When I heard that Chris Beard was going to be at DJ’s Blues Club in Clinton Iowa, I knew I would have to go see him play. I also of course wanted to get an interview. Chris agreed to do an interview after the show. Watching the man put everything he had into his performance I knew he would be tired. When the band was finished playing Chris strolled through the crowd talking, signing autographs and selling CD’s. Chris finally made his way over to my table and plopped down in the chair next to me. He said man I am really tired. Is there any way we can do this tomorrow morning. We agreed on a time and place.
The next morning I met Chris at the motel. He was bright eyed and bushy tailed as we sat down to talk.
Billy Rose: So did you get some sleep?
Chris Beard: Oh, man. I did. I slept really good.
Billy Rose: You looked wiped out last night when you were done.
Chris Beard: I was man. Going on the road can make you tired. But I always try to give it my all. You know those people in the audience paid thier money to see a show. So I do my best to give them something special.
Billy Rose: Well judging from the crowd, I would say they were satisfied. I know your father introduced you to the blues and influenced you. Besides your father, who or what were your main musical influences when you were growing up? Who influenced your guitar playing?
Chris Beard: Luther Allison, Albert King, Albert Collins, Buddy Guy, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Otis Rush, Freddy King I had so many influences man. I can’t just say this guy or that guy. My father introduced me to the blues, but I just took it and ran with it. My father being in the music and associating with all those people I just mentioned. I knew those people. they were in the house when I was growing up. Matt “Guitar” Murphy was a great influence on me. He was like a brother to my father. They grew up together down south in Mississippi. I remember years ago when I was a kid. Guitar Murphy used to stay at our house. He would play the guitar all hours of the night. He would fall asleep with the guitar in his hand. I said to him once “why you going to sleep with your guitar”. He said “the guitar becomes an extension of your body”. Things like that, that he said stay with me. People like Buddy Guy, who I remember before I had my first record deal. I was going to Chicago hanging out trying to find out more about the business. Buddy was at his club, this was about fifteen years ago. I said to him “Buddy you’re rated the best blues guitar player in the world. How come you sit around this club all day, watching us all play? You make 8 million dollars a year. What are you doing sitting around here”. He said “how am I ever gonna get better if I don’t watch young cats like you”. That also stuck with me. What that meant to me was you never stop learning. For someone like Buddy Guy to make a statement like that I thought, wow I need to be humble and keep my eyes and my ears open. I need to watch, you know. There is always something to learn. It’s become a way of life for me. Every situation or event in my life could possibly become a song. Relationships (laughs) pay a good toll on that. Good and bad, you know.
Billy Rose: So when you were growing up, you played with your dad in his band. Who else did you play with?
Chris Beard: Yeah, I played with my father a little bit when I was growing up. I also played with some R&B bands. My father first introduced me to the blues when I was playing with him. But I was going out on my own a learning R&B and stuff like that. I was in this R&B group called CAMEO. Before they were CAMEO they were The New York Players. Their guitar player broke his arm and I was playing with them. And they wanted me to go on tour with them. My mom wouldn’t let me. I had to finish school. I was kinda pissed about that. But it worked out for the best. She knew what was best. Growing up in the era that I grew up in and having the foundation of the blues in the beginning. Helps to make the style of blues that I play today. I got that traditional touch and I got the modern feel to it. With funk and rock and all that stuff mixed together. My father plays electric guitar but he’s more of a singer. He goes on stage with one guitar and I go on with five (laughs). People see me coming in and they see all the guitars (laughs). They think hey this is a guitar player (laughs).
Billy Rose: Are you glad that your mom made you finish school?
Chris Beard: Oh yeah! What happened was I did finish school. I went to trade school; I finished college, Business Administration, Data Processing and all of that stuff. Like most kids, I got involved with drugs. That was a battle for me. On and off, on and off, on and off. One of the reasons I say that mom knows best, is going on the road at fifteen years old, I would have been a lot more into drugs and a whole lot of other stuff. Today I’m a recovering addict, eighteen years now. My life has never been better. The experiences I’ve had in and out of the music business have made me the person I am today. Thank God for that. Playing music early and doing drugs and all of that. When I decided to take my music nationally and internationally I had already been through all of that. So it wasn’t a surprise or it wasn’t exciting for me because I had already been through it. Today people offer me stuff (laughs) and saying no is a regular thing for me (laughs). It’s not me; you know it’s just not me. So everything worked out.
Billy Rose: I interviewed Walter Trout. He said there are people who think that going out and playing stoned and/or drunk, that they play better. Walter said that’s just bullshit. He said the first time he played completely straight and sober was one of the most emotionally satisfying things he has ever experienced.
