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Mahindra Blues Festival 2012: Warren Mendonsa of Blackstratblues

Last year, Warren Mendonsa, indie guitar hero and founder of Blackstratblues, watched as Matt Schofield blew the audience away with his set at the inaugural Mahindra Blues Festival. As he stood in the audience, Mendonsa wished he could be a part of the festival someday. This year, that wish comes true as Mendonsa’s band Blackstratblues […]

Shawn Fernandes Feb 09, 2012
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Blackstratblues: (from L to R) Sidd Coutto, Warren Mendonsa, Johan Pais (Photograph: Roycin D'souza)

Last year, Warren Mendonsa, indie guitar hero and founder of Blackstratblues, watched as Matt Schofield blew the audience away with his set at the inaugural Mahindra Blues Festival. As he stood in the audience, Mendonsa wished he could be a part of the festival someday. This year, that wish comes true as Mendonsa’s band Blackstratblues shares the bill with Grammy-winning blues legends Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal as well as other blues names like John Lee Hooker, Jr and Ana Popovic.

ROLLING STONE caught up with the affable guitarist to talk about his blues roots, his multiple musical projects and the possibility of a new album.

You’re best known as a rock guitar player, but with a name like Blackstratblues, we have to ask, how much has the blues influenced you?

I think rock was born from the blues, and every rock guitar player I’ve admired had a definitive bluesy edge to their playing. From the big four – Hendrix, Clapton, Beck & Page to guys like David Gilmour, Mark Knopfler, Slash, Gary Moore, Brian May, Warren Haynes, Nuno Bettencourt and Scott Henderson. The blues is definitely a big part of what I do musically; I just prefer not to be restricted to a traditional format most of the time. When I was in New Zealand, I played with local blues legend Midge Marsden (check him out, he and Stevie Ray Vaughn go back a long way!) and that was a really good education for me.

As a guitar player, who are the blues guitar players who’ve shaped your playing?

Early on, it was hearing Clapton on the early Cream and John Mayall records that got me interested in playing the blues. Even the first couple of Zeppelin albums have some great blues tunes on them. I then got heavily into Stevie Ray Vaughan and Gary Moore, who to my young ears seemed to be the best representations of American and British blues guitar styles respectively. Sometime later, Ehsaan Noorani turned me on to Robben Ford, who I still love listening to. As I got older, I started tracing the guys who influenced my guitar heroes, and that’s when I found the three Kings (BB, Albert and Freddie), Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and a whole bunch of really early blues recordings. Currently Michael Landau, Matt Schofield and Derek Trucks are my favorite guitar players.

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Do you have any favourite blues album or blues anthems?

Tough call to pick just one favorite, but I really love Forty Four by Howling Wolf. Raw, stripped down and serious groove. Michael Landau does a ripping version of ”˜Worried Life Blues’ on his live album – that is one of my favorite recordings of all time. ”˜Voodoo Chile’, the long jam on Electric Ladyland, not ”˜Voodoo Child (Slight Return)’ is another favorite.

Come the 12th of February, you’re going to playing on the same stage as six-time Grammy winner Buddy Guy. When you were starting out, a little over a decade ago, did you think you’d be playing at a blues festival in your hometown alongside Buddy Guy and Taj Mahal?

It’s pretty surreal. I remember watching Matt Schofield last year and thinking “Damn, I wish I could play this stage someday” ”“ little did I know it would be so soon! In all honesty, I’m really happy that the Mahindra Blues Festival is happening in this city. It’s really welcome, give how starved we were for music at this level just a few years ago.

It’s been two years since you released The New Album, is there another album on the horizon?

Yup, I’ve got five or six songs that are almost complete. We do play them live at gigs, and they seem to be going down really well. I just need to set aside a month or so to go into the studio and put them down. And then find some time to mix. Which leads us to”¦

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You’re one of the busiest guitar players in the country. Tell us about the different projects you’re currently part of.

I’m midway producing Nikhil D’Souza’s album. He’s been one of my favorite songwriters since I heard his stuff, and he’s got a great voice too. Really looking forward to seeing it through, it’s shaping up great. I play in Alien Chutney with Vir Das, that’s always great fun. Shazneen Arethna resurrected Three Guys and a Girl, and it was nice to bring her songs to life. I played with Karsh Kale at the NH7 finale, and was super impressed with his musicianship. And such a great human being too. He’s just put together a band to play his stuff in India, and I’m stoked to be part of it. I do a fair bit of recording sessions, and have played live with Vishal-Shekhar and A.R. Rahman.

Who’s part of the band for the MBF gig and have you tailored your set to fit the blues theme of the festival?

The band comprises of Sidd Coutto on drums and Johan Pais on bass. I’ve grown up playing music with these guys and it’s awesome that we’re still making music together. We may have a guest or two, but right now we’re really enjoying playing as a trio so we’ll have to see. Regarding setlists, you always tailor that to the crowd and the occasion. Luckily, all the new stuff is really bluesy and will fit right in. As long as people don’t expect a traditional 12 bar blues format, I think they’ll enjoy listening to us. I’m really looking forward to this one (smiles).

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