I got together with Dave Weld after Dave Weld & the Imperial Flames performance at Starlight’s Theatre and Lounge in Sterling, Illinois on New Year’s Eve 2008. Dave Weld is a master of playing for and with the audience. The people always love it when Dave comes down and saunters through the crowd as he rips through a show stopping solo on his guitar. Stopping now and then to interact with fans that can’t get enough.
Billy Rose: Hey Dave it’s been a few years since I’ve seen you.
Dave Weld: Boy it’s been a while Billy.
Billy Rose: So, Dave you were born in Chicago but you didn’t start playing music there. You moved to New Mexico and that’s were you started playing. Do I have that correct?
Dave Weld: Yeah, Yep that’s right.
Billy Rose: How old were you when you started playing guitar?
Dave Weld: 17 or 18.
Billy Rose: Who were your main influences that made you want to pick up the guitar and play?
Dave Weld: At that time there was The Rolling Stones and The Yardbirds, ya know Rock ‘n’ Roll bands. They were all influenced by the blues players. Through those bands I really got into Muddy Waters, BB King and Howlin’ Wolf I loved them all. And I still do.
Billy Rose: How about JB Hutto. When and how did you meet him and get into his music?
Dave Weld: What happened was, I met a guy in Las Cruces New Mexico, I went to school there. I had a little shack by an onion field. I didn’t have a whole lotta money.
So I started picking up the guitar trying to learn. I saw a little ad in the paper and it said guitar instruction. Blues and Jazz. Jazz mostly. This guy Kurt Black, he called himself, I don’t know his real name ‘cause he was on the run. He was from New York City and he had played with Benny Carter and all the heavyweights. His sub was Grant Green on guitar. So he was the real deal, and he started a school of Jazz in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Somewhere along the line he had robbed a bank (laughs). So the cops were after him. He took off and he ended up in New Mexico where he started a little school for Jazz in Las Cruces where I was living.
Billy Rose: That’s a great story, man.
Dave Weld: He taught me harmony. He taught me the fundamentals of harmony. So that I could understand the basics of Blues before I really started playing the blues. Eventually he caught Lymphoma and he turned himself in, in Missouri so he could get treatments and it cured him. Then he came back to Las Cruces and was teaching again. I don’t know where he is now; I have no idea if he’s still even alive.
Billy Rose: How old was he?
Dave Weld: He was older than me. I was a young kid and he was in his 40’s maybe 50’s.
Billy Rose: Then you moved back to Chicago?
Dave Weld: Well, I was sitting in an old field drinking beer. I heard Wolf come on the radio. I wasn’t doing shit in Las Cruces. I thought I’m gonna go back to Chicago; I want to play the blues. So I drove back in my ’67 Ford and started going into bars and trying to get up on stage. On the North side they wouldn’t let me up on stage. ‘Cause they’re a higher class, ya know (laughs). They looked down on people who weren’t really great. But in the black neighborhoods were they were really playing blues. They said great, hey man you don’t really know how to play. Come on up anyway, we’ll teach ya. No problem, ya know. And that was Hubert Sumlin, and that was the House Rockers, Hound Dog Taylor’s band. These were people who could really play (laughs). Not those Northsiders, who were snobs. It was really lucky for me. Then one day Jim O’Neil called me from Living Blues. ‘Cause I had done an interview with Gatemouth Brown before, when I was living in New Mexico. O’Neil said there’s a guy JB Hutto that we want you to interview. So I went over to his home and interviewed him. They made a cover story in Living Blues on him. I told him (Hutto) that I was trying to play, and he had me come back every Tuesday, to his house and we practiced and practiced. Eventually he went off with Hound Dog Taylor’s band. ‘Cause Hound Dog had passed away. And JB and the band had big fights on the road, big fights. Within a month or so he had enough and put together a new band. He stayed out in Boston and played with the new band. Eventually he came back to Chicago and not too long after that he introduced me to his nephew. He said this is my little nephew Ed and he plays too. That was Little Ed and his half brother Pookie (James Young) was there. I thought Oh great; I’m gonna be the leader of this band (laughs). So Little Ed man he was a natural. He’s hard to beat. I love playing rhythm with him and I play my leads. But JB when he taught me, he always taught me to play rhythm to his lead. Then he would say for the second half of the lesson, you play lead and I’ll play rhythm. He pushed me to be a full musician not just a rhythm gun. But with Little Ed I was just a rhythm guy.
Billy Rose: So you learned to play the blues from JB Hutto.
Dave Weld: Yeah all the basics, but live on the bandstand I learned to play with Little Ed. With Little Ed we were learning to play together. We didn’t sound all that great back then. We had some basic blues and we stuck to it during the disco era. What happened was we got on the North side and we were playing Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf…we stuck to the blues and it made us sound good and it made us stand out from all the rest of the guys, who were trying to be so slick and uptown. So we sounded a little different and we had a little rock to our sound. Bruce Iglauer (Alligator Records) liked us and so he got us (laughs). He recorded us and sent us overseas and everything.
