Here's an interview with Will "Smokey" Logg from early 1994. This was printed in Texas Blues Magazine. Since this article was done it has been more of the same for Smokey. He has recently self-released his fourth CD, Ghosts of the Totems.
Will "Smokey" Logg
Texas Blues Road Warrior
by Don O.
Will "Smokey" Logg is a 20 year veteran of the blues road wars. He was born in Wichita Falls, then like his idol, Freddie King, moved north and played for several years around Chicago before coming back home to the Lone Star State. While living in Milwaukee, he acquired the nickname "Smokey" from a fan of veteran Texas blues man Smokey Hogg. Will has recorded three self produced albums on his own Gila Monster label and he's got the formats covered. The first one was on Lp, the second was on cassette, and his most recent, "Crash 'N' Burn", is on CD. He's threatening to put the next one out on 8 track, just to complete the set. I wouldn't put it past him.
Smokey calls himself "the Rodney Dangerfield of the blues." I don't know why he feels that way, he certainly has my respect. To me, in a lot of ways, he's the epitome of Texas blues men. He doesn't receive rave reviews from the critics, he doesn't have a big record deal, he books his own gigs, spends months at a time on grinding road trips, and he knows he's never going to get rich playing the blues. But he keeps doing it year after year because it's what he wants to do. Few people are lucky enough to make a living doing what they love.
Smokey is a straight ahead, tell you what he thinks, kind of guy. That puts some people off, but us real Texans are used to, even expect, straight talk. He's not the kind of guy who will try to schmooze his way to the top. The good ones don't have to. He's starting to be noticed by the foreign blues press, usually a precurser to U.S. recognition. He recently picked up sponsorship from a big liquor company. Not by looking for it, just by mentioning their product in the liner notes of his last album. After 20 years of doing what he loves, people are finally starting to pay attention. Come to think of it, Rodney Dangerfield made himself a millionaire, even while getting no respect.
Don O.- How'd you first get started in music?
Smokey Logg- From my dad. He was a frustrated musician. He was the senior agent for the FBI in Wichita Falls. His claim to fame was his work on the murder of the three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The bureau concentrated all the southern agents into that area to battle the Klan. To make a long story short, my dad was the basis for Gene Hackman's character in the movie Mississippi Burning. My dad was a big Ramsey Lewis freak. He listened to a lot of Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Art Tatum, Lionel Hampton. He didn't really have a lot of blues, though he did have a lot of Ray Charles. That jazz stuff didn't really sink in with me, but when I heard B.B. King's "Live at the Regal", I thought that was really cool. I started hammering on the guitar and played my first gig at 15 at Franks 8 Ball Lounge in Wichita Falls. Freddie King would come to town and we used to skip out of school to go see him. This was back when he was still wearing his string tie, before Leon Russell got ahold of him. He was playing more of theChicago west side sound, not the more rocked up sound. I also hitch hiked down to the Texas International Pop Festival in Lewisville to see Freddie.
Don O.- What was the first band you were in?
Smokey Logg- The first real band I was in was called Astoria. I wanted to do straight blues and they wanted to do The Doors. I was mostly the rhythm player. You know, you go to a jam session and there's like 40 lead guitar players, all of them trying to hot dog each other. Nobody layed back and played chords so that's what I would do. I could accompany other people playing lead. Most of the other guys couldn't. We were playing churches, National Guard armories, rattlesnake hunts, and stuff like that. Usually the drummers dad took the door for us. Eventually we worked up to clubs and towards the end we had Sam Gibbs, Bob Wills booking agent, handling our stuff.
I got drafted right out of that band and spent a hitch over in Heidelberg, Germany at NATO War Headquarters. I ended up playing in a soul band over there. They heard me playing at a service club and had me sub for their guitar player. They fired him and kept me. We were playing 4 or 5 nights a week. An all black 7 piece soul band. I played with them for about a year and a half. Real funky stuff.
I got out in 1974, came back to The Falls, and met Bnois King (now with Smokin' Joe Kubek). I was playing up at Mom's Club, this funky little Quonset hut thing at Four Corners near the base. I went next door to this strip club called The Farmer's Daughter and there was this trio playing called The Grand Wazoo. Kenny Wright was playing drums and Bnois was up there playing guitar. I thought he was playing George Benson, I wasn't hip to what he was doing. It was really Grant Green. I was just floored. They were up there playing between strip shows. I started hanging around and I was trying to get him to show me some jazzier chords.
