Text by Betsie Brown,
Photos by Matt Graves
and AW by FS
John-Alex Mason plays with wonderful intensity and truth,
"I first heard John-Alex Mason in the distance when he played at the King Biscuit festival in Helena, Arkansas a few years ago. His Delta Blues sounded so right and appropriate in the land where that music was born, mixed with the echoes of the Blues from the past, by the Mississippi River.
John-Alex was whuppin' it with the fire, passion, and understanding of the language of Blues Music. I had to find out who was playing, and I met him and thanked him when he came off the stage. I've gotten to see more of him and we played together the next year in Colorado. I'm moved by John-Alex's talent and fidelity to the spirit of the deep Blues we love,"
Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin, Muddy Waters' guitarist
Pure Country Blues with the right soul, spirit and feeling and a cool dynamic voice,
Fritz Svacina, BluesARTStudio
John-Alex MASON attributes his love of music to two central people from his childhood in Colorado. First, his older brother, Stephen, who rocked out to music of the 60's and 70's - Led Zeppelin, the Grateful Dead, Jimi Hendrix and the Allman Brothers Band. And second, his godmother, Viola Marigna, who introduced him to Baptist moans and gospel through her own voice, mass choir concerts and church performances. "I remember the exact moment Stephen played Led Zeppelin II for me and how powerful the smell of heavy perfume and anticipation was at Viola's church," says Mason. It was not long before Mason discovered blues music and the bridge between praising and rocking.
As a quiet teen, Mason spent his free time listening to blues records - one of the first was Muddy Waters' "Hard Again." That same year the album's producer Johnny Winter and harp contributor James Cotton came through to play separate shows at Colorado College. "I was pretty well floored by those two shows. I finally came to when Cotton's guitar player asked me if everything was alright and I realized that I was the only person left in the theater, still staring up at the stage." Columbia's release of the "Complete Robert Johnson" when Mason was 15 led to a particular fascination and relationship with solo country blues artists that suited his then shy style.
Holding his burgeoning musical talent close to his chest, Mason headed to Vermont to pursue a degree in conservation biology. It was in college where Mason met fellow blues devotee and gifted multi-instrumentalist Gerry Hundt, now a member of Nick Moss and the Flip Tops, and began playing live shows. But it was his first job working for a military contractor in Germany that led Mason to consider music as a full-time pursuit. "The job was rough and boring, but the nights were a blast, busking for people far away from the Army life." The streets of Dutch, French and German cities were the perfect places to develop his distinctive style and stage presence.
The street also played a critical role in the development of his one-man band show. After winning the Telluride Acoustic Blues Competition in 2001, Mason was hired back to teach slide guitar at the festival's guitar camp. It was through the Telluride Blues and Brews festival that Mason developed his passion for teaching and met and came under the influence of contemporary luminaries Taj Mahal, John Cephas, Phil Wiggins, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Anders Osborne and Richard Johnston.
"At Telluride, Richard invited me out to play with him in Memphis on Beale Street and I took him up on the offer. It was a steamy Thursday night in June and Rick gathered a crowd, something he's really good at, then introduced me and promptly left the drum stool. My acoustic instrument was still de-tuned from the trip so the only option was Richard's drum rig and Lowebow. So I hopped on." Mason made enough that weekend trading sets with Johnston to pay for his hotel, meals and airfare, but more importantly found a vehicle to express the electrified, deep country blues sound he heard in his head.
Since then Mason has performed with BB King, James Cotton, John Mayall, Jimmie Vaughan, The Yardbirds, John Hammond, Robben Ford, Bob Margolin, Kelly Joe Phelps, Joan Osborne, Otis Taylor, Carolyn Wonderland, Will Hoge, Rose Hill Drive, The White Buffalo, Shemekia Copeland, Johnny A., Bugs Henderson, and the man Mason calls "the King," Robert Belfour.
Town and Country caps off what was an important and clarifying year for Mason. He began 2007 by organizing and leading a two-week trip for 18 High School students to visit the Mississippi Delta, Memphis and New Orleans and interact with musicians and historians there. He then returned home to prepare for the birth of his daughter and stuck close to family through the summer while playing steady gigs in Colorado and working out tunes for the new album. Recording, mixing and mastering the album were finished in September. Then in October he traveled to Helena, AR to make his third appearance at the Arkansas Blues and Heritage Festival where in 2004 he had won the title of "Most Promising Emerging Artist."
----- Betsie Brown and AW by FS
Betsie Brown, Blind Raccoon, 901.278.6850,
Words from JOHN:
"Town and Country pretty well sums up where I am at right now musically. The 'Country' side of things is more personal and quiet. There is more space to explore, but certainly less to hide behind. And 'Town'? Town is where you go to get down! It's about shaking it, getting your juke on, cutting loose. Lip-stick pickups into a Plexi. Bass from a cigar box guitar, grooving with foot drums, getting people moving."
"I wanted to make an album that was true to life, just like me and my live show. My music is sacred to me, it's an extension of me, and I want my listeners to know I'm really there, vivid and honest, behind my music." John-Alex Mason
John-Alex Mason is participating in the 2008 International Blues Challenge
(Jan 31 - Feb 2, 2008)
and the 2008 International Folk Alliance Conference
(Feb 20 - 24, 2008), both in Memphis.
Town and Country Hits #1
The Roots Music Report Blues Chart has T&C at #1 for the week ending 1/25.
Thanks for the spins!
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