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Chino Swingslide and Nathan James

Chino Swingslide
And Nathan James…
Blues to Boleros

By T.E. Mattox

n January Nathan James said his friend, Chino Swingslide, was visiting from Barcelona. The intent was to get out to a few music venues around Southern California, have a little fun and play some music. Swingslide and James met a few years ago at the Barcelona Blues Festival and out of that meeting a musical friendship developed. In the extremely short period of time that Chino would be in town, the pair were planning a mini-tour through the Southland and were scheduled to play almost every evening with multiple and varied band configurations. Enlisting help from some of San Diego's premier musicians the band on any given night could feature anyone from Marty Dodson and Billy Watson to Carl Sonny Leyland and Ben Powell.

The venues were as diverse and their music selections. The guitarists played blues and gypsy jazz in several bars throughout San Diego, a few standards and some R&B on acoustic resonators in theater settings and even made a few coffee houses jump and swing with well-timed and blazing boleros. The duo even made it up to the NAMM convention for some impromptu sets and performed a couple of gigs in Los Angeles County. And they did it all in less than two weeks.

After witnessing two of their shows, a wild and raucous evening at the Fallbrook Brewery in North County and the other a more refined multiple resonator jam session at the New Village Arts Theater in Carlsbad, I finally had an opportunity to sit down with both for a brief conversation. Our talk began with Chino's road from Argentina through Barcelona and just how it led him to his current and amazing repertoire of blues. "When I was a child I started playing the Ramones, the Clash and things like that for a short time." He grins. "I went to a teacher in the neighborhood and he gave me some recordings to learn… Screaming Jay Hawkins and the Constipation Blues! Yeah, it was a great beginning because I was so curious and then I listened to Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. And then I started buying blues CD's because they were the cheapest ones. They were Country Blues recordings that no one in Argentina was buying. I was buying Bukka White, Blind Willie McTell, Blind Boy Fuller, Sonny and Brownie and I was playing in standard tuning. Then I started with the slide, but it was hard for me to start playing electric blues. It was new to me, you know? I was playing the finger-picking style."

Ben Powell, Chino Slingslide, Nathan James, Billy Watson and Daniel Blank performing in Carlsbad
Ben Powell, Chino Slingslide, Nathan James, Billy Watson and Daniel Blank
in Carlsbad

What motivated you to switch to electric blues? "Life!" He states. "You have to start working in clubs with amplifiers… festivals. Country blues is great but sometimes you need music to resonate."

What were your biggest influences on the electric side of blues? "I liked a lot," Chino says and proceeds to run down the list. "Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Hubert Sumlin, Freddie and Albert King, Albert Collins and all these people… T-Bone Walker."

In your live sets on this tour, you played some Big Bill Broonzy as well. "Big Bill Broonzy is quite new to me, you know? I listened to all these CD's I bought and started listening to Big Bill about two years ago and I discovered he's one of the best."

Let's talk a little about your album that celebrates the 100th Anniversary of Willie Dixon's birth, how did that come about? "He was always one of my favorites." Chino says. "Sometimes when I listen to John Lee Hooker or Lighnin' Hopkins, it's the same sound, same style… but with Willie Dixon it's different. It's not always the twelve bar blues, he has different melodies and last year I did the Dixon Tribute album. I tried to do the songs a bit different, not exactly like Willie did them. You know in Barcelona and Argentina sometimes the blues people try to do the songs exactly the same way they used to play them. I don't like that. They were listening to country blues and then they played them electric. When Little Walter plugged his mike into an amplifier, that was new. Why do I have to do the same as he did? I like to learn from them, but not to play it exactly the same."

Chino Swingslide performing
Everyone turned out for Chino Swingslide, EVERYONE.

Nathan, tell me how this mini-tour came together? "Last year about this time I planned a trip to Spain and Chino was excited about helping. And I'm like, 'Wow, why would you want to help me?' but I really appreciated it." (laughing)

"A friend of mine," Chino says, "Said Nathan was coming and can you help? And I was in a very bad moment and I said, 'I don't know, but I will try.' I tried and some places told me no and I was very depressed. And then a guy from a bar called me and said, 'Hey, we want to book this guy.' And I started to fix more dates and we made it."

Nathan adds, "Even a couple of times before that I had played in Spain and he lent me half of his band. His bass player Rodrigo, is one of the best bass players as far as I'm concerned, anywhere."

