Early Times, Electric City & Debut at Jamey’s House of Music

Danny Coleman Interviews Early Times

by Danny Coleman, Published on NJ State, Rock On Sound Bites

Early Times - Electric City record

“Yes, it’s my first time coming to Jamey’s, I’m bringing my band, The High Rollers,” said an excited Early Times as he discussed his show at Jamey’s House of Music in Lansdowne, PA on February 24, his new record “Electric City” and more. “I have a keyboard player, a drummer and a bass player, I play guitar and sing. We do, for the most part, a night of original music.That doesn’t mean that I don’t occasionally throw in something that people know but I kind of live and die on what I write and what I’m trying to present and it usually goes off pretty well. We’re gonna do around a two-hour show; I’ve never been in Lansdowne and I’m really looking forward to it and I’m hoping to get some people to come out and I feel that when we play a place for the first time that we always make new fans who find us, I think, a little refreshing from the usual bar bands that are playing blues.” 

Most know Times from his multiple shifts as an air personality for Sirius XM’s Bluesville and Deep Tracks channels but there is far more to him than meets eye. An avid Blues music enthusiast, artist/guitarist and vocalist as well as a fantastic songwriter; Times is passionate not only about music but what goes into the process, a process he’s been involved in for quite some time. 

“I’ve been playing guitar for a little over 40 years,” he recounted. “I was fortunate to join a band at 14 years old that was playing parties, dances and things and at 14 I was already making money. They were doing classic early ’50s and ’60s rock ‘n’ roll like Chuck Berry, Little Richard, The Beach Boys, The Kingsmen and stuff like that which was all before my time but I knew it from a big stack of 45 records that my parents had. So, I grew up hearing that stuff and then at 16, I started playing clubs and as I was graduating high school, I kind of lucked into a gig playing jazz every Saturday and Sunday on a river boat. I didn’t grow up playing in jazz bands, as a matter of fact, the high school I went to didn’t have a music program of any kind; I could swing. That was my one saving grace, I could swing when I played leads but I had to learn that whole repertoire and I didn’t like when people in that realm would say, “We’re gonna play a standard” because I didn’t even know what they were talking about because in rock ‘n’ roll they didn’t use the term, “Standard” and blues was always part of the mix I was doing whether it was rock ‘n’ roll or jazz, blues were always in there. So, I started playing six or seven nights a week coming right out of high school at 17 years old; playing blues clubs a couple nights a week, jazz clubs a couple times a week, I might do a solo acoustic thing somewhere and to this day I still play all of the time, I still practice and I’m still trying my best to improve and get better and some of the best improvement is just knowing what notes not to play.”

Knowing what not to play and the sometimes hard lesson of less is more can be very beneficial but in the genre of blues music, it is most times the dynamics of a song that can be a huge difference maker. Many artists and bands don’t always practice the art of dynamics, preferring to be “Loud”  but Times is one who respects all of those philosophies and appreciates the sudden changes in volume and technique.

“It doesn’t always have to be bombastic either to still have a loud vibe,” he explained, “A perfect example to me is if you go back and listen to some of those early Muddy Waters records. The drummer to me sounds like he is playing with brushes on a lot of that stuff because they were playing in a little recording studio together and for dynamics purposes; they didn’t have all of the mics and all of the channels that they could record with and yet they’d still sound loud. I remember somebody talking about the piano player Bill Evans of the Bill Evans Trio, I don’t know if you remember him but the guy said to me, “Man, the Bill Evans Trio was a loud band” but it was because of the way they played together; you could hear every note crisply. I’m not sure if you know the guy but he is the guy I used on drums for an instrumental album that I just did; Adam Nussbaum. He is probably best known for working with the Michael Brecker Quartet and then he worked with Scofield and John Abercrombie and a lot of these great jazz musicians but what I came to find out that I didn’t even know when I hired him was that he played with the Gil Evans Orchestra on a couple of albums called, “Live at Sweet Basil” and I remember when I was in high school that I got into Gil Evans because I found out there was this guy doing Jimi Hendrix music but with like a big band. So, Nussbaum, in the jazz world, has played with the best of the best. A lot of musicians I grew up with, they just played with their friends and when you do that, sometimes you don’t really get the chance to improve. I was always the kind of guy who wanted to play with the best people I could find and I wanted them to kick my ass. I welcomed it because I knew that was the road to take if you wanted to be really good. I worked with a guy named Johnny Heartsman, he did one album for Alligator Records called, “The Touch” and one of the things that made him really cool was that he had a very signature guitar style, he also played Hammond B-3 organ and blues flute and he showcased all of those on that album and he sang too and not only was singing but he vocalized stand up bass solos with his voice. Then I did a couple of records and toured all over the place with E.C. Scott; so, I always try to be around good people”

