A camera is following blues artist Eric Bibb as he moves among the shops on Paris, France’s Rue Jean Jacques Rousseau and that is how the CD Diamond Days begins. Acting upon a last minute suggestion from a cinematographer friend, Bibb is filmed with a camcorder while he visits what he refers to as one of his "favorite haunts," a luthier shop, RF Charle Instruments de Musique à Cordes.
"There was something about the spontaneity of the whole thing that I felt enticed with, a certain type of energy that you wouldn’t have got if you had planned it as a formal shoot. To me, it was really in the spirit of the music that I played in the shop. All kinds of details seemed to come to us as little bonuses. We saw a moment and grabbed it. We didn’t have a big run up time at all, it just happened in a few minutes. I decided I needed to see the shop and a friend decided that he needed to come along with me. It wasn’t more complicated than that," says Bibb.
For any true lover of the six strings, the shop is decorated with scrumptious eye candy with guitars of many vintages and styles. With his every present hat, Bibb takes his seat on a stool, alternating between reflections, finger picking and singing some of his favorite tunes.
"Paris is a city that I have had a connection to for some time. I lived there for a while many years ago and I have an ongoing connection to it. I seem to get there a few times every year so I have figured out what parts of that town resonate with me," says Bibb.
About the part of Paris where the luthier shop is located he says, "It is in a gallery or arcade that is a throwback to another era. It is located in the part of Paris that really tickles my fancy. It is a very architecturally and inspiring street. The whole vibe of it goes back to another era where the instruments are meaningful to me (originate)."
The Parisian guitar shop is a long way from New York where Bibb grew up as the son of legendary folk artist Leon Bibb, rubbing shoulders with Paul Robeson (his godfather), Pete Seeger, and Bill Lee (Spike Lee’s father) who played in the older Bibb’s band. It was a time when folk revolutionaries such as Joan Baez and Bob Dylan were just starting out in New York’s Greenwich Village.
These days, Bibb’s music reflects the easygoing, gentle countryside that he has fallen in love with in southwest England where he now resides.
"I am not knocked out by huge cities anymore, what appeals to me for inspiration and energy is the countryside. It still has a certain magical quality and England has that in spades," he says. Bibb also acknowledges that the sense of culture and history provide an inspiring environment for him. "It is something that I find personally comforting in a world that is moving so fast. It is a comfort for me to be connected to an older world. In some places, you cannot tell from the landscape what century you are (living) in and that has a certain energy that I thrive on. It seems conducive to calling forth my muse," he says.
The connection to the past is evident in songs such as "Still Livin’ On" (Diamond Days), a tribute to African American blues and gospel singers who pioneered their genres. He nods to Mississippian John Hurt, Elizabeth Cotten, Reverend Gary Davis, Delta blues king Son House, Sam and Ann Charters and Roebuck Staples who eventually founded The Staple Singers. If you do not recognize these names, then you should follow Bibb’s advice contained in his lyrics, "Read ‘em in a book. Look ‘em up on the net/Blues people we can’t forget/."
The words ‘citizen of the world’ have too often become a glib expression, however, the phrase accurately describes Bibb who began his cultural odyssey by celebrating his thirteenth birthday in Kiev in the former Soviet Union. His father, Leon Bibb, was invited by the Soviet government to perform a thirty-concert tour of the nation that followed on the heels of a series of European gigs.
"I really do savor the privilege and gift of being able to meet people all around the world and experience their culture, seeing what is common and what is unique about them. I enjoy meeting people who I feel belong to a similar tribe whether they are in Australia or Finland. The people that I tend to meet at my gigs would (probably) get along famously at a summer camp. They tend to be like-minded and like-hearted and that is gratifying in a world that is rife with all kinds of divisiveness, tribalism and things that are tearing things apart. It is a great inspiration to me. I have always felt that I belong to a world culture and that has a lot to do with my upbringing and my parents," says Bibb.
That same world community has increasingly become a fan of Bibb’s music. He has garnered one Grammy nomination and four W.C. Handy nominations (now the Blues Music Awards). His music has been featured on both American and British television shows. A look at his itinerary included 2006 gigs throughout Europe and the United States, while this March he has a month long tour of Australia, followed by stops during the month of April in America and several gigs in Canada.
Bibb theorizes as to why his music has become so popular, "The (style of) music is not only a powerful wonderful sound, but it is very accessible to people around the world for a couple of reasons. The English language is universal and people have been exposed to it for a long time so it is halfway familiar even if it isn’t their mother tongue. The music is (also) where Africa met the new world and produced music from America, blues and jazz music. It is a fascinating collision of musical cultures. Due to the slave, experience there is a message about survival that is universal. A concentrated spirit, positive attitude and a will to celebrate something glorious (exist) despite all the brutal conditions. That is something that speaks to everybody and resonates with people everywhere," says Bibb.
The very person of Bibb and his genuine interest in the lives of people infuses his music and endears him to those he encounters. Such was the case when the song "Dr. Shine" (Diamond Days) first began to take shape. A chance meeting with a shoeshine man in an airport provided the inspiration to the dialogue that accompanies the music. Speaking of his one time muse Bibb says, "He seemed like a really pleasant guy. His whole demeanor appealed to me and (prompted) me to ask about his background. When I went back there and played a demo of the song for him, I think he was amazed that somebody would find his story important enough to write a song. I think he was a little in shock. I know that everybody has a story to tell and I am interested in those kinds of stories." Bibb says he grew up with folk heroes like the shoeshine man.
Throughout his career, Bibb has stayed with an earthy organic sound playing his custom Fylde acoustic guitars. "What appeals to me most musically is perhaps an older way of putting together a phrase. The themes are more matched with acoustic sounds than electric (guitars). I have always played acoustic guitars and never had a burning passion to pursue playing electric (guitars) although I have many fine collaborative relationships with people who do play electric instruments. There is something about the sound of the acoustic guitar that always resonates with me."
Bibb is not always serious, however, as we share a chuckle while marveling at the vocal range of Al Green. I suggest that perhaps Green’s vocal chords were genetically altered at birth and Bibb responds with, "Al Green is his own species when it comes to his way of singing."
He describes the boastful "Storybook Hero" as being a combination of hyperbole, charming, flirtatious and chivalrous. "The chivalry in this song seems like it is from another era and reminds me of the thirties. In a lot of ways, it seems that the songs I write are directing me towards that (time). I can see the way that people would dress and the cars that they would drive. It is pictorial. I see it like a movie. In "Storybook Hero," I can see the guy trying to interest this woman and convince her that he is worthy of her affection and love. It is a little boastful and makes me think of somebody who is trying to hold his own in a world that is not really (pulling) for him," Bibb says in describing the story that unfolds.
Eric Bibb is someone you want to pull for because not only does he create, play and sing fabulous music, but he is also one the industry’s truly nice people.