CKUA and CBC host returns with his second book that features interviews with the “blues and roots mavericks” he’s encountered over the past 50 years.
Perhaps it’s because he’s so skilled at it from the other side, has done it for so long, and appreciates when he gets what he needs and more, that Holger Petersen should be such an engaging, giving and entertaining interview.
He is again on this occasion, which is to promote an event Thursday, June 1 at, appropriately, the King Eddy in Studio Bell, where he will sign copies of his newly released book Talking Music 2: Blues and Roots Mavericks.
The 426-page book, released by Insomniac Press, follows 2011’s Talking Music: Blues Radio and Roots Music, and collects together interviews Petersen has done over his almost 50-year career as a broadcaster, both on Natch’l Blues, which has aired weekly on CKUA since 1969 and his long-running CBC show Saturday Night Blues.
Like the Edmonton-based man, himself, it’s fascinating and informative, and features in-depth conversations with notable names he’s encountered over the years such as B.B. King, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Miller, Van Dyke Parks, Mose Allison and Solomon Burke.
Before the signing, which will also feature a performance by local blues legend Ellen McIlwaine, who’s a good friend of Petersen’s and whose albums he’s released on his iconic Stony Plain Records label, will offer the opportunity for the writer, broadcaster and font of knowledge to entertain once more, as he’ll be in conversation with fellow CKUA host Peter North.
Here’s just a taste of what people can expect, excerpts from an engaging interview.
Q: I’m assuming it’s because you have so many damn good stories you had to do a volume two.
A: (Laughs) Well, yeah, pretty much. I did Talking Music No. 1 five years ago and enjoyed the process a lot. And then started thinking about more interviews … This new one is called Talking Music 2: Blues and Roots Music Mavericks and it includes 25 additional interviews, starting off with B.B King, most appropriately. They’re interviews I’m really proud of.
Q: Looking at some of these amazing names — B.B., Allen Toussaint, Townes Van Zandt, Steve Miller, Solomon Burke — you certainly have spoken with the legends, haven’t you?
A: Yes, I’ve been so fortunate and, in many cases, these are interviews that I’ve done on several occasions. The B.B. King interviews I did go back to 1972 and I think there are six or seven of them. So it was fun, and a fair amount of work, compiling several of these interviews together. And Alan Toussaint I interviewed three times. So, some of these people it’s combinations of interviews over the years, too, and I think that’s appropriate.
Q: You mention B.B. and Allen, these people have left us just recently. Is that why you chose some of them or was this already in the process when they passed?
A: I think that’s what brought my attention back to them. When somebody like B.B. King or Allen Toussaint passes away I go back and pay tribute on my radio shows and go back and go through the interviews and materials that I have, and they kind of jumped out again. In the case of B.B., the bulk of the interview was when he was 80 years old and it was the last interview I did with him, it was at the (Northern Alberta) Jubilee Auditorium on his tour bus for about an hour just before he went onstage. He was just so incredibly gracious, as he always was, but in this particular case we started talking collecting records and what he had on his computer because he had all of his record collection on his computer. It was really wonderful. A different kind of interview because he went through his record collection and showed me what he had. For a fellow record collector (laughs) it’s pretty engaging.
Q: They wouldn’t be in the book if you didn’t think they were worthwhile, but who are some of the other ones that really stand out?
A: Each one of them is there for a reason. And I think the other thing that is really good about the people that I talked to is that there are a lot of stories. So if you don’t know that much about Billy Boy Arnold or Rory Block, there are a lot of engaging stories and I think that’s what makes it really accessible. The main thing, what I’m trying to accomplish, is to direct people back to the music. So when Rory Block talks about (Mississippi) Fred McDowell or Mississippi John Hurt or someone like that, it just makes you want to go back and listen to the material or discover it for the first time.
Ronnie Hawkins is such a Canadian hero and just such an entertaining storyteller that you can imagine, so I was really pleased that he gave me lots of time. He tends to have the quips about just about everything, but when you really dig deep and start talking about blues in Arkansas and Beale Street and those kinds of things — he was really generous. I’m very proud of that interview.
The other thing I really like about this is there are a lot of combinations of people, so you get Amos Garrett and David Wilcox together in an interview and they have such an incredibly shared history — two of the great Canadian guitar players of all time and both were with Ian and Sylvia and Great Speckled Bird, and both were with Maria Muldaur at her peak. And another example of that would be James Burton and Albert Lee together, two incredibly influential legendary guitarists. There’s not a lot of interviews with James Burton, but of course he’s best known for playing with Elvis and Ricky Nelson, and also both of them played with Emmylou Harris and The Hot Band, so they have a lot of shared history. So to have the two of them together, it’s enhanced because not only am I talking to them and doing the interview, but they’re also telling each other stories. (Laughs) It brings out things that normally wouldn’t come out in an interview, I think.
The Townes Van Zandt interview, that was the last I added and I kind of lost it and then found the tape and listened to it and realized how warm it was. He was so generous. It starts off with a lot of jokes, he’s telling jokes and things. And that was done on January 4, 1986 when he was in Edmonton. He wasn’t the Townes Van Zandt legend that he became, he was just a normal singer-songwriter on the road. Even though his fans knew how incredible he was it wasn’t generally really known at that point. So that was a great interview to include.
Q: It’s amazing that you’ve kept these tapes and all of this history. I think it’s important. The second one is just out, but there’s got to be a third one coming?
A: Well, I’m kind of keeping track of names that I think would be good for a third one. It’s a fair amount of work and it’s all in addition to my normal stuff — Stony Plain Records and my radio shows. Book two was done over a couple of years, during holidays quite honestly. And every time I got on a flight that was a few hours long, I would spend time on it. It’s rewarding work, though, it’s great to go back to a little slice of time in your life when you had the rare opportunity to be in the company of these amazing people.
Talking Music 2 with Holger Petersen takes place Thursday, June 1 at the King Eddy in Studio Bell. Tickets are available in advance from studiobell.ca/whats-on or at the door.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at email@example.com.