated.  I don?t know why it does not support more venues.

Mo:  Maybe the people just don?t go out and support it.

V:  I don?t know?when you talk to musicians what you?ll hear over and over again is that they make about as much money now as they did in ?82; when the dollar was worth a lot more.  I don?t know what causes that, I don?t know whether the clubs don?t have the money, whether the people aren?t willing to pay to get in, or whether it?s just a culture that?s developed over time.

I know in Germany, when I go back there, we tend to make a little more money.  Even small clubs seem to pay better.  That?s normal.

Mo:  Why do you think that is?  Is it more supported by the people there?

V:  Some of it has to do with what you?re used to paying when you go see a band.  Say you go out to see a movie or something.  Movies are up to seven to nine bucks but people go to see movies anyway.  It?s just a part of what they?re used to.

On the other hand people see bands for free all the time.  The minute they have to pay a two or three dollar cover charge, it automatically turns them off.

I think it?s just a thing that has happened over time.  I don?t think you can blame any one particular group for this.  Unfortunately I don?t know a good way to change it.

Actually, just one more thing?I think part of the reason people don?t go out that much more anymore is because it?s become such a hassle to them.

Mo:  In which way?

V:  Well?people?s work is more demanding than it used to be.  They?re working more.  They probably have less expendable income, and then there?s the fact that if you have a couple of drinks, you just don?t want to be in your car.  I really think you shouldn?t drink and drive and I think people consider that.

Mo:  That?s a great point, V.

Do you like jazz?

V:  Yes, I do.  I wouldn?t say that it?s something that I pursue musically one hundred percent.  I?m not a jazz player, but I like that style and I like to pick out what I like of it.  I like to take out whatever parts that there are that I can incorporate into my music and use them.  I?m not a total purist for either blues or jazz.  I really respect people that are.  If that?s your thing, you get into it and wanna play just jazz, and wanna play it well, that?s great.  I?ve learned over the years that part of me is a lot of different things and I just throw them all together.

Mo:  Jazz influences?

V:  I like the more traditional guys like Wes Montgomery; he?s one of my favorites, Grant Green, Kenny Burrell are others I still listen to regularly.  I would say almost everyday.

Mo:  Do you think your music is jazzy?

V:  I think it?s got some jazzy influences but I do think it?s jazz.

Mo:  What is your style?  Have you ever tried to explain it?

V:  No, I never have.  I just hope people like it.

Mo:  As a guitarist, who?s inspired you most?

V:  [Loooong pause] I don?t know?I?m thinking?.there are different things you get from different people.  There?s musical style, then there?s the way you play guitar, the whole attitude towards music.  It turns out to be a mixture of different people.  I?d actually have to say, to start with, as far as the approach to the guitar, there?s still a local guy in Heidelberg where I grew up.  I still remember some of the things he told me or that I observed with him that I?m still coming back to this day.  His name was Roland Kastl.  He was part owner of a music store where I would hang out as a kid, just getting on their nerves playing for hours at a time.  Anyway?he taught me some things, whether deliberately or inadvertently, that are still with me to this day.  Like how to pick a note, what?s important, and all that.

Mo:  He was one of your earliest influences.

V:  Yeah, he was.  At least I think he pointed me in the direction I ultimately went into.  It was him and his partner too.  His name is Uli Rohde.  I still go to see him when I go back to Germany.  It?s funny how much that sticks with you.  Whatever they had or did was attractive to me and that?s why I tried emulating them.  Then of course there?s a whole array of guitar players they listened to.  Peter Green was certainly my biggest influence early on as far as the blues playing.  He just sounded so good.  I liked everything he did.  The way he approached everything he did.  I would sit there for hours learning his solos note for note.

Mo:  Would you say Peter Green was your introduction to blues?

V:  Probably, yeah.  Him and Hendrix.  I don?t know if you can call Hendrix a blues player but we thought it was blues.  He was somebody I liked before I got into playing guitar and so I knew his music before I focused more on the blues aspect of his playing.  Peter Green, certainly the early Fleetwood Mac recordings is the stuff is most important to me.

Mo:  You don?t consider yourself just a blues player, do you?

V:  Like I said earlier, I am not a purist.  I think part of it is a reflection of where I am from and my own personal experiences.  I have been criticized for ?mixing in too many other things? and diluting the pure style.  All I know is that all different types of music interest me and I try to be true to what I feel.  I would say that blues is certainly the most prominent of these influences and I love playing it and have a lot of fun doing it.

Mo:  Any blues influences now?  How did you find the blues?

V:  Well?I started finding out more in by doing ? research.?  Where did guys like Peter Green find out how to play like this?  That?s how I got started.  That was my door into the blues.  After that I would do research and find out about guys like Freddie King, some of the swing guys like Mickey Baker, Charlie Christian....Who was the first guy I really got into?  After the English white boys I really started liking Howling Wolf?s band with Hubert Sumlin...of course B.B. King, Albert Collins, Albert King, then further back to T-Bone Walker?I kind of took it backwards.  Every time I found a new guy, I thought, ?Wow! Where the hell did he learn to play like this??  The other guy I was introduced to by Lee Reed was Johnny Guitar Watson.  Lee did a bunch of his 70?s funk stuff like ?Real Mother For Ya? and some of the earlier stuff when Watson was a more straight-ahead blues player.

Then there was the whole Bloomfield and Butterfield era that certainly had an impact.  I got to re-live that recently with the Ford Blues Band tribute records.

I also went back to guys like Lonnie Johnson.  I can still listen to hours of him play.  He?s really simple but he has such a completely elegant thing.  So, it was kind of a backwards motion for me.  The one thing you learn when you go through time like this is how many different incarnations and facets are to this music.  That is one of the things that fascinate me to this day.  Musically the blues is simple and straightforward.  A few chords, typical grooves, etc. but the subtleties and interpretation are all-important.  It is a completely intuitive thing that separates the good ones from the less inspired.  I truly admire players that can do a lot with one note.  All too often I find myself overplaying and get frustrated with it.  You never stop learning.

