Interview with Andrew Matthews
by Dale Payne
From a local blues master: “Andrew Matthews is a young guy always working really hard to find his own sound. He’s an extremely talented musician/guitarist/vocalist that is influenced by the great blues and rock players of the past. But with his singing and songwriting, he’s more than just guitar riffs. He’s an 18-year-old who gets it!”
CBA: Thanks for giving us some time to talk together this afternoon. Why don’t we start with your musical beginnings?
Andrew Matthews: I started music at age 13 and was listening to old music, or at least relatively old ‘60s ‘70s ‘80s, classic rock stuff. Def Leppard, Journey and so on. Got an introduction to some of that and then streaming services like Pandora. You get music put in front of you and that’s the great thing about the internet. I started digging deeper into rock. And I don’t know why, but guitar seemed like something I wanted to do. I was playing a lot of video games and I just got bored. But I wanted something else to do. For Christmas I asked for this guitar from Amazon. I was 13 years old, probably when a lot of people start. I started with a cheap guitar, and I quickly found the importance of the blues.
I sort of worked my way down the “history of blues,” started to improvise, not sure what to do. You know, worked my way through the pentatonic scale, and so pretty soon got hooked up with my first guitar teacher, a co-worker with my dad. “Hey, my kid’s started playing guitar, can you give him a lesson?” So Jeff Black wasn’t doing music outside but is a great guitarist, so my dad started taking me over to Jeff’s house for lessons. But he didn’t have me pay, so my dad bought him cases of IPA. Jeff nailed the point: I had to learn to improvise, not play too many notes.
CBA: Yeah, I’m always working on that myself.
AM: he was real vocal about lines and speaking with the guitar, stuff like that. But at only 13 — going on 14 — I wasn’t real articulate yet. So I was jamming, but he told me to “play to music you’ve never heard before.” Let myself just be fingering, play just whatever comes out.
CBA: You get to where it’s, “Yeah, I’m thinking of that note and I know exactly how to get it!” And then you start building on that.
AM: And it took me a long while to where I could just hear stuff and play it. I’m still developing that.
CBA: So Jeff took you under his wing. That’s really special when someone loves their music so much that they want to — and need to — share it. Timmer is the same way: he cannot not teach.
AM: That’s him exactly!
CBA: How long did that go with Jeff? You’ve got someone who’s moving you along and you’re getting the real feeling of it. But then, how did you continue to evolve?
AM: It’s been like a year or so since I’ve seen Jeff, but the pandemic slowed things down. Now he’s busy, I’m busy: I’ll see him soon. And I’m teaching here in my parents’ house. The students are teenagers, older guys, in between.
CBA: How long’ve you been teaching?
AM: That’s a new thing over the summer. A friend wanted to learn guitar, so she helped me learn how to set things up. Also, I was probably 14 when Jeff Black told me it was about time for me to go on stage. So we went over to the Blues Jam at Trail’s End Saloon hosted by Robbie Laws.
CBA: A lot of people agree that Robbie’s the underappreciated local guitar genius, playing fast and ultra-articulate.
AM: Yeah, and doing the phrasing, phrases you can remember. My first Blues Jam there, they played for a half-hour. I just sat there with my little SG and I learned a lot when Robbie brought me up. But, uh, I can’t say I was very good, you know (laughs)? So I was up there every other Sunday for at least a year.
CBA: Have you played much with Robbie?
AM: Yes, like in “6 p.m. youth jams;” and that was my first time playing with a band and learning band etiquette on stage and the rotation of soloing. You know, you hand the solo off to the guest first, and then follow with your own. And just learning about the blues in general, the structure of the 12-bar blues.
CBA: The one four five …
AM: Yeah, and eight-bar blues, for “Key to the Highway.”
CBA: You’re getting on stage quite a bit now.
AM: Yeah, so I don’t forget Portland stuff.
CBA: Thank you! (Laughter.)
AM: And a lot of this has gotten me going home and studying the blues guys that I should know.
CBA: Like who?
AM: Early on I discovered some Jimmy Reed, with “Big Boss Man.”
CBA: He often plays harmonica in first position. Mostly, maybe 75% of blues harp, is played in second position. You know — the band’s in A, the harp’s in D. So Reed wrote guitar notes to accommodate the possible notes from the same-keyed harp. It can really make a difference.
AM: I got into Muddy Waters. I really love the Chicago Blues. And just such attitude, you know?
