Payin' Dues: Mighty Sam McClain & Knut Reiersrud

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Mighty Sam McClain sadly passed away on June 15 this year. Luckily his voice, equal parts blues, soul and the church, was captured by Norwegian guitarist Knut Reiersrud on Tears Of The World, their second collaboration. “To me Sam McClain was the strongest voice in gospel-rooted soul and blues since Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland,” says Reiersrud. “I’ve worked with a lot of great singers from many parts of the world, but Sam’s singing took me to places no one else could.”

How did you first team up with Sam?
We met through a world music project for the Norwegian KKV label – a duet concept album with a female Iranian folk singer, Mahsa Vahdat, and Sam McClain.

Sam was a better singer than anyone.

Tell us about Tears Of The World.
Due to touring after [their 2011 debut] One Drop Is Plenty we knew we were able to take this music to a more energetic and higher level. We also wanted to record on 24-track analogue tape this time to push the sound.

*Things Ain’t What They Used To Be* is reminiscent of Albert King.
On that song, the guitar was plugged directly into the mixer, there was no amp. I believe Allen Toussaint did the same thing to Albert King’s guitar recording New Orleans Heat in 1978. And yes, I hear a little Albert there, but the timing is more on the Snooks Eaglin side. I just love his playing.

What have you learned from working with Mighty Sam McClain?
It’s like playing chess. You need to play with someone who is better than yourself. Sam was a better singer than anyone I dreamed of collaborating with a few years back. And working with such a singer you have to pay attention to the song and the words. Even though I dig Electric Mud, I can understand Muddy Waters’ reaction. You have to pay attention and back up the singer.

What got you started playing?
June 8, 1973, I was 12 and saw Chicago Blues. I decided to devote my life to music.

You got to play with Otis Rush, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells in your teens.
I first sat in with Buddy Guy and Junior Wells in Gothenburg, Sweden when I was 18. Otis Rush was watching and I don’t know what happened, just the fact that I suddenly was on stage with my two heroes holding Buddy’s brother Phil’s guitar. After that I went to the Chess studio in Chicago and jammed with them.

Tears Of The World is out now on Act