Mo:  Do you ever get restless backing other people?

V:  No, actually I like backing other people.  I really do.  Because it?s a totally different thing.  I love being in situations where I have to kinda pull myself back and stick to what matters.  It?s a challenge for me.  It depends on the song too.  I really like to stay with what?s good for the song.

Mo:  Is it the pressure is off, or what?

V:  No, it?s not so much that the pressure is off but you get to do things that are different then when you?re supposed to sing and be the front guy.  I like it because I can slip into different roles like when I play with Willy [Willy Jordan of A Case of the Willy's] or like a couple of days ago I played with Peter Welker.  I very much enjoy playing rhythm guitar; I don?t have to solo all the time.  It?s a chance to try out different things.  To go places stylistically that people don?t necessarily expect of you.

When you do your own thing, you?re pretty much out there, ?This is me.  This is what I am.?  I just love backing other people up and I think it?s a good exercise for me.  I wish I could get more gigs that way.

Even with the Ford Blues Band I take on a different role.  All the music is really high energy and has a more modern approach to the blues.  A lot of times it is a little more hard-edged and more in the Butterfield/Bloomfield vein.  Whatever the situation, I try to support the person I am playing with at the time to make their job easier. 

Mo:  This brings us to the next question:  Do you like fronting your own band?

V:  I do.  Although, it?s very challenging for me.  It?s something I am still learning.  Some people are natural entertainers and I?m not.

Mo:  You?re shy, huh?

V:  Well....I don?t know if I?m shy but I?m just more comfortable hanging out rather than being up front.  I?m not a real shy guy but I?m totally OK with not being the center of attention [laughing].

Mo:  But you?re OK with fronting your own band?

V:  Oh yeah!  I love doing it but it?s a challenge.  It?s one of those things that I think I?m getting better and better at but I still have a lot to learn.

Mo:  Do you still get nervous?

V:  Oh yeah.  Not so much when I?m up there playing but all day long I think about what the set list is gonna be?what song to play when?but all that?s getting better as I gain more confidence in the band.

Mo:  What was the last thing you listened to?

V:  Edgar Winter.  There?s an album I?ve been listening to ever since I first started playing.  It?s not the typical Edgar Winter stuff, it?s called, Recycled.  It?s with the White Trash band but it sounds more like Tower of Power than Edgar Winter.  I used to have it on vinyl and it took me forever to find that CD but I finally found it.  As a matter of fact?you know that one song we do with Willy, the slow blues, ?In & Out of Love,? that arrangement is off of that album.


Sing Me Some Blues

Mo: Do you like singing?

V:  Yeah, when I feel like I?m doing a good job but---when I feel like I?m doing a bad job it can be painful??

Mo:  Do you like your voice?

V:  It?s getting to where I can listen to it.  It?s still hard for me.  I work at that probably more when I write and record a song.  More work goes into the voice than it does the guitar playing.  The guitar playing is usually pretty easy and straightforward.  I know what I want to do but the singing is always a pain.

Mo:  Do you sing around the house?

V:  Yeah, I do.

Mo:  Was there a time where you thought you would never sing the songs you wrote?  That you wanted somebody else to do it?

V:  Yeah.  The whole first album, [Full Moon, Brown Dog Records 1996] I wasn?t sure who was going to sing.  That was the first time I?d ever sung more than just occasionally to fill the gaps.  The only reason I did it is because nobody else wanted to [laughing].  Full Moon was really just a demo.  Brown Dog Records, which I started, is my label.  Outside of Sonoma County and a few places in Germany it never got anywhere.  That?s why you can?t buy it in stores.  It never got any distribution.

Mo:  Really good TEN song demo!  I love it.  So, you?d rather not be bothered with singing and just play guitar?

V:  No, now I?m startin? to enjoy it more and more.  I?m startin? to find a place where I can sing.  I will never be a singer like some who just have that natural thing where they can belt it out, ya know.  It?s easier for me to play guitar but as far as the singing?I have to think about what I do.  It?s more of a calculated effort rather than a natural thing.  But I do enjoy singing.  I don?t want to say I don?t want to sing.


Mo:  Do you like touring and do you have a favorite tour?

V:  Yeah, I do.  I?d have to say the very first tour with the Ford Blues Band was special.

Mo:  1999? [Ford Blues Band, Blue Rock? It Records 1999]

V:  Yeah, that was the album, but it must have been ?98 when I first joined the band.  Just because it was such a shock for me to get a call from them.

Mo:  That was your first tour with the Ford Blues Band?

V:  That was my first tour with the Ford Blues Band.  That was probably the favorite one just because of all these memories of being on the road with a concert band.  Growing up, I used to listen to these guys:  Robben, Mark, and Pat.  So it was really a trip to be playing with them.  Robben was and is one of my heroes, so being able to play with him on occasion is really cool.

Mo:  If you could make a living off of your music right now, touring, CD sales, etc....would you quit your day job?

V:  Yeah, I would---working on it!!

Mo:  Is there ever a time when you feel uninspired?

V:  Yeah, I think everybody has that.  I think it would be unnatural if you didn?t.  It?s frustrating more than anything else because you?re playing the same things over and over, you don?t have any new ideas, things aren?t going right.  But somehow there always seems to be a way.  Before you know it---and when you least expect it something gets you over the hump.

Mo:  Yeah, what does it take to get you goin? again?

V:  I wish I knew what it was because then I could control it, sell it and retire.

Mo:  Your guitar playin? sings out, tells a story, holds a conversation.  Do you like doing instrumentals?

V:  I do.  I think instrumentals really have to be thought out well though.  They really have to say something.  I actually have written a couple instrumentals lately.  It?s challenging to write songs that lean on the instrument rather than the vocals to tell the story.  The Ventures, Duane Eddie had some great stuff.  If you ever want to hear some great instrumental guitar music check out Danny Gatton?s Unfinished Business.  Great CD!!