CBA: If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the Netflix movie, “Cadillac Records,” that does a great job of showing the dynamic between Muddy and his protégé, Lil Walter. Almost a father-son relationship that gives a glimpse into how big Muddy’s heart was.
AM: Sort of a Buddy Guy-Junior Wells thing.
CBA: Oh yeah! When Lil Walter left Muddy, Junior Wells was hired away from the ACEs by Muddy as a replacement. Later, the ACEs gave the harp job to Lil Walter.
AM: The documentary, “Messin with the Blues”? That was serious for me. Specifically, showing “Messin With the Kid.” I could talk about a lot of influences. One was especially important in my progress. You heard of Davy Knowles? From the Isle of Man? He’s a really great modern blues/rock/folk guitarist and singer. You’ve heard of Rory Gallagher?
CBA: Yes, Bill Graham called him the “world’s greatest unknown guitarist.”
AM: Davy led the “Band of Friends”, featuring Rory Gallagher’s rhythm section after he was discovered via YouTube playing a Rory song. So, 22 years after Rory’s passing, Davy was leading the rhythm section, touring. So my grandmother found out, and let me know, that Davy and Rory’s band were coming to Portland and she hooked me up with Davy. December 2018, I was 15 and got to be backstage at the Aladdin Theatre and actually performed at the sound check.
CBA: This was only two years after you started playing your online guitar? But by then you spoke enough of the language to communicate about the music.
AM: Yeah, and Davy was happy to have me. And he had an old beat-up Fender replica Stratocaster of Rory’s for me to play.
I got to play for a little bit with Rory Gallagher’s band, jamming blues in A. The only other stage I’d been on was the Trail’s End. At the Aladdin, I thought, “This is a cool place.” And, I realized what I needed in a drummer! Ted McKenna was smiling all the time, just really enjoyed drumming. He was LOUD, and yet so much energy, so animated. He was really rocking it! So? “I need a drummer like THAT! Smiling, animated! I’ll look for a drummer like him!”
After that, I really dug deep and Rory Gallagher is now my biggest influence: He just put so much energy into his performances. After just the first song he was unloading buckets of sweat. He’d start a song by just repeating a couple of low notes and would get the whole place stomping and clapping along. You never know how much your music is going to catch up with people.
CBA: And if they’re clapping, stomping? It brings the joy from knowing you’ve touched something in people.
AM: Yes! And a part of that for me was being exposed to it at such a young age. It’s just … you can’t really explain how music is what it is to you. Maybe it’s just that you have a great memory of a song or the music.
Again, that Rory Gallagher-Davy Knowles thing had a big influence on me and not long after, I was able to actually start going to other jams, like Billy Blues in Vancouver, with a lot more rock. And I was able to just tell the bands, “These are the songs I want to play, we’ll see how it goes.” It never hurts when people show up and just want to play.
Then I was able to start my own stage act, playing a lot of blues and rock, like from Joe Walsh or Rory’s stuff. With a lot more discovery there, too. I was really into the ‘60s, ‘70s blues-rock: Cream and Zeppelin. And Clapton really was my introduction to Howlin’ Wolf. Then, I really got into Freddie King.
CBA: Oh! King’s instrumental, “Hideaway,” when Clapton’s doing it, really sounds like what he’s wanted to finally achieve in any Robert Johnson song — sounds like three guitarists playing! And locally, Josh Makosky does a killer version of Freddie’s “Have You Ever Loved a Woman.”
AM: And King’s voice, too, a HUGE voice. And of course I got into Stevie Ray Vaughn.
CBA: BB King said it best: “Any guitarist that’s GOOD can use those strings to write some fine sentences. But Stevie Ray? That boy writes full-on paragraphs! Beautiful!”
AM: Yeah, he really had it — the tone, the touch, the phrasing. Amazing. A monster. Similarly, Johnny Winter? He was an important source. Listen to the first coupla albums? That guy is ripping! I think he was way ahead of his time.
CBA: Especially for the sense of the ease he showed with it, the flow that was going on inside him.
AM: … like he’s just standing there.
CBA: Do you ever get that feeling that you’re just in a flow?
AM: Um, yeah. Yeah I do. I mean I felt that last night. I was on stage, playing some Robin Trower, jamming on “Day Of The Eagle”. I was really going for it! That was fun. I’m always listening and discovering stuff. And to BB King always. There was a DVD of a master class he gave. Pretty much just spilling all his secrets.
CBA: BB’s longevity was often seen to be from his ability to instantly read a room. His band’s set list started when he walked out and looked at the audience. Lots of couples nuzzling? “Yep, we’re just doing love songs tonight.” Lots of leather jackets? “Let’s Rock!”