Chris Beard: Walter is right! It’s total bullshit a total myth. In my teen years I was really attracted to Jimi Hendrix. I wanted to play like him; I wanted to wear a band around my head like him. I wanted to take the microdot acid (laughs) like him. I wanted to smoke the weed drink the booze and do everything just like him. But look what happened to him. Just like Walter said, I used to think I played better when I was high. I know better today. My inspiration flows smoother and better. Playing is my high! It really is. I’m zoned out when I’m playing. I know you guys are out there. But this is for me (laughs), it’s for you but it’s for me. I still feel I have a long way to go. I’m not where I want to be, but I ain’t where I used to be.
Billy Rose: Who out there playing today do you think is a blues star on the rise?
Chris Beard: Bernard Allison, Ronnie Baker Brooks. Walter Trout is more of a rock blues. I think that’s were blues is going. I had a conversation with Bruce Iglauer. The conversation was that the blues has repeated itself so much over the years. And it hasn’t really changed. It has repeated itself too much. The thing me and Ronnie Baker Brooks laughed about. Was Bruce you’re the one that repeated it so much (laughs). Bruce is the man. Alligator Records is the number one blues label in the world. So he carried the torch, the way blues would go. It’s time for a change. Buddy Guy has a song on one of his CD’s “Who’s Gonna Fill These Shoes”. I like to believe that I’m up and coming. My father didn’t get the recognition that he deserves. But part of that is him too. The choices that he made. He did some international stuff but not a lot. For me unlike my counterparts Ronnie and Bernard their roads were paved just a little bit more for them when they came out. They paying dues, but not on the level that I’m paying dues. But that’s Okay. I do what I have to do. It’s what I love. Times get hard but that’s another situation to write a song about (laughs). After we go Ronnie, Bernard and myself there’s not a whole lot. These kids today aren’t pickin’ up the guitar. They are into the mic, not the guitar. There are a lot of guys who have a hit record and they’re a flash in the pan. Johnny Lang, Luther Allison was his idol. He’s a great guy and a great player. He came out doing what he wanted to do. Somewhere along the line the record company, management they wanted to change what he was doing. I feel that what I do attracts young and old. I’m right on the edge. The old blues and the modern blues. I can keep ‘em up dancing or I can sing a humorous tune and make ‘em laugh. Or I can play the slow blues that just knocks ‘em out.
Billy Rose: That was evident last night. The place was packed with young and old alike. And they were all having a good time.
Chris Beard: Yeah there were a lot of young ones there. The young ones were diggin’ it too. That’s the thing. The blues has such a wide range that young people go oh that’s the blues. I like that. The blues is the roots of most music. For young blacks the blues is the roots of our music. For them not to know about it and be interested in it puzzles the hell out of me. If it wasn’t for the blues there would have been no James Brown. There would have been no Michael Jackson. There would have been none of those great artists. They take a James Brown song and use it, sample it for their rap song. They don’t know where it came from. I used to bill us as The Chris Beard Blues Band, but now I just say The Chris Beard Band. There’s some perception that the blues is some old man in the rockin’ chair with an acoustic guitar. If you go back and listen to old blues Louis Joiner and guys before B.B. King, guys were talking in their songs.
Billy Rose: Okay that’s enough about the new music. How about old music. Do you listen to any of that?
Chris Beard: I’m a guitar fanatic, So I listen to T. Bone Walker, Guitar Slim early electric guitar players. I listen to Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters because I grew up on that and I dig it. But I try to listen to electric guitar players because I’m always trying to learn something new. Albert King was the best in my book. He could play so beautiful and could funk it up. He could hit a string and it would sound like a rocket taking off man. Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn they learned from Albert. A lot of people don’t know that. I know Stevie but who’s this Albert King? Well you read up on Stevie and he’ll tell you were he got it. Buddy Guy said he had heard about Jimi Hendrix. So he went to New York to see him play. Buddy was standing down in front of the stage watching every move Jimi made. When the break came Jimi said hey I know who you are, you’re Buddy Guy I could listen to you forever. But Buddy had just heard him play. Jimi had been listening to Buddy and copping his notes (laughs).
Billy Rose: So do you have any plans to go into the studio soon?
Chris Beard: I just finished one. Just finished a CD. I can’t give you anything. But you stop that recorder and I let you hear it. Just a minute I got to get it out of the van.
For the next twenty minutes I got a personal preview of the new Chris Beard CD. Although I can’t go into details I can tell you it sounds excellent. It has all of the great blues, soul and rock sounds you expect from Chris Beard. It has some blistering guitar work. I can’t wait to hear the whole thing. Chris told me that the disc is finished except for mastering. He also said he is shopping it around to find a label that will be a good fit. Chris I hope you find a label that does your new disc justice. Look for The Chris Beard Band to be playing somewhere near you. Catch them live and I know you will buy the new CD.