A Continuing Education
in the Blues
By T.E. Mattox
riving across West Texas, that endless stretch of highway where 80 miles
an hour just isn't fast enough, the CD player is tracking 'Electric
Field Holler,' the 12th and latest project from Anthony Gomes.
Turns out, it's the perfect blues propellant to traverse that infinite
vastness of blowing dirt, tumbleweeds and oil derricks. With the accelerator
to the floor, the opening track is all the GPS you need, 'Don't try
to stop me once I start, 'cause I got a blues soul and a rock and roll
For more than a decade now, the music community has
known about this true student of the blues, a young Canadian honor graduate
armed only with determination and a guitar. He'd come to America in
search of the real blues so the first stop
duh! Chicago! Employment
came quickly under the tutelage of a Mississippi bluesman named, Morris
Holt. Immediately Gomes found himself back in school and learning from
the best. You probably know Holt better by his pseudonym; Magic Slim.
Although working as a Teardrop is now a distant memory, Anthony's dues
have been paid with touring, "250 shows a year for five or six
years" and miles, "100,000 a year." The dedication
and work ethic is paying off with larger venues and a constantly growing
fan base. Anthony Gomes is a bluesman and he's living the dream.
We sat down in a Memphis hotel lobby the day after he
tore the end off of Beale Street. With my ears still ringing, he spoke
about his road, his blues and where it all began. "I was born
and raised in Toronto, Canada," he said. "My dad's
Portuguese and my mom's French Canadian so it made for an interesting,
naturally you were drawn to blues! (laughing)
"Yeah, I was very confused! Coming from such an environment
well I'm Canadian; I should be a blues player. I always jokingly say,
that being Canadian and white is sort of like being white
And loving the blues only felt right!
Sharing a laugh and a few blues stories with Anthony
Gomes. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox
The blues aside, was there a musical base or background
in your family? "My great grandmother and great grandfather
were both professional musicians. He was a vocalist and they met in
Buffalo, New York. And she used to play the piano in silent movies up
Yet, your musical direction was guitar? "Yes,
always guitar. There was just something about it. I always thought it
was very much a gun-slinger, badass take-no-prisoners thing
really attracted me to the guitar."
During the week of craziness surrounding the Blues Music
Awards in Memphis this year, Gomes and his band played a special showcase
at the club Purple Haze, just off Beale Street. They blew everyone's
hair straight back. "You know, I don't like to do anything in
half measures," he admits. "So I would rather people
live or die for something. That's the way I am. Musically, I'd rather
people love us, or despise us. The last thing I want them to say is,
'our music is
nice.' Definitely when we put on a 'live' show,
the idea and concept behind it is to make an impression. (laughing)
Usually, a favorable one is what we try to make."
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
.the blues is the
blues and it's just how you choose to deliver it,
whether it's an acoustic guitar or a Marshall on eleven
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
What was it that put the blues hook in so deep? "It's
just in there, hook, line and sinker! I think I really love the healing
aspect of the blues
and in a spiritual way and in a personal way,
and an emotional way. I had some hard times growing up, my mom's mental
illness, and she was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and it was really
a trying childhood but a wonderful
" he pauses. "I
couldn't ask for a better or more beautiful mother. And I think that
I needed healing, man and the blues is there. My mom once said, 'You
know Anthony, sometimes I wonder if what you went through made you play
the blues. Sometimes I feel bad that maybe you would have had a different
journey in your life.' I said, 'Mom, this is the best journey I could've
Anthony Gomes is a man on a mission!
Let's talk blues influences. Who for you was first?
King!" He says without hesitation. "He was my main
guy, you know? See, I listened to rock when I was a teenager and I didn't
know about blues. None of my friends listened to it, but I made my journey
there. You know, I love Stevie Ray Vaughan, I love Clapton and I love
Hendrix. I started off with Z.Z.Top and Eddie Van Halen, you know hard
rock, but then it took me to Hendrix and these guys." Gomes
even remembers the trip to get there. "Then
go buy a blues CD, a B.B. King CD. And I took three buses and the subway
from the suburbs of Toronto and I went up three flights of stairs. Because
on the third floor is where they kept the blues and jazz and classical.
