This is a short, fluffy, little interview, mainly designed to highlight the appearance of Anson and Sam's new CD. It appeared in Buddy Magazine in the Spring of 1997.
Anson Funderburgh: The Prime Rib of Texas Guitar
By Don O.
Blues giant Sam Myers, a man that can turn a phrase, often introduces his partner, Anson Funderburgh, as "the prime rib of Texas guitar". If you have not yet sampled Anson's meaty fare, and you consider yourself a blues fan, or even just a guitar fan, then consider yourself undernourished. Certainly, anyone that knows anything about the contemporary blues scene has heard of the "plain old Texan from Plano, Texas" (another Sam-ism).
Anson is not just a local hero, though. He and his bandmates tour constantly and have won 8 W.C. Handy blues awards, the blues world's equivalent of a Grammy, proving their national and international recognition. This year, Anson is once again nominated as blues guitarist of the year, along with some other heavy hitters.
"Renee and I plan to go to the awards ceremony in Memphis on May 1", said Anson. " I don't expect to win because I'm up against Ronnie Earl, Luther Allison, Matt Guitar Murphy, and Joe Louis Walker. They asked me to present an award this year, too. I'm not sure if that is still happening or not, but I always enjoy going to that show anyway."
While some feel the Handy's are of little importance, Funderburgh disagrees. "Those Handy awards have come a long way and I think it's something the musicians, record labels, and all of us should get behind", said Anson. "The more publicity we can get for the blues the better off we'll all be. I think it is supposed to be televised in Japan this year, that's definitely good for the blues."
For DFW blues fans there are few things more eagerly awaited than a new album from Anson Funderburgh and Sam Myers. Well, the wait is almost over because their 8th Blacktop album is set for release later this month. The album is titled "That's What They Want" and is a little different from the usual Anson and the Rockets CDs.
"It's not really a Rockets record", said Funderburgh. "We used different people on it. The whole rhythm section is different. The reason for that is we wanted to have a celebration of Sam and I's ten year anniversary together. We'd been talking about it for about a year but we only got around to recording it a few months back. What we wanted to do was have some songs prepared, go in the studio and just play and have some fun We just wanted to celebrate being together for 10 years and that's what we did. It was very relaxed. "
"The title track is an old Jerry McCain song "That's What the Want", and we're talking with some advertising agencies about using that track on some TV commercials", said Anson. "Who knows if they'll actually end up using it or not, but it's a possibility. We also have a real nice tune from Delbert McClinton that may also be on his next album. This CD is about half covers and half originals, just like the Rockets albums."
In addition to his own career, Anson has always been very supportive of other local blues artists. He was instrumental in Blacktop's signing of Mike Morgan and the Crawl, who have gone on to record 7 albums for the label. Recently, Funderburgh has been in the studio with Holland K. Smith and the Kenny Traylor Band as producer and advisor.
"Well that's been a lot of fun for me", said Anson. "It's been nice to be involved in working with some of these people's songs. Holland is really good. Kenny is a great singer and has some really good songs. I hope that they have gotten as much enjoyment out of it as I have, and I hope their CDs do well for them. Holland and I are already talking about another new project. He asked me if I'd do it and I hope he doesn't change his mind. I enjoyed working with both of those guys. We built a lot of those songs there in the studio, changed things all around, and the guys were real open to my suggestions. With Holland's record, we changed a few things with the bass pattern that gave each song a different character. His record is getting a lot of airplay right now. A lot! He just needs someone to represent him and get him out on the road."
"I'm looking forward to doing more of that" said Anson. "It's nice to NOT play, just sit in the studio and listen, then contribute ideas. I have the same problems myself. A lot of times you just have a rough sketch of what you want when you go into the studio to cut something. Once you've heard it for a day or two it's kind of nice to hear some different ideas and a fresh outlook."
I warned Anson that telling people, in print, how much he enjoyed producing would yield phone calls from every blues guitarist in town, but he didn't seem to mind that a bit. The only problem is, he is going to be very tough to get ahold of for the next six months during the Spring and Summer festival season.
"We're doing really, really well with bookings this year" admited Anson. "We're booked into October right now. We're just beginning that heavy touring season. We have several festivals up in Canada and we have a week booked in England at the end of August that may get extended into a longer trip. I have a new endorsement with Fender, a deal with GHS strings, plus a new record coming out. We're definitely busy and that's just how we like it."
The road life of a blues musician is not an easy road, though. Check out this routing schedule for early May:
"We'll be in Florida for the last week of April", said Anson. "We have a gig in Florida on April 28, then have to be in New Orleans for the record release party and an in-store appearance at Tower Records on April 30. The Handy Awards are in Memphis the next day, then back to Dallas May 2 for a show at the Blue Cat. Then we have to be in Jackson, Mississippi the next afternoon, May 3 , for a 4 pm show. That's going to be a busy week."
That is a lot of travel, but it's representative of what Anson and his band will be doing for the next 6 months. Remember that the next time someone gives you an excuse of "it's too far" to go down to your local blues club for a show. Chances are that band has driven several hundred miles to be there that night.
Nor are they traveling in luxury. For Anson and the Rockets, their road vehicle is a big, boxy, blue panel truck that looks like a cross between a Mrs. Bairds bread truck and a UPS delivery truck.
"Everywhere we go people think they're under surveillance", laughed Anson. "They think we're the SWAT team or something. I got that thing for a great price and it's worked out great. We look like The Terminator riding down the road, but it's big enough we can all lay down. It's got bunks in it. It's pretty unique. It's not quite a bus and it's not quite a van. It's sort of in between. It's easy for load-in and load-out, too."
At a show last year in Memphis, I spotted two other fine guitarists, Ronnie Earl and Duke Robillard, sitting in the second row at Anson and the Rocket's performance, watching Anson intently. When asked about that, Anson responded, "They're both really good friends. It's kind of a little unnerving, because I have so much respect for those guys. The older I get, the more I realize that I do what I do, and people either like you or they don't. I don't think it ever was a contest with me, as far as who's a great guitar player and who's not. It always makes me nervous when there are musicians in the crowd because I want to play good. But I also want the whole band to play good."
"I just love playing music," said Anson, " and I've been very fortunate in my life to be able to make a living playing music. I've also been so fortunate to be able to work with a wonderful singer like Sam for the last 10 years. He was a friend before we started this thing and he's a friend now. I just feel so fortunate. Playing with him has made me excel and I just love him to death."