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Matthew Stubbs
By“Downtown" Bob Stannard, correspondent to 

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Matthew Stubbs

They say to be successful in this world you need a couple of things; talent and discipline. If that’s true then you had better prepare yourself to be hearing a lot more from Matthew Stubbs.

Aside from being the leader of the Matthew Stubbs Band, he has been on the road with the legendary Charlie Musselwhite for quite some time. In ’09 he was recognized as the Outstanding Guitarist from Blues Audience Magazine and was the 2009 Boston Music Award Nominee for Blues Act of the Year.

In addition to playing with The Charlie Musselwhite band, Stubbs has also toured and recorded with many top Blues and Soul acts such as Junior Watson, John Nemeth,

Janiva Magness, Lynwood Slim, Brian Templeton and Sax Gordon.

But I’ve come to know another Matt Stubbs. I had the pleasure of meeting him and sharing the stage with him when Charlie Musselwhite invited me up to join him for a killer rendition of “Movin’ and Groovin” at the Iron Horse Café back in April of ’09. Matt laid out some outstanding guitar work as he does every night when playing with Charlie.

You might ask how did Matt Stubbs get to be so lucky. Well, he most certainly has natural born talent. That doesn’t hurt, but it’s more than that. This young man has drive and discipline. When I first met him I never really thought of him as heavy (in the weight sense), but apparently he did. Knowing how tough life on the road can be on the mind as well as the body, Matt set out to make some changes. He changed his diet. He changed his exercise habits (presumably from zero to a full-blast regiment).

The results have paid off. He shed a lot of pounds. He runs and works out daily. He is up for a high quality beer now and then, but has really made a conscious effort to take care of himself. He has defied the stereotype of what it means to live a life on the road.

It would be a good idea to stop right here and ask you all to take a moment to contemplate just what this means. The musical geniuses of my generation hit the road running and some hit the wall hard. Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones; few were exempt from the temptations their lives as rock stars afforded them. It takes tremendous will power to avoid temptations and take care of yourself even if you’re just a regular person. It’s ten times harder when you’re an accomplished musician living life out of a suitcase.

Matthew Stubbs is one of those rare characters that comes along once in a lifetime. He has a great mentor in Charlie Musselwhite. Charlie has been there and done that. No one knows how tough life can be more than Charlie. It was a lucky break for Matthew to get hooked up with Charlie, but once that lucky break happened it was up to Matthew, and his remarkable ability to stay focused on what matters most to him, to make it work.

Like I said, keep an eye out for Matthew Stubbs. He’s on his way.

This interview was conducted on April Fool’s day, 2010 at the Tupelo Music Hall in White River Jct., Vermont.

DTB: I met you two years ago at the Iron Horse; back when you were “Heavy Matt."

MS: Don’t know about that but I was heavier back then than I am now.

DTB: I believe that you are not yet 30 years old, am I right?

MS: Yeah, I’m 28.

DTB: Looks like you’re having an interesting ride so far.

MS: I’m paying my bills.

DTB: How’d you get hooked up with Charlie?

MS: Three or four years ago I was playing with a guy named John Nemeth. He lives in Oakland now.

DTB: Is John from Boston?

MS: No, he’s from Boise, Idaho, originally. I was living in L.A. at the time. I was touring with him and we were using different rhythm sections. For one tour we used Charlie’s rhythm section.

DTB: Mike Phillips and June Core?

MS: Yes, Mike and June. When Chris Andersen (Kid Andersen) left one of those guys mentioned my name to Charlie as someone who might be able to replace Chris. Charlie gave me a call and I’ve been in the band ever since.

DTB: When did you start playing guitar?

MS: When I was 13.

DTB: Were you self taught?

MS: No, my father’s a guitarist and I picked it up through him. He showed me some stuff then I started taking lessons from different teachers. I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston for a year; then dropped out. I studied a little bit more, but more importantly I just kept playing.

DTB: Where’s your dad live?

MS: He’s over in Hamstead, New Hampshire. That’s where I grew up.

DTB: It’s rather miraculous that a New England boy got hooked up with some of the finest Blues players alive today, don’t you think?

MS: I’m not sure it was miraculous. It was a lot of hard work. I had to move across the country when I was in my early 20’s. I got to gig a few times with Janiva Magness. She asked me to join her band so I dropped everything I was doing at that time and moved to L.A. and did some touring with her. I don’t know if it’s “miraculous” so much as it was a combination of luck, hard work and a strong work ethic.

DTB: You play every day?

MS: Mostly, sure. I play as much as I can, but I’m generally gigging four or five nights a week, so I get plenty of playing time in. Sometimes I take a day off, but not very often. I recently built a studio in my house so I have an up and coming recording studio right at home. I have a lot of things going on, but I do still try and play as much as I can.

DTB: Where do you live now?

MS: Medford; just outside of Boston.

DTB: Boston was once known as Chicago East, right. How’s the Blues scene now?

MS: I’d say it’s as good as anywhere. It’s probably stronger than most areas of the country right now. I don’t know if Downtown Boston itself has much of a Blues scene, but New England right now is very strong. There are a lot of clubs around compared to many other places in the country.

