Chicago's Lou Shields plays classic, original, piedmont-esque country blues without artifice, or a whiff of potpourri. His picking is nimble, powerful, and confident, his singing the same.
There's a tautness to Mr. Shield's playing, an insistence that balances his midwest twang and drawl with a southeastern mountain blues walk that is at once familiar, yet layered, present-day old-timey with none of the affectations that can draw. It's weird olde american music played like it came out today. This isn't skinny suspenders music, but a soundtrack to Mr. Shield's travels and artistic sensibilities (he gigs as art teacher, too.)
I did a short interview with Lou and he told me that part of his style comes from skateboarding, and that sounds correct. There's a weighting and unweighting to his picking style, a flow of energy that is easy, yet tough. Burly, but gentle. Bottom line: quality stuff.
RS (Rick Saunders) :: I've been listening to your new album for the last week. It's terrific.
A friend sent it to me who thought I should check you out so as a result I don't have much info about you.
Are all your songs originals?
How long have you been playing guitar?
You seem to have an interesting collection of instruments. Can you tell me about them?
Your playing style is very physical, your picking is powerful. I'm interested in how you developed your style, and who you see as influences.
LS:: Yes, all the songs are originals. I very rarely play a cover song. However, I definitely have my influences and draw deeply from the past.
I have been playing guitar for over 25 years.
I got into playing home/hand made instruments about 6-7 years ago. I stumbled on a few during my travels and then a good friend of mine got into building. He does most of my stuff now and goes by Callahan Guitars. His name is Mike Callahan.
He made me a 4-String "Shitar" out of reclaimed materials from my skateboard ramp. Also a
|image stolen from wesleybushby.blogspot.com/|
I usually get a crazy idea and message him in the middle of the night and we start brainstorming the design, locating materials usually 60% reclaimed wood and parts and then he gets to building. It is a great process and I love to support my friend who is an aspiring luthier.
My style comes from skateboarding, working hard and releasing my energy and experiences while performing my songs. I am very into Pre-War Country Blues, Delta Blues, Fingerstyle/Ragtime/Jug Band and all that good stuff. Also 80s Punk and Hendrix.. Some of the early Folk musicians as well.
My style comes from so many past musicians and also environmental sounds too..
I also have a mangled right hand.. I am missing half my Index finger, 1/4 of my pinky finger and my middle and ring were also injured in a table saw accident.. So my picking is A-typical.
RS:: Tell me about your picking style, if you will.
How do you think it differs from another guitarist not missing parts of their hand? Did you play guitar prior to the accident?
LS:: I seem to do everything kind of my own way or as an interpretation of things I hear. I would rather not get somebody else's idea "right" anyway.. So I have a few picking styles that I use in my tunes for Slide, Fingerstyle guitar and Banjo. But because I use my thumb, middle and ring finger it comes out differently than more traditional picking styles/techniques.
I did play prior to the accident but losing my Index and part of my Pinky finger helped me get serious about art and music because it was nearly taken away forever. So for me it was a strong life lesson to learn about having respect for the moment, working hard and learning to be grateful for what you have in the now.
RS:: How long have you been traveling and playing music? Do you have a favorite place to play, or venue?
How do your songs come to you? Music or lyrics first? Does it take you a long time to write, or can you whip 'em out? Or does it just depend?
LS:: I have been playing guitar for 25+ years. But performing this way for 6. I have been writing this kind of music since about 1995.
I love to be in a place with good vibe and character. Maybe an old building with an ancient wood floor, wood beams or some kind of cool history/vibe. I luckily have many favorites both in the U.S. and Europe.
The songs come to me almost like magic. I can not try to write a song. They just happen. It is usually a riff on the guitar or banjo that I some how pull out of the air. My lyrics are about whatever might be bothering me at the time. Or something that I have learned.
Sometimes I can finish a song very quickly and others take months. But they all seem to evolve over time and take on their own life as I perform them.
RS:: Screamin' All Over/Mountain Country is a hell of a song. Please tell me about it.
LS:: The two songs run together. Screaming all over is about how "she done left" and Mountain Country is about how he heads to the hills to pacify his mind. "Head back to the mountain country, place where I Should be"
RS:: You tour a lot. You're playing shows all over but do you play on the street at all? Any place in mind you'd love to go to that you havnt yet?
What's happening in the coming year? New recordings? Travels?
LS:: I started out busking and doing open Mics. I occasionally still do both but I am focusing on touring as much as possible these days.
We are working on a tour in Europe for 2016 that will hopefully include Switzerland, Finland and Sweden along with Belgium, France Germany, Netherlands and Poland. Fingers are crossed!
I am excited about playing any new place. I hope music and art will continue to take me down that road and I hope I can help folks feel better for a bit in the process.
I also will have an art show in Aarschot, Belgium in May 2016 at a Cultural Center for the city.
I am just about to release a vinyl only LP called "Deep River". I am planning to record again possibly this coming Fall for a Spring 2016 release.
When I return to the states I am doing a run with The Hangdog Hearts to the East Coast. And then I will head West on my own to California. I return to the Midwest August 9-12 for Farmageddon Music Festival in Wisconsin and then Muddy Roots Music Festival in Cookville TN Labor Day weekend 2015
RS:: Thanks for your time, Lou! Best of luck in the new year