Interview of Fiona Boyes by Molly McKew
Hi Fiona! Tell us a little bit about your sound – why the attraction to the Blues?
My music is firmly based in traditional Blues styles, but it’s my own take on everything from classic ‘Women’s Era’ 1920’s stuff, acoustic finger-picking, gritty electric Chicago and Mississippi styles to swampy slide on my unique cigarbox guitars.
My most recent release – ‘Professin’ the Blues’ – is acoustic and reflects my beginnings as a country blues player in coffee shops. That finger-picking style is quite demanding because you are trying to play a little bit of rhythm quitar, a little bit of melody/lead AND a little bit of bass-line all at the same time! Electric cigarbox slide is my most recent love affair…but whatever style of Blues I’m playing I feel like I am part of something bigger; part of a world-wide musical community and part of a tradition. Blues is an earthy, honest style of music that really resonates for me.
You started playing guitar at a fairly late stage (relatively speaking) – what was the prompt for taking the plunge and tackling music more professionally?
The first Blues music I heard was at college and it was raw, early recordings; very gritty stuff.
I loved it and became a big fan, going out to a lot of gigs and soaking up as much of the music as I could. After many years of listening, I had the crazy idea that I wanted to try and play myself. As a beginner player in my mid 20’s, I was quite aware that my male peers had generally a lot more experience. There were no real role models; I wasn’t aware of any other female guitarists in the Blues scene. But I loved the music so much I didn’t care!
You’ve been touring and recording for years and years now! What’s been one of your most memorable gig experiences?
Remember, I was a fan first before I became a player. Getting the opportunity to meet some of my heroes, let alone play with them has been amazing! One of the most thrilling things for me was the chance to tour with Hubert Sumlin. Hubert was Howlin’ Wolf’s guitarist; a very innovative and indiocyncratic player. Many famous guitarists, such as Eric Clapton and Keith Richards, cite Hubert Sumlin as a major inspiration. As well as playing gigs, I also spent a weekend at his home just listening to his great stories, hanging out and jamming. He was a really nice, sweet person as well.
And what inspires you to continue to write and perform music?
It might seem surprising, but I just keep finding more to explore and get excited about in the Blues genre. My music and songwriting is very organic. Traveling, playing, connecting with other musicians and artists – all these things sow little seeds of inspiration. You never know what experience or influence will suddenly pop up in a song lyric or a new musical idea. My last couple of albums have grown out of exploring some different tunings and, especially, new instruments such as my beautiful National reso-lectric baritone and my funky one-off electric cigar box guitars. Also, I love playing and doing my best for an audience.
You have achieved remarkable success all around the world!! Do you think you’ll ever stop playing music?
I hope not! The adventure of traveling and playing for different audiences around the world is fantastic. I’ve just come back from 8 weeks overseas, performing in America, Germany and Finland, and I’m starting to make plans for next year… My aim is to be like legendary Delta blues piano player Pinetop Perkins. Pinetop played on one of my albums (‘Blues Woman’) when he was 96 years old. And he was still happily playing and touring for a couple more years after that!
Do you have any advice for budding guitar players, young or old?
Guitar is a wonderfully adaptable instrument. It is at the heart of so many different sorts of musical styles. Whether you want to play flamenco, classical, blues, shredding metal, classic rock – or simply want to be able to accompany your fabulous vocals or enhance a budding interest in songwriting – guitar is there for you! The most important thing is to love the music you are trying to play. It should be fun. That way you’re more likely to practice, play and stick with it – and that’s how you get better at anything.
How important has the support of other musicians been in your musical career? Did you have teachers or mentors when you started out? (My only teacher was my mum, and we bickered so much that my guitar playing skills are stuck in 2003!)
Lots of people influenced me at the beginning. I was going to lots of gigs, watching and listening to people jamming at parties…and listening to a lot of classic recordings. Although I didn’t have any formal lessons, I think everything was going in and I learned at my own pace. Spending time in America and playing with some of the original musicians there has been an incredible experience. For example,‘Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin, guitarist for many years with the legendary Muddy Waters, has been a great mentor and influence on my playing.
A hard one: can you name three artists young musos should be listening to to further their musical prowess?
That really IS a hard one. I think it really comes down to your musical preferences and what you would like to achieve. Even in the Blues scene, I would probably recommend different players depending on whether you’re interested in acoustic, electric or various regional styles. If anyone reading is interested in starting a conversation about blues music, I’d love to hear from you! You can contact me via my website or social media ☺
Finally, if your life had a sliding doors moment and you had never picked up a guitar, what glittering career path do you think you would be on right now?
Before picking up a guitar and quitting regular employment, I was a graphic designer.
I guess I might still be doing that, although I’m not 100% sure! While I’m touring, I do love getting the chance to see some local architecture or visit an art gallery. Recently I’ve started making pieces of artwork heavily influenced by the folk art of Mississippi, which utilises bottle caps, beads, typography and found objects. It’s fantastic fun! Now some of my art and photography is included in my album booklets – or as framed prints at some of my shows.
You can see Fiona perform at the Melbourne Guitar Show on
and listen to her latest album here: