There’s a big difference playing the blues and living the blues. When you live in the blues, it permeates your world everyday. You see it, you breath it, you sing it, and most importantly, you feel it. For those who live in the blues, every experience in life is a blues song.
Chris Beard is all that and more. First and foremost, he’s a seasoned blues guitarist and recording artist. In 1998, he released his debut recording, Barwalkin’, on JSP Records. That record earned Beard a W.C. Handy (Blues Music Award) nomination as Best New Blues Artist. Chris produced his follow-up disc, Born To Play The Blues in 2001 to the critical acclaim of the blues press and earned Beard the title, Prince of the Blues. Then, in 2005, Beard released Live Wire, a stirring combination of live and studio performances for Northern Blues. His last record Who I Am & What I Do was released in 2010.
Now, five years later, and after suffering a mini-stroke after the release of Live Wire, Beard has formed his own label, Destin Records, and released Eye Of The Witch. As tragic as his mini-stroke was, paralyzing his right side and specifically his ability to play as fast as possible, the stroke also taught Beard to remember his early infatuation with the blues guitar.
“That stroke was a wake up call on many levels. Because I couldn’t play like I wanted to play, as fast as I could, it took me back to what I first fell in love with when I started playing, slowing down and trying to make the guitar say as much as you can with every note. Everything I had been taught about the guitar becoming an extension of your body and expressing feelings came back to me.”
Throughout Eye Of The Witch, ear catching lines and true to life stories explore every facet of modern relationships. Robert Johnson may have vocalized the pains of love in his 1937 recordings, but Chris accurately captures the complications of modern male vulnerabilities and strengths.
“A lot of it deals with my life and my relationships, but a lot of the songs come from looking at people around me. The song, ‘House Of Shame,’ talks about a guy knowing that he did wrong and having to live with it. But I added the words about accepting responsibility for the part I played. That comes from the teachings of my recovery program, (24 years in October, 2015) which teaches me to accept responsibility for the part I play in any and all for my relationships.” At the end, Beard implores his guitar to “talk to her.” It’s the powerful vocals and hard-edged guitar from Beard that sell the message.
His slow blues confessions on “I’m Free” hits blues pay dirt as Beard celebrates his relationship freedom, but understands the paradox that “bein’ free is killin’ me.” Want more over the top guitar? Check out “Glad You’re Gone,” with Beard’s unique, brittle guitar tones screaming to punctuate his joy.
But Beard shows that he’s evolved into more then just a guitar hero. Beard’s “I Keep Believin’,” a gutsy effort from a musician known more for his outrageous high wire guitar acrobatics than his vocals. But one listen and you’ll agree that Beard has worked diligently on his vocals. “My attempt on this song was to show the world that I could express my feelings through the techniques of singing. That I have the ability to get a song across without a guitar.”
His producer and drummer, Carlton Campbell, son of Phil Campbell of the Sacred Steel Campbell Brothers, and Steve Washington, son of songwriter Fats Washington who wrote hit songs for B.B. King and Lowell Fulsom, pushed Beard to leave his vocal comfort zone and the results are evident on every song. “Carlton and Steve pushed me into trying things I had never tried vocally. I’ve played guitar since I was five-years-old, but I’ve really had to take time working on conviction, staying in key, finding the balance between the story my vocals say and what story my guitar tells.”
No Chris Beard record would be complete without finding a song to sing with his father, blues legend Joe Beard. By featuring his dad’s vocals on their original song “Older Fool,” Chris honors that Beale street, juke joint era and shares his love of his father’s essential musical lessons.
Born in 1957, Beard grew up in Rochester, New York, as the blues equivalent of Ken Griffey Jr. His father, Joe Beard, is a fine blues guitarist who grew up on Beale Street in the 1950’s before moving to Rochester. Throughout Chris’ early years, the Beard house shifted into a jam session with every knock on the door. The most prominent visitors were Matt “Guitar” Murphy and Buddy Guy, who found young Chris as their willing pupil.
As the student of these blues masters, Beard soaked up their lessons and has followed their advice. “Blues is my roots,” says Chris. “I grew up as Joe Beard’s son in the house of the blues. I grew up around Buddy Guy and Matt Murphy. Matt always told me that the guitar has to become an extension of you. That will always stick with me.”
Beard never downplays the importance of his father’s influence. “The most important thing dad taught me was do so much with as few notes as possible. We do have our differences when it comes to traditional and modern blues. He always likes the traditional shuffles I play. If it was up to my father, he’d have me doing more old style blues. That’s fine, but that’s not my style.”
At the same time, Beard accepts his role as blues messenger, the one who sat and learned and now passes along. “I attract a crowd of a lot of young guitar players. What I say to them is that everything you’re trying to do all came from the Masters. They need to go back and learn from the Masters. You can listen to what I do, but you need to know where I got this from.”
Because Beard has a younger audience wearing modern music ears, his songs always offer a fresh sound to everyday blues. “I’m someone who is trying to take the blues to a contemporary level. Being of the younger generation, my blues always has the modern feel of soul, funk, and rock. I want to further expand my musical vision of where I feel the blues is going with this record. But, blues always at the foundation.”
Art Tipaldi – Editor, Blues Music Magazine