MP3 Mike DeLaCerda - American Gypsy
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16 MP3 Songs
ROCK: Classic Rock, BLUES: Rockin' Blues
You can hear the sweat in his blues. ...
When Mike DeLaCerda picks up his Les Paul and tears at the opening notes of Johnny Winter's "Mean Town Blues," you know this isn't some teenage hotshot who measures feeling by how fast he can play.
In fact, every note that DeLaCerda hits or sings throughout American Gypsy comes from a lot of miles laid down on America's highways. He's driven his big-rig sound truck from coast to coast, border to border, and beyond, his CDs blasting and his guitar by his side. He's paid his dues hauling gear for many of the biggest acts in the business -- then listened and learned as he rode the gain at their concerts. He's worked on barges going up river from his hometown in New Orleans and back. He's haunted the Southside clubs where Buddy Guy reigns as king, shaken hands with Albert Collins in Austin, and followed the footsteps of Jimi Hendrix through the winter slush of New York's East Village.
All of this makes DeLaCerda what he is today: a musician with a dockhand's work ethic and a bluesman's soul.
"I'm not afraid to work," is how he puts it. " I'm not afraid to unload the truck. Anything I've got now, I had to fight for it. And I get off on that. I'm sorry, that's just the way I feel."
Maybe nothing comes easy, but that's the price of admission to the club of great players -- Duane Allman, Slowhand, B. B. King, Stevie Ray and Hendrix above all. DeLaCerda has paid for his ticket; American Gypsy marks the start of his ride to the top.
Backed by a no-nonsense band that includes Ivan Neville, bassist Jimmy Messa of the Subdudes, and B-3 monster Brian Mitchell, DeLaCerda mixes searing original material with tributes to his heroes, from a droning guitar/tambourine duet in his "Tribute to George Harrison" to a cover of "Are You Experienced" that would win points for sheer balls even if it wasn't such a breathtaking performance.
Fact is, American Gypsy just may slap some common sense into the face of modern music. And it's about time.
DeLaCerda has lived all over this country. But New Orleans is where he's from -- that'll never change. That's where he learned that life can be tough -- and if you're tougher than life, it's worth living.
When he was ten years old Mike's parents divorced. That's when he left to live with his grandparents near Lake Pontchartrain. Their son, seven or eight years older than Mike, taught him the basics of the guitar and let him hang around as he played local gigs. This was in the late sixties going into the seventies -- the golden age of guitar, which Mike entered with his six-string fully loaded.
The time he spent with his father and mother only fed this fire. Driving around New Orleans with his mother, he'd demand to hear Three Dog Night or some other pop stuff on the radio; pulling rank, she'd turn to the far side of the dial and crank up some Ernie K. Doe, Lloyd Price, Lee Dorsey, or other R&B giants. After a while Mike stopped arguing and started paying attention.
Dad? He liked to spend nights at home whenever some old Elvis movie came on. "I fell in love with those things," DeLaCerda says. "To this day I want to go to Hawaii because of Blue Hawaii, but the closest I ever got was the Polynesian Room at Graceland."
On his own, back at his grandparents' place, Mike would use his transistor radio to track down even more exotic material. "I'd find a trucker's station and listen to Bobby Bare or Dave Dudley. I was a big Hank Williams fan at a really young age too. I remember loving all that stuff until the day Urban Cowboy came out -- and then I dropped it completely."
One night in the late seventies DeLaCerda went with some friends to City Park Stadium, where a concert bill that featured Foreigner, Bob Seger, and Fleetwood Mac changed his life. "I can still see Mick Jones walk to the edge of the stage, strum the chords to 'Feels Like the First Time' for a stadium full of people, and the sun's going down, the wind's blowing his hair, and I'm like, 'That's what I want to do.'"
From that point everything that DeLaCerda did was about grabbing for that magic. He practiced on any guitar he could grab off the wall from a local department store or borrow from the counselor's office at summer camp in Mississippi, or on his brother's instrument when he wasn't using it. "Once I got hold of a guitar, I never put it down," he says. "It became a part of me."
He got into the music business through the back door, though, as a roadie, a manager, and eventually as the sound guy at clubs and concerts. His standards were high: Having risen from deckhand to first mate on the oil trawler Patricia I. Hart, he wasn't inclined to just set the levels and leave for a beer once the show began. Musicians knew that their balance would be dynamic, their solos edged above the mix and brought back down at the end, when he was running the board. Before long he was doing the mix for the top local artists as well as visiting headliners, from Stevie Ray Vaughan and B. B. King to ... Bob Hope.
