The weissenborn has always been and always will be a very good fit with blues music. It’s played with open tunings and a slide so it’s a physical fit straight away but more importantly i feel it offers a more subtle, softer approach than a square neck dobro or bottle neck resonator can. It is the instruments more mellow woody sound and tones that offer the listener an alternative blues experience that strikes the balance between traditional blues standards and more modern day roots/folk/country music. Now if i had to offer up a name currently on the scene that fell perfectly into this category it would be Bad Temper Joe. This German singer/songwriter has carved out a nice little living playing and recording blues infused numbers with a more updated (but true to its roots) contemporary songwriting twist. Listening to Joe you feel the mans genuine deep rooted love of the blues genre. OK the blues is the blues and can’t be reinvented but that isn’t a concern of Joe’s in the slightest. He just wants to write and play songs that connect with peoples’ everyday emotions and feelings and the blues just happens to be a style that is a great conduit for this task. This is where Joe has captured many fans over recent years, his ability to make the blues accessible to everyone not just the die hard blues aficionados, his Bob Dylan meets Buddy Guy brand of music is familiar but fresh at the same time. With 3 albums to his name in 4 years and many tracks now played exclusively on a Weissenborn we thought it was about time we spoke to Joe.
Hi Joe it’s a pleasure to finally catch up with you and chat about the ‘blues and weissenborns,…. Always a great combination in my book!
Yeah, blues and weissenborns, blues and slide guitar, my favourites, too.
So, Bad Temper Joe! How did you get that great stage name? Are you really that bad tempered? Lol
Well, that’s a thing a lot of people wanna know….I don’t talk that much during my shows and maybe sometimes I look angry and bad tempered. And you know, then somehow it just became my name….
So tell us how you discovered the blues and at what age?
I’m not really sure how old I was. Maybe 15 oder 16. Just started to play guitar and my brother showed me a B.B. King album called ‘Blues On The Bayou’. It was the first time I heard the blues and ever since…it feels like forever. Got addicted.
Have you always been a musician and performer in your post school life?
Can’t remember doing anything else. But I’m just 23….not that old at all. Actually I study popular music and keep an eye on being a musician and performer. To perform and writing songs is all I wanna do.
What blues artists have had the greatest influence on you?
Quite a lot I think. As I said B.B. King was the first bluesman I listened to. Buddy Guy is another one and maybe my favourite. Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James (especially for slide guitar)….a lot of Chicago Blues stuff. I like Johnny Winter’s style when he played with Muddy. Robert Johnson and the Blind Willies had a great influence on me too. But the musician who had the greatest influence on me was Bob Dylan. Not only a bluesman, but someone who combines all great kinds of music.
From a slide prospective what current artists around today excite you the most?
Derek Trucks is the one I like the most. Robert Randolph is another one, although I don’t own any of his albums. Warren Hayes excites me ’cause he plays a lot of slide in standard tuning and Ben Harper and Martin Harley from a weissenborn point of view.
Are you officially a solo artist or do you have a band, or a combination of both depending on the gig?
I started as a solo artist and that’s what I do most but a few months ago I met a harmonica player who plays most of my shows with me ever since. And in July I started to rehearse with a band….I’m going electric. It’s a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to play shows with these guys. So I will switch between solo, duo and band to keep things interesting.
How would you best describe your style of music and playing?
I’m a slide guitar player and songwriter. That’s what I’m known for and that’s what I do.
Are you comfortable with being labeled a “Blues Man” or is there more to your music than just the blues?
Good question! People call me a blues man ’cause I play blues on a blues guitar (that’s a line from one of my new unreleased songs). Most of my music is blues but when I say blues…..well, I play something you don’t get that often. You may not get a 12 bar- ”woke up this morning” – type of song, although I can certainly do that when I want to. I write songs and I don’t care whether they are blues songs, folk songs, country songs…I don’t mind. Everything is blues, blues is a feeling, it’s in the lyrics, in the beat, it’s in your brain, in your heart. You have to feel it if you wanna play it. If you don’t feel it you can’t play it….I play folk, country, blues, gospel or call it americana, genres doesn’t matter, it’s music from the heart and from that point of view it’s blues. So call me a blues man!
