The Tony Gerber Interview

debbie bond cbb_soulshiningcdcov_med_hr-2The Cotton Blossom Band sets a new bar in uncharted waters by mixing true Space Music with old time tunes and Hill Country Blues lead by Tony Gerber, Nashville’s true Space music pioneer for three decades and Mason Stevens whose ability on anything with strings lends to the crossover technique that demands everything from cigar box guitar to electric guitar with multiple effects.

The two are joined by Michael Doster who played bass for B.B. King for over fifteen years on upright bass as well as Roy “Futureman” Wooten [ of Flecktones fame] on acoustic and electric percussion.

Tony Gerber, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Brad Hardisty

Tony Gerber, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Brad Hardisty

An interview with Tony Gerber can go in any direction since he has proven to be the Renaissance man of Nashville’s music underground. You may not have even known that Nashville has its own Space Music epicenter but Gerber’s Space for Music project began in 1985 as a listening group following the weekly radio broadcast of Music From the Hearts of Space. The space music genre was just beginning to take shape, influenced by the groundbreaking ambient works of Brian Eno, Krautrockers like Kraftwerk, and electronic artists like Cluster.

As a member of the trailblazing electronic music band SPACECRAFT, owner of the Internet-based Space for Music record label and most recently as his premier Second Life music mogul, Cypress Rosewood, Gerber has helped popularize space music across the United States, Canada, Europe and far reaches of the globe through his prolific musical releases and hundreds of live internet broadcast concerts online and into the virtual world platform.

The Cotton Blossom Band is keeping busy since their first release came out this year. Upcoming events include a taped performance on March 16th at The Old Time Pickin’ Parlor followed by a performance at Noteable Blends on March 21st.

Brad Hardisty/ The Nashville Bridge: What was the genesis of starting the Cotton Blossom Band?

Tony Gerber, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Brad Hardisty

Tony Gerber, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Brad Hardisty

Tony Gerber / the Cotton Blossom Band: It was almost like there were a couple because there’s a radio show here in town, The Mando Blues Show.  When Whit Hubner started Mando Blues, it happened to be real close to where I live. I’ve known him for almost thirty years, so he is almost kind of like family. He asked me in the very beginning when he started the show, “You ought to come up with something so you can play on the show.” This was after we [Nashville] had flooded out from the 2010 flood so I am kind of like, Wow! I can actually play blues with that real life event but the truth of the matter is when I was about seven or eight years old, I started guitar with the fingerpicking styles of Leadbelly and stuff like that.

TNB: So, you started out on guitar and with early blues music?

Mason Stevens, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Brad Hardisty

Mason Stevens, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Brad Hardisty

TG: I was attracted to that kind of old style blues, but over the years I have just been doing electronic music. I was pretty excited by the idea of putting together a blues project.  The first incarnation was actually with my good friend Doug Dillard from The Andy Griffith Show [The Darlings] and the real life Dillards and Tom Shinness who plays here in town and so the three of us originally played as a trio on the Mando Blues Show without any official name. At the end of year, I believe, Mason Stevens, who plays diddly bow and guitar in The Cotton Blossom Band got together with me. We’ve known each other since about 1986 and we have been playing together and staying in contact all these years. I really love his guitar playing, so we got together and just kinda tested out this new recording setup that I had.  I had my synthesizer and I had my Native American Flute in my hand and I just started singing an R.L. Burnside song called “Jumper on The Line.” When I did that, we stopped and looked at each other and got real excited about what we had just done and we said you know that really had a hybrid sound that was real exciting. We ended up starting the band as a result of doing that song. Mixing the synthesizers with the flutes, voice  was the actually the genesis point doing “Delta Space Blues.”

TNB: So R.L. Burnside has a hand in this new interstellar form of the blues?

Michael Doster, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Brad Hardisty

Michael Doster, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Brad Hardisty

TG: That song is the signature part of what the sound is, but to take it one step further, during our concerts and on our album we kind of start out acoustic and we get a little more spacey as the concert goes with a mix of space blues/space jazz. You know it takes people into a little different realm and then we bring them back at the end with a couple of songs that are more space blues that we wrote.

TNB: What got you interested in Space Music?

Roy "Futureman" Wooten, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Brad Hardisty

Roy “Futureman” Wooten, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Brad Hardisty

TG: I built a synthesizer when I was about fourteen years old and recorded sound on sound. The problem with Space Music is people just don’t know about it. There has never been like a real popular group other than maybe The Grateful Dead who had their own space out sessions.  Lots of times people comment that it reminds them of that a little but nobody has really brought Space Music into the forefront.

TNB: How does that tie into The Cotton Blossom Band project?

Tony Gerber, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Brad Hardisty

Tony Gerber, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Brad Hardisty

TG: One of the by-products of The Cotton Blossom Band is to introduce people to what Space Music or Ambient music is. So, that is exciting to me on a couple of levels you know.

TNB: One of the things that I noticed that really hit me was the Burnside song “Jumper On The Line” because of conversations I have had with Mississippi Blues musicians. They talk about where exactly the blues comes from; obviously the 7ths, well that comes from Egyptian music going back to Egypt. Also, the progression of how the blues feels.  A lot of them talk about their ancestors being scared because the Native Americans would be chanting and they played drums, of course. Black Americans played their drums hidden out in the Grove or whatever. They said that Indians actually scared them because of the Indian chants and that was also part of the blues and how it felt. When I heard you on the Native American flute, I thought of Othar Turner and the fife and drum African stuff. Did you think of that Native American aspect?

