'Dale is one of the
best New Orleans players I've ever seen' - Richard Hawley
.........'I've seen Mac's (Dr. John's) Shadow' - David Barard, Bass
player for Dr. John
What are your first musical memories growing up in rural
Dale: I always grew up around music, it
seemed like the whole family was musical in some way. My parents were
always playing their vinyl records which was all Country, Rock n' Roll
music, Early Elvis, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Chet Atkins, Floyd
Cramer etc. But I also recall there always being Irish folk music played
and sang a great deal, that would become an influence on some of my
later self penned material. My parents can both sing and my Mother could
play piano/organ a little. She initially taught me to read music. My
cousin was also in a band as early as I can remember. He plays guitar
and he used to play me all sorts of music and took me to see loads of
bands later on. Without a doubt though it was my parents record
collection of Rock n' Roll that had me buzzing as a kid.
Alan: Did you always want to become a
Dale: Yes. I honestly think I did. My
cousin was a good guitar player and was probably a big influence on me
wanting to play live. I was never content to play air guitar in front of
the mirror for long, I had to learn what the people on the records were
Alan: How did you get started in
Dale: Well my earliest memory is
learning some old piece on the piano at my Gran's house. She had a
beautiful upright piano in her front (best) room and she showed me this
tune which I played to death. I also started playing my brother's drums
while he was out of the house. He had a spell as a drummer and I
remember my cousin again, saying how my timing was spot on. My cousin
also tried teaching me guitar at some point but I never took to it even
though I loved listening to guitar based songs. Then when I was about 5
or 6 my Mother bought an electric organ, with the bass pedals etc and it
was me that was never off it. My Gran's early piano schooling was
rekindled and my parents realised I had a natural ability on the keys to
just listen to their records and learn them by ear quite quickly. It
really went from there. I became pretty obsessed with the piano. I did
have a few years of lessons but it never really did anything for me, so
to this day I've pretty much taught myself everything.
Alan: Was the piano your first
Dale: I think I've pretty much answered
that in the previous question....But yes going back to when I was able
to reach the keys on my Gran's piano, then going through drums, guitar
and eventually staying with the Piano from the age of six, I'd say the
Piano was always my first instrument.
Alan: What kind of material were you
playing in the early days?
Dale: I always remember copying the 12
bar Rock n' Roll riffs from my parents records, e.g. Chuck Berry's
guitar riffs which I later learnt came from Johnnie Johnson's piano
riffs, but I also was quite open to lots of other music as a kid. When I
was playing the organ a lot I used to play old standards, waltzes, old
time dance tunes. I never really dug any of that though. My parents have
a video of me playing in the local WMC when I was about 8 or 9, covering
Spanish Eyes, Tennessee Waltz etc. Very embarrassing indeed!! However,
it was always the infectious rockin' piano of Jerry Lee and Co that I
always tried to copy early on.
Alan: Your emerging talent grew
during your schooldays, tell me a little about your journey.
Dale: It was a little difficult at
school because it was certainly not considered 'cool' to play an
instrument, let alone play the kind of music that I was really into. I
was kind of forced into the school house music competitions which was
mainly based around classical music. I entered in the solo instrumental
playing an electric keyboard which was frowned upon. I played pop songs
like Erasure purely because all the kids were into them at the time, and
I won 1st prize both years I entered on 'natural music
ability'. I never entered after that or took music at school. I just
decided to carry on my own musical learnings/journey at home away from
Alan: What first attracted you to New
Dale: That credit has to go to Jools
Holland. I saw The Tube when I was quite young and heard Jools playing a
style of piano I'd never heard before but it excited the hell out of me.
I then sought out Jools Holland recordings and discovered that he kept
mentioning a character called Dr. John, a New Orleans
pianist/singer/songwriter who had influenced him. It was only when I
looked into Dr. John and heard his playing that it hit me like a ton of
bricks. I have never looked back since first hearing Mac (Dr. John) .
New Orleans music has from that day forth been my absolute passion. It
makes me truly happy.
Alan: Who are your favourite artists
(both old and new)?
Dale: The list is endless but my
favourite Pianists include James Carroll Booker III, Dr. John, Allen
Toussaint, Professor Longhair, Fats Domino, Tuts Washington, Huey Smith,
Amos Milburn, Albert Ammons, Oscar Peterson etc and newer ones like
Jools Holland, Harry Connick Jr, Henry Butler and Jon Cleary. I also
love Jimmy McGriff, Jimmy Smith, Booker T Jones for Hammond Organ stuff.
Guitar players – Jimmy Vaughan, Duke Robillard, Ronnie earl, Freddie
King and newer ones I have the great pleasure of working with include
Alan Nimmo and Frank White.
Alan: Who has influenced you the most
in your music writing and playing?
Dale: Dr.John I guess shaped most of my
playing from my teens and was and still is a massive influence but
through Dr.John I discovered James Booker. When I first heard his
playing it was like an epiphany feeling, Like everything I'd always
wanted to hear from the Piano but never had. All my playing is now
heavily influenced by Booker and when I write anything or rearrange a
popular tune , I always think how would Booker do this?
Alan: You have played with many blues
performers, you must have some fond memories, tell me a little about
Dale: I have some great funny stories
from when I toured Europe extensively with Eugene Hideaway Bridges,
however they must remain firmly under wraps. Fond memories with Eugene
include supporting Duke Robillard in Belgium at a huge festival. The
Trumpet player, Sax player and myself managed to get on stage next to
the drummer during his whole set jiving away with the Duke. Another
great night with Eugene was at a blues festival in Bremen where we were
joined on stage by Phil Guy and we rocked the place all night. The band
were on fire that night. I have many fond memories playing with Alan
Nimmo, Rocky Athas, Frank White, Earl Thomas, etc. I feel very lucky
that I have had the opportunity to play with these great musicians and
King King featuring Alan Nimmo
Alan: When did you decide to go
Dale: I've wanted to go solo playing New
Orleans Rn'B for about 15 years but I have never had the confidence to
do it. Nearly 2 years ago my good friend Bob Swift phoned me up while I
was in the pub to say he had was fed up of me talking about it and that
he had booked me a night at a venue in Sheffield. I had about 2 months
notice and was terrified. I learnt enough material to just cover 2 sets.