On these California dates you've played with so many people and the band took on a variety of shapes, sizes and sounds. "We played with some other fellow resonator players that aren't really in the blues world," Nathan says. "But they know a lot of the gypsy jazz stuff. Nathan Rivera and Shine Delphi, and in their circuit they're really well known and are even endorsed by guitar companies. Then playing with Carl Sonny Leyland in a real swing band, and tonight we had another guitarist, Ben Powell and violinist, Daniel Blank. At the ongoing NAMM gathering in L.A. we played an impromptu jam with Doug MacLeod and Catfish Keith. At the NAMM show and the National booth, the people they endorse are really virtuoso's on resonator guitars and one of the guys, Steve James who knows a lot of Spanish musicians… when Chino started playing Steve and I were talking and I think he was kind of blown away by it."

What was really unique about this short tour, it featured such a wide variety of styles, both musically and in presentation. Was that intentional? "We sometimes forget," Chino tells me. "That music is a real expression of yourself. We are professional musicians and it's our job. But sometimes you forget about that and it can become boring to play it the same way all the time. It's our personality coming out from the instrument and vocals. I don't play like Nathan and Nathan cannot play like me and we all do our stuff. If we all do it authentically and play it from the heart, it's gonna' be good. It's not competition, its music and it has to come from your heart and you have to be yourself. That's why those people (the early bluesmen) were so great. Muddy Waters was not a good guitar player and neither was John Lee Hooker, but their music was great! And they have their style and you can recognize them and then you have Django (Reinhardt) he was from Mars. I don't know, or Wes Montgomery. These people are genius, Thelonious Monk… but they were them, they were not copying others, it was personal. And now you have people trying to copy Charlie Parker… f*#k you! You can copy, but he did the solo, do your own! It's very hard to create your personal sound."

Chino Swingslide with guitar
Chino Swingslide busts out a Bolero. Photo: Yachiyo Mattox

Don't you think that's why the blues will always be around? It's passed down through the generations and players continue to add their personal touch and/or emotion to the genre… "Some people say it's all been done, it's all been created, but I think we can because we are all individuals, I have my way and he has his way. I'm not good at copying; I can't because I have to play it my way. A good example, I see Nathan play something and I try to copy a little thing and we are sharing little things but I cannot play everything like he does. We learn from other people."

What do you think you learned from your first tour through Southern California? "I think I will return home with more self-confidence. It's a challenge for me to sing for an American audience. I'm doing American music and it's not my language and it's not my culture."

Speaking as a music fan, you'd be hard-pressed to tell.

Related Articles:
Nathan James: Southern California Roots Run Delta Deep; Billy Watson: San Diego's Mr. Natural; 'Iceman' Albert Collins; The Blues Are Alive and Well in Southern California; Big Daddy Kinsey, Pinetop Perkins & Hubert Sumlin; Ode to Little Walter;

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Let Tim know what you think about his traveling adventure.

I was there at the Shrine to see Bob come in riding on a baby elephant. He says in the interview it was either '68 or 69: it was both – it was New Year's Eve (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Debbie Hollier, Nevada City, CA

* * * *

Who else played with Canned Heat and Deep Purple at the Shrine in '68?

Bill, LA

I think the Shrine show on New Years in '68, where Bob Hite rode out on the elephant, also featured Poco, Lee Michaels, Black Pearl, Love Army and Sweetwater. Don't know that Deep Purple was booked on that evening.

Bill, maybe you're thinking about the International Pop Fest in San Francisco a few months earlier that featured these fine folks... Procol Harum, Iron Butterfly, Jose Feliciano, Johnny Rivers, Eric Burdon And The Animals, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Grass Roots, The Chambers Brothers, Deep Purple, Fraternity of Man & Canned Heat or possibly the following year in Jan of 1970 when Deep Purple appeared with Canned Heat and Renaissance on a triple-bill in London at the Royal Albert Hall.

One final note: The current Johnny Otis piece didn't mention it, but it was Mr. Otis that took Canned Heat into the studio the very first time to record in 1966. Small world, ain't it?


* * * *

Thank u for posting it! Bob is still boogin' around!! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite),

Stefano Di Leonardo, Fisciano (Salerno, Italy)

* * * *

Great Read! (See "The Bear," an article on Bob Hite) I will post it on Bob "THE BEAR" Hite Official Facebook Page,

Dave Tohill, Brandon, UK

* * * *

Hello Tim, thank you so much for letting a huge Canned Heat fan check out this
interview with the Bear. I really enjoyed it.

Best regards,

Rick Caldwell, Fairfield, Ohio

* * * *

I knew Bob Hite in the 60's. Canned Heat played at our high school prom 1966 Rexford High. The Family Dog, Chet Helms, Skip Taylor.