Well I know B.B. King, but I don't know anything really about him and
I got 'Live at the Regal' on sale for $5.99 on CD. And it said, 'one
of the quintessential blues albums of all time!' I said, 'OK!' I put
it on the CD player and immediately found home. Meaning, I felt like
it was the missing link. If music was a house for the first time I was
inside the house looking out, as opposed to outside
People say, 'what does the blues mean for you? And
did you ever love the blues?' I said, 'Yes, I love the blues but all
my life I'd been eating apple pie, but I'd never had an apple. And I'd
been loving apple pie because there were apples in it. And now I'd gotten
through the sugar and the crust and the dough and I'd gotten to the
essence, which was the apple
the truth, the ground zero."
Then you moved from Toronto to Chicago. "When
I moved to Chicago, I came prepared. I had a little three-song demo
tape and was ready to get some gigs. Thankfully, the guardian angels
were looking out for me; I started to work right away, as a side man.
I did some work with Magic Slim."
There's got to be a story there. "I was like
a fish out of water, man. Not only trial by fire, I'd just moved to
the states, I'm Canadian. We're good-hearted, slightly naïve, peace-loving
folks, I'd just graduated college, I'm white-twice you know? I was in
my twenties and here I am rolling with these elder statesmen of the
it was like, 'Whoa, this is crazy!' I learned a lot, boy
did I learn a lot!"
"Magic said to me, 'You can play, but can you
listen?' And how to really play a shuffle, you know? There's playing
a shuffle and there's REALLY playing a shuffle."
And Anthony was motivated to listen. "Oh, I
had to or I'd get my ass kicked! (laughing) But I wanted to do
well. It's funny; because I played some things on the guitar that was
outside the blues scale, but a minor scale, let's say a nine or a six
in the scale and Slim looked at me and said, 'Oh, you can play those
other notes, too?' It was very eye-opening. I tell you the main thing
that I learned, here's a really cool thing. I used to listen to all
sorts of blues, Memphis blues and Chicago blues, whatever. So I would
play a slow blues and maybe I would play some jazzy chords. I wanted
to create diversity in the show, my voice things and my guitar playing.
But Slim would look at me, instead of playing a slow blues like T-Bone
Walker, right? That's how I would play it. And Slim would go, 'CHOP
IT! CHOP IT!' I'd go, 'What does Chop It mean?" (Gomes sings
notes in cadence) "Da, da, da
da, da. So if it was a fast
blues it was dadada,dada, if it was slow blues it was da
And there was no varying that."
'Blues in Technicolor' was your debut.
"It was a mission statement, in many ways." Gomes says,
everybody's got the blues. The shade of your
skin don't matter, my brother, 'cause I see the blues in Technicolor.
But it was also a mission statement for my career, meaning that I would
explore all the palette of the blues. And I've done acoustic albums
that have shocked people because they aren't contemporary, then I've
done stuff like 'Electric Field Holler' and people are saying,
'there's like some AC/DC in this' as well as B.B. King. And yeah, there
is. As an artist I've really wanted to express in my lifetime the different
emotions of the blues."
Can you describe the blues you play? "I think
maybe being Canadian has a lot to do with it and a part of it. Canadians
don't look at the world as a melting pot; we look at it as a mosaic.
Not as one but different things coming in to create a whole. I think
my world view, being Canadian has shaped the music some; my parents
shaped the music
and their love. I would just say that the blues
is the blues and it's just how you choose to deliver it, whether it's
an acoustic guitar or a Marshall on eleven with feedback and insanity.
It's still coming from that source."
Your music catalogue stands currently at 12 albums,
"Or insane! (laughing) Can you
talk about the diversity you incorporated in the album, 'Unity?'
"Unity had a lot of horns on the album; it was very Stevie
Ray Vaughan meets Tower of Power, maybe. Because I really loved the
San Francisco funk thing going on, and of course I love Stevie Ray Vaughan.
It's funny too; in the blues world nobody ever thanks Stevie Ray Vaughan
for being an influence at these Blues Awards
C'mon the guy was
Gomes should know. As a history scholar he completed
his Master's thesis on the racial and cultural evolution of blues music.
In 2014 he published his thesis as, 'The Black and White of Blues.'
Yet, even as a man of letters Anthony still feels he's a 'student' of
the genre. "Oh yes, Yes absolutely! It was very conservative
parents that initially weren't very supportive of my desires to pursue
music professionally. So school was a good way of killing time,
(laughing) while I could get my music happening. It was great man,
and it taught me so much. Writing a song is like writing an essay and
I learned a discipline and a work ethic. When you're in college you've
got to read, or at least fake read three books a week, so writing twelve
songs in a year seems like a walk in the park."
