David Mac (DM): Greetings Dylan. It is nice to meet you. This interview will be a little bit different for me and our readers as I know virtually nothing about you. I reached out to you simply based on the strength of your brand new album, The Exciting Sounds of the Dylan Bishop Band. Let’s get some simple biographical information out of the way. Where are you from? Where do you live...and how old are you.
Dylan Bishop (DB): I am from Keller, Texas. That is in Tarrant County just south of Denton. It is a small town that is kind of in the Dallas/Fort Worth metro area. I just moved down to Austin a few weeks ago. I was playing down here a lot and I was tired of making that long drive several times a week. I’m 18 years old. I should be a senior in high school right now, but I graduated a year early.
DM: You are 18 years old? You’re sh*tting me! I’ve got neck ties older than that. How in the world did you find this old timey, vintage music? I ask, as at this stage in the game, it sure as hell ain’t going to find you.
DB: I guess I find it the way a lot of people find it. I listen to all kinds of music and often when you look on the back of a record jacket you might see names like Chester Burnett or McKinley Morganfield and wonder who those guys are. You then discover that it is Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and from there you find this obscure guitar player named Willie Johnson. It is like discovering this whole new world of these people who make wonderful sounds and great music, but played in these weird ways. I still listen to all kinds of music, but blues...rhythm & blues is my main thing.
DM: Most people that you grew up with and went to school with don’t even know this exists.
DB: No, not at all...I pretty much kept my interests in this area to myself. I don’t mean to sound snooty or anything, but it really is a hard thing to explain to people. I just don’t think too many of my classmates would understand.
DM: (laughing) Welcome to my world. I’m sorry to laugh, but I’ll be 60 in a couple of months and I realized this a long time ago. You just simply can’t explain it to people who are consumed with popular culture. They are force fed that sh*t every day and don’t realize that there is this entirely beautiful world that sits right outside their narrow scope of interests in music. To try and explain that to another eighteen year old is next to impossible, as their entire world is programmed around popular tastes. It’s kind of sad yet it never changes. So you are pretty much on your own.
DB: Pretty much. The people who understand what I’m doing are all older and that’s OK with me. I get along with older people just fine. You know, for me, I’ve taken so much time to learn about this music. I’ve dedicated my life to learning about it in a very specific way. I don’t consider myself a purist, but I do try and play the way the music was originally performed and meant to be played. You really can’t explain that to people in a ten minute conversation.
DM: One of the great things is finding something that is really old, but new to you. This still happens to me all the time. It is a blast.
DB: Exactly...it is what makes this all so cool. It isn’t by any means an exact science. Yet the discovery is so much fun. There is this whole world that I’m learning about every day.
DM: Do you remember that one recording that kind of struck you in a way where you knew you had to hear more?
DB: I specifically remember hearing Elmore James’ Blues Before Sunrise. I was struck with how raw it was and how much power was behind his vocals. He sang like he meant it. It wasn’t like he was pretending. It was so real.
DM: I can hear lots of various influences in your music, but maybe we should start with an obvious one which is Bobby Bland. You cover his tune, I’m Not Ashamed from his old Duke/Peacock days.
DB: I love Bobby Bland. I got into him the way a lot of people do, through his version of the T-Bone Walker classic Stormy Monday and then I heard Two Steps from the Blues. That stuff is great. I picked up this compilation CD I think it was called Angels of Houston. It had all these records that were made in Houston like Larry Davis with Fenton Robinson and others. It had Bobby Bland. I think that’s where I found I’m Not Ashamed.
DM: Let’s talk about the players on the new record
DB: There is T Bonta. He is an Austin piano player that Billy Horton brought in. He has played with everybody...just a great player. Cadillac Johnson, the bass player, is a guy who I have known and played with for some time. He is based out of Fort Worth. I still use him when I play up there. He was originally from Houston. He used to play with everybody from Lightnin’ Hopkins to Freddie Cisneros. He has a real understanding of the whole Houston blues thing. The drummer Dirk Cortez is from Dallas and like T Bonta, he has played with everybody. I feel very fortunate to play with such talented guys.
DM: Then you have a couple of guys who I am familiar with on the new album. Let’s start with the guy who plays guitar on a couple of tracks... Jimmie... I can’t remember his last name (laughs)
DB: Oh yeah...that guy. I met Billy Pitman about four or five years ago. I was thirteen years old and went to a show with my dad. I walked up to Billy and said something dumb like ‘Hey, do you think Jimmie (Vaughan) can sign my guitar?’ (laughs) Anyway, I got to know Billy Pitman pretty well. I would see him play with Jimmie all the time. At some point, Jimmie started to recognize me from going to all these shows. Eventually I got to know everybody in that band. I really look up to all those guys. Every one of them is just so accomplished. You could write an entire book on any of those guys.
