BG: Thank you for coming down here today.
JM: Thank you for having me.
BG: You’re doing a CD release party at the club?
JM: Yeah, May 8th.
BG: How long have you been working on this album?
JM: Wow, that’s a good question, I’ve been working on it probably 3 years or so. We did it in 3 different studios, one of the studios we were in was my good buddy Pete Galanis. Where I ended up recording the brunt of the thing was Studio 2424, which is John Christy’s studio over there on Addison and Western.
BG: That’s cool, what drew you to that?
JM: Some of the guys in my band told me, “you should try to go over there.” My keyboard player, Greg Sephner, my bass player Mike Zabrin, and my drum player Dana Thompson all said, “this is a real cool place you should check it out.” One of the things is the engineer there which is John Christy son Danny, he’s just, I don’t know, he’s like from another planet. I’ve rarely seen someone work behind a board like that. He’s really intuitive, he’s really, really fast and efficient so it ends up saving you money in the long run, which I’m concerned about because I’m footing the bill on most of the stuff.
BG: That’s right, this is an independently released album. Is this the first time you’ve done something independently?
JM: Nope, I have 5 CD’s out. They’re all up on iTunes- well, they’re distributed all over the place online. This one, though, is a little bit different than the other ones, but at the same time still kind of similar to the other ones.
BG: What makes it different?
JM: One of the things that makes it different is I feel like I’ve stepped into some different territory musically. It’s all blues but some of the stuff is kinda…
BG: It’s got kind of a funky sound when I was listening to it.
BG: I’ve been seeing you play here a long time, so it’s not surprising to me, but yeah it’s definitely got a funky and upbeat quality to it.
JM: Right, and I think part of that is just when I was writing some of the material, I was thinking about some of the guys I play with and just some of the stuff. I’ve never really been what I would consider mainstream blues or straight-ahead blues. It’s not that I don’t do that stuff – if you’ve seen me play live you know I do it – but I’ve always kind of drawn from where my influences were. I grew up in the middle of the 70’s to the middle of the 80’s. I graduated in 1984 and I was 10 years old when some of the greatest records came out, right smack dab in the middle of the 70’s. I really feel that whatever I write is going to be a product of what I heard and what was being funneled to me by the people around me.
BG: Being what?
JM: I was a huge fan of black music. There’s really no other way to say it. My mom was listening to a lot of the radio stations here in Chicago. And you know, I grew up in the suburbs, and here’s this white woman driving down the street blasting the Isley Brothers or Al Green. This is all stuff that was happening at the time. Her record collection was everything from Curtis Mayfield to B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Otis Rush.
BG: I see that you have an Otis Rush tune on here.
JM: I’ve got 2 Otis Rush tunes on there, “Homework” and “Right Place, Wrong Time.” I love Otis Rush. She was into like you know, Marvin Gaye. My uncle, on the other hand, was like a rocker. He was 7 years younger than my dad, and so he was listening to the rock music at the time. Late 60’s, early 70’s, you know. I got real influenced by bands like Led Zeppelin, just like everybody, Free and all the really cool guitar guys. I decided at some point that I really like the guitar and I really want to play the guitar, so it just, I don’t know, I’m sure this is all well covered territory with every guitar guy…
BG: Nah man, everybody is getting music from somewhere, everbody has an influence but it comes together in different ways. Now I’m curious, the title of this album is Manifesto.
JM: I knew you were going to ask me about that. It’s not a political statement. I’m using the word in the idea that this is a mission statement, to say, this is my Manifesto, this is where I’m going and what I’m doing right now.
One of the things that I’m really trying to do is reflect are some of the things that have changed in my life, huge sea change with a few things. I’m trying to focus in on what has been given to me and what I need to be thankful for. My daughter was born 13 years ago, and it was maybe two or three years ago before I started recording this record. She sat me down, just a little kid but she’s way beyond her years, and she said to me, “Dad, I want you to watch something.” I said, “Okay.” And she sat me down and turned on Netflix and she put on this show called The Secret and I watched it. And when I was done, I looked at her and she goes, “Ask for what you want. Just do it, you do everything for me and stuff. You never ask for what you want.”
I realized that I’ve spent a lot of time in my life just kind of wasting time. There’s a song on there called “I Never Did Anything For Anybody,” and that song comes from something I read shortly after I watched that. I never did anything for anybody, least of all myself. The thing is that, some of the things I read- I don’t want to get all into like, what I believe or what I don’t believe, I’m not sure that anybody has to know that- but what this guy said was, “The way karma works is if you really want to be selfish and help yourself, the best way to do that is to help other people. If you help other people, it will all kind of circle back at some point and you’ll be taken care of.”
I’m not going to tell you right now that I’m not making some of the same mistakes that I’ve made in my past, but one of the things is I just realized that there’s a better way to do some of this stuff. I recognize that, and that whatever I want or that I’m trying to do, I need to like make a declaration that this is what I want to do. And that’s where that name Manifesto comes from. It’s a declaration of, this is my music, this is where I want to go, and this is what I am. Here it is.
BG: It’s as much a declaration for yourself then as for the audience that you’re reaching.
