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Punk Rock Blues: Interview with guitarist Jimmy Wolf

ROME, N.Y. - Nammy nominated guitarist and singer, Jimmy Wolf, has one of the most distinctive sounds in the Native music scene; though seeped in the blues, he has gone through an evolution over the past few years where his blues have distorted into punk. His energetic and highly original style is getting him more attention in the punk scene than it is in his own Native community, but he hopes that will change. In August he is going into New York's Castle Studios to record his fourth (yet to be named) album. It will be the first time he has recorded in a professional facility since he developed his rawer style.

Wolf's aptly named 1999 album, "Raw Blues," was one of the leanest blues albums to come out that year. Though still in the Stevie Ray Vaughan mode, there's a looseness and intensity that sets it apart from the rest of the pack. His 2000 album, "I'm the Wolf," showed a broader range of style and a edgier side to the Wolf, like the low and cutting Hendrix-like blues "Sex Star," the paisley-pop of "Anella Vanella," and the screaming "Little Mover." After taking a break, Wolf returned with the rawest album of last year, "Mohawk Stomp," which only featured Wolf on vocals and baritone guitar along with drummer Doug Murray. The home-recorded CD featured a more stripped down version of "Sex Star," and minimalist versions of classics by Big Bill Broonzy and Hound Dog Taylor. By breaking through to the roughest side of the blues/punk arena, Wolf captured a live sound filled with passion and feeling, often to the point of distortion.

Wolf talked about the upcoming album, his music, and his unique career moves with Indian Country Today. He was very excited about the upcoming album. "We're going to record over here at Castle recording studios, so the new album will probably have better sound than any of my other recordings," Wolf said. "I'm going to record it live with very minimal overdubs. It will be less bluesy, more rock, but not as raw as 'Mohawk Stomp;' it doesn't get any rawer than that."

The journeyman guitarist has worked in rock music and the blues scene, but his latest evolution is in the youth-oriented world of punk clubs and college radio, and his following is increasing at a faster rate since going underground. "I'm mostly performing around New York state," Wolf said. "My audience is definitely building. I've been playing punk clubs, like in Buffalo. I'm getting a younger crowd in that town and they've been really enthusiastic about the music. Bars usually want the performers to keep the volume down, to not be as abrasive, and to cover songs that people know, but punk crowds are ready for anything. I sent 'Mohawk Stomp' to a college blues station and they played it a lot, but I also sent a copy to a station that plays jazz and blues, and they said it was 'too raw' for their liking. That doesn't matter because I don't really like much of the stuff they're playing on the station, which is mostly white harmonica bands. That might be what they call blues, but that's not what I call blues."

Wolf does cover traditional blues songs, and when compared to more mainstream blues artists, he usually covers songs that go further back into the tradition with classics like "Crawlin' King Snake" by John Lee Hooker or Slim Harpo's "I'm a King Bee" performed in a punk style. He also covers punk classics like Link Wray's "The Joker" and "TV Eye" by Iggy Pop & The Stooges. "When we cover 'Gloria' we turn it into a psychedelic tune," Wolf said. "The last time we played it a guy came up and said that he played drums on the original recording by the Shadows of Knight. A lot of people will B.S. you, but he sat in with us and he was pretty good."

Wolf was very encouraged by the responses he got from promoting "Mohawk Stomp," which was originally designed as a demo. "I sent the CD to one club and the owner expected me to come down with a duo set-up. I came down with a trio, which everyone really liked, but he was looking forward to the duo. It's a lot more work for me to do a duo, but it has a different sound and it gives me a lot more freedom to do things except solo; I can still solo, but it's very broken down. From a musician's point of view, that makes it interesting; it changes your whole idea of what you have to do."

Though it will mean taking a cut in pay, Wolf is planning some shows this spring in New York City. "I've only played in the city a handful of times. We're talking with some of the punk clubs. Up here there really isn't that much going on, but I can make more money up here. We played a mini-pow wow type of thing at one casino, but they didn't promote it. There were about 15 or 20 people at the show; we made some money, but it's still pretty disappointing."

Wolf plans on sticking to his current style for awhile; he's still exploring the possibilities it presents. "The plan is to record with the same type of format, baritone guitar and drum, and if I add another piece, it will probably be another guitar, not a bass. After developing this I don't want to go back to recording as a trio, the duo is a more original sound."

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