I like playing instrumentals but they are challenging because they have to have a structure.  It?s like a story, so they should have a beginning, middle, and an end.  I don?t want to go off and just indulge myself into these huge guitar solo things.  That works in live situations sometimes but as far as the writing goes, I really like to keep the music organized.  As long as they?re done well I think instrumentals are really cool.  You just don?t want them to turn into ?ramblings,? you know what I mean?

Mo:  ?Ramblings.?  That?s great!

Where?s ?home? when you play?

V:  There?s this place in Germany that I grew up in playing.  It?s called ?The Cave.?  It is literally a cave.  It?s an old basement all made out of sandstone blocks.

It?s a sweatbox and every night it?s packed with students because the town I grew up in is a university town.  It?s open ?til 3 a.m. and it?s just the biggest pain-in-the-ass you can imagine to carry the equipment downstairs.  There?s this little, tiny staircase which is the only way to get the gear in.  Many painful ankles!  I am surprised people still do it, but they do.

I believe it?s Germany?s oldest jazz club.  A lot of people have played there.  I know the owners quite well and we?ve been playing there ever since we were 18 years old.  That?s a really comfortable place for me to play.

But as far as here in the states?  Definitely the Tradewinds [Cotati, Sonoma County, California].  I?ve had some great times there with various bands.  It really is a place where people go and listen to and appreciate live music.

Mo:  I was watching you at your last gig.  I noticed with all the new stuff going on, and all the new horn arrangements, watching you work with the band through the new songs arrangements?are you distracted from playing while listening and watching the others?

V:  Yeah, a little.  There?s definitely a place that I?d like to get to which is where I don?t have to cue anybody anymore.  Right now, these guys are doing a great job picking the stuff up, but they?re still kinda lookin? at me for cues.  I think it?s just a matter of time and playing more before we get it right.


State of the Blues?

Mo:  Do you think the blues is in danger of disappearing?

V:  I really don?t think so.  I think there?s a lot of really, really good blues players out there.  A lot of men and women who are starting to really know the idiom.  The other thing is that I think it?s changing a little bit, as it has always gone through changes.

What I mean is that there will always be the real traditionalists that try to perpetuate whatever once was.  The cut off date is maybe somewhere around 1960 and anything after that doesn?t work for them.  Then there are the people with a more modern approach.  Both are important to the survival of this music.

I think the blues definitely has a chance.  However, I think that there are things that people can do to make it more popular again.

Mo:  Like what?

V:  Well...part of it is buying the records, going to see the live shows....

Mo:  What about radio?  They have a lot of power....

V:  They do have a lot of power but the trouble with radio, and all other media is that it?s a commercial thing.  Once the demand increases, they?re gonna play it, you know what I mean?

Maybe if people approach the radio stations and say, ?Hey, I don?t need to hear Britney all day long!?  I don?t know.  It?s really a hard one.  It?s really kinda inter-connected.  You can?t really fault the radio stations for wanting to stay alive and playing whatever their sponsors want them to play either.

Mo:  Then again man, I know for a fact most people don?t know it?s out there.  I?ve turned many onto blues for the first time. 

V:  Again, if you requested it, and go after the music, chances are somebody will take notice and then the industry will respond.

It?s something that Pat Ford and I have talked about at length.  Pat?s been in the business for a long time.  The small labels like his (Blue Rock'it Records) are having a hard time surviving as well.  I don?t want to be negative though.  For a local band and people that are outside of the main stream, live concerts are the best way to be heard, sell CDs and make a living. 

Mo:  There?s so much blues out there.

V:  I know, and a lot of it nobody?s ever heard of.

Mo:  Or maybe?don?t want to hear of [laughing].

V:  [Not laughing] The thing is how do you distinguish just by looking at a CD?  Every band there is now has their own CD.  Not saying that it?s a bad thing but it makes it harder for people to distinguish between?not saying that one thing?s bad or one thing?s good it?s just that....You go into a music store and you?ve got hundreds of CDs.  Who the hell knows what to buy? And if you are not on the front shelf next to Puff Daddy you don?t have much of a chance.  Once you?re on that ?local band shelf? you?re toast to anybody who just walks in just browsing.

Mo:  Do you think the blues is more supported over in Germany?

V:  I think in general, support for live music is a little stronger over there as far as the financial aspect goes.  Again, it goes back to what are people used to paying when they see a band.  It is quite normal to go to as club and pay a $7-10 cover to see any band.  Then again there are fewer gigs.  Music as a way of living is not easy anywhere and I respect the people that make it on any level.

If you think about it, you go to any club and there may be a band, consisting of as many as five adults, working for four hours, not including the setup, rehearsals, etc. and are expected to perform at a high level for very little compensation. 

I am also not entirely sure that audiences are always aware that local bands are often asked to play for the tip jar and a small percentage of the bar alone.  But I really don?t want to sound bitter---I love doing it.  Everybody has to do what they think is right for them and this is a very personal feeling.

That?s why I have my day job because it might get really frustrating for me if I had to rely on the music to support myself.  I look at it as a luxury to be able to play what I like to play; and I have the choice of doing it or not.  When I go out to do a gig, I don?t do it because I need to buy groceries the next day, I do it because I really want to play.  I really love playing and I love playing for people.

Mo:  Frustrating and sad.  I don?t know how professional musicians do it.

V:  It is a matter of really dedicating yourself too.  Not every professional musician lives badly.  I know a lot of guys that actually make quite a good living and I admire their stamina.  You have to be very, very, good to make ends meet.  In most cases you have to be willing to compromise, play things that you don?t necessarily want to play.  You also need to be good at marketing and selling yourself.  As for myself, I?ll do an occasional lounge gig---that?s different, but I don?t want to get into that too much.  It?s not that I don?t think there?s value there, it?s just not for me.

Mo:  Here?s a stumper. Gets everybody. Got a gig from hell?

V:  A what?