How did you first discover the Weissenborn?
Not sure. If you ask me when I discovered someone who plays lap slide guitar it easier for me. That’s Kelly Joe Phelps maybe three years ago. Followed by Harry Manx and later by dobro player Jerry Douglas. Someday I saw a video by Ben Harper playing the song ‘Well, Well, Well’…I believe that was the first time I saw a weissenborn but I don’t know when and it took a while until I bought myself one too. Just watched a lot of slide players for a while and tried to find more people who play lap slide, I wasn’t looking for a weissenborn but it crossed my way someday. In my opinion a weissenborn has the perfect sound for acoustic slide playing that’s why I choose it for slide.
What weissenborns do you currently own and play?
I’ve got three different weissenborns. My first one and the one I play the most is a Style 4, my second is a Sitka Pear Shape Lap Steel and I recently became a proud owner of a Zebrawood Deep Body Weissenborn. All three made by Bediaz. I’m amazed how different they sound and sometimes can’t decide on which song I should play which weissenborn. But like I said, the Style 4 is the one I use most of the time and I carry that one with me wherever I go….
Do you own a “Weissen-bro” (part weissenborn part dobro) that instrument would be amazing in you hands I’m sure of it 🙂
No. But I own a dobro and I played that one for a while but I don’t like the sound anymore. Just doesn’t fit my style. I like the weissenborn for its wooden sound.
Do you have any favourite effects pedals you like to use on stage?
Actually my favourite effect pedal is my tuner ’cause it helps me to stay in tune and that’s the only one I use. I plug my weissenborn, like all the rest of my guitars, directly into my amp (right now a Laney Cub 10). When I play electric, I sometimes use a distortion pedal but most of the time I use it just as a volume boost, to get louder during a solo. I don’t need and want any other pedals. A lot of guitarists wonder how I get my sound and all I can say is: Concentrate on your playing and not on equipment.
What tunings do you mainly use on the Weissenborn?
Like most players I know, I use Open D (DADF#AD). That’s my favourite tuning, Open D and Open Dm (DADFAD). I use a capo so I can switch between keys. If I carry more than just one weissenborn with me, the other one is tuned to Open G (DGDGBD) ’cause I have two or three songs in that key and tuning. My Deep Body Weissenborn is tuned to Open C# (C#G#C#FG#C#) and for some band stuff I tune my electric lap steel to D5 (DADDAD), so I don’t have to worry about major or minor and at home experiment with some other tunings like CGCGCF but I never wrote a song for that tuning so I don’t use it often.
Do you play with finger or picks?
Just bare fingers. NO nails or picks!!! That’s the sound I like the most. Even on electric guitar I don’t use picks….doesn’t work for me anymore. For the weissenborn: in my opinion bare fingers work best if you want the wooden sound of it. But that’s just my opinion.
Briefly tell us about your 3 albums to date. What tracks should Weissenborn fans check out?
On ‘Sometimes A Sinner’ you don’t hear a weissenborn. The slide songs are played on an acoustic guitar I converted to a lap slide guitar. But on that record are some of my most famous slide songs like ‘Sleeping Giant Blues’, ‘Next to You’ or ‘True-Hearted’. My second record ‘Man for the Road’ (a live record) is an all slide guitar record, all songs are played with my Style 4. On that one are a slide guitar version of ‘Lead Me’, ‘Great Jehova’ and ‘Where My Sorrow Goes’ from my first record and a cover of Janis Joplin’s ‘Mercedes Benz’. My latest record ‘Tough Ain’t Easy’ doesn’t feature any slide guitar but I work on new songs and a bunch of slide guitar tunes so keep an eye on the new songs…
You seem to be playing a lot of gigs in your home country of Germany right now. Is the blues really popular there?