Another band I saw when I first got back was called Storm. It was Freddie Pharaoh Walden, Lewis Cowdry, Keith Ferguson on bass, Jimmie Vaughan on guitar. I walked into this long shotgun style bar, and there's not a soul in the place except for two girls fighting and rolling around on the floor in front of the band. The band was playing this straight ahead Big Walter Horton stuff. Lewis was playing chromatic harp. It just blew me away. That made a big impact on me. Jimmie's real stark guitar impressed me a lot. I also saw Jimmie and Doyle Bramhall in a band called Texas. There was a club out on the Jacksboro Highway, just southeast of Wichita Falls, called Filthy Jim's. They used to bring in Freddie King, Albert King, Aretha Franklin, Ray Charles. That was a pretty cool place.
The first band I was with when I came back was Sneet Gibbon's Band. I think it was named after some guy's cat. I went up and told them I wanted to play with their band and ended up having to go drink scotch with those guys for 6 months to get in. Once they got used to me, I taught them about 15 Freddie King tunes. They still did some ZZ Top or some southern rock thing so it was like a compromise. We went down to Lafayette, Louisiana and played down there for 2 years. We opened for The Meters, Black Oak Arkansas, all these little festivals. Then it kind of disentegrated.
I came back to Wichita Falls after my dad died, right about the same time Freddie King died. Rodney Johnson had a band called Keg Belly. A southern rock kind of band. They already had two guitar players but they felt sorry for me and took me on a road trip up to Chicago. We braved the worst winter in Wisconsin history and I'm in leather soled cowboy boots. I've never seen a lake frozen over with cars driving on it, much less ice shanties. After going through all that, the band breaks up. Rodney left to play with some lounge band out in Albuquerque and I just decided to stay up north. You could see Muddy Waters at the Church Key, Hubert Sumlin over at the Nitty Gritty. Chicago, Madison, and Milwaukee were like the heaviest areas for the urban blues. I got more familiar with Magic Sam. I realized that's where Freddie got that sound.
One of the first real blues gigs I did was with Paul Flipowicz from Lockport, Illinois. He called me up and said "I've heard you play with that Texas rock band. I don't like them, but I really like what you're playing." So I asked them what we'd be playing and they said "Blues, don't worry about it." Me, Gary Zappa, Clyde Stubblefield, Fat Richard Drake, no rehearsal, we just got up there and did it. I thought, this is the way it's supposed to be! All the dynamics and natural feel. I spent 6 years up there working mostly out of Milwaukee and Chicago. Playing gigs with Mighty Joe Young, and Magic Slim and the Teardrops. Hanging out at Buddy Guy's Checkerboard Lounge, eating Leon's barbecue, playing the whole north side of Milwaukee, eating Speedqueen barbecue, going clear over to Detroit and Minneapolis. We worked as far south as Carbondale, Illinois.
Don O.- What brought you back to Texas?
Smokey Logg- I moved back to Texas in 1982 because I was sick of getting the sleigh out to go to gigs at 40 below (without the chill factor). I also needed to come back to take care of my mom. The first gig I did down here was subbing for Rodney Johnson at the Memphis Club in North Dallas (a high end supper club). We were doing stone cold straight ahead Chicago blues and they looked at us like we were a circus act. That was our first taste of Dallas. Then we moved on to Bomar's, the Nash Street House, all around. Since 1982 we've done 9 West Coast tours and 6 East Coast tours, which includes Eastern Canada, too. That's without the help of any major record label or booking agent.
Don O.- Tell us about your first recordings.
Smokey Logg- I cut my first album, "You Can Stay But The Noise Must Go", in Q & A studio in Chicago and mixed it at Streeterville Studio. We pressed it just before I moved back to Texas. I did the second one down here and mixed it up at Streeterville. That was a mistake. We wanted to mix it there because that's the studio Alligator Records was using. I was hoping they might pick it up. We had two days off after coming into Chicago from Eastern Canada. Alligator wanted to use our engineer to cut Katie Webster on those same days. The engineer was working on our project and told Bruce Iglauer he was committed. Bruce was not happy. We got a very negative review when we submitted it to Alligator, but at least he writes me letters. The last rejection letter he sent said "You're coming along, but I don't understand the lyrics to that 'El Madrid' song." That one's about a biker friend of mine that died going to a gig from Albuquerque to Las Cruces. His spirit comes back as a crow, which is the Navaho belief. His ghost comes back to his bar, the El Madrid, to drink with his buddies. If he'd put that together I'd have really wondered about him! I'm going to keep making them myself if nobody else is going to do it. Go in and record, mix it, it's all trial and error. I still run into people from The Netherlands and Western Canada who have that first album we did in Chicago.I don't worry about the critics. I don't care if everybody thinks I stink. I'm just going to go out and work and play up to my satisfaction. I'm a long way from where I want to be. Nowdays I mainly listen to horn players like Dexter Gordon, Johnnie Griffen, Fathead Newman, and Hank Crawford. On guitar I listen to Cornell Dupree, Eric Gale, and David T. Walker. Cornell Dupree is my favorite Texas guitar player. Bnois King of course. Anson Funderburgh is definitely one of the best alive. Jimmie Vaughan is another one.
