Talk Music: Sonny Wolf combines blues, rockabilly
May 15, 2013 at 12:15 a.m.
Sonny Wolf specializes in America's purest homegrown sounds: the blues.
As an Austin transplant from Montreal, Wolf's brand of blues - fused with the brashness of rockabilly - isn't just about playing the music but living and breathing where it was created.
He caught up with Get Out to talk about his perspective on the blues, his idolization of Stevie Ray Vaughan and trying to maintain his own style while playing the greats.
In the marriage of blues and rockabilly, where do the compromises begin and end?
I'm not a purist in any sense. I just like what I like. I take bits and pieces of what I like to do and blend them in. What I play is all blues-based, whether it's straight blues, blues-rock or a little rockabilly.
I wouldn't consider myself a rockabilly purist. There's real rockabilly and the half-assed version I do.
I just want to sound like myself. There'll never be another Stevie Ray Vaughan or Robert Johnson. I just take bits and pieces of everybody.
Some people are just stuck on trying to sound like one thing. ... I'm not afraid to mix it up.
How does your background from French-speaking Montreal influence your style?
Blues sounds better in English. I grew up going to the jazz festival there, and I still go back every summer. I saw a lot of great blues growing up. It's an international festival, so you get a lot of great artists coming through town.
My first concert was Stevie Ray Vaughan when I was 14. He was touring then in 1986. That's when I was starting to get into listening to music.
The Rolling Stones were my first big thing. Through them, I started learning the blues. Stevie Ray Vaughan got me more into blues and to Jimi Hendrix.
What year did you move to Texas?
In 2007, I moved straight to Austin. I'd been visiting Texas before that. Something about Texas - just the south in general - drew me here. A lot of the music I love is from this region of Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi.
It's nice to play the music where the music was created.
What draws you into blues?
All of it, but mainly the music. When I play, I'm playing in 2013. I'm not trying to recreate 1931 or whatever. I understand what was happening then, but I'm not going to try to make people think I live those experiences. I couldn't do that anyway convincingly. You can only be yourself and perform from your point of view, from who you are.
How has the new location impacted your music?
It's just the vibe where I can tap into it. You're playing in the region where that music was created. It's the culture here. People understand it. People love it worldwide, but it comes from here, so it's not foreign to play it here. It's part of what everyone understands.
How do you balance your technical guitar style with your vocals?
It's experience, really. Every night, you try to make it better than the last night. You kind of take notes after your performance; happy accidents happen, too. Sometimes, strange things happen, and you'll keep that idea. You're always trying to make it evolve without thinking about it too much.
What's your point of view?
I just want to make people feel good. To me, blues is just music that was created as a release for people to have fun with. People would work hard, and they just needed to get away, go to a juke joint, drink and dance and have some fun. I just try to keep that spirit in my playing but done my way and make people feel good.
When it gets too intellectual, maybe you lose a bit of the fun. There's nothing wrong with music that's designed that way. You have to listen to the lyrics, think and mediate. My thing is about creating an energy to excite people with.