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The Boogie Man’s Comin’:
An Interview with Bobby Manriquez

By Gregg Juke

Listening to an independent release is a gamble; you never know what you’ll get once you press “play.” Listening to a CD with a title that has the now stylistically vague and commercially commodified word “Blues” in it is doubly so, and finding the proverbial needle (good music) in the ten-trillion-ton haystack that is the Worldwide Web is like a game of Triple-Jeopardy that even Alex Trebec might be squimish about hosting.

The Internet has truly become, in many ways, “the great equalizer.” Hundreds and thousands of bands from around the globe now have direct access to fans and markets they once could only have dreamed of—a group can now successfully promote their music in Europe or South America, or across the United States directly to music consumers, without the meddlesome and questionable practices of major label A&R and promotion departments, or the tightly supervised money bag that usually accompanies traditional record deals, and leaves million-selling artists bankrupt and in-debt to their labels. Bands don’t even need to press CD’s anymore, at least not right away. Mp3 files have changed all of that.

This dynamic is good, but the flip-side of easy access is, well, easy access. Listen to a lot of the music out there on the Web… go ahead, go to Mp3.com, or Garageband.com, or a million other digital music sites. On a bad day (or a real long stretch of bad days), you’ll hear just how awful the digital revolution, or should we say the soundtrack for the digital revolution, can sound.

Anyone with a day job and a savings plan can now buy a great computer rig with all of the requisite bells and whistles necessary for high quality digital recording, mixing, and mastering. Unfortunately, often times songwriting and performance talent, and the actual ability to record, mix, and master seem to be optional. While there surely are some incredible bands out there, there are just as many no-accounts with a bankroll churning out banal drivel and marketing it to the world as music. The “dues paying” process has been circumvented, and this is one of the main problems with the digital revolution (or any revolution, for that matter)—sometimes the revolutionaries don’t know jack.

Ah, but on a good day, you can stumble onto someone like Bobby Manriquez. Searing guitar, soaring vocals, original songs, solid performances, high profile guest stars; great recording, production, and arrangements. And “Blues,” no less! Not your granddad’s terraplane blues but some supped-up, high octane rocket fuel Blues-Rock… but Blues nonetheless.

And wonder of wonders, guitar-slinger Manriquez is a true pro, a journeyman who has performed with some of the greats in Blues, Rock, and Soul. A survivor of the excesses of the “rock years” with a substantial musical pedigree. Have you heard of him? If you have, it’s probably because of his latest CD, “Another Shade of Blue(s)” (2000, Bobby Manriquez/b-side blues CD 626), and the critical acclaim it has garnered in the music press. If you haven’t, it’s because while Bobby has been in the music game a long time, he dropped-out for almost ten years, and “Another Shade…” has marked his debut as a solo artist, a process which has included a few false starts and stumbles, and has been nearly four decades in the making.

“Another Shade of Blue(s)” definitely falls into the category of “great indie releases deserving wider recognition.” Manriquez’ chops are menacing, soulful, and ferocious, and his vocal style is reminiscent of the Black Crows’ Chris Robinson. Fretistically speaking, he is an inheritor, but not an immitator, of the Blues-Rock school expounded by Johnny Winter, Robin Trower, and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Bobby’s songwriting acumen is dead on target—13 tracks covering musical ground as diverse as the jazz-inspired title cut, to the hip-hop blues of “Family Traditions;” from the instrumental slow jam of “Smokehouse” to the emotionally-charged lyrics of “Goin’ Up” (a song about not only finally giving in, but running with reckless abandon down the aisle to make the ultimate relationship commitment). The lead track, “Boogie Man’s Comin’,” is a jumping fright-fest of vocal bragadoccio and fast-fingered shredding; the Boogie Man can back up his smack-talk claims with musical action.

So keep surfing the Web for good music—you never know what you’re going to find. It might be a guy bending circuits with a soldering iron—bloops and bleeps as electronic opiate for the new age masses. Then again, you just might find Bobby Manriquez...

GJ: What are some of your first memories of playing the guitar? How did you get started?