Being around “Good People” isn’t just on stage or who you tour with; it also includes the behind the scenes collaborators that can make or break an album or artist.“Quite frankly, the problem that I see is that most blues artists don’t really understand the value of a good producer. Working with good people; too many recordings that I get and even some that are on labels, I’ll hear the snare drum and it sounds like a cardboard box and I just think; why not take the time to make it sound good? That’s the value of working with a good producer and a good mixer; just working with good people. Too many people these days have their little home studios or whatever and they learn how to hit record and put a microphone in front of something and they kind of think that’s what an engineer is; these guys are both artists and scientists, most of the really good ones. They understand the science of sound and acoustics, depth and space and all of that. I’ve been working with Jay Messina who is pretty legendary for recording all of those early Aerosmith albums. “Walk This Way,” “Sweet Emotion,” he did all of those mixes and he also did Cheap Trick “Live At Budokan;” I feel I’ve lucked out and found one of “Those guys;” you know what I mean?”

“Electric City” is still not released but Times says it will be sooner rather than later that it makes its debut but in the meantime; he’s a very busy man.

“Electric City” has Anton Fig on drums and Conrad Korsch who played for the last 20 years or so with Rod Stewart and he was really fantastic; a great bass player. Both of those people, I’d never laid eyes on them until I walked into the studio and we recorded the entire album without having ever played together, met each other in person or anything. I came with charts and they came and brought it!  They didn’t just come in like it was just a session. They brought creativity and energy to the session and man, that was fun. Probably half the songs on the album if not more, the lead vocal on the recording is what I was singing as we were recording.”

“I’ve got a couple of things that I’m working on right now. I really had intended to get an album out around this time last year. My last two albums did well for me as far as getting  some good radio airplay here in The States and in Europe and some other places and I got nice reviews but I’ve just been really critical of this next album because I don’t want to just put out something that is just there. To me, an album; you and I grew up at a time when there was album oriented rock where it wasn’t about having a single; it was about creating a full project. My most recent album is “Electric City,” the one right before that, “The Corner,” I started writing songs in the process that I do; I just started compiling ideas and songs and I kind of saw this little thread. I could see it becoming almost kind of a storyline, almost a conceptual kind of thing and it ended up where everything fell into place with it and that was the first real national release that I did where I felt like it was really well received and done right and the next album, I didn’t quite do a theme but it’s what I like about the “Electric City” album.  

“I’m trying to get my new album out in the vein of what I do in the blues world but in the meantime at the end of last year, I did go into the studio and I recorded an instrumental organ trio album; that late night Jimmy Smith, Jimmy McGriff, “Groove” Holmes kind of sound,” he continued. “That is actually in the can, it’s a little bit different stylistically but it’s done with some intent; one of two things, one, I felt like it was a stopgap to get me to do recording while I’m working on getting this next album ready to go and also, I’m a big proponent of not following the crowd with whatever I do. I try and look at what’s going on around me and I try to go in a different direction. So, one of the things is, all of these quote unquote blues rockers; it’s a lot of the same thing to me. Usually I don’t feel like the songs are that well-written, I feel like, if it’s a guitar player that’s kind of leading it, the song is kind of secondary to; OK, when do I get to take a guitar solo? I don’t feel like there are enough guitar players out there who can really hold my attention for all that long and one of the few passed away when Jeff Beck passed away. He was a guitar player to me who had a unique voice, an individual style and those guys don’t come around that often. So, what I did with this organ trio thing is, I played absolutely clean guitar; no distortion of any kind. I went live into the studio and recorded with no overdubs which to me is what I still think should be the ultimate goal of bands; not that there’s anything wrong with overdubs and I do that sometimes but I think the ability to go in live and record in that setting is where you get that mojo, that’s where the grease happens. That doesn’t happen from a drummer recording a track and then the bass player; do you know what I mean? There is something to be said for a group of guys getting together and playing music at one time.”