Billy Rose: So when did you leave ‘Lil Ed and the Imperials?
Dave Weld: With Little Ed, I was just a rhythm guitar player. I wanted to stretch my wings and sing and stuff. So I left and formed my own band. I used the Imperial name with Ed’s blessing. I’m the one who came up with it originally.
Billy Rose: Earlier you said you did an interview with Gatemouth Brown when you were in college. Were you journalism major in college, or how did that interview come about?
Dave Weld: I was journalism minor, and I called up Living Blues. Living Blues was just getting started; it was Jim O’Neil and Amy O’Neil. I was living in New Mexico and I called them and they said Gatemouth Brown lives in New Mexico. Why don’t you see if you can do a story on him? So I did. I drove all way from Las Cruces New Mexico to Winnemucca Nevada were he was playing. I had this old beat up ’67 Ford Galaxy, it was a stick shift with bald tires, bad brakes and I had a little bag of weed (laughs). You know at that time I was young and still smokin’ weed (laughs).
Anyway I drove…I don’t know how many miles, but it was quite a ways. Across the desert in my old Ford. Gatemouth was playing at a casino in Winnemucca. He was playing a lot of Country Western along with the blues. Well he took a liking to me. He drove me around town, we went driving in the mountains, we nearly tipped over and he lost his hat. The car tipped up on two wheels, but we made it down the mountain and we had a good time.
On the way back after I had finished my interview, I was driving through Arizona in the mountains and I was on a road that had like a thousand foot drop off on the right side. I had bad brakes and it was dusk, the sun was just going down. I came around a curve and there was a cow lying in the road, and I hit him. The car was perched up on top of this cow (laughs). The cow was moo, moo mooing and there was shit coming out. I gunned the engine and my tires were smokin’ and I couldn’t get off of him. Somebody came by and said we’re gonna go down to the next town and get the police for you. I carrying weed in my pocket and I’m thinking Oh great, thanks (laughs). Then a trucker came by and he said listen you don’t need this to go on your record. Him and three or four guys helped push me off of that cow (laughs). And I took off running and I didn’t stop ‘til I crossed the state line (laughs). I crossed the state line and I pulled off in the desert and went to sleep. I woke up in the morning and the mice had eaten up my weed (laughs).
Billy Rose: But you got the interview! (Laughs)
Dave Weld: (laughs) I got the interview. But when I got home, it turned out some guy had been staying with my girl (laughs). A buddy stopped and I wasn’t there so he stayed with my girl (laughs). I was pissed off. I was living the blues life, ya know (laughs).
Billy Rose: That’s a great story! It sounds like a song to me! I’d like to move on to a more serious note now. I’d like you to talk a little bit about your mom. I know you’ve spent the last several years taking care of her.
Dave Weld: Yeah, she was real sick for a long time. She passed away in April. And it was a blessing. She doesn’t have to suffer any more.
Billy Rose: That last song you did. Did you write that for her?
Dave Weld: Yeah. We’re gonna do it in the studio. It’s gonna be slower with a lot more feeling. It was kinda up tempo tonight. Her name was Donnie Lee Thornton. The lyrics go; “Donnie Lee, Donnie Lee you’re a good old girl Donnie Lee, you were a blue eyed beauty from West Virginia, you flashed your smile right on me”. The break says “raised up on a dirt floor, papa’s home burned in a fire. It was called the great depression, but you always kept your cheerful smile. Donnie Lee Donnie lee you worked the USO my Donnie Lee. When the young men marched off to war, you were that sweet face worth fighting for”.
Billy Rose: There is just something about songs that are written with deep feeling and meanings. Something just jells and those become great songs. I don’t know if the lyrics came easy for you, but you can tell when you perform it that it really means something to you.
Dave Weld: Lyrics are never easy for me. Monica (Maher) helped me out on the lyrics. But it’s all true. I checked out the facts with my aunt. The part were I say “I loved a married woman, was the wife of a preacher. You said if she cheats on him damn sure she’ll cheat on you. Donnie Lee Donnie Lee I left that woman Donnie Lee. You were a wise old mom; I came home from New Orleans”. It’s a true story. We’re gonna work on it. Monica has a nice harmony part and Abb (Locke)is working out the horn part. We’re gonna do it slower so I can sing it with more feeling.
Billy Rose: Good song.
Dave Weld: Thanks, man.
Billy Rose: Thank you for taking time to talk. I know the guys want to get going. Have a safe trip back to Chicago.
Dave Weld: Thanks, Billy you drive safe.