After taking a left turn with 2014’s Nights Like This, the R&B screamer from Brooklyn, via Clarksdale and Chicago, who honed his craft in Mitty Collier’s church, has made My Way Home, an ace gospel album that’s set to tear the roof off.
Why a gospel album?
I had been teaching a class in Harlem on gospel quartet music as part of the Gospel For Teens programme, and working with those kids was incredibly inspiring. I started writing and demoing some songs on my own and they came out more like gospel than anything else I’d been doing.
You had a great blues apprenticeship playing guitar in Wesley Jefferson’s blues band in Clarksdale.
Only a few days after I moved to Clarksdale I met Shine Turner who played guitar for Wesley Jefferson’s band. Shine heard me play and sing and told me that he was leaving Wesley’s band to go back to playing in church and he asked me if I wanted the gig. I said yes, even though I wasn’t quite sure what I was getting into. Our first gig I found out that being guitar player meant I also had to sing and front the band! I ended up splitting frontman duties with Willie ‘Rip’ Butler who played bass with Wesley.
You also played with drummer Sam Carr, the son of Robert Nighthawk.
Sam and I got to be very close as there weren’t a lot of people around Clarksdale who wanted to play the older styles of blues. We did many gigs as a duo with me playing guitar, harmonica and singing and Sam on drums. I would go out to his house most weekends and he and his wife Doris would be so welcoming. Sam would play me tapes of music he thought I should know and tell me stories about the people he played with through the years.
And you played with Ike Turner at the Pinetop Perkins Homecoming event.
That was sort of a crazy coincidence as I just happened to be in the right place at the right time and was asked to play harmonica behind Sam Myers. In addition to Ike on piano, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith was playing drums and Bob Stroger was playing bass.
Your 2005 debut, Eli ‘Paperboy’ Reed Sings Walkin’ And Talkin’ And Other Smash Hits, was recorded in a day.
I booked the studio to see what happened. We actually recorded 17 songs that day and cut it down to 12 for the LP. It seemed like it was good enough to put out so I borrowed a little money and pressed it up. It signalled a shift in my own thinking about whether or not I could do this for my career.
My Way Home is out now on Yep Roc.