Being a blues musician and a radio personality gives Early opportunities to see, hear and in some cases lend his talents to others in the genre such as Misty Blues and it also allows him to opine on some of his favorite artists today.

“There are a few out there that I like,” he began slowly. “Misty Blues is doing their 25th anniversary as a band this year and I’m actually playing lead guitar on their upcoming album called “Silver Lining.” Gina Coleman reached out to me to play lead guitar on the title track as a featured guest and it’s a really cool tune; she’s got that low guttural voice and it’s nice. I like her stuff, I think it sounds good, it’s contemporary but it still has its roots. I really like what Thornetta Davis is doing. I don’t know if you’re hip to her but I really like what she’s doing as well. She’s a cool lady and for a few of her songs she would also do a nice video; it wasn’t super high quality but it was way better than a lot of other videos where it’s just a group of guys in a room playing their song. She actually took the time to put together something that was artistic and I thought it was really hip.”

With the near extinction of record stores, how artists distribute their music and the consumers obtain it has dramatically changed. Times understands this and the need to  continue working hard on his own and stresses the same for others.

“I think most artists in the blues world are working pretty much as independents even if they are working with some other label like a Ruf Records or VizzTone or whoever; it’s still kind of an independent release essentially. Record stores; when you couldn’t just go online and buy anything at any time you wanted from anywhere in the world, your local record store was kind of like a holy place.You might go there looking for a certain album by Led Zeppelin and it might be out of stock but you got another one because they had that one or maybe the album cover looked cool or something like that and that’s how you’d discover music sometimes. Remember when albums had liner notes? They used to have liner notes; people who used to write liner notes lost business because nobody really hires them anymore.” 

Yes, Times guests on other artists’ recordings and he also has guests on his soon to be released record and they are two of the hottest things in blues music today. 

Bobby Rush and Eliza Neals; they were both the right choices, ” he said enthusiastically. “The song “Bonnie & Clyde” that I had Eliza on, it was one of those songs that is not a blues song and I knew that it wasn’t going to get played on blues radio and I was upfront with Eliza about that. I said listen, I’m gonna give you a really good track to sing on but don’t be disappointed if this is not any kind of a hit; maybe if my name was Justin Bieber you’d have a big hit on your hands (laughs) but in the circle I run in in the blues field; this song is not gonna be one of the go to songs on radio. I felt like the whole story to the lyric; I labored over it because I wanted it to be just right and I needed to find the right vocalist to do that song with and I don’t think I could’ve done better than Eliza. Maybe some other people would’ve also done a great job but she gave me exactly what I needed on that song.”

“The one with Bobby Rush is an interesting story. I opened up for him at The City Winery in New York City around 2021 and he came up to me after the show and said, “Early Times, you and I should do something together. I’ve been following what you’re doing; you and I could write something. Everybody is so divided right now, we could do something to bring the people together; black, white, age groups, different generations” and I said, Bobby, I’d be honored. The problem is, he lives in Jackson, Mississippi and I live in New York and we couldn’t actually get in a room together to write a song. I heard him, I heard what he wanted; I called him one day and said, Bobby, I’ve got the song for us and he heard it and he was on board. At that point he was about 88 years old because he’s 90 now and he sounded powerful on it, he gave me everything I could handle and it was an honor to work with him. We didn’t just get in a room and play a 12 bar blues song, we did something a little unique; that’s my feeling about the song.” 

To find out more about Early Times, please visit https://www.earlytimes.co