Mo:  A gig from hell?  A really bad, bad gig.  You don?t have to name names.

V:  I?ve done some pretty bad kinda lounge?you talkin? about with my own band or...?

Mo:  Whatever.

V:  Yeah, some of the stuff where people just expect you to be a jukebox.  Sometimes that can get really frustrating.  Where you?re basically just an ornament.  I don?t understand why some people hire bands when they would be much better off with a DJ. Those are the situations that I find....

Mo:  Don?t give them any ideas.

V:  I know, and I?ve run into opposition from other musicians but I would much rather not play, than play for somebody who doesn?t like it.  That?s just me.  Why bother them?

Mo:  Which brings to?what do you get out of the audience?

V:  There?s a huge sense of satisfaction for me, if I play an original song and people like it.  There really is.  That?s probably the biggest thing for me.  If I play a song that I wrote, and the band and I worked it out, came up with an arrangement, it?s working, it feels good, everybody likes it?that?s probably the best thing for me, I really think so.

Mo:  How does it make you feel when you see somebody singing along to one of YOUR songs?

V:  The first time it happened it was really strange, I have to tell ya [laughing].  It is very flattering.  I love it.

Mo:  So, it?s not annoying or distracting when people are in your face while you?re soloing or singing?  [I?m talkin? about people getting? off on the music.]

V:  No, not at all.  I?m assuming they do this because it makes them feel good.  If that?s what happens, then that?s great.

The more the crowd reacts to me, the more I react to the crowd.  I think that?s just a natural thing for pretty much everybody.  Some people are a little better at deliberately controlling it.  I?m not.  With me, it either happens or it doesn?t.  I know a lot of people that are more natural entertainers; they can bring it out of people.  With me, hopefully it happens.  Like I said, I have absolutely no control over it.


The V approach to songwriting....

Mo: How do you approach writing a song? Is it easy for you?

V:  No, it?s not.  I don?t think it?s easy for anybody.  There?s so many different ways it happens.  The worst time for me to try and write a song is when I have my guitar in my hand.  That?s OK to work out an arrangement and fine tune it all but it?s more distracting than anything else if I have the instrument in my hand because you?re always gonna be locked in with what you know when you play your instrument.  When you write a song, hopefully you?ll try to write something you don?t know and  outside of the normal routine thing.

Mo:  So, when you come with an idea, do you just have to write it down real quick before you forget it?

V:  Yeah, in my car, anywhere.  I usually have a little recorder.  Brown paper bags---anything....

Mo:  Are the lyrics easier for you than the music?

V:  It?s about the same.  Songs can take a long time for me.  Some of the newer stuff we played the other night?I started working on some of that stuff years ago!  Sometimes it just sits there.

You know the song ?Sweet Sunshine,? I started writing that almost 20 years ago!!  I mean literally.  All of the sudden I get these epiphanies, ?Oh well, Ok.  I?d like to do that!? or you hear something that inspires you.

Then there?s some songs like ?Somebody Help Me? that I wrote on the plane to Germany.  The whole thing.  We did the session for that demo for the first CD.  It just came to me on the plane.

Sometimes it goes within a half an hour, you got the whole thing wrapped up.  Like ?Movin? On,? that was on the way home from a gig. Then there?s ?Sweet Sunshine? that takes 20 years.  To me there?s no rule.  I wish there was.

Mo:  Speaking of ?Somebody Help Me,? you know that?s a local classic, right?  I bet everybody in Tradewinds knows the words to that song.

V:  I?ve been thinking about it because Pat Ford has mentioned that he might be interested in recording another album with me on Blue Rock? It.  I?ve been thinking about reissuing that song.  Just because it never got distribution in the first place on the first CD.

Mo:  Is that why you revisited ?Hell & Purgatory??

V:  That one is on the Ford Blues Band record [1999].  The reason I recorded that again is because I had a different idea on how the song should sound.  Slightly different.

Mo:  That would be cool to revisit some of those songs off the Full Moon album, huh?  There?re some great songs on there!

V:  That?s the thing; I think there?s some good songs on there but they never got any distribution.  It would be great to maybe have them reach a bigger audience.

Mo:  What was the first song you wrote?

V:  You know what?  I think the very first song I started working on was ?Sweet Sunshine.?  It had gone through some different incarnations but I think basically that?s it.

Mo:  Do you like the songs you write?

V:  Do I like them?  Some of them I like?I am usually excited about them as I write and they demand a lot of my attention.  However, more often than not I have to get quite a bit of distance from them to like them again once they are finished.  Once I finish something it?s usually like, ?uhhh?..ok.?  Just get it out.

I just dug through a bunch of my old tapes, old ideas that I had thrown out, and actually found a couple, three things that I really like and that at the time I thought, ?This isn?t gonna work at all.?

Mo:  Do you have a favorite song of yours?

V:  Probably ?Like It or Not.?  It?s one that I?m very proud of.

Mo:  A very unique song too.  The horns bring it to a peak

V:  That?s what I like about it.  It?s a pretty traditional blues song with a nice arrangement and some twists and it?s just one of those songs I?m really proud of.

Mo:  Horns?you like horn arrangements obviously.  Do you write the horn arrangements for your own songs?

V:  Yeah, I write all the horn arrangements.  That has been really a learning experience for me.  The horn players, especially David [Schrader], do help me out with fixing mistakes.  It?s a lot of fun especially since I?ve made some changes lately.  I have Carl Bowers on trombone now instead of a trumpet, which really changes the dynamics of the band.

Mo:  Are you happy with the amount of horns you have in your songs or do you want to make the songs ?brassier??

V:  It all depends on the song.  There are some new songs that I?m working on and the horns are going to be a challenge because these are not really horn songs.  A lot of the songs weren?t originally intended to have horns.  So to sit down and pick out what they?re gonna play, it changes the tune totally.  It changes the whole feel.  That?s why I think a lot of people think of me as more jazzy because the horns are there.  They kind of take it to a different level.