"Bob Hope was my all-time favorite entertainer," he recalls. "But I noticed a common thread in all of these guys: They were real people. They weren't uptight about what they did. They were confident, so they were able to relax and be comfortable in their own skin. I learned a lot by watching these guys."
He had started playing too, beginning with a band called the Blues Exchange. They landed a gig at the Lion's Den, a longtime R&B club run by the legendary Irma Thomas and her husband Emile. Irma introduced them to Barbara George, whose song "I Know" had put her on the map years before. Playing behind her, DeLaCerda and his group rocked the West Bank juke joints, French Quarter bars, and anywhere else they could find that welcomed serious, streetwise blues.
Turns out there weren't as many of those places as DeLaCerda had hoped. The deeper he got into Hendrix and Clapton, the less there seemed to be for him in a town overrun with traditional jazz, zydeco, and Cajun bands. The more he sought out gigs, the more resentful other musicians grew over his unavailability to handle their sound. His appearances at the weekly blues jams at Monaco Bob's did earn him opportunities to open for Jefferson Starship, the Byrds, and .38 Special -- but that wasn't enough to feed the dream or pay the rent.
"I'd always been at odds with New Orleans," he says. "I was getting make from club owners for being too loud. The money was never quite right. I could see that there wasn't much of a future in going to Bourbon Street every night. And so I left."
In 1990 he left for the New Music Seminar in New York and stayed on for nine months. He would have stayed longer if he hadn't run out of money and nearly died from the chill one night while working at the Roseland Ballroom. Following a short return to New Orleans, he left again, this time to Austin, where he did sound for Jerry Jeff Walker, Patty Griffin, and the Antone's anniversary shindig at the old Austin Opry House. Again he went back to New Orleans; again he headed out, going now to Chicago to do sound and sit in with blues bands.
"I was never in any one place long enough to get any gigs," he says. "But I could always find a place to jam. I always had my guitar with me, and I always got a great response."
For a while, beginning in '97, DeLaCerda pretty much lived on the road by offering himself as a combination long-haul trucker and concert tech. He specialized in driving audio and video equipment to events, often in five-star resorts at places like the Breakers or Boca Raton, and then setting it up and running it himself. "They got more than a truck driver who just sat around while the show was on," he explains. "And I could tack six, seven, or eight days on either side of a show to make more money. It worked out for everybody."
The key point here, though, isn't so much what DeLaCerda did but how he traveled. "No matter what kind of a gig it was, I took my guitar everywhere I went as a reminder of who I was. I never lost sight of that."
He also kept his demo with him -- a CD with fifteen tracks that his uncle financed before DeLaCerda's first visit to Chicago. Unfortunately, the bassist and drummer didn't connect with him as well as he'd like. So for two years, whenever he had some spare time, DeLaCerda would take the masters into a studio and tweak them, trying to tighten up the rough spots. Eventually he realized that his only option was to trash the whole thing and do it again from scratch.
An introduction to Rob Fraboni kicked it off. Having produced projects for Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt, and the Band, he connected at once to DeLaCerda's music and hooked him up with Ivan Neville, Brian Mitchell, and George Receli, all former clients. They laid tracks at Dockside Studios in Maurice, Louisiana, in sessions sparked at time by creative friction, to the extent at one point that Fraboni asked to have his production credit removed from "Are You Experienced" -- luckily, he and DeLaCerda both knew how to turn that heat into an even hotter final product.
Yet cool moments chill within this fire -- those words, for example, at the end of "Are You Experienced," which are indeed spoken by Hendrix himself. This fragment has never been heard outside of Audio Vision Studios in Miami, where Ron and Howard Albert had filed it away for more than thirty years. They'd caught it while recording Hendrix at the Miami Pop Festival in May 1968, and when DeLaCerda brought his tracks in to mix, there was no way that sample wasn't making it into the final version.
"I'm going to go for anything Jimi-related," he laughs. "He's absolutely my hero, and to have a piece of unheard Hendrix on my record is like ... wow."
In the end, though, American Gypsy heralds something new. All artists -- Hendrix himself -- build on what others had done in order to find their original voice. So it is with Mike DeLaCerda, who can add something that even some of his heroes couldn't bring to the table: a refusal to take the easy road, a willingness to tackle challenges, and a pride in being able to follow the footsteps of those who deserve respect, famous and unknown, for living life without apology or fear.
"I have little tolerance for bullmake; I can spot it a mile away." That's how Mike puts it -- but he doesn't need to spell it out. American Gypsy makes the point loud and clear on its own.
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