It was all instrumental. I was thinking no one would turn up. We went
for a beer to calm my nerves and when we arrived back at the venue for
the first set the place was packed. I was awe struck and very humbled.
It was a great night and a personal achievement . I've never looked back
since then and am now on a massive learning curve. Fronting is a whole
different ball game to being a side man.
Alan: You recently added another
dimension to your music by adding vocals, how are you doing?
Dale: The vocals was something I was
forced into. I couldn't sustain the solo thing by just playing
instrumentals so I had to bring in vocals. I've been having
lessons with a great vocal coach in Sheffield called Ali Cook, but I
also know a lot of it is down to experience so I have along way to go on
the vocals front yet. I've had loads of encouragement from musicians and fans alike
and I do know that it is getting better slowly but surely. I just wish
I'd have started singing earlier. The one thing it has definitely done
though is completely transform the show from being a 'piano player in
the corner' to being a full on New Orleans blues review. It's much more
of a 'show' now. I have a great Trumpet player, Ian Sanderson, from
Sheffield who really makes that New Orleans sound and I'm also adding a
rhythm section very soon so watch this space.
Alan: Are there any particular songs
that you play that have special meaning to you?
Dale: Yes. 'A Taste Of Honey'. I went
through a bit of a bad patch about seven years ago and when I listened
to James Booker's version of that song it honestly helped me through
that time. It was a big deal the night I first got to play Booker's
version of Taste of Honey and it was and still is a big crowd pleaser.
It's a very emotional tune. There is a video on YouTube of me playing it
early on when I first started playing solo.
Click here for the YouTube video of Dale playing A
Taste of Honey
Alan: You are now based in Sheffield,
what is the blues scene like there?
Dale: I have been in Sheffield for 17
years now, all my adult life, and it's a great place to live and play.
There's always been a good blues scene here and there are a great many
musicians who play blues in the city. Frank White has been a major
influence on most of them and he still continues to play and sing his
heart out around steel city venues. It's a shame there is not a
dedicated Blues/Jazz club in a city of it's size. The Boardwalk puts on
the biggest names in blues but most nights you can find some gems
playing in back street boozers, people like Billy Martin Jr , a great
blues style singer/songwriter/guitarist and story teller , who are not
really known out of Sheffield.
Alan: Tell me about the making of
your solo EP album 'Qualified'.
Dale: 'Qualified' was really an
experiment. A first attempt at a professional solo recording. My vocals
was very much in it's infancy when I recorded the EP but I suppose there
is a never a perfect time to record so I went ahead with it because I
needed a product that represented me. It's a five track EP, 3 covers and
2 originals. It's just myself on Piano/Vocals and Ian Sanderson on
Trumpet. Kevin Thorpe from the very successful 'Out Of The Blue'
recorded it for me at his Swanyard Studio in Retford, Notts so I had a
wealth of experience on my side with Kev. The title track Qualified is a
Dr.John funk number I've messed with for years. A local journalist
pointed out the connotations of the title meaning I felt I was ready or
qualified to make the solo leap. I released it under my own label Junco
Records and all in all it was a great learning experience making it.
Alan: Some music styles may be fads
but the blues is always with us. Why do you think that is?
Dale: I think because it's probably the
earliest popular style of music (aside from classical) and it's the
music that most other styles of music came from. You can pretty much
take any music these days and trace it back like a family tree and you
will arrive back at the blues. It is an infectious style that can make
you cry, laugh, dance etc. I think you can really express how you are
feeling more with the Blues than any other form of music, which
obviously in turn connects better with an audience.
Alan: How do you see the future of
New Orleans style of music?
Dale: I'm not sure really. I would dare
say New Orleans music has never really been main stream but you do hear
it in all walks of life. A lot of Allen Toussaint's music has been
covered recently by Pop bands and adverts etc. which is encouraging.
Everyone I've met who has been to New Orleans has come back loving the
place and the music. It is a very infectious style and you can't help
but smile and tap your feet to it. I see it a lot on my solo gigs,
people who have never heard the music before are becoming ardent fans. I
would like to spread the word more in the UK with a hot band and keep
New Orleans music very much up there where it belongs.
Alan: What are your future plans /
gigs / tours / albums?
Dale: Basically to keep improving the
show and my vocals is paramount. My plans at the moment involve putting
a full band together and taking it to a new level. The nucleus will
still be myself and Ian but I'm hoping to add drums/bass and possibly a
second horn. I think it would be a breath of fresh air on the blues/jazz
scene and would be something different to see from all the excellent
guitar based bands out there. I'm very excited about how I know it could
sound but at the moment it's in my head. Finding the right musicians to
pull the New Orleans style off is the tricky part. As soon as the right
line up is together I want to go back to the studio and record a new EP
with a full band and if that works I would look at recording a full
album in the not to distant future. Besides all that I am still touring
with the great KingKing feat. Alan Nimmo and gigging with my old mentor
Frank White in and around Sheffield.
Alan: Thank you so much Dale, I
really appreciate your time.
YouTube video of Dale playing Radiatin' the
YouTube video of King King (featuring Alan Nimmo)
playing 'Wait on Time'
with Dale on keyboards
Thanks to Paul Cantrell for the use of the photos
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