Max Kalik, Los Angeles, CA

Dear Tim,

I just discovered you from an email I received from Preston Smith disclosing his next event. I wanted to tap into his website Prestonsmithmusic but it would not link from your site for some reason. I have to say Preston really is a genius and I met him in Glendale at a jazz club about three years ago, after a fatal accident. By chance, I was invited to spend time hanging out with Preston and some friends after his gig. He is everything you say and I will never forget his amazing creativity and his positive influence in my life.

Janelle, Palm Springs, CA

Love the article! (on Lowell George) Lowell was my father.

Forrest George, Warren, Vermont

This Bob Hite interview is the most interesting thing I have read concerning Canned Heat. I have Fito's book, but I always was interested in learning more about Bob Hite. You did it here my friend...great interview!!!!!

Tony Musto - Pittston, PA

Hey Tim, Great article on Preston! I really enjoyed it and you did your homework. I'll probably catch PS this weekend.


Dave - Northridge, CA

* * * *

Hello, what a great article on Preston Smith! I actually met Preston one evening after an Acoustic set of my own at the Prestigeous Carlton Hotel here in Atascadero, Ca. We were loading up and he happened to be walking down the sidewalk and stop to say hello. I must say that he is a truly interesting and talented man that NEVER forgets to let me know when he is playing around the Central Coast where I live. It was so fun to read about who he truly is...(as if you don't know him the first time you meet him)! My adventures have only just begun as I recently returned from Nashville recording my self titled debut EP. I can only hope that my adventures down the road are as enlightening as Preston's and that I have the honor of a great writer such as yourself to share them with the world. Thank you for doing just that, sharing "Preston Smith" with the world.


Amy Estrada - Atascadero, CA

Hi Tim,

My name is Bert, I'm from Italy and I'm a blues harmonica player...I read your article and it reminded me of the two trips I made in the Delta, in 2008 and 2009. I love Frank's music and I think it's a shame people don't really know his work. It's important that people like you write about him. Thank you! In the Delta I was only a "stupid" tourist, but it was a great, unique experience I consider one of the most important in my life: driving on the highways, Listening to the blues everywhere, jamming in places like Red's and ground Zero in Clarksdale or the Blues Bar in Greenville... are priceless things, something I will keep in my heart for the rest of my life. I met a beautiful, lovely woman there too (named Hope), but I behaved like a stupid kid and I lost her... Alas! I will never forget that days and the chance I had to find happiness...Well, I also wrote something about Frank on a website, but it's in Italian... I give you the link of the first part (the second will be published in the next weeks) anyway if you know some Italian or somebody who can understand it... Even if I'm thinking of making a translation


Bert - Pavia, Italy

I wanna be Tim!

Brent, Seattle, WA

* * *

Those pictures give you an idea of what the Rockin' Pneumonia actually looks like and it looks BAD! But the man can still play! Enjoyed the article - give us more TRAVELING BLUES BOY!

Steve Thomas - NA, INDIANA

* * *

Good Stuff, Tim. Having been a Johnny Winter fan since the first time I heard Rock n Roll Hoochie Koo, it was great hearing his take on some his highlight moments that defined his blues career. His affiliation with Muddy Waters was particularly interesting. Kudos for bringing that out. Thanks to your dedication to covering the blues scene, this "one of a kind" music still lives for servicemen & women around the world. Keep it Up!

Brandon Williams, Moreno Valley, CA

* * *

Impressive! What a legend and how cool that you got so much time with him, Tim.

Don, Louisville, KY

Tim - Great article, enjoyed Little Feat/Lowell George story, really brought me back in time. Did not know he was a fishin' man! Wonder what surfaces out of the abyss of your memory next?

Steve Thomas, New Albany, IN

* * * *


I really liked your travel back in time with Lowell and Little Feat. As a long time Feat fan (mostly the stuff with Lowell) it was cool to read. I learned several of their songs back in the day and they still stand up today when played live. Another singer I really liked from back then is TimBuckley. Thanks for the article.

Chet Hogoboom, Arroyo Grande, CA

Loved your last issue of TB, especially the Mayall piece. I want that guy's job!

Brent, Seattle, WA


This is a great write up. Has it been printed in any magazines? It's better than a lot of things I read in my guitar magazines, so props for that.

Caejar, Moreno Valley, CA


I can tell that you have this passion for jazz. I wonder if you yourself play any instrument. Or are you just a groupie like most of us?

I talked with a mid-aged flute jazz artist a few weeks ago and he lamented that despite his talents (and he is extremely talented) he says that the industry hasn't been kind to him. He said jobs are few and far between. He said the music industry is combating piracy and competition due to technology being readily available to private homes and that they are not as profitable as before. So they are replacing live talent for synthesized or digital instruments.

Do you see the same trend in your relationships with your music network?

Bob, Pasadena, CA

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