I don?t necessarily write all songs with the horns in mind.  Once I have the song done, adding the horns to it just kinda changes the whole thing.  I really like it, I really do.  I?d like to add a keyboard too.  But there?s comes a point where you?ve got five guys not makin? any money so then you have six guys not making any money [laughing].

Mo:  Would you say most of the songs you?ve written have turned out the way you envisioned?

V:  Not necessarily.  They change as I write them.  The songs are usually changed a lot from when I first sit down to what the end result is.  It?s really my goal to make it work with the band as well.  I don?t like sitting down and over-producing the song.  I have a sixteen-track recorder at home that I use to write.  Technically I could put a lot of stuff on there but I try to confine myself to get the ?live? consistency of the band.

Mo:  So you can reproduce that sound live as well, right?

V:  Yeah, that?s really important to me.  I really want to be able to play the stuff live .

Mo:  Do you ever think of selling your songs?

V:  I think about it but nobody will buy them!  [Laughing.]

Mo:  Have you ever experienced an event in your life, whether happy or sad, that?s inspired you to write a song?

V:  I think whenever you write it is personal.  There is some influence there from your personal life or other experiences work their way into it.  I don?t think I would say that I write about exact things that happened in my life.  I think that it?s a mixture.  Once you start writing a song, you take the story to another place.  That?s part of the attraction, you can embellish or change the story as you like.  Sometimes there?s a situation where you know somebody that has just broken up or whatever, and I might use it as an inspiration. Or you read about something in the paper---anything....You have that freedom, ya know.  You can do what you want with it.

The challenge is to find the right way of expressing what you want the song to say.  That?s why I like some of the old blues lyrics so much.  It?s baffling how some of these guys could say so much with such few and simple words.

Mo:  I wanna talk about a few songs---?Cadillac.?  You changed it.  Why?

V:  A little bit, yeah.  I straightened it out.  It had that weird kinda ?A- rhythmic thing every time it came to the turn-around.  I took that out mostly for live purposes.  People were dancin? to it and they were fallin? all over the place.  So we decided to make it a little more ?dancer friendly.?  Then I wrote the horn lines for it, which totally changed it.

Mo:  Did you want to own a Cadillac when you wrote that song, or something?

V:  It?s just a straightforward car song and it?s kinda silly.

Mo:  I want to hear about ?Sweet Love Is Over.?

V:  That was what I was referring to.  It was written for some friends of ours, which, incidentally, they?re back together again.  That?s another one that I would like to play again.

Mo:  ?Somebody Help Me? and ?Movin? On??at least three or four different bands that you?re in have covered this song.

V:  It?s funny because every band plays it different.

Mo:  Not sure how you want to answer this but?is there a version you like better than the other?

V:  I think there are certain bands that are more apt to bring out a certain side of a song.

When we play ?Somebody Help Me? with A Case of the Willy's, it?s gonna get funkier than when I play it with the Ford Blues Band.  On the other hand, I don?t have that harp energy there when Andy [Just] starts playin?.  It turns into more of a rock thing.  Totally different.  I don?t really wanna say that one of them is my favorite.  When I play it with my band, it?s different again.  It has a little bit more subtlety to it.

Mo:  How does that feel to have all these bands playing your songs?  It?s gotta feel good.

V:  It?s really cool and I really appreciate these guys putting the work into it because I can?t pay them.  I share whatever money we make but I don?t pay them to do that much work.

Mo:  Here?s a great instrumental of yours; ?JBP.?   First off, what does that stand for?

V:  It?s the initials of an actor, Jean Paul Belmondo.  When I was a kid there was this young French actor that starred in a lot of the film noir movies.  He was always really cool, always smokin?, always had all the women, and the movies always had that kind of background music.  That kind of ?junky-jazz? swing kind of music.  So that?s why I named it that.  He was my favorite actor then.

Mo:  ?In Your Arms.?  Where did you come up with something like that?? [CLICK HERE for an MP3 sample of "In Your Arms."]

V:  I don?t know, it just came to me.

Mo:  Really??  Great song.  Was that a hard song to write?

V:  No, actually that was a pretty quick one.  There are only two verses.  I started writing that when I started getting into playing slide.  The nice thing about slide is, is that you tune the guitar totally different, so in many ways, it gives you a new instrument.  Things sound totally different when you?re playing.

Mo:  Love that chaotic ending. It?s crazy!!

V:  [Laughing.]  Yeah, it?s a little Irish jig kinda thing.

Mo:  ?Never Been To Spain.?  Whose idea was it to do that?

V:  We had been doing the song live and I really wanted Claus to sing on the CD.  He can really sing and unfortunately, he didn?t want to sing any of my songs.  So, I?m like, ?you know?pick one that you wanna sing and we?ll do it.?  So we got together and decided on that song.  I like it---some people don?t like it.  I think we?ve made it our own thing.

Mo:  I like it.  Great job on it.

The song you guys cover with A Case of the Willy's, ?Still a Young Man,? who?s idea was it to cover that one?

V:  I think it was Willy.  That?s a Tower of Power song.  It really is a challenge every time.  On any given night we hit it---or not.  There?s been a couple times when it was more challenging than others but when it works it?s very rewarding.  It?s a beautiful song.

Mo:  You guys do it wonderfully!  I never knew that harmonizing existed in you guys. Wow!

?Tollin? Bells? [Ford Blues Band Tribute To Paul Butterfield].  Did Pat want you to sing that song and did you want to sing it?

V:  Yeah, he wanted me to sing that one.  It was a hard one for me and really a stretch.  I told Pat, "I?ll sing it.  I?ll do whatever you want me to do."  He wanted to have that song on there and he wanted me to sing it.  I gave it my best shot.

Mo:  That?s all the song features is your singing.  It?s really good.

V:  Yeah well?I still have a hard time listening to it, myself.  It?s one of those things---it?s cool when it?s done.

Mo:  Do you produce?

