'Telling More Stories, The Only Way He Knows How To'
Bill Sheffield takes the stage unpretentiously, cradling a vintage Gibson Acoustic or his trusted Martin OM. At first he appears almost shy, his eyes scanning the room. He slowly starts into his own rendition of an old Blues classic. Maybe Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, or Blind Blake. Before long, Bill takes the stage by storm, totally captivating his audience. Combining a finger picking style that rolls over you like a freight train, with his electrifying and dazzling slide work, there is no denying it. Bill Sheffield is a True Master of the Blues. He is a master of the guitar. He exudes the personality of the song he is singing; playing every song from his heart. The minute you hear him …you know.
Bill Sheffield was born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1951. He has been performing for over 32 years. Bill has appeared in concert with Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker, B.B. King, Big Mama Thorton, Stevie Ray Vaughn, the list goes on and on. Bill has recorded and gigged with guitar great, Roy Buchanan plus his own bands, The East Side Blues Band, The XL’s, Cool Breeze, and The Ringtail Rounders. He is currently playing in three formats. He plays with Donnie McCormick, solo acoustic, and with his band The Walking Wounded.
Bill is well known as a seasoned singer-songwriter with over 80 songs in his repertoire. The material, just like Bill’s voice, is powerful and evocative.
'Journal On A Shelf' is his 8th release.
Chatting recently with Bill, and taking it from the top, I first noted that he had shared the stage with such artists as Muddy Waters, Bonnie Raitt, Stevie Ray Vaughan and B.B. King. But which memory was the one that he personally reflects back on with the most pride these days? "I opened for Muddy Waters five nights in a row at Richards, "The South's finest rock club" in Atlanta. It would have been in 1978. Glenn Phillips played guitar with me, Jim Bullard and Joe Barron were bass and drums. We called that group, "The mystic knights of the sea". Muddy thought that was really funny."
"The best part was spending time back stage with Muddy and his band. The interaction. I had named my daughter Honey Bee after his song and we brought her down to meet him on the first night. He asked for her every night after. They'd all sit back stage and drink champagne and play a card game called Casino. Muddy told me my version of "Kokomo Blues" was the best he'd ever heard except when he did it!"
"Heady stuff for a boy that age. Opening for B.B. was scarier. It was earlier. Around 1972. Outdoor gig. All black audience, maybe 3 or 4 hundred. At first they really didn't know what to think of our little white band, but we just kept hitting them with the blues and I think we sort of won them over. When B.B. went out he asked for another round of applause for us and we got a good one. B.B. was wonderful to us.
So many others we opened for. T Bone Walker and he was really drunk. Of the three songs he played, he did "Stormy Monday" twice! (oh my!)
Junior Walker and the All-Stars were amazing. That man must have been 70 by then and he boogaloo'ed for a solid hour and a half.
We played a free concert in Piedmont Park on a bill with a band I'd never heard of called The Allman Brothers. Oh My God!"
Your album title 'Journal On A Shelf' tells the story of writings that had been, until now, left aside for a period of time. But, please describe in your own words what this title means to you yourself? "Some things are just too hard to say. And sometimes when you think of the right thing to say, the timing is no longer appropriate. The Journal represents a place for these things. But why write a Journal unless you secretly hope someone will read it?"
If there was one track on this new album that truly encapsulated Bill Sheffield at his musical and lyrical finest, which one would it be? "It would be 'It Don't Bother Me,' a meeting of Blues and Gospel that says just what I wanted to say."
You've said that your goal for this album was to find a connection between Muddy Waters and Hank Williams. Based on the fact that one assumes you did indeed discover that thread, what did it turn out to be ...? "Soul. Both men had soul and the ability to express a wide range of emotions effectively. A very basic musical structure that didn't get in the way. Both were powerful band leaders. Both brilliant singers in their different ways."
... and how did you harness such an entity to enable you to create such a wonderful album as this? "The songs that I've written always seemed like gifts to me, as if I was remembering them. It is amazing to sing something you wrote and get goose bumps."
Back in the day, when you discovered the Folkways music collection in your local library, please recall for us the feelings that were then flowing freely through you "What I remember most about the Folkways connection is Blind Willie Johnsons "Dark Was The Night, Cold Was The Ground". Still in my opinion the greatest solo piece of music ever recorded. No gimmicks, no ego, no words! I cried when I heard it the first time and sometimes I still do. Pure raw emotion."
Having discovered the track 'Shooky Come Home,' I'm wondering just who the heck 'Shooky' is ... and why did they leave in the first place?! "To find out who Shooky is, you'd have to ask Tom Gray. Some of his best work in my opinion. If I was guessing I'd say Shooky was Tom."
What '80s (and possibly cheesy!) pop song would you love to cover today if asked ... and why?! "Yes, 'Sweet Dreams' by Annie Lennox and Dave what's his name! Eurythmics. Although I couldn't really call it cheesy. Its basically Blues and with Annie singing! Pow!"
Lastly, I like Penguins ... do you?! "I'm knocked out with them. The movie was a real eye opener. My favorite of the year. How in the world do they know how far in to go? The ice melts right up to them!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of Bill's brand new CD, just answer this easy question: Bill Sheffield had two Blues bands back in the day that, among other gigs, played a week with Big Mama Thornton and George Smith. The Eastside Blues band was the name of one, but what was the name of the other?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new and AUTOGRAPHED CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before May 15th with your answer and the subject title 'BILL SHEFFIELD SIGNED CDs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Bill Sheffield Photo Credit: Vincent Tseng
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