BM: My uncle entered me in a talent show at his high school. They dressed me up as Elvis; used a burnt cork to make sideburns. I got a good reaction, and was given the old STELLA guitar! My dad later bought me a DeArmond pick-up and an adaptor. I was able to plug it into the rear of our RCA Victrola. I tuned it my own way; I would later face learning again in standard tuning when I was about 14. One of the most special memories was when my first band (the MadCaps) rehearsed “Green Onions” (around 1960). When the drummer (my best friend/cousin Harry Sapienza) entered with a short roll and crash (after the initial lick which I played on guitar), I got a chill that would carry to middle age and beyond.

GJ: What were some of your first non-Blues musical influences?

BM: I have 2 older sisters; 6 and nine years my senior. They could DANCE! I knew every riff in every oldie they drummed through my sponge-like mind. Their boyfriends would take me to the Howard Theatre in Wash., D.C. when I was a kid. I saw James Brown, "Little" Stevie Wonder, Jerry Butler, Wilson Pickett ...OH MAN! I loved SOUL Music! I would later dig on Jr. Walker, Aretha, then the Beatles and Rolling Stones.

GJ: Blues influences?

BM: With Blues it was easy; I was stuck on Jimmy Reed.

GJ: You have played with some big names; what are some of your fondest memories from touring with artists like Nils Lofgren, Wilson Pickett, etc.?

BM: Man-- too many… With Ikette (featuring vocalist Kathi McDonald—“Exile on Main Street,” Joe Cocker), I'll never forget our opening act in Memphis, I think it was...yes, opening act. A wild bunch; drummer secured to rotating riser, all dressed in black, bassist spitting fire. YUP! KISS. The audience responded minimally and yelled for Kathi! My mind acknowledged the act as "soon to be giant." Capitol Records was investing quite a lump into the lady at that time; we were invited and attended several parties for artists such as Grand Funk Railroad, we played on bills with artists such as Rufus, Earth Wind and Fire, and others as openers. I was to have a big part in the plans for a second album, and was coupled up with producer David Briggs (RIP-- Alice Cooper, Neil Young, Spirit) and songwriting mates such as Al Kooper and Kim Fowley. This was a period of glimmer, limos and jets. With Nils, memories like forgetting my guitars at some giant theatre, and having to go into J. Geils dressing room (laiden with a certain Faye Dunaway lady) to try straps and guitars for my show sticks out. Sweet guy, J. Geils. We also played quite a bit with Santana, and hung out a lot with the boys; we were on the same planes and in the same hotels at times. Greg (singer-- Amigos tour) would kid me about a girl I was dating at the time who happened to greet us from the magazine stand while the whole group of us was walking through the airport. It was PENTHOUSE, and it was Connie on the front page (she didn't tell me), and I had just previously introduced her to the dudes. There was a crowd around the newsstand!

GJ: Are you saying, by any chance, that you may have been the unwitting inspiration for J. Geils "(Angel is the) Centerfold?"

BM: Nah-- totally unrelated; the crowd was the Santana/Nils Lofgren entourages (minus Carlos). It was the Aug., 1976 issue I believe. She had just been with me in New York for a show, then, like the following DAY this happened. A bit cloudy, but no J. Geils…

GJ: Were you talking about Gregg Rollie, one of my favorite keyboardists and singers?

BM: No-- it was Greg Walker (vocalist). We had a blast together. He and Tom Coster (keys extraordinaire) and I had a few wild restaraunt experiences.

Wilson Pickett was who I danced to in Jr. High, and my soul bands played his stuff. This was very flattering; Steve Cropper and me! White boys who could hang with the likes of Pickett! Wilson called me "Wheat Cracker" affectionately, and let me cut loose a lot. He's a very gifted man. We rehearsed using "Moussie" (from the James Brown Band) and played some gigantic shows with the likes of Rufus Thomas, the Meters, Percy Sledge, Martha Reeves, and more. I LOVE soul music! This move allowed for a timely jump-start for my fortunate re-emergence with the guitar. I'm a soul man.

GJ: What about the early days? What are some of the players and clubs you remember during your “dues paying” era? Which ones are still there, if any?