V:  Not really.  I mean I produced my last CD, The Volker Strifler Band CD.  I mixed it. That was basically just Garth Webber and me.  Producing is a long tedious process and unfortunately money always gets in the way.

Mo:  You don?t do too many covers in your shows...

V:  I don?t want to a lot of them.  However, I don?t if know you noticed last time we played, I covered ?Spoonful,? a Willy Dixon song that Cream made famous.  I came up with my own arrangement of it.  That?s what I like to do.  It?s not that I don?t like playing other people?s music but I figure that I?ve got so much of my own stuff, and I really like to keep mostly with the original stuff.

Mo:  You have enough original material for a whole night, don?t you?

V:  Getting close.

Mo:  It?s not even a problem for you.

V:  No, it?s not.  Right now, it?s a little bit of a problem because the whole band doesn?t know all of the music.  That?ll come.  With this new band, I?m really totally confident that it?ll happen.

Mo:  Don?t know if you realize this but, a lot of your fans around here are musicians.  Words tossed about from well-known musicians:  ?Genius!,? ? A Monster,? ?Amazing,? ?Unbelievable,? this is just a few?.

V:  Yeah?I think they?re a little over the top.

Mo:  [Laughing.]  Sorry, had to throw that at you in all your modesty.

Do you ever think of straying a bit and try something new?

V:  Yeah.  Musically you mean?

Yeah, I do.  Somebody would probably have to goose me in the right direction.  I think my style does change over the years but it?s always gonna be pretty close to what I do now.  I would love to get into some other environment.  I don?t know what yet but I would love to explore?I?m getting more into the slide thing, maybe I could do some acoustic stuff.  If there was a group of people who would interested, I?d be very much into exploring other styles.

Mo:  Here?s one of my pet peeves---passing a token solo to each and every member of the band, on each and every song.  I go to hear the headliner; I want to hear the headliner!!  I don?t want barroom jam stuff.  A couple of songs are alright but man....

V:  I?m with ya there.  I don?t know if you?ve noticed, the last couple of times we played, I?m doing less and less of that.

Mo:  I noticed.  That?s why I thought it was safe to bring it up! [Laughing.]

V:  [Not laughing.]  I really want to get away from everybody having?and this is not an ego trip because I?m curtailing myself as well when I say:  ?Alright, this is the song.  It has a beginning, middle, and an end.  I?m gonna play 24 bars here and the sax is gonna get 5 bars there?? or whatever it may be.  Or, "...this song is only gonna have a sax solo.  There?s not gonna be a guitar solo, or a trombone solo, or whatever.?

I think it really helps to re-focus the music, re-focus the people on the song rather than going off into these long instrumental solos.  It?s a different thing.  If you are playing jazz or straight ahead blues it is appropriate to have everyone go at it.

Everybody in the band is a great player in their own right and I love to hear them play.  But the goal is to represent the songs and the music, rather than the players? abilities to go out and solo.  And I think it?s more special if you have somebody play one great solo rather than having them blow themselves out in every song.  Some people think that when you?re live, you just let go.  You just do it in every song and just get it off.  All out in every song.  It?s different philosophies, ya know.

That?s another reason why I like playing rhythm guitar.  I don?t want to step out in every song.  It just becomes tedious.  I mean I am bound to repeat myself after the first two!!  [Laughing]  I would much rather just do a couple good solos a night and the rest of it, just support the band, support the music.

Mo:  [Now, I?m worried.]  I think your approach to the solo thing is great.  It brings it up a notch to another level.  Makes it a classy show.

V:  It?s probably gonna be more and more structured.  If the moment's right, don?t get me wrong, I might just throw solos out but as a general rule, it will be pretty structured as far as who gets to play where and when.  The guys in the band are actually all of the same mind.  It?s not something that I had to make them do.

Mo:  I would think playing the horn arrangements you write, would be more challenging and fun anyway!

V:  Both David and Carl are very accomplished musicians.  They know, and see the value of staying within their space when they?re asked to and then going out and making it all the more special!

Mo:  What do you say to people who are saying, ?More Volker shows!  More Volker shows!?  You?ve developed a fan base with just the little bit you do play around here.

V:  I?m real happy that they want more.  It would be horrible if they said they want less!! [Laughing.]  I?m not very good at promoting and stuff.  That?s really a weak part of me. It?s not that I don?t want to do it, it?s just?I have a hard time self-promoting.  I?m actually working on it.  I finally have a package and getting it out.  Small steps.  I am currently looking for venues if anyone is still interested!!!

Part of the frustration is that it?s hard to break into the clubs because they don?t know you.  I really have to say that this new band has really given me a lot more confidence.  I think I?ve opened up something.  With the way we work together and the way I can direct these guys, I really feel that I?ve opened up something that could be a good thing.  It?s really inspired me to do more.

Mo:  I feel it.  You know they love playing with ya, I can tell.

V:  I know and it?s amazing to me [Laughing]


A few of Volker?s bands?

Mo:  Let?s talk about Big Mo and the Full Moon Band.

V:  His real name is Maurice Huffman.  He?s an American guy but he grew up in my hometown in Germany.  He and Stephan, the drummer that I play with [German band], have been playing together since they were sixteen.  Ten years ago I got this phone call out of the blue saying, ?Hey, this is Maurice.  Guess where I?m at?  I live in Chico!?  He had moved with his wife over from Germany to here.  That?s how that CD [Mo Love] came about.  We got Claus and Stephan to play bass and drums, and we literally did the whole thing in a day.  He?s up there doing his thing; he?s got a day job.  He?s a great singer.  That whole thing goes way, way back!  It?s just a fluke that he ended up in Chico.

Mo:  What?s his style?

V:  Well it?s kinda hard to describe.  There?s some country influences, there?s some blues and rock.  Maurice?s voice is a really nice countryish kinda voice and his writing goes more towards the Allman Brothers thing.  I don?t want to pigeonhole him too much because he does do a lot of different things too.  I wish we would?ve had more time recording that CD.  It was really done in one day, the whole thing.

