As a Midwestern youth circa 1980, Guy Forsyth soaked up the blues from whatever resource he could find in his quest to learn more about “this whole other side to music that wasn’t on pop radio.”
He’d check out blues albums that were available at the public library. He’d listen to a public-radio blues show that aired in the Kansas City, Missouri, area.
Then there was the blockbuster film The Blues Brothers.
“What a gift that was: Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi, in many ways, trying to curate the blues scene of America,” says Forsyth, adding that the movie — which features John Lee Hooker and Pinetop Perkins, among other musicians — was the first time he ever laid eyes on many blues legends.
Ten years after the release of The Blues Brothers, singer and multi-instrumentalist Forsyth moved to Austin, Texas, and since then has made his mark there playing different styles in different bands. But it’s the blues that rules his latest studio album, The Pleaser, which was recorded in Austin, released in May and is credited to the Guy Forsyth Blues Band.
Medleyville.us: How does your approach to playing music, both mentally and physically, differ depending on whether you’re in a solo situation or fronting a band?
Guy Forsyth: “There’s a feeling that comes with either that’s different. If I’m doing a solo act, I can take a lot of latitude with the tunes that I choose and the approach that I take. Conversely, if I’m playing in a band situation, there’s a lot of freedom because you’re not responsible for the elements of rhythm. … Melodically, in those situations, you can do a lot more. In a solo situation, I can turn on a dime.”
Does blues music mean the same to you now as it did earlier in your career?
Forsyth: “I don’t think it possibly could… I still think it’s the most passionate, shortest-distance emotional music. It gets rid of a lot of elements of style and fashion and tries to get to the emotional reality in the music.”
In general, do you think American music fans appreciate the blues the same way as international audiences? Or is there a definite difference depending on the country or even the age?
Forsyth: “I think there’s definitely a difference in the age. In the 25 years that I’ve been playing, and in the 20 years I’ve been playing in Europe, I’ve seen a graying of the audience there. And also, the emergence of a new generation of players who grew up on listening to their parents’ music, so they have at least as much of a connection to the music as I do growing up in the United States.”
It’s been 25 years since you moved to Austin, Texas. What’s better about the city now, and what’s not as great about it in 2015?
Forsyth: “[Being a father] connects me to the world in a way that nothing else ever did. I’m also divorced, so I’m going to stay in Austin until my daughter goes to college, so I’ll be here for another 10 years.
“[Austin] is the fastest-growing city in the United States and has been for most of the past 20 years. The city is continuing to erupt, and it’s not growing in a smart sort of way. There are a lot of people getting rich and a lot of problems with the sort of unchecked growth that it’s had. That’s pretty embarrassing when you consider how progressive the city is in so many ways. It’s just like, a bunch of people got really rich, and now the traffic is as bad as L.A.’s — so, thanks, guys. I hope you bought a helicopter with some of that money (laughs).
“I do not think that if I was 21 today and I moved to Austin that I would have the same experience that I did when I moved here in 1990. At that time, you could live very cheaply in Austin. Did you ever see the movie Slacker, the Richard Linklater film? That’s exactly the Austin that I moved to. That film was being made right at the time I moved to town. You can’t really find that Austin here at all now. … I think there is a lot of artistic flight out of Austin [today] because it’s become so expensive to live here.”
— Introduction and interview by Chris M. Junior
Guy Forsyth’s U.S. tour dates (schedule subject to change):
• Aug. 8: Austin Beer Garden Brewing — Austin, Texas +
• Aug. 9: Gruene Hall — New Braunfels, Texas +
• Sept. 5: Fischer Haus — Fischer, Texas ++
• Sept. 6: NXNW — Austin, Texas +
• Sept. 11: Saxon Pub — Austin, Texas +
• Sept. 26: Pecan Street Festival — Austin, Texas +
+ Guy Forsyth Blues Band
++ Guy Forsyth’s Hot Nut Riveters
Guy Forsyth (second from left) with the Guy Forsyth Blues Band. Photo by Doug LaRue