Don O.- How does your stuff get overseas?
Smokey Logg- I send it out to everybody when I've got new product. I mean everybody... Malaysia, Japan, Russia. Occasionally, people even write back. I got review articles in French from Andre Hobus at Soul Bag Magazine. I could read "one of my favorites" on the first line and I took it for granted the rest of it was good. There were exclamation points after the song titles. I wrote him back to say thanks and he wrote to say "It is too bad that guitar players like Tinsley Ellis are so well known while folks like you are out there batting your head against the wall and can't get any help." He was in my corner.
Don O.- Any additional recording plans?
Smokey Logg- We cut a new one last year up in Vancouver and are currently shopping it around. I've got enough material for another album but I've still got stock from the last one. I think I'd like to do a composite of some live club dates. Maybe Austin, Dallas, Fort Worth, Wichita Falls, put them together and let someone over in Germany or The Netherlands press it.
Don O.- Tell us about your band, The Flamethrowers.
Smokey Logg- My bass player, Randy Fullerton, has been with me 14 years. He's from Beeville, Texas. He was an all state Tuba player in high school. He went to college in Corpus Christi and ended up playing guitar in an all black R&B band. They played dates with folks like Tony Joe White and Roy Head. They used to go up to Austin to play at the I El Club. It was a big melting pot with guys like W.C. Clark and Jimmie Vaughan. Right after his freshman year he hitch hiked out to LA and was living and sleeping on the beach. A dog stole one of his boots. He walks up to this black fella washing his Cadillac, to bum a quarter, and it was Shakey Jake. Jake brought him up to his house and Luther Allison was sitting at the kitchen table. Next thing Randy knows he's playing guitar with Luther Allison and Shakey Jake in Watts. He's played with so many people. He played with Luther Allison for 7 years. He's got a picture of him with T Bone Walker and Luther Allison at Berkeley. He's on a Sunnyland Slim album on Vanguard that he didn't even know about until (Dallas writer) Tim Schuller showed it to him. He played with J.B. Hutto at the Ann Arbor blues festival. Their agent was Dick Waterman and Randy first saw his secretary play guitar back stage at the Philadelphia Folk Festival. It was Bonnie Raitt. When Magic Sam died, Luther Allison inherited his equipment and he gave Sam's guitar to Randy. It was stolen in Ohio. Randy is one of those guys that doesn't get out and schmooze so nobody even knows about him. Kevin Vet does the drum work. He's been with us over a year and has actually started to learn how to play a shuffle!
Don O.- How did you land the sponsorship from Canadian Club?
Smokey Logg- They called us up out of the blue. Our CD was on a juke box in this club up in North Dallas. It was getting played so much that it cycled through even when people weren't paying the juke box. A local Hiram Walker representative was at the club on business, heard the CD and asked who it was. The bartender told him about my band and told him that we endorsed his product in the liner notes of the CD. He pulled the CD out of the juke box and showed him the liner notes where we suggest pouring some Canadian Club over ice. They called me the next day and I hung up on them because I thought it was somebody pulling my leg. Fortunately they called back and we've been working with them for about a year and a half. It's a real grass roots thing. We take posters and table tents with us from city to city. We hope it will eventually translate into some radio and newspaper promotion. That's up to each local Hiram Walker representative. I don't mind endorsing something like that because it's something I drink anyway. It's not like they're giving us humongous bucks to say we drink the stuff when we don't. We're like a prototype for them with band promotion.
Don O.- What's it like to be out on the road for months at a time?
Smokey Logg- Well, here's a sample of a recent road trip.
We started a East Coast and Canada tour in Helena, Arkansas playing on a riverboat as part of the Helena blues festival. There was a bunch of minors on the boat. It was packed to capacity, 300 plus, and the band wasn't separated from the crowd at all. The captain was drunk, and they were serving minors. They came pulling up to the dock and these two guys started a riot over this girl. About 8 cop cars pulled up and the captain started worrying about going over to the Mississippi side of the river. We got out of there and didn't have a place to stay, so we pulled the van under the canopy of an abandoned gas station. By this time it was raining cats and dogs. The van leaks, of course. The drummer was sleeping on the roof of the van, the sax player was inside, the bass player slept in an open room in the gas station, I was sleeping under the van. That's how the trip started.
We broke down in the middle of the next night on the way to a gig in Memphis. The starter wouldn't work so we had to unscrew the bolts underneath and jump the starter while somebody turned the key. We continued on doing gigs up through Detroit and into Canada. We were staying on the south shore of the lake in our typical luxurious motel room. No heat in the rooms and freezing cold. Drug dealers and prostitutes hanging around. It's pouring down rain again. My little brother gets the bright idea to fill up the bathtub with hot water to add some heat to the room. We did that a couple of times and it helped warm things up a little. We woke up about 3 in the morning and it's raining in our room. All the condensation was dripping off the ceiling.
