Big Bill Broonzy: In the Words of Riesman and Walz

Interview with Chris Walz

Musician Chris Walz is the Program Manager for Bluegrass, Old Time, and Americana music and an instructor at Old Town School of Folk Music. I sat down to talk with him about his part in the upcoming presentation “Big Bill Broonzy: Words and Music”.

FOB: How did you first learn about Bill Broonzy?

CHRIS: I started with guitar in the late 70’s. I was listening to acoustic guitar on Saturday nights on NPR in upstate NY as a teenager. They played a live recording of Broonzy and Pete Seeger playing “Willie Mae”. I keep a copy of that song to this day. I was really interested in Broonzy’s style of playing which I learned how to play.

FOB: What drew you to the guitar?

CHRIS: Listening to the NPR program and hearing Broonzy, I was really interested in his style of playing. I did learn how to play his style. I also play mandolin and banjo.

FOB: How does Broonzy stand out to you in the blues and folk music arena?

CHRIS: His style of playing and singing stood out. His singing has a range and a “listenability”. He easily relates to people. He had a wonderful exchange on Stud Terkel’s radio program about what blues means. He said, ”Blues comes from an actual life.”

Broonzy was a very political writer as in his song “Just A Dream”. He was ahead of his time.

FOB: What do you think are his greatest contributions to music and society?

CHRIS: The wealth of songs he left, from the 1920’s -1957. He brought experiences to light. He put the equality message out. He was never in-your-face but he got his message across. He used his voice to bring light to issues in the way that he could. He used the platform he had [music] to bring light to issues. He was a shrewd character; he always found a way to get to where he wanted to go despite the obstacles.

His contributions to music include a full and complete sound. He used the space in his music to make a very infectious sound. You are invited to come along in Bill’s music, as if he was saving you a seat in his music. His accessibility in his music is important. When he went to Europe, he really influenced the British rockers like Eric Clapton. So the British invasion [of America] “brings” Bill with them.

FOB: What do you hope people walk away with from your presentation at Blackstone Library on Wednesday?

CHRIS: [A] desire to discover Bill and [to] do their own exploration through youtube.com, etc. [I hope] they use it as a jumping off point to spark interest.

Friends of Blackstone Library present Chris Walz and Bob Riesman Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012 in “Big Bill Broonzy: Words and Music”, 6-7:30pm. Blackstone Library is located at 4904 S. Lake Park Ave. Blackstone Public Library is a branch of the Chicago Public Library.

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