JM: I think no matter what you do, if you’re not happy with what you’re doing, it’s not going to be good to anybody else. My daughter’s name is Maricela and one of the records I have out is called Maricela’s Smile, and I recorded that one when she was really little. But Maricela was 2 years in a row the national champion in karate, and she came to me and said, “Dad, I don’t really want to do karate anymore, I’m not happy with it, I just feel like I need to do something else.” And so she stopped. I was upset in a lot of ways but I was really proud of her for saying, I don’t feel this way anymore. It’s like, kind of another thing that was a lesson for me. It’s funny, I’ve been teaching her all along the way, hopefully she gets more of my good habits than bad habits (laughing) but she’s taught me so much about some of this stuff and that’s what I’m saying.
BG: Do you feel like this album is like a break from your previous work?
JM: I do in some ways, yeah. There’s a song on there called “Freedom” that I wrote like maybe 2 years ago, year and a half ago. It would be hard for people who are blues purists to recognize it as blues, but the way that I’ve always kinda looked at blues is, blues for me- I could hear like Hank Williams and I could hear blues. I could hear Beethoven and I could hear blues too, people will say, “Oh that’s not blues.” But it’s all to me it’s all kind of like, my favorite artists are the ones who tell the truth. That for me is what’s important, and that song Freedom, that song is very different from a lot of my other songs. I really think it’s born out of some of those conversations I had with my daughter and some of the internal conversations I had with myself, trying to free myself from some of that negativity.
BG: Well you know there was another one I noticed that was markedly different from some of the other tunes on there. Michael.
JM: Yeah that’s uh, that’s song is…. you know, I’m really emotional right now and I apologize…
BG: I don’t think that’s something you need to apologize for; the blues is an emotional form of music by its nature.
JM: I met a brother and a sister in Iowa at Blues on Grand maybe about 12 or 15 years ago. The girl came up to me and she says, “Hey, how are you doin, what’s your drummer’s name? He’s cute.” At the time it was Rick King. And the girl’s name is Denise and she introduced me to her brother, who was a big heavyset guy. She said, “This is my brother, Miker the Biker.” And she’s like, “We’re taking him back to Deadwood.” They live right outside of Sturgis in Deadwood, South Dakota and she said, “We’re taking him back.” And she kind of told me that he had some problems. In the ensuing years anytime I was playing in the area of North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Colorado, because one of Denise’s kids lives in Colorado, they would come see me and it would always be her and Mike.
Well, Mike got esophageal cancer after he was living out there I don’t know must be, oh 12, 13 years. He had straightened himself out – he was a drug user – and he really was a biker. He got a job working for one of the Harley dealerships out by Sturgis and he did body work and made a life for himself and he was happy. He really liked my music, and he would tell Denise that after he found out he was terminal he said, “I’d like to see Joe.” So they would come to see me even more and in the last year of his life they flew me out there and I went on a poker run with them. We went through the Black Hills and stuff and I really, really got to know him much better. And Denise is a really, really close friend of mine and she’s become even closer of a friend through this whole process, and that song if you listen to the words it says everything about how I feel about that situation.
The way that that guy lived, his last days, he was like a samurai: I’m dead already, so now I’m going to live, and that’s exactly how we lived the last year of his life. I was scared when I was riding behind him and his friends, because those guys were just like- I had never ridden through the Black Hills, and those guys are doing like 85, 90 miles a hour not knowing what was coming up around the other side of the hill. And when we get there they were laughing and saying, “Dude, do you want us to get you a skirt?” Fuckin’ around with me and shit, but it was cool because they were all like that, all the guys who were around Mike. Denise was in such turmoil when he died, she asked me to play at his wake. And I wrote that song for his wake and I sang at it his wake.
BG: That’s a heavy experience man.
JM: Yeah it was.
BG: Well let’s turn it to something a little lighter then. You’ve been playing with these guys in your band for a pretty long time, how long have they been with you?
JM: My keyboard player Greg Sefner has been with me since the longest, he’s been with me going on 12 years now. My drummer has been with me about 6 or 7 years, Dana Thompson. My bass player Mike Zabrin has been with me I believe going into the second year and they’re all unbelievable musicians.
BG: Are you going to be bringing the horn section here for the CD release?
JM: Yeah, I’m trying to get a horn section here, I already have one piece of the puzzle, I got to get another guy. I’ve also got a background singer. Ashley Otis was incredible, and it’s funny because I’ve always been a big fan of a French vocal, a female vocal group and they were called Les Nubians. And I had listened to them for a long time, and as soon as she came in to the studio, I was listening to her sing and I was like, “You know these guys don’t you.” And she was like, “I LOVE THEM.” It was just like a happy accident that we had both been listening to some of the same stuff, and that what she was doing worked really well in that vein.
BG: So what’s next for you? You’re obviously taken a lot of time and effort to put this together and we’re glad to have the release party here at Legends, where do you go from here with this?
JM: What I really want to try and do is get as much interest as possible in this band and in the music. I’m actively right now looking for a publicist. I don’t currently have one, so I’m basically doing everything myself right now. There’s been some publicists that I’ve worked with in the past, and they’ve helped expand my career. I’m already lined up to get the thing to the radio in the next month or two, so hopefully we’ll be charting in the summertime, if the DJ’s like the record.
Really what I think is going to happen is, right now I have this tremendous urge to play straight ahead blues. I got a funny feeling that the next record is going to be a step in the completely opposite direction of this one, and I know that sounds crazy but that’s where I’m headed.