One of my favorite things to do in these columns is interview someone for the first time and such is the case this week with a conversation with San Jose, California, native Chris Cain. His recording career began in 1987, and he’s known as a musician’s musician by critics, fans and his fellow guitar slingers. Legendary bluesman Joe Bonamassa states, “Hands down my favorite blues player on the scene today. He’s an absolute blinder of a guitarist, with the voice of B.B. King and the chops of Albert King.” And speaking of the late B.B. King, that gentle man declared, “Chris Cain? Now that boy can PLAY the guitar!” That’s praise of the highest kind. When my friends at Alligator Records told me about his upcoming debut album, “Raisin’ Cain,” and sent me a link so I could listen to it. What I heard was a guy who wears his heart (and all other vital organs) on his sleeve and performs with an authenticity that is palpable. I then learned that the CD will be released Friday, April 9, and a request for an interview was made. Shortly thereafter I was on the phone to Cain’s home in San Jose to find out more about the artist and his music.
I introduced myself, and when he discovered that I was calling from Maine, he enthusiastically responded.
Cain: It’s beautiful in Maine, man. Some of my greatest times there were at that festival they would always have right on the coast, ya know?
Q: Oh, the North Atlantic Blues Festival?
Cain: Yeah, that thing is great! (Chuckle) I met a lot of wonderful people there, man. I’ve only been there three or four times, but it was always fantastic stuff.
Q: Can we talk a bit about your soon-to-be-released new CD, “Raisin’ Cain”?
Cain: I thought that record would be out on my own label. I’ve put out a few on my own label, but the guys from Alligator have been so fantastic. At this point in my life to have people care like that is huge for me, man. They’ve been wonderful.
Q: Where did you record it?
Cain: We made the record at Greaseland at Kid Anderson’s place. He puts all this love into the record, and even after you’re gone he’ll be doing stuff to make it sound beautiful, ya know? On that record there was stuff that was very personal, and he seemed to immediately know what I was trying to do and helped me to do it, ya know?
Q: Yup, I do. One of the aspects of this new CD of yours that I really enjoyed: stylistic diversity. It has a beautiful palette of all these wonderful sounds, and I wanted to compliment you on that.
Cain: Wow, thank you very much, man. … I have been trying to make stuff in the studio that’s eclectic. Well, it’s because of all the stuff that I listen to (pause). It’s like eating pizza, if you ate pizza everyday it would be that delicious, but if you ate it like twice a year you’d be licking it off your fingers; ya know what I mean? I know a lot of guitar players who, when I was a kid and even now, the blues is all they listen to. And there’s so much music out there, man. I find something new just about every day. I mean, it’s so vast. There’s probably so much stuff out there that you probably never even get to hear, because you just didn’t have the time to discover it. Anyway, at the time I was making that record I was just doing what I would normally do if I was releasing it myself. So when I found out that the folks from Alligator were looking at it, I thought, “Well, I know that there’s about three tunes that won’t be on it if it did happen, because I was just doing what I felt like doing.”
Q: I guess they saw things a little bit different, didn’t they.
Cain: Yeah, all of them ended up on it, so that killed me (chuckle). The song they called “Space Camp,” I had called it “Mr. Preston.” It was a tune that I had done in a little, private record of a tribute to Billy Preston, and instead of doing cover tunes of his I was trying to do tunes in the flavor of what he does. When they found out that it was an original and not a cover, that was one of them that ended up on there, and I’m thinking, “There’s no way these guys are going to have this tune on the record, because I’ve never heard anything like that on an Alligator record.”
Q: And that’s just it, what you call eclectic is what I call exciting because as a listener, I don’t want to know what comes next, I want to be surprised.
Cain: Well, to know that you got something like that out of this record means a lot — thank you.
Q: You’re more than welcome. Now do you have any idea when you’ll be able to get out and play shows again?
Cain: We’ve played a couple of these livestreams. For me it’s been difficult, because if my dad was alive he’d go, “You look like someone’s holding a gun on you!” because in between tunes I’m just standing there looking confused. I don’t seem to get the concept of it yet, but we’ve done a couple of those and people enjoy them. But I just seem to feed off the people a lot and they’re not there, so I just kind of look at it like it’s a rehearsal or something and just blow, because otherwise it just looks as bad as something you’d see on community access television (laughter).
Q: Another aspect of “Raisin’ Cain” that I like is that there’s humor on it, as well.
Cain: I’d never written a funny tune before. I mean, Albert King would have these tunes like “Cold Feet” that was hilarious, so when I did “I Believe I Got Off Cheap” that’s what I was thinking. And “Hush Money” I was thinking like how Johnny “Guitar” Watson would say something funny in a tune, and it’s funky, too. So basically a lot of these are just homages to guys that I really love and how they use humor and grooves and all that stuff.
Q: Is there anything, Chris, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Cain: I would just say that I hope everybody is well and that they might enjoy any of the music that came on this record. chriscainmusic.com
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