This week we’re exploring the sonic hues of the blues in jazz, R & B, country, Cajun and pop. We crash a blues house party and workshop at the 2018 National Folk Festival in Salisbury, Maryland, where we speak with twenty-eight-year-old St. Louis guitarist Marquise Knox.
Nick Spitzer: I’m Nick Spitzer with American Routes, onstage at the 2018 National Folk Festival in Salisbury, Maryland, where we’re going to speak with the St. Louis guitarist Marquise Knox about how he found the blues.
NS: In the African American community there was sometimes a split between the church people and the blues people. How did Grandma feel about you playing the blues? I mean had you been in church with singing?
Marquise Knox: Well my grandma was on the split side so it made it pretty easy for myself, but you know I come from a very Baptist family, so I used to go down south sometimes, and they’d be like, “Oh here he comes with his guitar playing in our house,” and then my cousin told me one day, he said, “Why don’t you just play some spiritual music?” And I told him, I said, “Cuz, when I read Genesis,” and I said, “the Lord was talking to Adam and Eve and he was talking about how Eve had bit the fruit, and he came down and said, ‘Woman, what is this thou has done?’ and he looked over to Adam and said, ‘Well Adam my cause ended in between thy wife and thyself, thy wife’s seed and thy seed,’” and I got to thinking about the curse that he put on Adam. I told my cousin, I said, “Did Adam have the gospel or did he have the blues?”
NS: Well you know, when you think of the history of griots in West Africa, you think of the history of the diaspora to the Americas, blue seems to have been, before the world of psychiatrics, blues was a way to kind of deal with the pain.
MK: It was.
NS: And also the joy, and put it all together in one, and you’ve been able to do that. But in your age bracket, blues hasn’t always been that of interest to people either. So how have you dealt with the friends and the other folks in the scene who might want something, you know, hip-hop, or rap or some pop music or whatever?
MK: Well I come from, in my community, me and my friends, we grew up and we were pretty tight, so I had a friend named Jonathan Mitchell. Jonathan played the drums in church, and that was way before I decided to play the guitar, and we had another friend who we tried to teach how to play the bass later on, and so we would always play at the nice, you know, bring the family in, parent-teacher conference and all that stuff, and we would sit there and play together. I remember one day I was telling Jonathan’s father, I said, “Mr. Mitchell, I would like for Jonathan to play with me.” He said, “Oh no, my son is going to play in the church.” And so when I got to high school, the notoriety started picking up, so I was in the newspaper, I was on television, and a lot of my friends were reading and they were looking at it, a lot of girls said, “Well wait a minute Marquise. We didn’t like you last year but this year, you’re looking pretty good!” And so I always brought the swagger of a bluesman and tried to show them that it wasn’t necessarily the swagger that the rapper’s had, but it was the swagger of a guy who dressed a little more sophisticated like ourselves. So when I brought that to them, they liked it, and then when you get to telling them, you know, “Hey I’m not flipping no burgers at McDonalds, I’m not at Jack in the Box or Taco Bell,” and so my friends would come out and listen and they’d say, “Well Marquise this is definitely a lot better than doing what we’re doing.” So everybody would just bring their friends, and blues is something that evolves and is constantly evolving. It is probably the biggest change agent in music because the blues is considered by so many so many different things. I mean young folks have the blues too, especially now we can’t even—I tell them, you think about it, my grandmother picked cotton 1932, she was born and she picked cotton in the late ‘30s, early ‘40’s, ‘50s come to St. Louis and get a house, and here I am, I’m her grandchild, and it’s hard for folks like myself to have health insurance and to even try to own a home in this day and age as a young person, so they have the blues.
NS: Yeah the blues is necessary to keep us on a beam and feel good. What would you like to give us that is the Marquise Knox introduction to blues and boogie on this set?
MK: Can we do a shuffle in C fellas?
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