By John W. Fountain III
Matt Hendricks moved to Chicago for the music. He described it as a way of finding himself in the Chicago Blues scene. He had already opened up for Buddy Guy in his hometown of Milwaukee, WI. He had already played gigs at Legends. But he felt there was more. He wanted to broaden his fan base and have an opportunity to get closer to his peers. And if a single car accident that nearly ended his life had not stopped his dreams then the idea of moving to a bigger city with more uncertainties would not pose as an impossible hurdle. Now on his way to Memphis to represent the Windy City Blues Society in the International Blues Challenge in January, Hendricks is poised for another feat.
Blueletter: If you weren’t into the Blues what would you do?
Matt Hendricks: I would be fixing guitars and painting houses.
BL: What was the moment that made you realize you wanted to entertain?
Matt Hendricks: When I was in grade school I played tenor saxophone. I was first chair so I got to take all the solos, and when I did, that was the best feeling in the world. That’s when it all started.
BL: How long have you been singing and playing on the Blues scene?
MH: I’ve been playing Blues for the better part of 10 years now. I started out very slowly in Milwaukee because I didn’t think I had anything to say. Eventually I got better and found my voice. A pretty serious car accident that I got in back in 2001 really made me focus on what I wanted to do. I couldn’t do anything else because I was recovering for a long time. As far as Chicago’s Blues scene goes, I’ve been playing down here at Buddy’s since 2005, and I moved down here in 2008. Basically, I am just a toddler in the Blues when it comes down to it.
BL: What style of Blues would you consider yourself to play?
MH: My real love for Blues comes from the acoustic side, even though I was first introduced to the electric side. When I was 16, I saw Stevie Ray Vaughan’s last concert up in Wisconsin and that really put a spell on me. I tried playing that style of Blues along with groups like Cream and John Mayall but it didn’t sound right, so I started to look up the cats who influenced those guys. That’s when I found my calling. The music of Charlie Patton, Skip James, Blind Blake, Tampa Red and especially Lightnin’ Hopkins really hit a nerve in me that I don’t know how to explain. It’s a feeling I get every time I hear that music. I wanted to play their music for other people so I started learning their tunes and in the process started writing my own. [pullquote]I wanted to play guitar after I heard Van Halen’s second album. Then when I found out how hard it was to play that well, I started learning some Black Sabbath. [/pullquote]Eventually I figured out that all that music was spawned from Blues so I got into Hendrix, Cream, Freddie King etc. until I made it back to the acoustic guys.
BL: How do you feel about the current state of Blues music and the future of Blues overall?
MH: Today’s entertainment world and music world are changing, no doubt about it. I hear some saying it’s harder to get gigs or keep gigs, but in all reality that’s never changed. It’s up and down. Live music and Blues will always have a future, there’s no doubt about it. Too many people love Blues music. It’s eternal
BL: What part did your immediate environment factor into your decision of becoming a Blues musician?
MH: If I would have looked at my environment 10 years ago, there’s no way I would’ve envisioned myself doing this. I was just some white guy up in Wisconsin going to school for a music degree. I mean yeah, I played guitar a lot, but I barely sang and didn’t know what I wanted to do in music, but I knew I wanted something. As cornball as it sounds, the Blues really found me.
BL: Who in the Blues scene has been a major influence on you and what lessons do you learn from them, in life and on stage?
MH: Buddy Guy for sure, just in the fact that he’s never given up. Think it was all smiles and roses for him throughout his career, think again. Jimmy Johnson has also been a big influence on me. I had some conversations with him that I’ll never forget. He’s one of the smartest guys, a hell of a player and real easy going. You can’t let things get to you cause, bottom line, you’re playing music for a living. How many people would kill to be doing that?
BL: What has been the major highlight for you as a Blues musician?
MH: There’s a few I gotta mention. Five years ago on Halloween night I got to open up for Buddy Guy in Milwaukee at the beautiful Pabst Theatre. I got that gig through word of mouth. That’s when I knew I was on the right track. I’ve been playing at Legends ever since. Also, opening for Johnny Winter and HoneyBoy Edwards was pretty damn great. I got to open for Sam Lay once and then me, my drummer (Bill Curtis) and my harp player (Benny Rickun) were Sam’s band for the night. That was way cool. You know how many legends Sam has played with over the years? Wow!
BL: What do you hope to accomplish?
MH: When Bill Curtis (drummer) and I go to Memphis in January to compete in the International Blues Challenge finals, I hope we win it and make Chicago proud. Also, I just want to keep on performing, making music and build a name for myself.
BL: How has the Internet and social networking helped your career?
MH: You can do a lot these days free with sites like YouTube, MySpace and Facebook. Posting new songs and videos is so easy now and everyone can hear it and see it when they look you up. That’s huge. I just wish I had my own computer.
BL: How do you also deal with the competitive nature of Blues and getting gigs at various places?
MH: Truth be told, I’m pretty bad at self promotion.[pullquote] I think the music and live show should do the talking.[/pullquote] I did start a record label called Blue Mill Records when I lived in Milwaukee. It was solely for my CDs and to help get me more gigs. Having a label on my side did get me more gigs but throughout my career, I’ve gotten most gigs through word of mouth and recommendations.
BL: What makes you stand out as a Blues musician?
MH: That’s a hard question to answer because there are a lot of Blues performers out there and we’re all different and unique. My songs aren’t the same as anyone else’s and my performances are my own too. The fact that I play an acoustic guitar through an electric guitar amp might stand out but I don’t know. [pullquote]I try to show how much I love the music every time I perform by singing and playing the best I can. That’s all I can do.[/pullquote]
BL: What is it that you bring to the Blues scene that wasn’t already there?
MH: The Blues haven’t changed all that much over the years. The invention of the vacuum-tube amp and the electric guitar really helped make a progression but it’s still basically the same. I’m not trying to reinvent the wheel but I am trying to keep the Blues going by writing my own tunes and telling a little history about an artist or song when I do a cover so that people can relate to it better.
BL: What should people expect to hear from you and your band?
MH: You will hear my own songs and my version of songs done long ago, and a lot of finger picking and slide guitar playing! If my drummer Bill is playing with me you will immediately feel the energy. Him and I have been playing together for quite a while now and there’s a real good chemistry. He’s like my brother from another mother.