Clare Free once learned how to play instruments like piano and flute, and she even played some rock guitar, too. But when she visited a blues jam session, Clare began a process that evolved her into one of Europe’s most unique blues guitarists.
Originally from Britain, but currently based in the Netherlands, Clare was once a guitarist in a few bands before going solo over the last few years with albums like “Be Who You Are”, the EP “How It Is”, and, from just a few months ago, “Dust and Bones”. Her work has also won her critical acclaim, as well as several awards and nominations, plus top sales in the blues category from CD Baby.
Clare explains to us her approach to the blues, as well as other topics like how rock, country and the works of two legendary blues guitarists helped influence her style; her take on a certain “double standard” between male and female guitarists, and what it’s like being both a musician and a mother.
Steve: First, Clare, when you set about “redefining the blues for the modern world,” was it necessarily to create your own individual approach to a tradition-rich genre?
Clare: Yes and no, I adore blues music, and I also love rock and country. When I write I tend to mix the genres up to produce a type of blues that really crosses boundaries. Its not something I do on purpose though, it’s just the music that I naturally write. I think if I tried to write something that did not come naturally to me it would show. I’m not a huge fan of genres in the sense that I think by classifying music into, essentially false, genres you pigeonhole and restrict it.
Steve: Your most recent album “Dust and Bones” combines blues with elements of rock and country. How did those latter two genres influence your approach to blues?
Clare: Both are a large influence in my writing. I tend to write my lyrics with a country writing style covering topics that are not normal blues topics but that do sometimes crop up as topics in country writing, or at least, I write lyrics that might be suited to country songs and use them in blues songs. The rock influences are there for me too in my writing, I am as likely to be influenced [by] a Nickelback song as I am a Buddy Guy song.
Steve: How have legendary blues guitarists like Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Buddy Guy and Albert Collins, who is being considered for induction into that same Hall, also influenced your style?
Clare: Hugely, both Buddy and Albert are massive heroes of mine. I would have loved to have had a chance to play with Albert Collins and still harbor dreams of paying with Buddy one day. Their style and feel really move me. I adore Buddy Guy’s voice too. I suppose I sometimes take an idea from one of their songs, my song “Funky Mama’s Kitchen Blues” (which was nominated as the best UK blues song in the British Blues Awards 2011) is heavily influenced by Albert Collins, the funky riffs and choppy style are great.
Steve: You’ve played several blues festivals over the last couple of years. Do you find those to be unique experiences as distinct from playing clubs, theatres or other venues?
Clare: Every gig is different, so the big festivals where there are hundreds, or sometimes even thousands, of people watching are always a real buzz, they make me work hard though, on the outside I might appear very calm, inside my head I am taking everything in, and planning my every move. On the smaller gigs I like the intimacy and closeness to the audience. I love to talk to people and I love being able to explain about a song or discuss where I had the idea. So, yes, festivals and club gigs are different, I love them both. And with [both] I prefer changes according to the day!
Steve: A few months ago, I interviewed Joanne Shaw Taylor, who was a 2-time Best Female Vocalist winner in the British Blues Awards, and a talented blues guitarist as well. Both you and Joanne were nominated for that same Best Female Vocalist award this year, only to have that award go to Chantel MacGregor. Have you had the opportunity to listen to any of Joanne’s work or watch her live?
Clare: Yes, I supported Jo last year at a concert at the Limelight Theatre in Aylesbury, she’s very talented. People seem to be more interested in women guitar players and there are a few more around. I would like to see even more, but I would also like to see the competition between them reduced. Someone said a while ago, “Do we have room for another woman guitarist?” What a daft question! I don’t imagine anyone would ever say that about male guitarists- there are thousands of them and nobody says “Hey look, there’s a man playing guitar and actually he’s quite good,” but you do get that a lot as a woman.
Steve: How have you managed being both a musician and a mother of two?
Clare: It’s hard work, I have eased up a little on my touring recently to focus on the new album which should start recording next year. I love being a Mum and I love touring although sometimes, getting in at 3AM and then having to get up to take the kids to school at 7 can be very tiring. I am lucky that I have a very supportive husband too, he’s great and helps in any way he can.
Steve: Finally, Clare, are you planning on any future albums or projects?
Clare: Yes, I plan a new album for next year, it’s all written and when I feel the time is right I will take the band into the studio to record it. The last album only came out in March and has been a huge success. The new album is very bluesy but again, like “Dust and Bones”, it is not generic standard blues, but pulls influences in from outside.
If what Clare just said is any indication, and I hope it is, her upcoming efforts will only expand on why she is all about redefining the blues, as opposed to just staying inside that proverbial pigeonhole.
Cover photo credit: Rob Stanley