Canadian-born bluesman Marshall Lawrence has a Ph.D. in psychology. This award-winning artist started performing over four decades ago and played with several bands in the 1970s and 1980s.
Cendrine Marrouat: Hello Marshall, thank you for answering my questions. As a starter, tell us more about you.
Many people ask me where I got the name “The Doctor of the Blues”. It’s really a very interesting and true story. Fans gave me the name “Doctor of the Blues” because of the approach I take to the blues. The blues is a healing music and I play the blues to heal myself as well as to provide the healing sounds to the audience. I was initially called the “Doctor of the Blues” by a fan in Kingston, Ontario many years ago. As I was playing at a local pub I noticed a young man staring intently at me and smiling. After the set was over I approached him and thanked him for coming to the gig. He told me that he had been seriously depressed, did not feel very good about himself, and that after hearing and seeing me play he felt better about himself. He decided things weren’t really all that bad for him, and saw that there is still passion and caring in the world. He said I healed him, called me the “Doctor of the Blues” and the name stuck. The interesting thing is that he did not know that I had a Ph.D. in Psychology.
I perform acoustic slide & finger-style blues and roots with a true and genuine blues feel. I have been nominated for a Maple Blues Award & a Canadian Independent Music Award, and have been inducted into The Blues Hall of Fame ® as a “Great Blues artist from Canada”. My music is described as Acid Blues & Roots – delta-style blues and roots with a raw edge & an acid twist. So far I have released 3 CDs “Where’s the Party”, “The Morning After” and “Blues Intervention” to wide critical acclaim and I am currently recording my fourth CD, another acoustic blues CD. The Morning After” and “Blues Intervention” have charted in the Top 10 on Canada’s Roots Music Report – for radio play and in the Top 10 on Roots Music Report – Roots Blues – Top 50 Blues (International) – for radio play. I am currently recording my 4th CD – acoustic blues & roots CD.
I followed the path of many other aspiring rock ‘n’ roll guitarists, buying albums by Chuck Berry, Johnny Winter, most of the 70’s line-up of all-star power guitarists, and eventually I came home to the blues by way of B.B. King.
I played my first gig in 1969 in Windsor, Ontario, with a band called The Peanut Gallery. I played a ’69 Gibson SG through a Fender Dual Showman and I blew the amp up while playing “Johnny B. Goode” (an early example of my trademark adrenaline-driven sound). Basically I spent much of the 70’s and 80’s exploring and exploiting rock guitar styles while being employed at a car factory in industrial Windsor, Ontario.
I later moved east to Kingston, Ontario in the early 90’s to pursue a Ph.D. in psychology. Musically, things were also beginning to shift for me: I discovered Eddie Hazel of Funkadelic, a Hendrix-inspired guitarist who blended funky James Brown-style phrasing with a killer tone. I found Eddie’s style irresistible, and started playing 70’s funk, groove and reggae with the groups Masala and Shock Walter. I also began experimenting with MIDI technology, playing Tower of Power-style horn lines, solo flute and digital FX on my Roland-equipped Fender Stratocaster.
In 1996, I felt that I had matured enough to respect the blues, and I started playing the blues with the Marshall Lawrence Blues Band. However, my work took me to northern California, where I couldn’t locate any hip local blues scene. Since going without live music was not an option, I bought a mandolin, learned how to play it, and joined a local bluegrass band called the Tubtones. This wild transition taught me a great deal about rhythm and contributed significantly to the sound I have today.
I came back to Canada a year later and headed north to Edmonton where I’d heard there was an active and talented blues community. Within two weeks of relocating, I formed the R&B group The Rhythm Chil’un, and secured a house gig at a local blues bar. As the music naturally evolved into a bluesier expression, the Marshall Lawrence Band was born and I recorded my first blues CD called Where’s The Party. It’s a recording where I paid homage to the great veterans of the blues. I never looked back and I continue to play blues music.
CM: How different is “Blues Intervention” from your 2008 Roots Music Report chart-topping “The Morning After”?
So far, I have released three CDs “Where’s The Party” (2003), “The Morning After” (2008) and “Blues Intervention” (2010). I am currently recording my fourth CD. It’s also an acoustic blues CD. The Morning After and Blues Intervention are both acoustic blues & roots CDs however they are different in the mood I was attempting to create for the listener. My approach to writing, recording, and playing music is simply to have fun and let the music flow. When I write and record my general rule of thumb is “less is more” and keeping the sessions upbeat. It’s all about hooking up with my friends and having fun. The music just seems to take care of itself. The most important thing for me in making all of my CDs, in particular “The Morning After” and my most recent CD “Blues Intervention” was to keep the music real and to have fun.
Here is how one reviewer so aptly described the differences between my 3 CDs… “….. ‘Where’s The Party,’ was an electric blues powered up-tempo number with a bit of horns and a lot of music to drink vast quantities of alcohol too, his second, ‘the Morning After,’ proved to be just that— a beautifully wrought, laid back acoustic CD to soothe the souls and the livers of those trying to remember the night before. That being true, ‘Blues Intervention,” is the CD acoustic blues aficionados listen to get pumped up for another night of partying. ‘Blues Intervention’ splits the difference. It retains the spirit of traditional Delta blues, while adding a modern twist as well as some bluegrass influence and some very cool mandolin playing. It is still all acoustic, but it is up-tempo delta blues, with catchy, traditional blues ….” (Richard Amery, LA Beat). Richard really got it right, as far as the mood and vibe I was trying to create when putting when putting this trilogy together.