Yeah I do….well, blues is quite popular I believe but hardly anybody can play it. I know about a handful of people whose blues I like ’cause they play it like it has to be played. They don’t try to play it like the old people, they put something new to it. If you go to a blues session you see a lot of people who want to play like Stevie Ray or Johnny Winter or they play ‘The Thrill Is Gone’ by B.B. King and try to play it like B.B. did….but man, that’s not blues. Don’t try to copy anybody ’cause you can’t. That’s the way you destroy blues. A lot of people just know Sweet Home Chicago ’cause of the film Blues Brothers but they don’t know that Robert Johnson wrote it and it’s actually based on a song called ‘Sweet Home Kokomo’ by James Arnold. People think they know blues ’cause they know Joe Bonamassa, but Joe Bonamassa is not a blues musician, he’s a rock guitarist. Many modern blues players don’t know the notes they should better leave out, they don’t or can’t play what they feel or they don’t feel anything while playing. Those are the people who think blues is easy to play but I think blues is really difficult. If you wanna hear really good modern blues from Germany listen to three people from my hometown or nearby: Greyhound George, Michael van Merwyk, Tom Vieth: That’s the real modern blues!
Do you play all original material or do you throw in some classic blues covers?
Mostly original songs. But I play Bo Diddley’s ‘You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover’ on weissenborn quite regular and Robert Johnson’s ‘Come On in My Kitchen’ too. I have three or four cover tunes I play from time to time but I concentrate on my original stuff.
Do you play any instrumentals covers or originals? I’m sure you play a mean version of “Paris Texas” or “Cold Was The Night” 🙂
Well, I never played ‘Paris Texas’ or ‘Cold Was The Night’ but I wrote an instrumental song called ‘Little Monster’s Back Home Again’ and played it one or two times live as an introduction to another song and that’s what I do a lot: playing an instrumental introduction to a song….Sometimes I can’t remember what I played the show before and I play something new. A lot of instrumental improvisation. But I see myself as a songwriter and storyteller and for that reason I need lyrics.
What song that you’ve written are you proudest of?
Maybe ‘Next to You’. There’s no other song I play that often. And over the years I changed some of the lyrics….it’s always new to me, I never get tired of it. That’s what I like about the song. And I wrote another song called ‘I’ll Be Happy When You Cry’. It’s not released yet but I’m really proud of it.
The latest “live” album was that recorded live in the studio or live at gigs?
‘Man for the Road’ was recorded at a show in Osnabrück, Germany. It’s the entire concert. But even my two other albums are somekind of live albums. They’re both recorded live in studio with no overdubs and mostly just one or two takes.
The two main songs that I know you play Weissenborn on are ‘True-Hearted’ and ‘Next To You’. Give us some background on these two songs and what was their inspiration?
Well, ‘True-Hearted’ is actually one of my oldest songs that I still play. It’s on my first record ‘Sometimes A Sinner’ and in a slightly different version on my live album ‘Man for the Road’. I wrote it in 2011/2012 I believe. In the beginning I played it on conventional guitar but switched to lap slide when I started to learn that style. It’s a break-up song but I can’t remember the inspiration, don’t know if I wrote it for somebody….not sure. But I really like the lyrics and it’s my favourite 12-bar blues song that I wrote. It’s simply a man who tells his wife or girlfriend that he’ll tell her always the truth….and the truth is: “if she calls him second-best he’ll put her out of his mind”. It all peaks in the last verse: “I was in love with you baby / When no one else wanted you / Gonna find myself another woman / She’ll be much prettier and nicer, too”….Musically speaking it’s a simple slow 12-bar blues with a quick change in the key of F but with a little variation:
F | Bb | F | F |
Bb | Db | F | F |
C | Bb | F | F C |
I play it in Open D (DADF#AD) with a capo on the third fret.
