The Blues Stalker
By Monte Adkison
From the minute that I slipped Low Down in my CD player and instantly recognized Tom Gray’s distinctive intoxicating vocals, I realized just how much I had missed listening to one of my favorite bands, Delta Moon. Their new release reacquainted me with this Atlanta-based group that I became a fan of over ten years ago. Their debut release was in 2002 and they won the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge in 2003. A rotating cast over the years has now evolved into the current mix of excellent songwriting, seductive vocals, compact grooves, mesmerizing guitar work and a triumphant combination of talent. As the rave reviews of their latest effort continue to roll in, I caught up with band mate Mark Johnson just as they were preparing to leave for another European tour.
BS: Please introduce the members of Delta Moon to those that have not had the pleasure yet.
DM: Tom Gray – lead vocals, lap steel guitar.
Mark Johnson – backing vocals, bottleneck guitar.
Franher Joseph – backing vocals, bass.
Vic Stafford – drums.
BS: Low Down is your tenth CD?
DM: Yes, our 10th CD sounds about right!
BS: Delta Moon’s music can’t be fit into one category — you do roots, blues rock, down-home Delta, and many other styles. How would you describe your sound to those that are unfamiliar with it?
DM: We call our sound two slide guitars, a groove and a voice. It is very blues-based but in a contemporary way. We like all kinds of music and get influences from everywhere. But the stuff we really like is soulful roots music, especially the more primitive stuff.
BS: On Low Down, nine of the twelve songs are originals. How does Tom Gray, the award-winning songwriter, keep getting inspiration for such great numbers? Do you get together to write the two guitar parts or are you guys just so connected that it flows naturally? Tell me about that process.
DM: Tom often brings in a song in a very basic form. Then he and I will jam on it until it sounds like Delta Moon. I will often introduce a riff that works well with what he has. Sometimes I will send him an idea and a song will come from that. Less often, something will come from a studio session where the entire band is present.
BS: As an amazing tandem of guitarists, how do you manage to complement, rather than compete as often happens in groups with two equally talented guitarists?
DM: We are from the Rolling Stones, Allman Brothers, Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac school – two guitars working well together can be a massive sound, if you stay of each other’s way, listen and complement.
BS: Can fans keep up with you on social media — Facebook, Twitter, blogs?
DM: Yes, fans can easily reach us through all the social media sites at www.deltamoon.com.
BS: You utilized one of my favorite and I feel, underappreciated female vocalists — Francine Reed, on this disc. How did this collaboration occur?
DM: Francine is awesome. She sang on another record of ours, Hell Bound Train, and really sounded great. Everyone loves Francine. She has a great voice and is really fun to work with — very fast and professional as well.
BS: Mark, I know you’re into gear. For the gear heads out there, can you and Tom describe your favorite instruments? Are they custom?
DM: I use mostly Jerry Jones guitars, Danelectro reissues made in Nashville, now no longer being made. Tom plays Stratotones from the ’50s. But we have hundreds of instruments, way too many to count.
BS: Juke joints, festivals, small clubs, European, Canadian, and American audiences — Do you have any personal favorites where the magic always seems to happen?
DM: Lots of places. The Bradfordville Blues Club, one of my all time favorite places to play. Another place in Bavaria called the Village, Germany’s version of a juke joint. It is run by a guy named Dieter who builds telecasters as well. Just a cool, crazy place. There are so many places really That is my joy in playing music — traveling around the world and seeing so many places and meeting so many different people. We have played a lot of really cool festivals as well, like the Montreal Jazz Festival and Kitchener Blues Festival.
BS: Originally Delta Moon featured a strong female lead singer. Currently female vocalists are used as backup vocalists and on duets. Do you feel this shift has allowed the dual signature guitar work to be showcased and appreciated more?
DM: It’s been over ten years since we have had a female vocalist. Since Tom has become the front man, it has allowed the band’s sound to become more focused which has led to greater success.
BS: Low Down is going to be a hard act to follow, but I have thought that about some of your previous issues. Any new projects in the works?
DM: Low Down has been number 2 or 3 on the Roots Music Report Contemporary Blues Chart for seven weeks now; we are really pleased with the response to the recording. But we plan to top it and we are starting work on the next recording when we return from Europe.
BS: Releases on vinyl, streaming music services, social media publicity, technology — care to reflect on the current state of the ever-changing music industry?
DM: I love it. There are so many ways to bring your music to your fans around the world in general. I just try to view it with open eyes, enjoy myself and stay focused. If your product is good, you will eventually be successful; you just need to decide what success means! For me, it means traveling the world playing my guitar.
Greetings from Sicily!
This last European tour was a blast! The crowds were so enthusiastic. We have done this so much now, we know what to expect. We give it to them and they give it right back, and then interaction between the band and audience begins. We throw a big mutual party. The folks and Spain and Italy are so nice and hospitable to us. And this time we went to Poland and it was great. I a really looking forward to returning in February 2016.
This is a group that electrifies a room during a live show. The counterplay and interaction of the band mates and apparent joy in the music that they create is infectious and best experienced up close and personal. Don’t miss them next time they are in your area. After recent performances in the Bay area, Suncoast Blues Society fans can testify to that fact.
The Blues Stalker