INTERVIEW: DAVID ROTUNDO
Good afternoon, what a thrill it is to be able to sit down and get in tune with
Toronto’s Blues Harpist, David Rotundo
Ronnie Hawkins once said, “He plays the blues the way it’s supposed to be played”
Q) What does it feel like to be quoted and acknowledged by the King of Rockabilly?
A) WOW! I remember getting that testament. 1st of all, Ronnie Hawkins is in a league of his own. It was a pleasure and an honour to play with such a soul of a man. To have received that quote, it still moves me to this day, a very good feeling definitely and I try to honor that testament.
Q) After touring internationally, what is it like to perform in your home town of Toronto, to a sea of familiar faces at places like Canada’s premiere live music venue, Hugh’s Room?
A) It has become more and more special as the years go on actually. As you pointed out, when you go on the road you have to forge new ground, and when you return to familiar faces and to see the numbers grow, it is a great feeling.
Q) Is there a different feel to your creative process when writing in Toronto versus say, Mexico or Estonia ?
A) Yes, I think because the way the world works and the way it is set up, and the different geographical points on this planet, some places seem to be more inspirational than others. There is definitely deep roots and inspiration at different levels all around Mexico.
Q) Have you seen or felt a major shift or change in music today compared to when your career started in 1991?
A) Yes, definitely and I would like to see how that sort of unfolds because like archeology, my music comes from blues and roots blues, juke joints and places like that where guys like Ronnie Hawkins cut their teeth and just stuffed bars with people crammed together dancing and enjoying and being very lively. Live music was such a strong part of the music scene, going out and celebrating the scene. I found that energy begin to wane approaching the year 2000. When I got into it, it was just starting to wane. The bars were a lot busier 15-20 years ago and live music was appreciated and found everywhere. With a lot of changes, regulations they put on bars, the night life and laws, I find it has changed a lot. It is hard to see those changes sort of unfold. I firmly believe that even though we are in a transition; it’s going to lead to making a deeper connection to soulful music again and it is going to unfold and manifest in different ways. I believe there is no way of extinguishing the real true art, it just seems to go in periods of growth then recession, growth then recession. I feel maybe right now we are in sort of a receding introverted period.
Q) With various accolades, 11 consecutive nominations, 2 Maple Blues Awards for Best New Artist and Best Harmonica Player, CBC Rising Star award, 4 albums since 2001 and your latest 2009 album, “No Looking Back” still going strong. Can you share with us your favorite song and favorite album and why?
A) WOW! It is always nice to be recognized, in one sense it makes me want to cry when I hear that stuff because you always try to do your best as an artist, always feel that you are in the state of becoming. If you are always in the state of becoming you will be in good spot and have longevity to it, like you never really arrived. So to answer that question about why I think I am still kicking around doing it? Well it’s because I strongly believe that I feel I still have places to go, still have deeper waters I would like to get into and that’s what inspires me to continue making art and to continue making music. As for a favorite song or album, it’s all kind of relative. I honestly have 5 recordings out, I listen and try to detect where there was honesty and authenticity because when an artist can capture that, the work can become timeless. I find that kind of honesty in all of it and it’s refreshing to get that. I believe that’s what artists strive for, whether they know it or not. As for favorites, they are hard to pick out. The melancholy song and the jovial song make each other bigger than they are on their own when you place them in juxtaposition. I look at it as an entire connected body of work. Just as we are talking about it, I am trying to articulate it. We have fingers and toes, arms and legs. We have 2 knees, 2 elbows etc. the all come together and make the body work. So in short, it’s good to have all the different body parts, as its good to have all the different songs.
After the El Mocambo James Cotton 1991 connective career influence where “he blew one note on the harmonica that hypnotized me”,
Q) Who are your other influences?
