Songs In The Key Of… Alternative Blues

4 December, 2018 in Features, Interviews, Music

John J Presley

Presley: “I love that sound and feeling of instruments being really challenged within their own limitations” Pic: Steve Gullick

Electric bluesman from Birmingham, John J Presley, shares a selection of alt-blues tracks and explains how they have influenced him

John J Presley grew up in Birmingham and after some years in London now resides in Brighton. With two successful singles and an EP under his belt, he is gearing up for the release of his debut album, which is coming out through BMG and AWAL. Presley has been honing his craft over the last few years, most notably playing as part of Duke Garwood’s live band, taking up guitar duties for the live shows surrounding Ed Harcourt’s most recent release, and supporting the likes of Jim Jones & The Righteous Mind.

“The blues is such a broad spectrum for a genre,” says Presley. “In that sense it’s almost impossible to pigeonhole any of these records, but I can say that the blues was a huge influence and foundation for me, and from that these bands and artists seemed to always be pushing forward with new ideas and reworkings, with focus on their instruments as the core statement in their sound.”

Here Presley selects 10 of his essential alternative blues tracks. To listen to them all in one go, check out the Spotify playlist.


THICKFREAKNESS – THE BLACK KEYS
“The guitar sound just speaks for itself really on this record. I heard this in my friend’s car years ago and I instantly thought it was the best guitar sound I’d ever heard at that time.”


HIT THE CITY – MARK LANEGAN
“Beautiful bass line.. driving drums..Mark Lanegan and PJ Harvey..what’s not to like? Their voices work so well together and the energy captured here is extraordinary. One to drive to for sure.”


BLACK DRUM – ARCHIE BRONSON OUTFIT
“I love this band. This song is a B-side and it’s definitely one of my favourites. The guitar sound is perfect – so dry, so primitive but with a real fuzz behind it. I still play this a lot from the seven-inch”


HOIST THAT RAG (ORIGINAL MIX) – TOM WAITS
“Tom Waits is the ultimate showman. A master of his craft and I’d travel a long way to see him perform. Marc Ribot is on guitar here too – another maestro with such a muffled but perfected sound – it’s a sound I’m constantly chasing.”


GRINDERMAN – GRINDERMAN
“The textures in here are brilliant. The clanging loops – both electronic and wooden all at the same time push and pull at each other. I suppose in a way those textures and percussive elements were always a draw to me in traditional blues too – it’s such a unique way of layering up ideas but still holding that space.”


THE KILLS – MURDERMILE
“I’m a big fan of the guitar wizardry of Jamie Hince and, in this record, I adore the durgy, dry sound he conjures… this record always reminds me of London and the amp is pushed so hard it almost sounds like it’s about to blow up. I love that sound and feeling of instruments being really challenged within their own limitations. With early blues sometimes it was as simple as a single string too – the drama it can evoke, hearing the instrument, hearing the wood and the craftsmanship through the recording. Stunning.”


STITCHED IN SIN – BLACK DIAMOND HEAVIES
“I supported the Black Diamond Heavies years ago and I was captivated by their live performance. Their musicianship on stage really taught me that I had to up my game in a live capacity. I ended up buying my Fender Rhodes of James Leg from the band which I still take on tour from time to time.”


YOU LIE – DR JOHN
“Another mention for Dan Auerbach here who is on guitar duties. He masters such a beautiful reverb and trem sound on this recording.”


LAST RUNG – MARK LANEGAN & DUKE GARWOOD
“As with all genres sometimes an unmatchable partnership is born and the collaboration between Mark and Duke continues to this day. This particular piece of music works in both the music and the lyrics.. and the piano sound on this recording is the perfect tonic.”


THE END – DANIEL LANOIS
“I only discovered Daniel Lanois recently but already I’m deeply entrenched with his back catalogue. The sonic texture and beauty of this playing is a testament to his art and again, if reflecting back to ‘the blues’ this is a prime example of an artist constantly weaving and propelling his ideas and style with every album. Reworking magic. Daniel Lanois.”

MAY I RUMBLE – DUKE GARWOOD
“I love this record because of the headspace it puts you in. Duke has always been a huge inspiration to me and it is an honour to play as part of his live show from time to time.”


John J Presley’s new album As The Night Draws In is out in January 2019. Discover more at johnjpresley.com



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