The Hampshire (UK) based blues-rock machine SUGARMAN SAM & THE VOODOO MEN are intent on bringing back the hard-hitting and explosive authenticity of the blues/rock sounds of the 1960s and 1970s to a venue near you.
Sugarman Sam himself gained his first break in 2007 as guitarist for an outfit called ‘Ripslide.’ The band earned plenty of localised interest and were soon frequenting the club circuit. They played a set at the ‘BASINGSTOKE LIVE’ festival. Sam soon became the go-to session man for local acts. The VOODOO MEN were formed in 2013. The quartet includes Gareth Goodwin on bass guitar, Paul McCormick on keys, and Dave Miller on drums.
Their début album Record Store Education is out now…
We chatted with the band at this year’s HRH BLUES weekend in Sheffield.
What’s going on right now in the Sugar & Voodoo world?
“We’ve just done ten dates on our mini-tour and this is our final stop. This has been the pinnacle. It’s awesome here. On this tour we have played to full venues, we have played to empty venues … But this has just been the highlight.”
We were excited to chat to you today because there’s a buzz going around about Sugarman Sam and the Voodoo Men
Sam: “Well I think that’s good. And it is probably due to our E.P. And our album. So a bit of back story for you: We wanted to get onto the blues circuit and we wanted to push into Europe. And we had just been offered a slot at the introducing stage in Skegness. [The Great British Rock & Blues Festival at Butlins Skegness — Reviewed Here] and we said “We don’t want to go to Skegness with a product that’s been out for too long” — so let’s do the album! We didn’t know how we were gonna fund it. We didn’t know where we were gonna do it… but at least we decided it should be done.”
“And so in January of this year we went into Embassy Studios, which is near us in Hampshire and we knuckled down to do nine tracks — we’d gigged those songs for a long time — so we knew what we kinda wanted and once we got them down Gareth was the driving force behind the artwork and he chose the songs that would go onto the final product.”
Gareth: “Yes I know someone — Liz Watchurst — who is a great artist. We were gonna get her to draw something but we had nothing. Nothing at all. We had a working title “Shining Light” but that was it. But when I was listening to the lyrics I noticed that one of the lines was: My education was a record store. So I thought: hang on, we could go for “Record Store Education.” Though, clearly, we are not gonna have any photos of Sam when he was like knee-high and running around a record store. But we did have the next best thing. We got Sam’s son. And so we took him to a record store [Sound Machine in Reading] — he had never been in a Record Store before, actually — and we said “Go and play… enjoy yourself.” We gave the photos to Liz and she came up with the end result. It worked really well. And the band liked the result.”
“We wanted to go to our local blues club [The basingstoke blues club ] to sell our stuff but the owner Rex said “You can sell your merch here but you gotta have an album to sell, I don’t want an E.P.” So we basically had just 3 months to get organized, to get into the studio and gain some funding. All the mixing, mastering, artwork, printing etc. It was tough to do it all in three months!”
Paul : “Though, what’s nice is that by giving ourselves that kinda pressure, the album is recorded largely live. ”
“Mind you, it’s fair to point out that the guy added the keys on later (I wasn’t around for that.) But the great thing is that it’s got that live feel.”
Sam: “And we need to give a big shout-out to a company called Promo-Discs who printed it all for us. It’s a single-guy operation and we gave him a pretty tight deadline. We said, “We need this in one week.” And he did it. “
Paul: “Yes, it was squeaky-bum time for a couple of days. I’ll be honest. It was tight. But we did it. We did it all in three months.”
So where did your musical influences come from?
Sam: “Well for me, the first band I ever got into was Guns N’ Roses. And all I did was go back. Sorta thing. So when I heard people like Eric Clapton and Free it just set something off in my head. The thing about us — the message we are trying to get across is — right from early on in our career … if we were in a pub and there were people there of our age, they would bop along. And they’d say “Yeah, this is really good.” But if you handed them a FREE CD or a Clapton CD they’d go “Hold on, what’s this?” And maybe they wouldn’t listen to it.”
“So what we do is… We say, this is who we are, this is what we do. We start drawing people in. And when a radio show plays us (the band have been aired on Blues Radio) they might announce “This band are influenced by Free and Gary Moore ” … Then if people buy our record, or just listen to us on the radio, and after that they go and buy a FREE record — that’s an education. That’s a blues education… for people aged 19 or 20…”
Paul : “We don’t want to pigeon-hole ourselves too much. We are a bit too rock for blues and a bit too blues for rock! ”
Gareth: “And sometimes the word “blues” turns people off. My local pub has live music and I saw that they have bands come in to play. So one day I went in, asking to play a gig. I said, “I am in a band.” She said, “Great, what do you play?” I said, “Blues.” She said, “Not interested. Don’t like blues.” I said, “OK. I’ll give you a recording.” So I played one of our songs for her, on my phone. She said, “Is that you?” I said, “Yeah.” She said, “In that case you can come in here and play next month!”
It’s almost like you have to sell Blues the “other way around.” You have to say “This music is “The Graveltones.” Or this music is “Royal Blood.” Or this music is “Sugarman Sam and the Voodoo Men.” And if they like it, then you can admit that it’s blues-rock…
“Yes, exactly. We don’t want to put our music into any kind of pigeon hole because of that. We play what we play. We play what we like… And we love what we play.”
Where is the next generation of blues-rock aficionados gonna come from?
“Well if you look at folks like BEN POOLE and KING KING … In fact KING KING are a prime example of saying “We’re a blues-based band. Sit down and listen and you’ll agree.” Yet they’ve just supported Thunder. And they’ve been out with Terrorvision. We think that, performance wise, blues is alive and kicking. And look what we’ve done… We have done this 10-date tour. Some places, when we have turned up, people have started tutting and saying “It’s a blues band” and they have shaken their heads. ”
“But when we have gone out and played to them… Well, we’ve made such a racket that those people couldn’t ignore us. And we have heard them say, “Do you know what? I digged that… I really digged it…” Then people will come over and say, “Wow! You’re good…What type of music do you call that.” And we say “Blues” and there it is…”
“Wham! We have converted someone. Converted them to the Blues”
Sugarman Sam and the Voodoo Men were talking to Neil Mach at HRH BLUES SHEFFIELD
Check their album here: Record Store Education
Words & All Images: @neilmach 2016 ©