CM: Where can people find more information on your CDs and purchase their copies?
I have all of my CDs available for purchase on:
CM: Has your style evolved over the years?
I’ve labeled my style of music “Acid Blues & Roots” to describe the combination of all the various styles of music that I’ve played and how I infuse a fiery and adrenaline driven approach into playing my style of blues & roots. I did the rock thing, I did the punk thing, I did the funk thing and, for me it was just a progression to come back home to the blues. I use all of these musical influences in my approach to playing Blues & Roots music, whether I’m playing acoustic or electric. So for me, Acid Blues & Roots is a mixture of blues, soul, rock, punk, and funk and above all else, self-expression. Ultimately, it is important to me to respect the tradition but also make each song my own. Originality is very important to me.
I have played in electric blues bands, rock bands, funk bands, punk bands and bluegrass bands. The thing about playing in a band is the camaraderie among the players. I also enjoy the musical interplay between the players and the various instruments in the band. You really can create a musical landscape with the other instruments in the band and you don’t always know where the music will take you. Musically it can be very exciting.
However, playing solo acoustic blues and roots music is more intimate than playing in a band. When you are playing solo, it’s just you, your guitar and the audience. What the audience sees is what they get. You are up on stage naked, so to speak. You don’t have the rhythm section to move the song along or other musicians to add variety melody-wise. It is a very intimate musical experience for both you and for the audience. It is something that I am enjoying exploring.
For me, playing acoustic guitar is more real than playing electric guitar. It is the “real deal”. It is just you and the guitar. There are no amps or pedals. What you see is exactly what you get and hear. When you hold the acoustic or resonator to your body and play, you can feel the guitar and the strings resonate and vibrate. It’s as though the guitar is part of you. All the music is coming from your heart, fingers, body, and emotions. For me it is a total and direct connection to the instrument, the audience, and the music. Although I still play some shows on electric guitar with a full band, acoustic blues and roots and acoustic music in general is where my heart is.
Ultimately I would like fans to say and remember that my style of blues was original and that I brought something new to blues and roots. I want them to say that I had a unique sound and that my music made people feel good and less alone in this world. That my music made them feel connected to others, me, and my music.
CM: In your biography, you mention that you discovered blues music through Jimmy Hendrix. Do you have other artistic influences?
I first heard Jimi Hendrix when I was ten years old on the steps leading up to my family’s attic apartment. Something in his approach to guitar moved and inspired me. I couldn’t believe it, here was a person who could express his innermost feelings through an inanimate object and convey the essence of what I felt it was all about. This just blew me away and I knew I had found my direction. There was no turning back for me.
Some of my other musical influences are: Tommy Johnson (a big influence), Son House, Bukka White, Charlie Patton, Rory Block, Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson, Taj Mahal, Johnny Winter, and Roy Bookbinder.
CM: How is the blues scene in Canada?
I think the blues scene in Canada is alive and well and there is an increasing interest in acoustic blues music among younger audiences. Canadians, in general, appreciates blues music and the message that the music is giving.
CM: In four decades, has the industry changed a lot? And why?
There has been a major paradigm shift in the music industry in recent years. The industry has changed greatly in the last four decades. With the introduction of the internet, social media sites (used to network, market, and promote music), YouTube, digital marketing companies (fans can listen to and buy music by downloading MP3s). The rules of how to promote and market performances and music have changed greatly. Because of the internet, you can now introduce your music to larger and larger audiences without having to be signed to a major record company. Basically you can market, promote, sell music, build a fan base, and become successful without ever playing a live show or leaving your home. There are now also many inexpensive tools that you can use to record your music and you no longer have to go to an expensive recording studio to record your music and produce a CD. Home recording studios are thriving today. The old rules of the music industry do not necessarily apply anymore. Essentially, I think, there really aren’t any rules anymore and the market is wide open. Everyone is scrambling to gain an understanding and establish a foothold in this new paradigm. It is a very exciting time.
CM: In the past, you also played in several bands. Would you share your favorite moment?
So far my greatest moment was being nominated for a national Maple Blues Award in Canada. To be acknowledged and recognized by the Canadian blues community was quite an honour. My other greatest moment was being inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame ® as a “Great Blues Artist from Canada”.
CM: As an independent artist, what are the main challenges that you encounter?
For me, the biggest challenge of being an independent artist is financing my music career and my recordings. There are however many positives associated with being an independent artist. Being an independent is very rewarding because you are the master of your own destiny and creativity. There are no rules that you have to follow in writing, promoting, or performing your music. You have complete control of your music, the direction your music will take, and where and when you will perform. You can stay true to your musical vision and walk your own musical path without having to compromise.
CM: What role do independent artists play in society?
Independent artists set the benchmarks for creativity and for keeping the music real.
CM: What is next for you?
I am planning to tour Europe next year and I must mention that my biggest musical goal at this time is to open up for Rory Block, Taj Mahal, and B.B. King. That would be my greatest joy.
CM: Where can people find more about you?
Here is a list of the web sites where folks can find out more about me and my music.
Home Page: www.doctorblues.com
Press Kit: www.sonicbids.com/marshalllawrence
Fan Page: http://www.facebook.com/doctoroftheblues
Reverb Nation: http://www.reverbnation.com/marshalllawrencedoctoroftheblues
CM: Is there anything that you would like to add?
I would just like to say to everyone that is reading this interview:
Stay Well & Always Keep It Bluesy !!!