Mike Ragogna: Sugar Ray, your new album is titled Living Tear To Tear. Why all these tears?
Sugar Ray Norcia: Well, I don’t think of it as sad! Just listen to the band cruising along taking you for a joyful ride. The lyrics on a lot of the songs deal with common human emotions some, of course, about troubles, troubles in a relationship or trouble with something or another but the music behind it is very uplifting and therapeutic to me.
MR: Do you have some idea of what your projects will be about as you begin the creative phase or do the songs tell you what it is as you dig into the writing and recording?
SRN: I don’t begin with a preconceived idea for a project other than to keep in mind what it is that we as a band do best and that is to play our own unadulterated, unbasterdized version of urban,electric blues.I also keep in mind the incredible talent of the players around me as I write material. “Monster” Mike Welch on guitar is just that…a monster. His style is electrifying,inventive,subtle and passionate. These are the things that make a dynamic performer. Anthony Geraci is on piano and sometimes Hammond organ. It’s a pure delight to hear the keyboards being played with such intensity and sensitivity while keeping it all in the right style that compliments our material. I’m not just saying….I know! Then there is Mudcat Ward on upright and electric bass and Neil Gouvin on drums. Man they are a dream team of a rhythm section…the bands nucleus. Playing with them is like being driven in a Lincoln Town Car or Cadillac. Mudcats smooth, steady bass lines complimented with Gouvin’s world-famous shuffle on his coveted, vintage Slingerland “Radio King” drum kit is the s**t! Man, I have to stop and go get a beer and a harmonica. I make my own damn self-inspired!
MR: [laughs] How does it feel to have a 35th anniversary with the band?
SRN: It feels great! I think it would be fair to say that not too many bands have been together for 35 years. Mike Welch on guitar is the newest member of the band. He’s been with us for about 15 years. The rest of us have played together for 35, yes that’s right, 35 years, more or less. I figure that’s a total of about 155 years of experience!
MR: From your perspective, what happened on Living Tear To Tear that never happened before on previous recordings?
SRN: Oh I don’t know. To me every time we step foot into the recording studio something special happens. We are there to play our best but it’s like a frozen moment in time. If we were to record the same song once a day for any number of days, each take would be a little different from the last. It depends on how you are feeling in the moment.It depends on how relaxed or tense you may be or how many drinks you may have had or what’s going on in your private life or what the mix sounds like in your headphones.All sorts of variables ultimately contribute to the final product. We usually cut a song once, one take with almost no overdubs.
MR: Were there any surprising moments on the album? Any songs that gave you a tough time? Any that ended up becoming favorites?
SRN: None of the songs gave us a tough time. If you don’t know your craft after all these years then something aint right with you! One of my favorite songs ended up being the slow blues I wrote called “Misery.” It comes from somewhere other that just your normal three chord blues progression. It comes from deep within your heart and soul. It’s hard to describe in words. We were all in another place…almost spiritual I would say. We were just lazily floating through blues heaven making chord changes in unusual places, riffing off each others creative ideas, all unrehearsed and free. Thats a great thing to happen.
MR: What do you think of the blues these days? Does it still have the chops to get out there every night and do it again?
SRN: Like anything else, the blues evolves in all its different forms and off-shoots.I myself am not a big fan of rock inspired blues or blues that’s over the top. There’s nothing wrong with that approach but like to keep it true to the 1950s style of amplified blues. I like old stuff….old cars, old amps, old radios, old wine, old stuff. Maybe that’s why my friends have been calling me “The Old Man” since I was about 20!
MR: You as the artist, what do you feel are the best things that you contribute to the blues?
SRN: I think it’s really what I just said. My band and I are keepers of the flame when it comes to preserving the integrity of authentic sounding urban blues. I think given the complexity and craziness of the world around us today that it is refreshing for a lot of blues fans on this planet to hear as they say…the real deal. Our most recent albumLiving Tear to Tear was honored with seven Blues Music Award nominations this year including Band of the Year and Album of the Year. For myself alone I have thirteen Blues Music Award nominations for the Bluetones last three CD’s and last year I won two Blues Music Awards for my contribution on an album calledRemembering Little Walter which also received a Grammy nomination. That makes me a three-time Grammy nominated blues performer. Not too shabby for a 61-year-old Italian American from Stonington, Connecticut. You know what the great Muddy Waters once told me? He said, “Sugar Ray, you Italians got soul!”
MR: Sweet. Do you think the blues will last forever?
SRN: What’s that saying? The blues will never die. It’s true! As long as we live in this sin sick world, the blues will be around. Since the beginning of time man has had some degree of the blues. It’s just a fact of life man, a fact of life.
MR: Sugar Ray, what advice do you have for new or emerging artists?
SRN: I would have to say…be yourself. You’ve probably heard that before but man it’s so right.When you get to a place as a young or older artist where you can incorporate all of the musical stylings that you appreciate and form them like from a ball of clay into something that is uniquely your own then you really got something. Be yourself….nobody else is!
MR: There’s no way you’re ever going to retire, is there.
SRN: Well, no. An artist doesn’t really ever retire. One may say that he or she is retiring but it really aint so.You know I had an uncle who played real great jazz guitar for all his life and one day when he was around 60 years old or so he just three up his hands and said, “That’s it, I quit!” I was devastated. I urged him to go out and play but he just refused. He said “no damn it, I’m done.” No one could figure out how or why he just stopped cold until we all realized that he had developed a bad case of dementia and that was the reason he threw in the towel .So, as long as I have my health I’m in the game.
MR: Even though you perform and record the blues, are you happy?
SRN: Listen to track # 3 on our CD “Living From Tear to Tear.” It’s called “Things Could Be Worse.” My Dad always told me, “Son, at times, you may think you have it bad but look around you…things could be worse.”
I’ve been married to the same great woman for forty years…I’m happy.
I have a wonderful family…I’m happy.
I live in a beautiful house in the country on twelve acres…Im happy.
I have chickens, a cat and a great dog…I’m happy.
I write, sing and play the blues with one of the best blues bands on the planet…I’m happy!