BM: The early days would bring to mind a bar in Georgetown, Washington, D.C., called the Apple Pie. No other sticks out as plainly extraordinary. It was, because, being situated across from the Cellar Door, a small venue which hosted national talent (Cellar Door Productions is still run by Jack Boyle), it was an exciting place, like no other, where an “elite” group of Washingtonians and national talent converged. One would see news figures, actresses, Neil Young after his Cellar Door gig… EVERYBODY wanted in on the Apple Pie. Being in two of the fortunate (but, humbly, I state) in-demand house bands, I was a part of the heart. Everyone from Roy Buchanan and Nils Lofgren to Johnny Thunder and David Johanson of the New York Dolls, to Neil Young, Danny Gatton and Iggy Pop shared the stage in great mixes. I was in "Bobby and Friends" and also shared the guitar slot in the "Dubonnettes" with Mike Stern, a very prominent jazz figure now…(we're still close friends). I was playing there when called to my first "biggy"-- an opener was needed at the Kennedy Center that evening. I packed up and drove down. Got a nice write up; my first in the “Style” section of the Washington Post. There will NEVER be another Apple Pie!

GJ: Are there any particular mentors or teachers, either on guitar or generally/musically, that you can point to that helped bring out your style?

BM: Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton.

GJ: Who are you listening to now? Which artists/bands in straight Blues? Blues Rock? Rock/Pop/anything else?

BM: Lucky Peterson does it for me. He's a hot man. Want to get up with him. I'd say no other is close. I dig Jonny Lang's voice. Passion and fire are guides to my soul; not many reach it. I have high regard for B.B. and Albert and Freddie; in my humble opinion, there's too much typical stuff being churned out; been there-- heard that. I like FIRE! I will forever be listening to Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, old Eric Clapton (Cream- “Goodbye”...YES!) and I'm watching Lucky, and Keb Mo's good, too.

GJ: Lucky Peterson-- a monster guitarist, organist, and songwriter... a homie from Buffalo, N.Y. Anybody else from my “home station” that you can think of that's had some impact on you, blues, soul, rock, or otherwise?

BM: (Not really…) I really dug the band “Derringer.” I went up there (Buffalo) to play with Rick once; I was so strung-out I couldn't play a good note (he's into blues work now). I've always liked the same players-- Johnny Winter, Jimi, Jeff, Eric, Leslie West...Larry Graham! Then there's my love for singer-performers. Stevie Wonder, James Brown, Wilson Pickett, Aretha, Kenny Loggins, B.B. King, Rod Stewart, Prince, Paul Rodgers (Free/ Bad Co.)…

GJ: You were gaining a reputation for yourself and were on the verge of a major breakthrough in the last, excessive, bombastic days of the AOR scene, when you suddenly disappeared from the radar screen... Can you tell us a little about what happened, why you spent a decade away from music, and what brought you back?

BM: Yes-- I hit bottom with that lifestyle (60's, 70's, into 80's). Sex, dope, jail, the street. It was in a jail cell that I found peace. It was my first real prayer, I think; it had no contingency clauses in it for God. I knew everything was going to be alright from that point in 1987, and it HAS!!!! I was able to turn my life around, and worked my way into retail management, in which I did well for about 10 years. It was during that time (1994-95) that someone told me Wilson Pickett was looking for me.

GJ: If you're comfortable sharing, what has changed about you as a person? What has changed about your music? (How have personal choices affected your current sound?)... What brought you back to the Blues?

BM: God. God allowed for a change in me. It's a personal subject area of my life. I'm not inclined to bring this matter up without being directly approached about it, but you have approached. I am happy, more mature, and optimistic about love and life. It's because of God. “Another Shade of Blue(s)” and my blues guitar playing are my heart. It flows. It's MY blues. Everyone has a right to the blues; it can't be owned by anyone. It was a work… a collage of blues-based music that was intentionally diverted and adapted to a positive message, and laiden with my personal tastes. I can play 3 chord blues with a talented Rhythm section ALL DAY. I LOVE it. Just a break for lunch is all I ask.

GJ: Can you explain your album warning “This is not a traditional Blues album?” What were you trying to tell people?