Around this time our drummer decides he has to leave so I had to spend $500 to fly up a new drummer from Austin. We get out of Canada heading out through Buffalo to Boston to play for these bikers we know out there. I met their road captain out in Santa Fe eight years ago and they've been sponsoring gigs for us ever since. Our bass player got real drunk and walked off the back porch, about four feet in the air, and falls face first onto this Harley with spikes on it. He goes to the emergency room with a big gash on his head like Frankenstein. Broke his right hand, just two fingers sticking out of the cast. His glasses were broken into a million pieces. My little brother sat down and put them back together with super glue. Huge bandages on the side of his head, glasses like a stained glass window, sitting on a stool playing the bass with two fingers, and he's still drinking like a maniac. I've got a picture of that somewhere.
Then we headed down to Hodges, South Carolina, but the club had closed because the owner got an axe in the back of the head. It was a great little club out in the middle of nowhere. Unfortunately it drew a mix of gays and bubbas and one of the gays tried to pick up one of the bubbas and the owner got killed trying to stop the fight.
After that we headed down to Tampa. It was supposed to be our gig but we ended up opening for Guitar Slim Junior. We played. It was great. Then Guitar Slim Junior's band showed up without him. Seems the bass player had beat him up the night before in Orlando.
Last was Sloppy Joe's in Key West. Played down there Tuesday through Sunday night. The last dates on the tour and we were just beat. Hot and humid like hell. No air conditioning. It was just horrible. The last night at the gig we had made friends with this Jamaican maintenance man, John. He was a kick boxer and could jump from the floor and kick the ceiling. Real muscular guy. He was an extra in some James Bond movie. We were hanging around after hours, having a few beers with him after the gig. This motorcycle club was down there having a poker run so you've got all these drunk bikers driving by and one of them sees us sitting in there and decides he wants a drink. We told him we were packing up to leave and John was seeing him to the door. John told the cook, who's name was Conrad, to shut the door once he was out. The drunken biker thought John was calling him "cornbread" when he was really saying Conrad, so he took a poke at him. Well, John kickboxed him out the door. The biker bites him on the hand, but John kicks him around some more and the biker gets up and zooms off on his bike. The sound guy at the club immediately went over and called the police. The next thing you know, the biker comes back with his sponsor. Of course this biker idiot was a prospect. The sponsor biker was about 7 foot 4 and was real mad because someone was messing with his biker brother. John goes over to explain and the guy reaches over and stabs him. He's running around spurting blood. I run out and jump in the van thinking I can run over the bikers before they get away. Of course the van won't start. Meantime the sound guy had run out with a 2 X 6 and batted the first biker off his ride. The big guy comes back around trying to get his bike in the front door. We don't know if he has a gun or what. We were all running around. At this same time my bass player is trying to get all of the beer out of the back room. The police finally show up and collar the two bikers. I end up in police headquarters filling out police reports for hours. John spends nine days in the hospital but pulls through. Then I finally get to come back to Dallas where I got to cater my own wedding, take two weeks off, and then leave for a west coast tour for two and a half months. That's another story.
Don O.- Amazing. Anything else you'd like to pass on to our readers?
Smokey Logg- Everybody knows that Chicago blues came mainly from the Delta. I'm saying the majority of the players, not all. Some came from Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, etc. My big question was where did the blues come from before the Delta? The standard academic answer is that back in slavery times, the plantation owners banned drums to keep the slaves from communicating as they did back in Africa. Then the slaves fashioned banjos to play and would still keep the message alive. But I was down in West Jackson, Mississippi one night after a gig when I ran into King Edward at a jam at the Subway club. I had known him since he was with B.B. Coleman and we played the Belzonia Catfish Festival together. We were just hanging out, drinking and talking. I asked him if his ma or pa played an instrument and he said "No." I asked him if any of his brothers or sisters were players. He said "No." To make a real long story short, he finally said "When I was on the farm plowing behind the mules (in the Delta) I heard these certain sounds in my head. When I finally got hold of a guitar, I just started making those sounds on it." Isn't that wild? The Delta has produced the most definitive sounds that are in the blues today. Emulated by others around the world. Where did it come from?
I'd also like to add if you're ever in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, never drive your van up on the sidewalk. Even to unload. That's all I can say. Don't ever do that. If you're in New Orleans don't ever walk or dance on the bar. That's the only two warnings that come to mind.
Smokey Logg's latest album, Crash 'N' Burn, is available on CD from Gila Monster Records at P.O. Box 64642, Dallas, TX 75204. For booking call 214-321-3899.