Wednesday, July 5, 2017

A Visit with Armond Blackwater: An Atypical Life

If you really make an examination, none of us can be easily defined, yet we continuously use definitions as handles for easily categorizing people, such as, "He's a writer." Or painter. Or musician. Or surfer. Or peace officer. Or...

I first saw Armond Blackwater at the Kom On Inn earlier this spring. He wasn't performing. He'd come to see another band play. A friend pointed him out, said he used to play with Steppenwolf.

The Steppenwolf chapter was a very short one in the grand scheme of things for Blackwater, who's performing began when he was 12, which is only one thread in a multifaceted life. He's also been a lifelong writer, an electrical engineer and more. "I've had a really fortunate life," he told me over a lunch hour at Izzy's in Superior. "I don't know why... always been at the right place with the right attitude. 'How can I help? What can I do?'"

Blackwater continues to play music and write. He is currently recording remotely with artists in St. Augustine and Tampa including Steven Pigman, Chris Dox and Ybor City cluesman Otis Day. He also records spoken word poetry which is recited over classical works for Spiro Cardamis. One of his personal highlights was having his vocal tracks used in a live performance at the Acropolis. "It just blows my mind... Sophocles did plays there."

In addition to making music for a lifetime he's also been a writer, starting with getting paid to do other students' term papers in high school. "I wrote for a lot of entertainment rags over the years."

EN: Fifty years in the entertainment business is a long time. I would like to ask the same question for each decade of your career beginning with the 1960s. Who did you perform with and what did you learn?

Armond Blackwater: Too many to list. I learned to be a professional musician. Starting at age 12, mentored by Del Shannon, Dave Dudley, Al Broussard, Art Neville, Professor Longhair, Grandpa Jones, Cowboy Copus, Archie Campbell, and on and on. Played strip clubs (1965) in Fat City, the relocation of Storyville across the Orleans Parish line with a local group.

Learned accordion from a Chmelewski cousin. Actually made more cash playing polkas than rock during the 60’s. Dale & Grace from Baton Rouge – played piano on their recording of “Stop and Think It Over” in 1962 (age 9).

EN: In the 1970s you played keyboard with Steppenwolf for several years. Who else did you perform with and what lessons did you take away?

AB: Played with numerous artists as they passed the NOLA. Barry White for 3 nights at State Theatre on Canal using an ARP String Ensemble. Michael Bloomfield for a year one day in ’70 at Mother’s in Chicago. 95% of my blues technique came from that day.

Started working with Rick Nelson in ’71 playing the Holiday Inn circuit.

Bill Haley for a few months in '72, many drunken escapades with Bill. Had to bail him out of Dubuque jail for a gig one weekend.

Yesterday’s Children, '72-73. Torturous tour with a 9-piece BS&T-type band.

I was a Union musician in NOLA in the 70’s. Played with whoever hired me. Played with several iterations of Steppenwolf from 75 to 78. There were 3 or 4 bands using the name at the time. 75 for a dozen or so shows with John Kay, then 76 – 78 with Nick St, Nicholas and a stream of sidemen like me.

Delta Joy from 74-78 – NOLA group with a rotating lineup of whoever was available. Started my own sound company in 75, building my own cabinets with my EV dealership. Originally named Chippewa Electronics, changed to Gulf Coast Sound in ’76. Sold to Terry Koehn in ’77, which he relocated to Dallas as ShowCo. Built and sold several hundred “Road” cabinets with a twin-12 Electro-voice SRO design that became quite popular with Southern guitarists. Union gigs with Brook Benton, Barry White, Terry Hebert, Keith Thibodeaux, Carl Roberts, Buckwheat Zydeco, and so many more. Recording sessions all over, mostly uncredited and forgettable.

EN: The 1980's were years of transition in the music business. What were you doing at that time and what did you take away?

AB: Dad had a stroke in ’78, prompting my return to Superior to care for him. Hooked with my old guitar teacher from Nickelson’s Music, Jack Casper, in the band Vegas with Dean Latour and Terry Hendrickson, Played constantly with Vegas until ’87 as well as side gigs with Del Shannon, Dave Dudley, polka bands, and Star & Galaxy (Elvis impersonator before Presley died). Went back to National touring in ’87. Wound up in Tampa working with Otis Day down in Ybor City playing blues clubs and onto the Chitlin’ Circuit for the next 10 years.

EN: In the 90s Prince was coming on, Dylan was striving to find traction, and you were doing what?

AB: Playing the Chitlin’ Circuit with Otis Day, occasional gigs with Gatemouth Brown, Lorelei, and others passing through Tampa area. Serious beginnings of my Spoken Word career.

Virtually no influence by or interest in either Dylan or Prince. They aren’t much of a thing in the Southeast.

EN: What have you been doing the past 15 years or so? Do you still perform? Where and with whom?

AB: Again, too much to list. 8 years with Spade McQuade (Energy Orchard – Belfast), Woody & The Peckers Blues Band, Michael Allman, Wendy Rich, Regi Blu, Jimmie Van Zandt. Jimmy Pittman, and more.

I’ll never stop performing. Blackwater Tribe (my band), The Dark Underbelly (Bob Petoletti and son), Circuit Breakers, Rock-A-Billy Revue, Busterville, Time Traveler, The Switch, Rock Bottom, Steve Evert, and whoever else will hire me. I do remote recording for numerous artists around the world, plus Todd Eckart, locally.

EN: You're also writing. What are you writing and what is it about storytelling that is so compelling? 

AB: I am the descendant of Lakota storytellers. I am driven to continue the tradition.

* * * *
You can find some of his books here at Amazon.com.
And you can check out his website here at https://armondblackwater.com/

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Engage it.

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