"IT'S ABOUT EVERYBODY DANCING AND HAVING A GOOD TIME" KING SOLOMON HICKS TALKS ABOUT THE BLUES

We talk whiskey and heartbreak with Harlem blues guitarist, King Solomon Hicks



King Solomon Hicks picked up the guitar at the age of 6 and hasn't looked back. Despite only being 27 he's already shared the stage with some of the biggest names in blues music.


We caught up with Solomon ahead of his debut UK show at the legendary 100 Club in London.


Photogroupie

Hi Solomon, what are you up to at the moment?


King Solomon Hicks

Right now I'm in New York City, Harlem. I'm in the car now because later on, I'm gonna head to Kirt Yano's studio, Studio 99 out in Brooklyn. Kirk is the one that produced the album that got the Blues Foundation award out in Memphis. And I'm in the process of recording a new album now, putting the pieces together, and choosing which artists I want to collaborate with. A lot of times I shoot over to Brooklyn and we record and we work on the magic. I'm excited to be playing at the 100 Club and they have a cool band. I'm using this guy, Steve Holley (drummer) and Steve has been in wings with Paul McCartney and played with Ian Hunter. He's a really good blues-rock veteran. Steve Holley and Kirk Yano, both of those guys are doing the run with me out to Europe.


Photogroupie

It's cool to have both of them in your band for the gig at the 100 Club.


King Solomon Hicks

Oh, yeah. Well, you know, we back each other up and he (Kirt) produced the music and it's cool just to be able to play some of the songs off the album live.


Photogroupie

You have Toby Lee supporting too.


King Solomon Hicks

It's my first time meeting him as well. So a lot of firsts for me this round, you know, Everybody has played at the 100 club: The Sex Pistols, The Kinks, one of my favourites, Muddy Waters, Jackie Wilson. All the people that have graced the stage and after this year of just touring around, playing the show there will be wonderful.


Photogroupie

Yeah, it's gonna be because it's your first time playing in the UK. So it's going to be quite special for you to come over here. You know, and do that gig, and of course you mentioned Steve Holley too, how did that happen?


King Solomon Hicks

I met him through Kirk and we got a chance to do a couple of gigs, we played just played out in Pennsylvania. When he's not on the road with somebody else and he has his own projects. It's cool that it's a chance to play together.


Photogroupie

It's really nice that he's supporting other artists and younger artists like yourself as well. One of the things I think is great about musicians is that collaboration. When you get together and you can just jam and you can just see what happens.


King Solomon Hicks

It's the thing that keeps the magic going in music. So one of the coolest things I got a chance to do the Joe Bonamassa Blues Cruises. This is all about the collaboration that he does on the cruise, he has Eric Gales, Walter Trout, Chris Kane, but also one of the first times I was around Samantha Fish. Just the fact that he's bringing around all these different artists for people to go on the cruise and see, and in this to be a part of that and seeing those different collaborations. It's very cool. I'm definitely a firm believer, that's what it takes to cross over to the next generation. Samantha Fish and Tech N9ne, that song they have together, the hip hop, and blues and all that stuff. I got a chance to open up for Beth Hart, this past month and before one of her shows she had E- 40 play at the start of the set. E- 40 is a hip hop artist from California from like, the early 2000s, kinda like underground. I thought it was cool because Beth Hart is like multi-genre. She does jazz the heck out of blues-rock and she's very soulful. To add that element of hip hop was a surprise.


Photogroupie

Harlem is quite known for its hip-hop origins, isn't it?


King Solomon Hicks

Yeah so it's cool work with Kirk Yano. He's known for his three Grammys, working with Mariah Carey, Miles Davis but his favorite one is Public Enemy. Both being from New York, he understands, that we love blues and tradition. We like to take that but also just find my own imprint and pave my own path. I'm a huge fan of Gary Clark Jr. 808 beats a strong Hip Hop beats, Eminem and Kendrick Lamar type sounds but still make it guitar-heavy and strong. Kirt gives me that freedom of kind of blending those worlds together into a sound.


Photogroupie

Do you think going forward with your musical career do you think you'll do any work that actually really fuses that hip-hop sound?


King Solomon Hicks

Not necessarily hip hop, it's always gonna have like strong, really heavy baselines and these, nice guitar lines as well. But I can definitely see myself collaborating with different musicians. I don't see myself rapping, I've always been more like, a singer, or guitar player. More so guitar player than singer...