‘Next to You’, like I said before, is the song I play nearly at every concert. Usually it’s the second song of the set, it’s maybe the only song that’s fixed. I really like it. But when I wrote it in 2013 it had different lyrics, it’s one of the songs I re-write from time to time. There are only three of seven verses of the first version left, the rest are new verses. With this song I discovered how to play minor chords on a lap slide guitar. About the song: It’s a love song. The protagonist tells his love how he remembers everything about her…the first touch, the first kiss…quite a cheesy song…. the new lyrics are even more precise and they include my favourite verse I ever wrote: “I’m sittin’ here / Sinigin’ this song for you / But I don’t know / Whether these words are wrong or right / But it’s better to fail / Than never to try / I wanna lay next to you”. The last verse resolves what the line “I wanna lay next to you” means: When the loved one is dead the protagonist knows where he wants to dig his own grave….next to hers. Being with her even after death. Quite a sad story. Well, I think that’s all….oh, it’s in Open D again.
Can’t remember every inspiration for every song but my inspirations are personal experiences, books, poems, conversations and of course music and songs….you know my head is full of music, I think about music all the time. Sometimes I listen to a song in my head while I talk to somebody….and it might be the reason why I don’t talk that much….I listen to music in my head. I just sit there and listen to my own little special radio. Sometimes I write songs that way, thinking about a melody or a rhyme. I think about a song I heard and change it in my head, write something new to it …. new lyrics, change the melody a little bit. There’s a song I wrote completely in my head, thinking about chords, lyrics and melody. It was ready before I wrote a verse down or played to it on guitar. It was quite fun do that….wrote it during a football game (yes, I play football to relax…). I had to remember everything which was quite hard but when I went home I sat down with my guitar and played it. The song’s called ‘Butcher Heart’ and it’s based on Tom Waits’ ‘Georgia Lee’. I think it will be on my next album.
What other songs do you play on the weissenborn as part of your live set?
Well, I think 50-70% of my show is based on slide guitar. Usually I start with weissenborn and switch to conventional guitar after 3 or 4 songs. Play a bunch of songs that way and switch back to slide. During summer/autumn 2014 I played weissenborn exclusively but most of my new songs seem to work better on conventional guitar and that’s why my recent album ‘Tough Ain’t Easy’ doesn’t feature any slide work except one bottleneck tune. But I rearranged a song from that record called ‘Nighthawk Woman’ for slide guitar (Open G) and played it on weissenborn a few times. But now I’m back to the original version. But I wanna write more slide guitar tunes, whether for bottleneck or weissenborn.
There’s one important thing I have to add….My approach to weissenborn playing or generally lap slide guitar is different to the approach of most other players. I don’t think of it as a lap slide….I wanna play things on it that I play on conventional guitar, although I have just one finger to play it. Might sound strange….can’t explain it in detail but I’m working quite hard to find different ways of playing lap slide…I’ll tell you in a bunch of years if I succeed or if I failed…
What are the plans for the rest of the year?
Well, I’ve got a couple of shows left and I’m really looking forward to them, especially to the shows with my new band …. maybe I’ll record a new album, don’t know yet. And I’ll be writing the music and a couple of songs for a play…quite exciting. And then I’ll see…
Any plans to play outside of Germany?
Sure, but no specific plans. Just recently a friend approached me about playing in England, but playing shows outside your home country is just a different deal. It has to be a tour. Travelling to another country for one show is despite the fun usually also a financial bummer. But I want to play outside of Germany or even Europe. I’d love to do that …if I get a tour together I’d play in England, France, Spain…but like I said, I just recently started to think about it.
What long term ambitions would you like to achieve through your music?
I wanna reach and touch more people with my music …. you know, I’m about three years into music business, maybe four years since my first gig. It’s not that long. I released three albums in about a year and a half….my learning is doing! Someday I wanna end a show and I say: I’ve done it. That’s what I’ve worked for….Then I will put my weissenborn back into the case and drive to my next show.
It was great talking to you Joe, thanks! All the best and please stay in touch with us at TwiE.
My pleasure. Call me anytime you want!