Mo:  Do you ever play with him anymore?

V:  Well actually yeah.  I?ve got a gig with him on the 26th [June ?04] up in Paradise [California].  Once in awhile.  I?ve talked about getting him down here.  I might do that some night; just have him come and sit in and do a few of his songs.


A Case of the Willy's?

Mo:  Tell me about the first time you met Willy [Jordan].

V:  The first time I met Willy was actually?when was that?  I met Willy through Ralph [Bryan].  It was?ya know?  I don?t quite remember the very first time---how embarrassing!

Mo:  How long you been with A Case of the Willy's?

V:  From the very beginning.  It?s been six or seven years.

Mo:  Was that when the band was formed?

V:  No, it started with Willy Jordan, Carl Bowers, and me.

Mo:  Oh, a trio.

V:  Yeah, at least that?s what I remember.  Willy and Ralph would call me to play gigs around.  Then there was a few different bass players.  One day Willy brought Carl and it just totally clicked.  It was a really a good combination.  I love playing with Carl.  Carl and Willy are a great, great funk rhythm section, especially for the music that Willy likes to play.

Then Willy added Rick Clifford on the sax and Steve Long on trumpet.  I don?t quite remember that whole transition period but finally Glenn Sullivan and David Schrader joined the band.

Mo:  Would you say this horn section of A Case of the Willy's, David and Glenn, has inspired you in your love for writing horn arrangements in your own stuff?

V:  Definitely yeah.  There?s no question about it.  Those guys have shown me the possibilities that I wanted to explore.  I like the instrumentation better with the trombone now but that?s just a personal preference.  Just the sound of it seems to go better with what I do, rather than the trumpet.

Mo:  Have you guys ever recorded together?

V:  Just that one demo CD.  All covers except ?Movin? On.?

Mo:  Do you like playing that funky rhythm guitar?  Listening real closely, you?re doing lots of intricate stuff.

V:  Yeah, I love it.  It?s one of my favorite things to do.  Especially with Willy because he?s such a good drummer in that style.  I like to follow him.

Mo:  When did you start introducing your songs to ?The Case??

V:  After that first CD came out [Full Moon] before that, I kinda kept it separate.  Once the CD was out, I played the stuff to the guys and they liked it so that?s how it started.


Ford Blues Band

Mo:  How did you come upon The Fords?

V:  Well, I was mixing the Full Moon CD at Prairie Sun.  The engineer up there was Scotty Johnson who was at the time the guitar player for the Ford Blues Band Pat Ford had booked this European tour and Scotty, at the last minute, got this really good paying gig, I think it was in Vegas or some place.  He called Pat up and said, ?Man, this is my life.  I gotta make a living.  I can?t do the tour, I gotta take this other gig.?  But he said, ?I just met this German guy who is mixing his record here?? and that?s how I got hooked up with them.

Mo:  How long you been with them now?

V:  I guess six years.

Mo:  And about six records later, huh? Geeze?

V:  There?s six or so.  There?s In Memory of Michael Bloomfield, A Tribute to Paul Butterfield, 1999, From the Studio, the latest, Another Fine Day.

Mo:  That last one your favorite out of all of them?

V:  Yeah, on that one I actually sing a lot.  Almost every song has a horn section.  Musically, I am certainly proud to have been a part of this one.

Mo:  I like the fact that you get to do a lot of your stuff on the records.  Pat is very generous that way.  He must be amazing to work with, huh?

V:  Oh he is!  The thing about him is; he gives you a lot and makes you a real part of the band.  You?re never just a background player.  Everybody has to work.  If you go out live, he expects a hundred percent from you.  He expects you to go out and sell the stuff so you?re part of the band.  It?s really a great thing.  You?re not a hired hand.  It works that way through the whole thing.  You share the grief and you share the good stuff.

Mo:  How often do you tour with them?

V:  Last year, unfortunately, a lot fell through.  A lot of things were scheduled but because of the way the euro is right now, the money just wasn?t there.  Pat decided to cancel it because two of the four guys of the band make their living playing music and that?s definitely a consideration.  But this year we?re scheduled to go to Finland, France and we?re playing Southern Germany, I think we?re going to Belgium.  Chris Cain is gonna go with us for a few gigs as well.  He is an absolute blast to play with and one of the most underrated guys I know.

Mo:  So you were listening to these guys before you actually started playing with them.

V:  Oh yeah!  Before I moved here!  Robben Ford or the Charles Ford Band when Robben, Mark, and Pat had their thing goin? on.  It?s amazing to be able to play with them.

Mo:  Robben Ford---some people will say you sound like him on guitar.  What do you say to that?

V:  Well, obviously, I was influenced by him and I am flattered they would even consider that.  I am however constantly trying to develop my own voice and obviously with some of my jump and swing stuff, that?s not Robben at all.  It?s just that sometimes I go there.

Mo:  I?ve heard it said but I think you stay closer to earth.

V:  I probably stay closer to the traditional stuff than he does.  I?ve gotten to play with him and he?s unbelievable guitar player!

Mo:  Did you tour with him?

V:  Last year. I did six or seven shows with him.  In Santa Fe, down in L.A., we went to the East Coast, but I don?t know that I would call it real touring.  I love his playing.


Blue Zone

Mo:  Let?s go to your German Band.  Claus Bubik on bass and Stephan Bollack on drums.  You guys go way back, huh?

V:  Claus, like I said, I?ve known Claus since we were three or four.  We grew up together.  We were neighborhood kids.

Stephan we met when we were sixteen.  So basically, all three of us grew up together and it?s a real special thing with them.

Mo:  When did you form Blue Zone?

V:  When I started writing songs.  Before then, we played together in different bands but it was never formalized as our band, my band, or whatever you want to call it.  When did that happen?  Right around ?93, I guess.

Mo:  So when are they coming back?

V:  When I can get them out here! [Laughing.]

