Published on December 5th, 2017 | by Darren Paltrowitz0
Albert Cummings On His New Release “Live At The ’62 Center,” Why He Started Playing Guitar, And Living In Williamstown
A blues musician who has played alongside B.B. King, Johnny Winter, and Buddy Guy, Albert Cummings did not perform in public as a guitarist until he was well into his adulthood. Just a few years later in his late 20s, Cummings formed a band called Swamp Yankee and released the independently-produced album The Long Way in 1999. Cummings recruited Double Trouble, the rhythm section of Stevie Ray Vaughn, to play on his 2003 release From The Heart, and by 2004 Cummings had a multi-album record deal with Blind Pig Records.
Cummings continues to record regularly, and his latest release is Live At The ’62 Center. A CD/DVD combo recorded in Williamstown, Massachusetts — where Cummings was born — Live At The ’62 Center was made with Grammy winner Jim Gaines working behind the soundboard. As Cummings told me within our Q&A for The Hype Magazine, not everything happened as it was supposed to the October 2016 evening when Live was produced and he very much likes it that way. The album is being released today, December 5th, via Ivy Music.
For more on Albert Cummings, please visit www.albertcummings.com.
What is it that drew you into the blues? Was it hearing Stevie Ray Vaughn or a particular artist?
Albert Cummings: I think it might have been Brian Setzer that first caught my ear. I was a little country boy who only listened to Hank Jr and Merle Haggard and the country of the day. When I heard Brian play in The Stray Cats it triggered an interest. My brother-in-law at the time would give me tapes here and there and eventually I hear Stevie. Stevie was the first guy that made me stop and pay attention. I immediately became interested in who this guy was and where he came from. It was like a door opened and Stevie was my host. Once I walked through the door I never left! He introduced me to just about everyone as I learned who his influences were.
What made you want to start playing guitar in the first place? A particular song or album?
Albert Cummings: My dad played guitar a lot before I was born but would rarely get together with his old bandmates and play at family weddings, etc. I was always taken by the guitar but I remember as a little kid not being able to get my hands around the neck. I started playing five-string banjo when I was 12 and did pretty well with it. When I reached 15 I was able to start learning a little on guitar. My dad taught me a few chords but didn’t have the patience to help me anymore. For the next 12 years I would rarely touch a guitar. I was a mild hobbyist at best. When I turned 27 I sat in with a band and that’s when it all started for me. I decided right then that I wanted to learn how to play guitar. I never had any plans to be a guitarist/singer, that came to me I didn’t seek it out.
When did you start singing in relation to starting as a guitarist?
Albert Cummings: This is a fond memory. I remember being at a party at my friend’s house and sitting at his back picnic table. I was trying to sing and play James Taylor’s “Steam Roller Blues.” I finally figured out how to sing it and play it at the same time. I kept playing the song over and over and over until my friend told me to please play something else! He had no idea of the personal breakthrough I had just experienced! (laughs)
Did you ever have a punk phase? Or a metal phase?
Albert Cummings: I had a bluegrass phase! Back then it wasn’t as “cool” as it is today. It made good material for my friends to make fun of me though. But even to this day, I think bluegrass is the genre with the most talented musicians. The level of talent and musicianship in that genre is, in my opinion, the highest skill level of any type of music. If you’re a picker you can’t help but have total respect for those musicians.
Live At The ’62 Center is your latest release. When doing the show were you already planning on recording a live album?
Albert Cummings: We had certainly planned the recording and filming. I always wanted a live video of a show so that was the main factor for doing this. People tell me all the time they like my music, but they never had any idea of how fun and moving a live show was until they saw one. Now we have the ability to show people the spontaneity of a live show. I’ve always wanted to add back up singers and a keyboard to my traveling show. So to make things spontaneous, we put this band together for this recording. I only met the singers the day of the show. I had only played with the keyboard player once before this show. We showed up in front of the mics and cameras and crowd not knowing what would happen. That’s how I like it. “If you’re thinking you’re stinking.”
I am seeing that musicians are using too many safety nets when they record these days. Everything is starting to sound overproduced and overthought, in my opinion — passionless. When it is real and there are no safety nets involved, people rise to the challenge and create music instead of just perform it. None of the greats had this luxury and that’s what makes them the greats! For me, being spontaneous is when it gets good.
Do you record most of your shows?
Albert Cummings: No, I don’t record any of them. I like when people record them. I could play the same set every night and it will never be the same. Every not I play is based on how I am feeling in that minute. When people record they get to capture and hopefully share with others what was happening that night. The more people that can hear my music the better off I am. Someday I’d like to have a recording rig with me, but for now that’s not in the cards.
Do you have a favorite song on Live?
Albert Cummings: I really don’t have a favorite. I like the energy they all have because of how tense it was. I covered a pretty good range of my material that night so every song is different. I think there is something for everyone on this CD. I also broke a string the night of the show, which very rarely happens to me. One of the lighting guys offered to help and grabbed my guitar to change the string out for me. When I got it back it had a D-string put on where the G-string was supposed to be. So of course my Strat did not like the odd tension so I couldn’t keep it in tune. I had to overcome this and find a way to mask it while recording. That’s the stuff I love.
Is there another studio album in the works from you and band?
Albert Cummings: I have an album written that is the best I have ever created. I can’t wait to get into the studio. I’m not sure of what the timing will be before I can make it happen. My material is growing as I grow as a performer. I want every album I do to be a collaboration of everything I’ve learned so it has everything I can give it. It’s fun sometimes to listen to older albums that I’ve done. I listen now and I hear things that I may do differently now. This is ok to me because it shows that I’ve grown and improved. Every recording I do is just a timestamp in time of where I am presently. As long as I’m breathing, I want to get better at creating music.
When not busy with your career, how do you like to spend your free time?
Albert Cummings: I don’t have a lot of free time, but when I do have any I like to work around my property. Cutting wood, working on my barn, whatever I can to clear my head. Hard work is the best medicine.
Do you have a favorite restaurant in Williamstown?
Albert Cummings: My favorite restaurant in Williamstown is a Mexican restaurant called Coyote Flaco. The food is always fresh and delicious and you never get a bad meal. I hear they make good margaritas there, too!
Finally, Albert, any last words for the kids?
Albert Cummings: Yes, I do have a few words for the kids…
To me there are two types of musicians: There are the creators that create all of the music and then there are the performers who perform the music the creators created. I would encourage everyone to be creators. The world has enough performers in it. I love the old quote: “Be yourself because everyone else is taken.” The world needs fresh ideas.
I would also tell them to learn as much as they want about music, but don’t learn too much. I can’t tell you how many people that I’ve met in my career that know every bit of theory for every note and chord out there, but they couldn’t lay down a groove to save their lives. They think too much and it ruins their playing. Play music because you love it. If you can find peace at loving to play music, then the rewards you seek will come automatically. Just have fun with it and don’t let it ever pressure you into becoming something that is not exactly you! It’s there if you want it. Go get it!
P.S. Another simple tidbit that I would add. If you feel nervous before a show, learn to see that feeling as excitement and not nervousness. It really is excitement, and if you accept the feeling, you will have a much better performance. I remember talking with Mr. B.B. King about this very subject one night before a show in California. He felt the exact same way even after doing it for all of those years. So if its good enough for Mr. King to feel that way, it is certainly good enough for the rest of us. Embrace the excitement you feel!Tweet