Photogroupie

You have a good voice though.


King Solomon Hicks

That's whiskey and heartbreak. I'm a fan of Rod Stewart, Jackie Wilson. Lot of modern folks too, but I'm definitely inspired by the past but also, being born in 1995 a lot of stuff that I hear, and I've heard on the radio growing up that my parents showed me. My mom exposed me to Nina Simone and BB King when I was younger. Funny enough, one of the first songs my mom asked my guitar teacher to play was a Coldplay song. My teacher was like "why would you start with Coldplay? You need to know like rudiments, things like that". My Mom, she just liked the music, she can go all over the place. My dad was always the work guy. But those different types of music: hip hop, funk, soul, rock and roll a little bit everything, just something that makes the audience move and that's cool. I found that even coming out of high school. I did my first tours in Denmark and then I ended up doing the Kiss Cruise with Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley. I've always gravitated toward things like this. I don't know the audience, the audience doesn't know who I am. And if I can play a song that evokes some type of feeling and they start tapping their foot, that'll keep me going for the next 80/90 years, you know.


Photogroupie

It's your first gig coming up in the UK. Obviously, blues originated in the States, but the UK has a rich history of the blues too. Are there any blues artists from the UK that really inspire you, or you'd like to work with in the future?


King Solomon Hicks

Oh, yeah. Well, you know, for the modern ones, there's Joanne Shaw Taylor. She's another one that was on the Joe Bonamassa Blues Cruise. I've been a huge fan. The band is awesome. And I remember one time I was scrolling through her music, and she has this Nina Simone cover. And I was totally taken back, because of how she approaches it in her own unique way. And it's almost addictive once you hear it. And I just wrote her message online. She's one that hits my heart. I'm a huge fan of King King, the Nemo brothers. I played a festival in Switzerland and they were also on the bill and it was great because sometimes they play apart and this was a show that they were actually both together. Hearing their harmonies when they sing, the guitar tones, I love that style as well. But even thinking about what the Rolling Stones did for the blues back in the day. If it wasn't for them, people wouldn't know a lot of the American guys, Howlin' Wolf, and Muddy Waters, because they (The Rolling Stones) play their songs and this exposes them to the television and things. It's great how universal the blues can be and the fact that everybody wakes up in the morning you know, maybe not as early as others but you know you wake up you go to the job you don't want to go to the job, you want to spend time with family, everybody has that and relates to that or just feeling down so this is like it's amazing. There are great players everywhere, but those are I have to say, like some of my top favorite two that I've seen live. Like I said my first time meeting Toby Lee. Also, I get a chance to hang out with Jools Holland. We're doing a festival in The Netherlands.


Photogroupie

You picked up the guitar at a really young age, at the age of 6? What made you go towards the guitar and not piano or sax or any other instrument?


King Solomon Hicks

I had a little bit of asthma when I was younger. So the sax I was like, too much breath. My mom had a little piano when I was little, it was alright, but just it just felt like practice. You know my hands are kind of small, I didn't really like moving around. When my parents sent me to this guitar shop. It was just Pennies music on 48th Street in New York City. And it's funny for me that was downtown in New York, because that was as far downtown as I would go. 48th Street was my downtown, but that's where the guitar shop was. And maybe it was just seeing the shapes, and different colors on the guitar. You could walk around and hold it anywhere. I think that's what attracted to me too it at first. And actually, my Mom got me a few lessons and I quit for two months. And I just kind of stopped. I knew I knew a couple of chords like a G chord, C chord a few things. But I was like, "I like video games" . And then at my middle school, maybe fourth or fifth grade they were doing a play on Woody Guthrie. And I remember my teacher being up on stage with the acoustic guitar and I was like, "hey, I know those chords, I know the G chord, C chord, A chord," and I ended up being cast in the play as Woody Guthrie. That sparked my thing for playing guitar again. Being on stage I suppose I thought, "I can do this", singing these songs: "This Train is Bound for Glory." In a way, those are kind of like blues. But I'm from New York, it's not really a blues town like Mississippi, Memphis, Chicago, or what I think of the birth of the blues. I could start in St. George Washington Bridge area and I could hear like the best Machado salsa, Latin music you ever heard. I could be in Harlem and hear like some hip-hop, and I can hear some great jazz. Then there's Jazz at Lincoln Center with Quinton Marcellus. And then I can go further downtown. Arlene's Grocery bit around Tara Blues and have all these like rock and roll and like pop type musicians. So like I kind of got my start being in Harlem in the jazz like usually listening to, Joe Pass, Wes Montgomery, Ella Fitzgerald those type of folks.


