By John W. Fountain III
Some musicians are more accustomed to playing in smaller bands of duos and trios. They can hold their own without drums or flashy effect petals. Their voices and lone guitars seem to complement their distant stares of trying to connect the audience to a time in Blues sans electricity. Eric Noden is one such artist. He seems comfortable on stage alone or with his newly formed duo, Sanctified Grumblers, with Rick Sherry, formerly of Devil in a Woodpile. Noden’s independence and working knowledge of earlier styles of Blues sets the mood for an education in the fundamental basics of entertainment.
Bluesletter: If you weren’t into the Blues what would you do?
BL: What was the moment that made you realize you wanted to entertain?
EN: I think the first gig I ever had was playing background guitar music at this vegetarian restaurant called the Red Radish in Kent, Ohio. Having people appreciate my music and getting paid really inspired me to continue working as a performer. That was 24 years ago and I haven’t turned back since.
BL: What makes you stand out as a Blues musician?
EN: I think my guitar playing, singing and songwriting stand out as a unique voice in the world of the Blues…[pullquote]There are not as many musicians who have developed these older styles the way I have. [/pullquote]Now that I am also a songwriter my material is becoming more and more unique.
BL: How long have you been playing the guitar and singing in the Blues scene?
EN: I’ve been in the music scene in Chicago since I moved here in 1994. Before that I was part of the acoustic music scene in North East Ohio.
BL: What made you focus on this style?
EN: I love the early stuff. By that, I mean 1920s & 30s Blues: Charley Patton, Gary Davis, John Hurt, Robert Pete Williams, Papa Charlie Jackson, Tommy Johnson and too many to name them all. I enjoy the variety of music in the early Blues from the raw Delta stuff to the ragtime and jug-band influenced music. It’s the roots of the Blues. The guitar playing is layered and rhythmic and is based on the idea of one guitar carrying the song. In the last couple years I’ve been writing my own stuff in this vein.
BL: Who in your family influenced you to become a musician?
EN: My father always played acoustic Blues as a hobby and that’s how I first heard the music. After playing many different styles of music I realized the acoustic Blues and folk were my favorite. I enjoyed the fact that I could do gigs as a solo performer and wouldn’t always need a band. I met Andy Cohen in Kent, Ohio in the early 1990s and he could really play a percussive acoustic guitar and had knowledge of all the early styles. If it weren’t for Andy and my father I would never have discovered this music.
BL: Who, in the Blues scene, has been a major influence on you and what do lessons do you learn from them, in life and on stage?
EN: Probably Honey Boy Edwards and Erwin Helfer. I dig and respect Honeyboy cause he’s one of the few players still working who was directly influenced by guys like Charley Patton, Tommy Johnson and Robert Johnson. He can still kick it out live and has a great Blues attitude on stage. I hope I’m doing what he’s doing when I’m that age. Honeyboy is a true inspiration.
Erwin has known, learned from some of my favorite barrelhouse piano players. Cripple Clarence Lofton, Little Brother Montgomery, Speckled Red and Sunnyland Slim. His knowledge and passion for the music and life is huge. Mostly I learned from Erwin to take life as it comes and enjoy the journey.
BL: What other genres of music did you listen to?
EN: I’ve always been hypnotized by the Afro-Caribbean music that I first heard when I moved to Humboldt Park in Chicago. My song the “Black Cat Bone” incorporates some of the rhythms as well as “Chi-Town Breakdown” from my CD, Midwest Blues.
BL: How do you feel about the current state of Blues music and the future of Blues overall?
EN: I think there is a lot of great Blues music out there for people to discover and see live. Many people don’t realize how good the music is because they haven’t heard it played well. The future of the music lies in finding younger fans that will come out to shows for the next 20 or 30 years.
BL: How do you also deal with the competitive nature of Blues and getting gigs at various places?
EN: To me the music speaks for itself so I rarely think of the music scene as a competition. [pullquote]I just focus on making what I do better and figure the rest will fall into place. [/pullquote]I do enjoy seeing other performers on the scene and at venues that I also work at. When you have a city with so many talented musicians it raises the bar. This town has always inspired me to continually develop my art.
BL: How have social networking sites helped you to promote your music?
EN: I have worked hard to do as much as possible myself in the promotion department. A lot of people don’t realize half the job of being a self-represented independent musician is booking and promoting the performances. I’ve learned to design websites and use technology to my advantage. Now with MySpace, Twitter, Facebook, and blogging, there’s a lot a musician can do to build a fan base and spread the word.
BL: What do you hope to accomplish with Blues?
EN: [pullquote]I want to keep playing and recording music that is satisfying to myself and the people who listen to it while making a reasonable living.[/pullquote]
BL: What should people expect to hear from you by yourself and as a band member of the Sanctified Grumblers?
EN: Rick Sherry and I have a lot in common and we have known each other since 1994. We have played together before. They should expect to hear high energy acoustic Blues and more country with an old-time flavor. You can hear me in three different formats. I play solo and gigs with Joe Filisko besides most recently with Sherry. I think most of what I play can be described as acoustic Blues played with a lot of feeling.