A) There are too many of them. In all honesty I definitely find music as an art form. I can easily be as influenced by Shakespeare as I can by Miles Davis blowing one note on a trumpet. So I find inspiration to be in all mediums. I find as an artist that it’s their sole and only job is to inspire. If someone plays a good set of spoons that to can be extremely inspiring. I love listening to Pavarotti sometimes even Tchaikovsky or Rubinstein playing his piano. It can be very inspiring and depressing at times, as I will never come close to being that proficient. This is why it’s best that human beings don’t COMPARE ourselves. We all have our own unique gift, let it shine! Inspiration is everywhere and I try not to limit it to just music. I still find a lot in the music from the 40s 50s and 60s. While speaking about Ronnie Hawkins, about one year ago, I was listening to an interview with Ronnie from his beginnings late 50s I believe with Robbie Robertson on guitar and Levon Helm on drums. I got to say I had never heard this before and it was the most powerful stuff I had ever heard in my life. I have to get that album, and do yourself a favor and get his music.
Q) What is it like to have performed with music legends and to have your name now notably placed amongst these very giants like Ronnie Hawkins, Jeff Healey, Johnny Winters, James Cotton, Jerome Godboo, Jack dekeyzer, Elvis Costello, Paul Reddick, Danny Marks, Shakura S’Aida, Downchild and the list goes on and on?
A) It is humbling very humbling. I always try to look at it as I am standing on the shoulders of giants. I am very very inspired to be around artists like that. It’s the greatest gift to be a part of people like that. It’s great and so inspirational to be near people that operate, think, move like that, who emote and give like that and have that understanding. You missed one named Lee Oscar from the band War. I am humbled enough and lucky enough to have a musical relationship with him who has been with so many like Zeppelin, Hendrix and he has giving me a lot of feed-back and tools to learn from. Being around people like that is extremely inspiring and enlightening and artist souls such as Ronnie, Jeff Healey, Lee Oskar, they raise the people around them to a higher level.
We share similar peers Robin Hawkins and the late great SAB.
Q) Are there memorable moments in time that stand out for you regarding these artists?
A) 1st time with Robin and SAB was in the barn and Ronnie was listening and telling great stories of inspiration and SAB reflected by saying, “When I grow up Ronnie, I want to be just like you!” That was funny and very touching.
You are a charismatic, honest, passionate songwriter and have an inspiring soul, who is no ordinary harp player. You exude raw energetic emotion as a musician, philosopher and blues profit.
Q) Would you say your songs were based primarily on your personal experiences or life in general?
A) I would say based on the heart and from personal experiences rather than the mind. It might shift to the mind, but definitely the feeling from the heart first.
“THE EVER DYNAMIC and ALWAYS UNPREDICTABLE Maple Blues Winner”
Q) Can you elaborate on how this quote can to be?
A) Most likely because I never have a set list. I give allowance to go with the energy of the room. There is no right or wrong, some artists and performers like to take control of the room, and have the listener follow them. That’s fine but, I try to listen to the room, which doesn’t mean the audience parse, it’s hard to describe. I rather not to predict or project what`s going to happen on stage, as that can be limiting and make the future THE PAST.
I heard that the show has been sold out since March, a special nod to Bluesin’ Toronto promoter Ross Robinson.
Q) What can we expect from your hometown, Lee Oskar Harmonica sponsored; Hugh’s Room May 7th, 830pm performance at 2261 Dundas Street West?
A) Other than the unexpected, myself and the band that will be with me always lean on giving 100%, that’s all we can be sure of. Saying that, we hope this INTENT will lead us into magical moments, maybe flashes lightening. Visits from the unseen world known as MUSIC! a high energy performance where we can tap into something special.
Yes, seats are sold out but best to contact the Hugh’s Room box office at 416 531 6604 as there are standing room only tickets still available.
Visit www.davidrotundo.com for tour dates in your community.
I learned a lot regarding your musical blues language. Thank you so much David for your fabulous time.
Volunteer Wire Megazine Photojournalist & Contributor Deb Draper
The Wire Megazine www.thewiremegazine.com