By Kevin Porter
You can’t make this stuff up: a teenage boy in Hungary falls in love with American blues music, and as a young man, comes to the United States and crisscrosses the South, soaking in all the rich history of the blues. Little G Weevil did that and more. He came to the United States in 2004 and worked as a dishwasher, room cleaner, and construction worker in Birmingham, Alabama, and Memphis, Tennessee, as he learned about American blues music. His guitar prowess got him steady gigs on Beale Street in Memphis, and in 2013, he won the Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge and has been nominated for a Blues Music Award and a Blues Blast Music Award. He’s released four well received albums and toured across the globe. His new record, Something Poppin’, came out this past November, and is a mix of electric blues, funk, rock, soul and R&B. He was kind enough to talk to us by phone.
KP: Let’s talk about your new album, Something Poppin’, which is fantastic. How did the album come about?
LGW: I started my career playing electric guitar, and when I moved to the U.S. and to Memphis, I fell in love with the acoustic stuff and developed a style on the acoustic guitar. That got me some attention, but I am an electric guitarist, too. While I did acoustic shows, I also was doing band shows and to be honest with you, this album was not planned. I released Moving in 2013 and Three Chords Too Many in 2016. I found myself writing more electric stuff that was not based on traditional blues, and when I was working on Three Chords Too Many, I asked the producer if he would be in an electric album as well. I was skeptical and concerned at the same time. I’ve been playing traditional blues for 20 years, but I’m a guy who always follows his heart, and I don’t play music for commercial purposes. I play music for my own satisfaction, and I hope people will like what I do. The producer liked it, and we put the album together. The producer is Hungarian, so we recorded the album in Hungary with a Hungarian band except for my drummer, Daniel Harper, who is from Atlanta. The record follows the music I love, and it’s not far from the blues at all. It’s no secret that I love African and African-American cultures and the music represented by Afro-American culture. The album is a mix of all the genres the blues has influenced. It’s important to me that you maintain the tradition of the blues, and the way blues has evolved over the years from an American point of view. Blues became R&B and soul and rock and roll.
KP: In listening to Something Poppin’, it’s very much rooted in the blues, but you have a little soul here, a little bit of rap here and there, and some rock. When you were writing the record, was that a goal of yours to branch out in these different directions, or did the music just come out of your soul?
LGW: It was not intentional at all—it just came out, just like you said. To me, all this is one thing. Today’s electric music comes from the blues anyway. You can arrange a song a hundred different ways. It’s just up to you what the outcome is going to be and what it’s going to sound like. I’m a blues musician, a lyricist, and a singer, too. Lyrics are very important because the blues is a storytelling genre. As the blues evolved over the years, the honesty remained the same. It’s just the music behind the lyrics is a little different. There’s a different groove behind the story, but to me, it feels the same. I tell stories in each and every song, just like I did with traditional blues songs.
KP: Your story is so interesting because you came to America inspired by blues music and wanted to find out more about it. This all started when your brother played a John Lee Hooker album.
LGW: I started playing drums at the age of 11, and I listened to rock and heavy metal. When I was 16, my brother brought home a John Lee Hooker album, and it basically changed my life overnight. I didn’t understand the lyrics because I didn’t speak English, but the feeling that came through the music was so deep that it totally knocked me out. I got another John Lee Hooker record, and Albert Collins was on that record, and when I heard that guitar—oh my. That sharp, cutting tone, and so much power in the playing. From Albert Collins, I went to Albert King. I had roughly 100 cassette tapes with rock or heavy metal music, and one by one, I started overriding that music with blues music. This was like 1993, and there were maybe one or two record stores in all of Budapest that sold blues records. I got a summer job and bought a Telecaster guitar. I plugged it in but couldn’t figure out why it didn’t sound like Albert Collins (laughs).
KP: Are you self-taught?
LGW: Yeah. I did have two or three lessons, but let’s face it, there weren’t a lot of guitar teachers in Hungary teaching blues. My guitar teachers were more into rock/blues, and I was not into that, so I chose to stay home and listen to the tapes and try to play the notes. No internet then—we had VHS tapes that my friends and I collected. I had a B.B. King live at Dallas tape, and I watched that video a thousand times to learn B.B. King’s style. I later met another guitar player in Budapest, Eugene Black aka Jeno Fekete, who got me into Muddy Waters and T. Bone Walker.
KP: When you came to the U.S., you lived in the South because that is where the root of the blues is. I also understand you visited some famous blues landmarks and grave sites of various blues artists. What were some of your favorite places?
