In this Q&A interview, the only original member in the current roster, drummer Jim McCarty, talks about keeping old songs fresh, keeping a band together for half a century, and touring with bandmates who are young enough to be his grandsons.
IJ: Tell me about the current lineup, beginning with (original guitarist/bassist) Chris Dreja dropping from the roster?
JM: Chris fell ill and was not able to tour with us. He had a series of strokes on the road last year. He’s still getting better. So we have (lead guitarist) Ben King. Ben has an old-fashioned style of playing, so he fits right in with us. At that time, about six years ago, he was young, about 21 years old, and he was playing guitar that way. He is spontaneous but he still has that old sound. (Bassist) David Smale joined four years ago. He went to the same music college as Ben out in England. He is a heavy bass player who also sings. (Lead vocalist) Andy (Mitchell), couldn’t play harmonica when he joined but he is a good singer. Now he plays harmonica, as well. He’s keen on being a real blues player. It’s a bit odd to me to be playing with three guys are who quite young and who are tight together because they are in that same generation and I’m the only original member in the band. It’s a bit strange but we have a good sound. It’s the same sound as our four-piece with Jimmy Page in ’67 and ’68.
IJ: Any plans for recording?
JM: We have a new concert DVD. It’s from our last tour in September. We filmed four or five shows and edited the best tracks together for release on a two-DVD set with a concert DVD and a second DVD with a lot of behind-the-scenes footage.
IJ: What’s the secret to keeping the band together after all of these years?
JM: I was in a band combined with other people. You can’t do it on your own. You need people that you work well with, like family. If you can find other people to play with and find a common objective, that’s really the point. Don’t be too keen on being egotistical. Be a part of the band instead of being a big star.
IJ: How do you treat the old songs on stage? That is, what do you do to keep those songs fresh for the listeners as well as the players, while still honoring the integrity of the songs?
JM: They can vary quite a bit. With the hits we keep it simple and try to stick to the original arrangements. But for some of the older, more obscure blues songs we have more space to jam out. There is room for improvisation. We’ve worked together as a band for so long that the show could be quite different every night. It’s never the same because we’re improvising sections.
IJ: When you think about the highlights of your career, and I’m sure there are many, what is the first that comes to mind?
JM: The 1966 lineup … We worked together well and worked off each other well, even though sometimes Jeff (Beck) could be difficult to work with. He would come up with something and he wouldn’t let it go. He was very up and down that way. When it did work, it was quite good.
IJ: If you could wave a magic wand and go back and change anything in your career, what would it?
JM: One thing I would change was back when we broke up (in 1968). I think if we could have just taken a year off we could have come back strong. It would have been interesting, like a Pink Floyd kind of thing where we just always kept playing.
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