Dana Gillespie discovered the blues as a teenager at the American Folk Blues festival in 1962. This Blues Hall of Fame entrant has released albums under the pseudonym Third Man, which had Indian bhajans and verses written by Indian saints mingled with mellow trance and, at times, the Blues. She’s playing with a host of other Blues musicians at India’s first ever Blues Festival at Rampart Row, Banquet Joss on Sunday, February 19.
The Blues embody myriad emotions and experiences…yet the lyrics are simple and at times even bawdy and lurid; how do you explain this contradiction?
That’s one of its beauties. The Blues began over a hundred years ago, when people couldn’t say much. Yet the lyrics did just that while remaining very simple on the surface. Even when something sexual had to be said, people got away with it because of the way it was phrased.
You’ve spoken about not being able to do justice to the Blues when you were younger because your “voice didn’t have the edge”…
The ‘edge’ was life itself. I was 15 when I did my first album. Even though your voice may be in tune you can’t sing the Blues without putting years of experience into it. I specialised in bawdy lyrics for a while. In a younger voice these would just sound graphic. Now it comes across as tongue-in-cheek humour… me getting a musical message across with a smile on my face. Blues is one language that follows the language of the heart.
What are the strongest factors differentiating the Blues from Jazz?
Jazz is far more complicated, while Blues is more emotional. Jazz comes from the head and Blues from the heart. Also it has a sense of humour. Incidentally, Blues is the mother of all western music. Without Blues there wouldn’t have been any jazz.
The Blues is considered old-fashioned. Do you think the young generation will accept it easily?
In places like India and America young people would really associate with the Blues. A lot of popular bands have taken Blues songs which later became famous. Take the Rolling Stones. ‘Li’l Red Rooster’ was originally a Blues number! Also ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ by The Beatles was actually by Chuck Berry. But who’d heard of Berry till the Beatles did it? The MTV generation don’t know much about the Blues but they shouldn’t forget where music comes from. Not from the synthesisers and computers. Blues music is from the heart. Which is why Blues musicians play till they drop dead.
What was it that inspired you to do the music you did under the pseudonym Third Man?
Bhajans have beautiful melodies and I feel they purify the space around you. I wanted to take these melodies to the masses in the West just as I want to bring the Blues to India. I also wanted to take them to the younger people. So I couldn’t have the same tabla, harmonium and one microphone recording that was done in India. I had to give youngsters that groove to match their cross speakers. I’ve actually had second generation Indians come up to me and say “Our kids listen to bhajans now because of you!”
This article appeared originally in Mumbai Mirror, Times Of India: http://alturl.com/f279