Michael Doster, Futureman,The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Brad Hardisty

Michael Doster, Futureman,The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Brad Hardisty

TG: To be honest with you, no I didn’t because at that moment that we did that I had been playing Native American Flute, heavily, for the last twelve years or so. It is a natural thing for me to blend it in. They are pentatonic instruments so when you play the blues on the Native American Flute it is very natural.  I have studied a lot about Black Native Americans and it’s really a complicated “Pandora’s Box” that we are opening up surrounding that stuff. I mean a lot of people were going back and forth and Native Americans were going over to Africa and Vikings came up here and were picking up Native American women and going back over there to where you have Nordic roots music that sounds like Native American music. You’ve got teepees and different dwellings on the West Coast of Africa. People were travelling back and forth and sharing music for a long time.

TNB: Nobody knows where it all starts because even in Mississippi they have pyramid mound cities all up and down along the Mississippi and they don’t know who those people were.

Michael Doster, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Brad Hardisty

Michael Doster, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Brad Hardisty

TG: Last year, I was with the Washitaw tribe. The Washitaw tribe goes back to ancient America like 4000 years ago. The mound dwellers, just like you said they were the mound builders.  The Washitaw were a very dark skinned tribe and they pretty much had the Louisiana Purchase. That was their land. You can look at old maps and you can see the name Washitaw. It shows up all over the place: mountains and rivers and all kinds of stuff. There are mountains that have been called that for who knows how long, you know I mean?  It’s an interesting kind of thing to think about for me, I guess, partly to because I am a mix. I am a true American. I am a mixed bag. I’m part Native American, there may even be some African American, I don’t know about the genetics thing but it is interesting how some of the music comes out. For me, I have just had this inner pulse thing that music, someone said I had, well you definitely have some African in you. I know that I am part Native American but it would ring true if how I feel music and how I am able to express it. 

TNB: The Cotton Blossom Band is a real change up for you.

Mason Stevens, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Brad Hardisty

Mason Stevens, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Brad Hardisty

TG: The first album is Soulshining. We are trying to decide how to even release it or what to do with it. I mean it is not even officially out there yet because we are trying to decide if we want a label or how we are going to treat it, so before we do a blast of sending it out to radio stations and stuff, we want to make sure it is aggregated out there so people can buy it when they hear it. The Soulshining album is the first album that I have replicated and put out that has me singing on it.

TNB: Really.

Futureman, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Brad Hardisty

Futureman, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Brad Hardisty

TG:  I started singing on the radio at nine years old. I have been writing music all these years but I have never really went that route with the music. There have been a couple of projects that I did where we have the masters but they have never been released.  I have heard the “man’s” voice being optimum in your Fifties. I feel that, so I am enjoying using my voice and singing some of these songs that have been with me like “One Meat Ball” or “Summertime,” Some of these songs have been with me since I was nine, ten, eleven years old. The covers songs we did were kind interpretations that have been inside of me for all those years and now coming out to where I can see a passion.

TNB: You worked with Mason before and he also plays with some Delta musicians. Michael Doster worked with BB King so he has a solid blues background and then of course Roy “Futureman” Wooten who does about anything. How did you decide who to work with?

The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Brad Hardisty

The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Brad Hardisty

TG: Ok, well Mason and I started working together first and we did a few rehearsals and kind of came up with a few songs. We wrote a couple, two or three songs and worked up some arrangements on some of these others. I think I had posted something about that work on Facebook. I posted a song or things I was just working on, some blues pieces and Michael Doster commented on it and was really interested. When I talked about The Cotton Blossom Band he kept commenting and of course, I live on Cotton Blossom so that is where our name comes from because we rehearse here and that is where it was conceived.

TNB: Did you play with Michael Doster before?

TG:  Doster and I played together on a blues project called Aashid Himons’ Mountain Soul Band so I had known him since the late 80’s.

TNB: When does Roy “Futureman” Wooten come into the picture?

The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Steven Wilson

The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Steven Wilson

TG: I have known “Futureman” for a long time as well. When we originally conceived the project, I said we need to have a Cajon player in this project. It wasn’t till a year after, when we did a couple of gigs and stuff that I just kind of re-acquainted with Roy. We had a lot of weird stuff happen anyway and we just started to do stuff together. He would come over to my house and we would do Space Music together. Since The Flecktones have broken up, he has had a lot more time to do other projects. I did a black history month project for him.  I did a recording of his last broadcast for the virtual world and the recording turned out absolutely phenomenal. We recorded on this system that I am using based around an iPad and Presonus Mic pres and Auria. When I am onstage, I am actually mixing and multi tracking while I am doing all this stuff.   I have just been blown away by all the stuff that we record so I am just going to keep on doing it.

TNB: Roy could have overplayed, but it was like he tapped into what you are trying to do and he fit it right in there.

Tony Gerber, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Patrick Sheehan

Tony Gerber, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Patrick Sheehan

TG: Absolutely. Well, part of it is the simplicity of the Cajon. I mean he added a cymbal which he didn’t have the last time we did the show and of course the Wave Drum.

TNB: Are you going to add anybody else into the mix?

Tony Gerber and Futureman, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Patrick Sheehan

Tony Gerber and Futureman, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Patrick Sheehan

TG:  I am hoping that an old friend of mine Billy Robinson who is a lap steel player who played with Hank Williams back in the 40’s and 50’s and has been playing with Chris Scruggs will be with us for a gig or two starting with The Old Time Pickin’ Parlor on March 16th.

TNB: Any International plans?

Tony Gerber, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo - Patrick Sheehan

Tony Gerber, The Cotton Blossom Band, photo – Patrick Sheehan

TG:  I would like to take the group to Europe but it has to financially work for everybody because everybody is working and doing their own thing. I know that they would really dig it over there because Europe is into my electronic music more than in the United States and they love the Blues.

–          Brad Hardisty, Nashville, TN     thenashvillebridgeathotmaildotcom

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