LGW: If you have never traveled through the South, then take at least a three-week vacation and visit all the places you possibly can, because that is how you put the puzzle together. It was an absolute must for me because over the years, I found it harder to play and represent blues music without knowing the culture behind it. Since I fell in love with blues music before the Internet existed, these blues musicians were mysterious figures to me. I wanted to talk to people. You get an idea of the surroundings, even if you do not know where the exact house they lived in, or where they are buried. I visited Elmore James, Sonny Boy Williamson, Fred McDowell, Albert King, Big Joe Williams’, and other grave sites; places in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Georgia, and of course, Memphis. I did not have a chance to see most originators play live, but I did have the honor of meeting many legendary blues men and women before they passed. I also worked as a dishwasher in a blues club on Beale Street—you can’t get any more real than that!
KP: Who did you get a chance to meet?
LGW: Gatemouth Brown, Honeyboy Edwards, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Big Eyes Smith just to name a few. I was honored to spend a day with Willie King in his home. I opened up for Denise Lasalle in 2005, and Johnny Winter in 2008. We sat down for a chat in Johnny`s tour bus. He even let me play his legendary Gibson Firebird. I backed Big Jack Johnson at the King Biscuit Blues Festival`s main stage. And since I`m name dropping, let me mention jamming with Sam Myers, which was one of the most important musical experiences of my life. Luckily, Anson Funderburgh is still kicking strong. He is a major influence. I could tell stories for hours and I’m only 40. Each and every moment has a special place in my heart because these musicians were on a different level. Each and every one of these guys were the real deal. We can’t come close to these guys with the feelings, the realness, and the deepness of the way they played. That’s why I want to keep going, to carry around that little bit of something that I experienced with them personally, and what I learned from them. I would love to sound like them one day, and that’s what I work towards.
KP: I understand when you are looking at guitars that you are looking for a tone that you don’t hear from any other guitar.
LGW: Yes, that’s right. A friend built a guitar for me, and it sounded and looked too pretty for me, so I took it to my luthier who works on my guitars and asked him to screw it up because it sounds too pretty. I look for a unique sound, I look for individuality. I don’t want my guitar sounding like everyone else’s guitar. I used to have 8 to 10 guitars, but I brought that down to two or three. They are all customized and made by friends, so they are not big brands at all.
KP: What do you do to make the guitars your own? Do you put in different pickups? Bend the bridge?
LGW: Yes, you mess around with the pickups and the wiring and the action of the guitar. The action is important and is based on how close the strings are to the neck. Some guitar players like the action low because it’s easier to play. I like the strings further from the neck—I play less notes but what notes I play are aggressive. Someone who plays faster and more technical prefers the low action. I play with less notes but heavier notes. Every note has a meaning. It’s not about the scales or the speed but what notes you put together, one after the other.
KP: You have a great voice that fits in well with your music. Any particular singers you model yourself after?
LGW: To be honest, I don’t practice singing much. I guess I’m blessed with this somewhat bluesy tone. My vocals really bothered me for the first 10 years of my career because I thought they were terrible. Because English is my second language and I have an accent, I practiced singing a lot to lose that accent. Sometimes I’m told I’m similar to a Cajun from Louisiana singing, and to me, as long as I don’t sound like an Eastern European singing the blues, I’ve accomplished my goal (laughs). The old blues musicians were not always “skilled” singers, they were storytellers, singing naturally. That’s how my style developed, too. There is this old saying of singing loud, so God can hear you.
KP: Will you be touring to support Something Poppin’?
LGW: Probably not until the second half of 2018. I’m putting together a new band and we’re just getting started. The album is a different type of music and requires different players. We’ll do three or four gigs in March, take a break, then I do some shows in Europe and come back in May. I didn’t want to hit the road immediately because I want this new project, and this new sound, to be special for the band and the audience. My idea for 2018 is to do less shows but more quality shows. Instead of doing endless club shows, I want to do shows in nice venues because I want the audience to go home with the full live music experience.
KP: So you’ll be playing with a larger band?
LGW: It’ll be a six-piece band—keys, drums, bass, second guitar, guest singer or singers. Ideally, there would be a percussionist as well. Maybe we can add those extra musicians at a festival….or if we become superstars! (laughs). We love to play.
KP: We didn’t get around to talking about your acoustic stuff, but let’s save that for the next time you release an acoustic album. Thanks so much for talking to us.
LGW: You’re welcome and thank you.
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