{At the point Junior Watson joins in}

JW: Did you write this book (referring to my new book – “How to Survive the Recession – a Vermont Perspective”)

DTB: Yeah, and I inscribed it to you.

JW: Well thank you very much

DTB: As I said in the inscription, it’s not as sweet as Maple Syrup….<Laughing>

JW: This is very cool and I thank you very much.

DTB: You’re very welcome, man.

JW: One thing I forgot to mention in my interview was that I think I was one of the first guys who ever figured out how to play guitar around Little Walter’s solos. If you listen carefully Little Walter never really handed out a lot of guitar solos. I’m talkin’ now around 1978 and I was trying to figure out what this music is really about. I’d ask myself, “How’re you supposed to play this stuff?” That’s when I discovered Tiny Grimes. That’s all I wanted to say….

MS: There you go….

DTB: Yeah, no shit. Wow. So, it must be rather exciting for you to be playing with great guys like this (tipping my head over towards Junior).

MS: YEAH, Of COURSE <emphasis added>. I mean, I think Junior Watson is one of the all-time best Blues guitarists alive today. I can’t think of many people who are better than him. He’s a good friend, too. When I first met him I looked up to him as anyone would look up to one of the best guitar players around. But since I’ve met him I now look at him as not only a great guitarist, but also as my bud. We talk two or three times a week and I hang out with him when I’m in L.A. He’s not only a great player but he is a real character. He’s a lot of fun to be around.

DTB: I’m turning 60 in a couple of months. I have kids older than you. I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of sharing the stage with you and as I’m sitting here I’m trying to understand why someone your age would gravitate towards the Blues when most kids are going in another direction.

MS: Like I said earlier, my father, Dale Stubbs is a musician. He plays Blues and Rock and Roll. It probably started there. He would take me out when I was a young boy to see people who were travelling through the area. I just ended up loving the Blues. I like all kinds of music, though. I love Jazz. I don’t play much Jazz, but I do love listening to it. I love Rock and Roll, Soul, Funk, but I consider myself a Blues Guitarist. My latest album wouldn’t be considered a traditional Blues album; more of a Memphis Soul thing, but I went towards the music I love, I’ve studied and I'm lucky enough to make a living playing it.

DTB: And this is how you make your living?

MS: Yeah, I’ve never really had a job; maybe for a year out of my life, but that's about it.

DTB: In this industry that’s kind of hard to do that. I mean they’re a lot of kids out there….I don’t want to refer to you as a kid, because you’re not…

MS: I’m not a kid…I guess compared to Junior I am, but I’m approaching 30.

DTB: It’s a very difficult industry to break into. Junior’s been doing it forever and he’s not a household name, but he’s been able to make a living at it. Doesn’t hurt that he’s one of the best players in the world.

MS: I’d say it’s hard to become a household name in the Blues industry. I think it’s safe to say that you can count on one hand those who are real Blues players. If you’re going to be a Blues guitarist, I don’t think one of your goals should be to be a household name. You’d stand a better chance with a different genre of music.

DTB: Is it a better trip to be doing it here or overseas; Europe?

MS: If I can make a living playing Blues it doesn’t much matter to me if I’m playing here or Europe. I certainly like traveling. I travel an awfully lot each year with Charlie. Europe, South America, they’re all great, but as long as I’m able to play before a good audience; that’s what really matters the most to me.

DTB: Do you find the European audiences more appreciative of this music?

MS: No, no, I wouldn’t say that. They certainly are very appreciative of the music and I’ve played for many great fans over there, but I would say that we are equally well received here in this country. The American audience really enjoys our music as well.

DTB: That’s good to hear. Now you have your own band; The Matthew Stubbs Band. How often are you playing with that band?

MS: Quite a bit, actually. Whenever I’m not with Charlie I take my own band out. This past winter we’ve been doing five to ten gigs a month.

DTB: How many gigs are you doing with Charlie?

MS: Hard to say, I guess it’s coming in around 100+ shows a year. He does do things without the band. For instance, he’s in Australia right now with Cindy Lauper and recently did a tour with Hot Tuna. He does a lot of guest appearances. When he goes and does that I go out with my band. We travel some. Lately we’ve stayed around New York, New Jersey, but we’ve done some fly outs like to Florida. Sax Gordon is in the band and he does quite a lot of work in Europe so it’s a matter of scheduling.

DTB: Sax is in your band now?

MS: He’s been in my band for years now; since I’ve been putting out records. I bill us as the Matthew Stubbs Band featuring Sax Gordon. I consider Sax to be one of the best tenor sax players around. There are lots of great tenor players out there, but I consider him to be unique; kinda like Junior. He’s a larger than life character.

DTB: Want to talk about your album?

MS: Sure. It’s called Medford and Main and it’s on Blue Bella label out of Chicago; Nick Moss’s label. The one before that was called, “Soul Bender” and that was on Vistone.

DTB: Let’s get a plug in for your website….

MS: plus I’m on Facebook, MySpace….

DTB: How would you like to tag this interview?

MS: I guess I’d leave your readers with this: When good players are in your town go on out and support them. I’d like to thank everyone who’s supported us in the past and I very much look forward to putting on the best show I can each and every day going forward.

DTB: Best of luck to you, Matt and I’ll look forward to the next time we meet.

MS: Thanks a lot.

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