Photogroupie

So all those different sounds on the album Harlem come from literally being in that environment where you've got literally everything around you.


King Solomon Hicks

Yeah, my iPhone music playlist is crazy. I can go from one extreme, as I'm sure everybody can, in their own way. Harlem is a homage to how I grew up. 'Everyday I Have the blues' has that Eric Clapton, Cream heavy riff. But it's not the BB King 'Everyday I Have the Blues' where you have that big band swing and you have like the horn section, that is more power trio with Alan Evans and Neil Evans. And then you have the Blood, Sweat and Tears' 'More Than You'll Ever Know', Joe Bonamassa and Beth Hart have covered it. Of course, the tip of the hat to Donny Hathaway and Gary Moore, who's also covered that song. They have the octaves in the beginning with the guitar then get out in the middle for psychedelic type soul. We do it in a completely different way. It's not just traditional blues, that still needs to be kept on. I'm a huge Elvin Bishop, Buddy Guy, Walter Trout, all those guys, but also bring some modern stuff to the music too. But they also know the music going back. When I think of John Mayall and The Blues Breakers, they have been around life longer than I have. So you know, how they play, and what they say through the music is a lot more deeper than somebody is born in a younger age; even though people in my generation, we still have a voice to it. That's the way I play. You know, it's a fun way but you still learn a lot from being around certain veterans.


Photogroupie

You've got to have that homage to the past. But there is definitely a lineage from the old masters - the originators of the genre, right through to the present day. It's interesting how the new generation is going to mix it us and pass this torch on?


King Solomon Hicks

The next generation's they're in high school now and they get into like the pop culture. But once they get older they'll say "Okay, who were the Aretha Franklin's, Amy Winehouse's, and those leads to other singers. Then they can go further back into different artists. So like I think of the Samantha Fishes or Kingfishers and Marcus Kings and folks like that. They really do a good job of preserving the music and it's an honor just to be a part of the generation that kind of keeps that torch going for us. Understanding old school but also taking some of the new school and carrying it on.


Photogroupie

There was always music at home growing up, what were your earliest memories from that time?


King Solomon Hicks

Some of the earliest memories my Dad was more hands-on he'd teach me how to change wires, locks and out of drill things and nails and stuff. He's more of like, a movie person, so to speak. My mom was one with the music. One of my favorite songs that makes me think of my mom is Dido 'Thank You'. She would play like, 'Ventura Highway', America. Then she would go deep, like DMX and Tupac. She's a huge vocalist fan: Nina Simone, Nancy Wilson. She was just playing Barbara Streisand in the car the other day. Then she'll play like, electronic music.


Photogroupie

So again there are these really broad musical tastes. Where did the blues come in?


King Solomon Hicks

She knew about blues, but she started learning more about it the deeper, I got into blues. And, I didn't really realize I liked blues until high school and I'm having different relationships, and I'm doing gigs and playing around doing all these musical things. Growing up in jazz, people are like, "oh, yeah, somebody should learn this Charlie Parker lick" "play like Dave Bruebeck" and "you should go to Juilliard." I played one of the TED Talks. It was like a Berkeley scholarship thing. So they sent me like a few other people and some of the best high school students that played music at the time. So I had all these things in my ear, but I remember like my Mom, she got me this Freddie King record, 'Burglar', I was still more into the jazz thing. When I first played the Cotton Club, I was asked to do three, songs, and I played two Duke Ellington songs 'Don't Get Around Much Anymore' and ' Satin Doll', and my third song was Chuck Berry's 'Johnny B Good.' And there was no feeling like playing 'Johnny B Good'. People danced to the Duke Ellington songs all right. People got up and they could swing dance and Lindy Hop. But people seeing people rock on 'Johnny B Good' I didn't realize then but like in the back of my mind, I was like, this is what drives me this is what I have fun with. Then the older I got more articulated, the less I kind of backed away from sounding like George Benson, Pat Martino that John Scofield type vibe. I love BB Albert King, Freddie King, Eric Clapton, Paul Butterfield, Kim Simmons from Sadboy Brown, there are a lot of the guitar sounds like that I like.