BM: My album has the word “Blues” in it. That word is preceded by ANOTHER SHADE. That was to mean a DIFFERENT slant. No weepin’, moanin’, complainin’, getting left, screwin' female human beings, etc. Just positive, good stuff. A wholesome message, hopefully, in an interesting and diverse format. My music. Not me trying to sing as an African American might (God blessed THEIR vocal chords in a unique way!) or playing standard riffs all through the songs. I enjoy that riffs you hear me play may sound unorthodox. I am humbled by the frequent comments comparing me to other soul players like Stevie Ray and Jimi, and Jeff. I've been playing the way I play for a time which came before ever hearing Stevie Ray, for example. I was born before he was. I believe it's the soul that's being recognized and compared. Everyone takes from the blues bank; it’s what one does with what he takes that matters to me. Fire. Passion. I need it. It drives me.

GJ: How would you define "Blues?" Where does your music fit into the Blues continuum?

BM: Traditional Blues has been covered and recovered. It's beautiful. I'm not a traditionalist, however, so I get the urge to hook a rocket to my bicycle and see what happens. I am, however, working at present on a BLUES CD that WILL deliver BLUES in a strong way. I'll leave it to the world to name it; might as well-- gonna happen anyway. There are some silly attitudes present wherever more than a couple human beings are gathered. Sound ones, also, though. Some flatter themselves experts, and can't even strum a tune. Some say very little and can pick the heck outta that thang. It IS a subjective thing, I know. Let me say this: I guarantee that my fellow musicians will be turned on by what I'm cookin’ up. I certainly hope MANY others will love it also.

GJ: Can you tell us a little about your songwriting process? And what's next? An upcoming tour? A new album?

BM: I sit down with a very definite groove, and just do it. It all comes easy; I'm really thankful about that. I sometimes set a theme around some piece, how ever small, of music from the past, and charge it up! I speak about it to myself on a hand-recorder, and dictate musical pictures and sequences. This next CD is going to be an extra pleasure. More basic, more blues. Love those blues.

GJ: Anything you want to add or say about particular songs? Any upcoming shows or appearances to plug?

BM: “Boogie Man” is a tribute to Jeff Beck. (Nils Lofgren played the great piano). FT2 is a thematic continuation of “Family Traditions.” I'd say one of my favorite solo pieces is in “Goin' Up” (also Nils on Organ)… I like listening to my music; I'd like to have my lyrics catch more attention; many songs may jump, but on the legs of “not-so-thought-out” lyrics. I believe mine have strong legs. I'm readying a band for playin’, so look out, coming soon! Vintage Guitar Magazine is doing a piece on me; they have already done one on my old 1958 Les Paul Standard. It was originally Sam Andrew's from Janis Joplin’s Big Brother & the Holding Co., then passed to Roy Buchanan, who sold it to Nils, who presented it to me on my 21st birthday. Jeff Beck tried to buy it a couple times; I should have sold it; the remains are hanging on my wall downstairs… I contend that the Blues CD I am working on now is gonna make hair on backs of necks stand up!

GJ: How about five "Desert Island" Blues picks?

BM: “Dust My Broom”-- Elmore James, “Blues DeLuxe”-- Jeff Beck Group, “Big Boss Man”--Jimmy Reed, “You're the One For Me”-- Lucky Peterson, “Misdirected Blues”-- Robben Ford.

GJ: What is the process involved in making it as an independent Blues artist? BM: This is a process I'm optimistically involved in. It takes WORK. Networking and more work. It takes sending and never hearing back. It takes more sending. It takes realizing if 50 CD's can be sold in a state, 300 can. It takes being blown-away at the support of your fellow musicians, and press and reviewers saying “Look Here! Look what HE says! You'll be missing something in your LIFE without having purchased and listened to...” my album “Another Shade of Blue(s)”...

That’s his story and he’s sticking to it. And you know what? It’s a true story—you will be missing something if you don’t check-out this album. Your choice, of course, but it should be an informed one. Watch out for the Boogie Man, and don’t say we didn’t warn you…

Until next-time, God Bless & Good Blues…

Gregg Juke is a producer, musician, songwriter, music journalist, educator, and music entrepreneur. As a music writer, he has contributed to CDnow, Western New York Musician, The Music-Hound Jazz Guide, and the three-volume encyclopedia 20th Century Music, as well as Blues Beat Magazine, and Got The Blues.com. Gregg is the proprietor of the Nocturnal Productions Music Group, a full-service music agency, independent record label, and publishing company. Copyright 2001 Gregg Juke/Nocturnal Productions, All Rights Reserved.