Before we run out of time, I wanted to ask about your
charitable endeavors, and specifically about Music is the Medicine
Foundation? Instantly, Gomes' eyes light up. "Music
is the Medicine.org is the website. In 2010 we started a foundation
called, Music is the Medicine and the goal was, we're just like hippies,
we believe that music can impact tangible change in the world. In fact
we look at music as being the biggest force of change in race relations,
making the world a smaller place. We can impact change
because music reminds us of what we have in common despite our differences.
So we believe that music is a healing force, a changing force. So what
we did, and continue to do is, how can music change people's lives?
We've given guitar lessons and guitars to war veterans with post traumatic
stress disorder. And we had one guy that said he didn't talk for years
he moved us. One of the guitars we gave him got him to communicate musically,
which got him to communicate verbally. He wanted to learn how to play
a Hendrix lick, so he's taking a lesson and he looks at his friend next
to him and goes, 'how did you do that?' After not talking
Hardly taking a breath, the programs that are near and
dear to the musician just gush out. "Kids with non-verbal autism
and now our big thing is homelessness in America, child homelessness.
And we just raised $2000 for homeless kids and families in St. Louis.
It's not a million, but man, we're impacting change and bringing awareness.
And because it's all volunteer every dollar that goes in
out! There's no
you donate a $100 and $95 goes to pay the administrative
fees. No! We're so proud to say that you give a dollar and a dollar
goes to change."
Another song that connects with your fans, 'Listen to
the Universe.' "To me that song is, every road leads to somewhere,
listen to the Universe, trust your gut. There's a saying, 'God laughs
while you're busy making plans.' And we all have our journey and it's
over in the blink of an eye, have no regrets. That's one part of the
song, but the song is also
it's heavy in a way I almost feel that
describing it, minimizes what I'm feeling about the song. It's a snapshot
of life. One day you're riding in a Cadillac, and the next day you're
in a hearse, man. But every road leads to somewhere. When we're done
here, we're going somewhere else. I hope they got blues there!"
No matter what you do, it seems the blues are never
very far from Anthony Gomes, is that a fair statement? "Yes,
absolutely! I'm a blues man in my heart and my soul. You know, the thing
I love about gospel music is its intensity and passion. I think gospel
music is just as heavy as heavy metal and I try to bring that intensity
when a choir is singing, or Martin Luther King is going, 'I Have a Dream.'
I'm trying to bring that to the guitar and blues
Blues on Fire."
You turned me on to your album 'Before the Beginning,'
and again it seems like a departure from earlier projects. "The
mission behind that album is there is not one piece of music that's
created with electricity. Acoustic drums, acoustic piano, acoustic bass,
acoustic guitar and voices and the whole idea was, we're known for this
loud, crazy, Hendrix
but what if we took all of that away? Is
there anything left underneath that? Or is it just a bunch of tricks
Anybody give you grief for being exploratory in your
music? "Absolutely, every story needs a good villain and I'm
happy to play the blues villain. But to me, I look at blues traditionalists
like they're civil war re-enactors. It doesn't exist. Muddy Waters was
breaking ground when he was coming out in the '50s. He was wild. But
then you get these guys and they are wearing the hats and the suits
and they are going through the motions of creating something that's
not real and in the moment."
Any outrageous or crazy club stories you could share?
"When you're on the road sometimes the beds and pillows
suck! (laughing) So I got no sleep one night and I had
this big crook in my neck and I looked like Frankenstein. We were playing
at Ground Zero in Clarksdale, MS. and we're setting up for sound check
and it was really bad. I hear this voice, this bellowing voice and I'm
going to do the world's worst impression. (Gomes in his best deep,
Southern Canadian drawl) 'You must be that boy with the crook in
his neck?' And I turn around, not with my neck but my whole body, and
there's Morgan Freeman. And he was so cool, he actually hired at his
own expense a masseuse/physical therapist to help my neck, so I could
do a good show, came to the gig and before he left he told my friend,
'Tell him he's not bad for a white boy!' I was like, 'I'm puttin' that
on my press kit.' Morgan Freeman, 'Not bad for a white boy.' Thank you,
Any plans for the immediate future, new projects? "We're
gonna' begin work on a new album in a couple of months
It's going to be called, 'Peace, Love and Loud Guitars.' I already
have 30 songs written for it. (laughing) It's going to be 'Electric
Field Holler' the next progression and step. All the energy, but
maybe a little bit deeper."
the Next Generation; Dennis
Jones: Between Rock... and a Blues Place; JW-Jones
Breaking the Ice; Phil
Gates Plays it Forward