Mo:  When you recorded your two solo CDs, did you record them over there or??

V:  The demo [Full Moon], I recorded over there [Germany] and I mixed it at Prairie Sun.  The second one we recorded and mixed here in Berkeley [Red Rooster Studios].  They came here.

Mo:  So, you?re sittin? here writing all this stuff, you guys don?t rehearse, they?re in Germany, you?re here, how do they??

V:  I send them stuff, I send them tapes.

Mo:  I guess they can just read you that well, huh?

V:  Yeah, this is part of knowing each other that long.  I basically send them finished parts---?this is what I?d like you to play? but when we go to record them, stuff usually starts changing and developing as we go.  Claus or Stephan will say, ?well, how about we do it this way? and it?ll shape itself as we?re recording.

Mo:  Any plans to do a third CD with them or you gonna use this band here for the next one coming up ?

V:  I?ve been thinking a lot about that just?because, this is the first time that I?ve had a band here that I really consider a core of people that I wanted to stick together.  I would probably do a mixture with both where some songs I?d use them; some songs use the German guys.  Because that?s just the way it has developed.  Before then, I had all these bands here but none of them were really connected to me and these guys were.  Now the American guys and me are really startin? to connect.  I really want some of what they bring on the CD.  I don?t think it would be right to just have the one band or the other.

Mo:  That kinda puts you in a pickle, don?t  it?

V:  No, actually I?ve been pretty open with both groups.  Both of them know that to me, what?s important is to keep the music going and I?m never gonna forsake either one of them but there?s also some responsibility I feel towards the people I work with.  I don?t want to walk away from any of them.  I don?t think I have to.

Mo:  You?re pretty loyal that way, aren?t you?

V:  Yeah, I am.  And they?re pretty loyal to me.  To me it?s just a matter of respecting them.

Mo:  Well, at least you have a band in every port!

V:  I know!  One of my dreams is I would take the American band over there and I would bring the German band here.  Just to give them a little perk.  I?ve played in Germany with the German guys and I think they would find it a little more exciting to play over here and visa versa.  That would be something that I could see.

Mo:  I like it when you bring them over here.

V:  Yeah, and they love it here.


The Volker Strifler Band

Mo:  Let?s talk about your American band, the Volker Strifler Band.  For the record, who do you have in that band?

V:  Well, there?s Don Bassey on bass.  Gary Silva on drums.  David Schrader on sax.  The newest guy is Carl Bowers on trombone.  That?s it, so far.

Mo:  Your new horn section, Carl and David??

V:  Well, Carl was a total surprise!  I always knew he played trombone but he can really play!

He?s not like one those, ?Yeah, I used to play trombone in high school?.?  The one thing that makes things so easy for me is that he can translate my ideas instantly.  I can write something down for him, and he just plays it.  Both David and him are that way; they can both read music perfectly.  I can change things around and it makes it very easy for me.  I?m really lucky and glad to have both those guys.  Plus, their willingness and dedication to do this.  Both of them have other things to do.  I know those times that we rehearse and we play, that?s cutting into their time, all four of those guys.  Don and Gary the same way.  For reasons we touched on, I cannot compensate probably enough but I?m really grateful that they would do this kind of thing.

Mo:  Lately, I can just feel the excitement in the band.  It?s oozing outta the band.  They just love playing with you, one can tell.

V:  That?s another reason I want to keep it interesting.  I don?t wanna start playing ?Mustang Sally? even though I know I could get people out on the dance floor.  That?s not what I want.  Nothing against the song, I just want to keep it interesting.

Mo:  Plus, I would think you would want to bring it up to another level, play some festivals, get out of the bars at bit.?

V:  There is no question; that is the goal.

Mo:  Do you feel the enthusiasm in the band at all?

V:  Oh yeah, I do.  It surprises me that they would that enthusiastic about it.  It?s great, it gives me a lot of energy.

Speaking of which?July 10th, at the Tradewinds gig, I invited Chip Roland to play keyboards.  I just wanna try it out to see how it goes.  Chip is one of those guys that knows how to pick it up too.  I think he?ll fit in good, his whole attitude and everything.

Mo:  Are you guys gonna record together?

V:  Actually, I just had a talk with everybody and I really wanna get a little demo together to get some more gigs.  I think that it?s important that people hear what this band actually sounds like.  It goes back to wanting to reproduce things live and also when I record I want it to represent what this band sounds like.  Probably, very shortly, go into the studio and we?ll do a little three or four song demo.

Mo: I thought maybe you guys were in the studio already.

V:  I have a lot of new songs?

Mo:  Do you have enough to do a whole CD?

V:  Yeah I do.  They have to be worked up to fit this band.  I have a lot of songs that I want to record but there?s some work that needs to be done.  That?s what I?m workin? on.  Tryin?  to get every song that I have, arranged to this band, then record it and then put it out.  It?s a process.  I am unfortunately, a little lagging in the ?live? playing because I would like to play this material live before I record it.  I need more gigs.

Mo:  Are you gonna self-produce it?

V:  It all depends.  Pat Ford has said he was interested in recording it.

Mo:  Well, V?is there anything else you like to add?  Did I cover everything?

V:  I think so.  I haven?t talked this much in long time.

Mo:  Yeah, I was worried you wouldn?t have much to say [laughing].  You?re not shy at all!!

V:  No, I told you I?m not a shy guy [laughing].

Mo:  I want to thank you, Volker, for taking time out of your busy work schedule to sit here and talk with me.  I know how valuable your time is and it is much appreciated.  It is an honor to have gotten inside that head of yours, too.  Very enlightening!  Good luck to you with your new band, the Volker Strifler Band; the Ford Blues Band; Big Mo; A Case of the Willy's; Blue Zone; and all your future endeavors.  We are all very excited for you and the guys and I just know great things are in store for you.  See you at your shows!!

...da Blues Traveler

Copyright 2004 by Maureen Hayes.  All rights reserved.