As far as Jimmie is concerned, he is my favorite guitar player. No matter how often we hang out as just friends I sometimes have to remind myself, ‘I’m hanging out with one of my heroes.’ I am so proud that he agreed to play on my debut album. That meant a lot to me.
DM: Then you have the great Doug James on sax. I have been aware of his playing for almost as long as I have been aware of Jimmie Vaughan’s. He was with Roomful of Blues going way back to the 70’s, but I used to catch them in the 80’s not too many years after I saw Jimmie for the first time with the T-Birds.
DB: We opened for Jimmie over at a club right down the street from where I live called C-Boys. Jimmie was doing the B3 trio thing with Mike Flannigan and George (Rains) on drums. Doug was in town for some reason and he came by the club. I asked him if wanted to sit in with us the next night. He said ‘Yes’, so I got to know him. I asked him if he wanted to be a part of the new record and he said yes. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, how cool is that?’
First off let me back up a minute and say I’m really jealous that you saw the T-Birds in their heyday. That is so cool. What they did was present their music in a really cool way. They made blues accessible without changing it. They didn’t make it this studied kind of thing, even though they were all great students of the music. They didn’t put it across that way.
DM: I sense that you have the ability to do the same thing with your music.
DB: I want to try. I would like to make this music accessible to young people without changing what makes the music so special in the first place. That is what the T-Birds did way back in the day and they had great success in doing that. I believe that there can be a young audience for this type of music. I don’t want to change anything. I want to make the music fun again. If you can remember going to see the T-Birds in Dallas back in the early 80’s that had to be fun. I want to bring that back to people. They might not even know who Sammy Meyers is or whomever, but it doesn’t matter. I’m not going up on stage to give people a history lesson, but to remind them that this music is fun.
DM: I couldn’t agree more. I think people often lose track of this aspect of the music. It is let your hair down on a Saturday night and ‘let’s have a party’ type of music. I have always contended it doesn’t have to be couched in any type of historical, academic or esoteric way to be enjoyed.
Is there still a vintage music scene on Austin?
DB: Absolutely...that is what drew me to this city in the first place. There are guys that are younger guys, closer to my age, who are real good at making this type of music that we are talking about here today. I’m not really into putting labels on things because back when the guys who were making this music we are talking about that everyone now calls the blues, they were just making music.
DM: Who are your primary influences on your guitar playing?
DB: That is kind of a tough question because I get a lot of inspiration from other instrumentalists like horn players. Take Maxwell Davis and Joe Houston for instance. I love the way they arrange their solos.
DM: The other instrument you bring to the bandstand and recording studio is your singing voice. Let’s talk about that aspect of your performance.
DB: As far as singing is concerned, I took my dad’s advice. ‘Unless you want to stand there and stare at some dude’s butt all night you might want to consider singing.’ I’m really glad I heeded that advice for that reason, but also it is how I really feel, like how I make that connection to the audience is through my singing voice. I always thought of myself as guitar player first and a singer second. It was something that I felt like I needed to do, but now I get a real sense of fulfillment and expression through singing. I really love this part of the performance. I think singing might be the most important part of the whole thing. It is here that there is a real connection with the audience.
DM: Let’s talk about working at the Fort Horton Studios with Billy. Did you find these guys or did they find you?
DB: I had been familiar with Billy Horton through his band and I knew him from his playing in Jimmie’s band. I started to get into the Nick Curran records. He made all of his records with Billy at the Fort Horton Studios.
DM: What is it about Billy and Bobby Horton that they make these great sounding records?
DB: I really don’t know that much about the recording process, but they sure do. They are the most knowledgeable guys I have ever met. Billy is a great bass player so he has a real ear for what he wants the music to sound like. He has immersed himself into this style of music his whole life. He has a real good understanding of everything.
DM: How often are you out playing live?
DB: I play four times a week, mostly in Texas. I will start to do more travel. I really look forward to getting out and doing that. I graduated early so really I should be sitting in class as a senior in high school. So anything I’m doing right now is just a bonus. I mean I’m having so much more fun than anybody my age. My classmates have no idea what I’m doing, but I don’t care. I’m having a blast meeting some very interesting people.
DM: It has been great meeting you Dylan, I’m sure we will stay in touch and I look forward to following your career which, of course at this point, is still in its infancy.
DB: Thank you so much for taking an interest in my music. This has been a real honor for me.