AM: Wow! So, I joined the Cascade Blues Association, went to meetings, and from that got suggestions of who to check out. I met Jim Hurley, the sound guy, he showed me some important sound guy tips. But the pandemic hit, so: No go. Yet just before that I’d started on social media, pitching upcoming gigs. And my set was getting longer, so: more onstage time. Also started to audition a few guys. But, again, it was just COVID-hell and it all stopped. I started doing online — acoustic covers, things on YouTube. Some Rory Gallagher, classic rock songs. Then I went at it on Instagram, playing guitar solos, some videos, thinking “OK this’ll get me back.” People liked it.
In November 2019 I met Jennifer Batten, who’d done three tours with Michael Jackson (including the Super Bowl!). And then she had toured with Jeff Beck for three years. And is also listed as one of the “Top 15 Guitar Teachers in the World.” And, she knows my mom! At 16 I took a few lessons with her at Five Star Guitars. She taught me vital things: learning music, technical stuff on guitar, how to transcribe. But then, in-person lessons stopped everywhere. In August 2020 she began the “Guitar Cloud Symposium,” joining up some guitar-pro friends. A weekend of that, just nonstop education with great teachers.
And this here (“BluGuitar”) is equivalent of a 100-watt Marshall (@ 15” side, sq./ 8” high, fully enclosed) that was donated as a prize. I won it. For free! So that worked out pretty well.
CBA: You sir, do have a gift for understatement (laughter)! But I have something for my digital amp that is similar, in that it’s some complex, one-inch plasma “tube” that lets me plug into a digital amp — or even a PA — and give my harps the sound of a Fender tube amp.
AM: This is based on a similar “tube” idea.
CBA: Jennifer toured with Jeff Beck. From what I know, you don’t walk away from Beck without knowing a lot more than when you arrived.
AM: Oh yeah, he switches up the band a lot. You know his “Because We’ve Ended as Lovers”? Yeah? You know that Stevie Wonder wrote that?
CBA: Yes, the title was because Stevie promised Beck a new song but forgot about it. Much later he remembered, wrote it and gave it an “I’m sorry” sorta name. Did Jennifer Batten invoke the “wonder” of Jeff Beck?
AM: Oh, yeah, she taught everything about Jeff Beck (laughter).
CBA: That’d be a LOT!
AM: Yes! But not many people are like him.
CBA: Well, he was harsh on himself for a long time, playing maybe 10 hours a day. Not sure about now, but …
AM: And he’s still developing, shifting his tone. He’s just one of those artists who won’t stay in one place long. That’s what an Artist is.
Now I’m an official “BluGuitar artist,” an endorser of “BluGuitar.” Also, I represent PRS guitars at Five Star Guitar. Last year I started with PRS and am a “Pulse Artist.” All six of these standing here are the guitars I play. Am also a rep for other endorsements.
June 2021, Timmer Blakely invited me to Pat Stilwell’s blues jam At The Garages Satellite Pub. And I started getting back into the social circle. But I couldn’t go the “Lair” jam because I’m not old enough. So Timmer took me up to one of Chad Rupp’s private jams above Camas. That was really interesting. Since then, Chad’s given me a lot of helpful advice. You know, like “showmanship” — how to be a front man, stuff like that. His suggestions have been important and I’ve appreciated it.
Pat Stillwell called again, needing a guy for his Rolling Tones band. His guitarist had just quit. I’d never been in a tribute band, but … The Rolling Stones? It’s blues and it’s fun! And in just a coupla weeks we had it together for a winery event. I knew a lot of the songs anyway so it was just figuring in the parts. It worked out … people said I looked like Mick Taylor, anyway! Pat also got me my first time at the Garages to open the jam. So I did, with Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor.” That was really cool.
CBA: Do you spend nearly as much time on vocal practice as on guitar?
AM: No, because physically … my voice after a few hours? I’ll feel it. But I have a teacher, Mark Bosnian, who makes it like school. You have homework each week. There’s a whole science, an artistry to it. Like a guitar, it’s all the different dynamics you can do with your instrument.
The Sugar Roots Band? Timmer invited me to the recording studio to watch them record for three days. It was so influential to watch! I mean, with JT, Timmer, Chad? That band has the best guys in Portland! My plan is to try out for the International Blues Challenge (“IBC in Memphis”) next year. Also, I worked out on one of my songs, with Michael Kaz drumming, in a Camas studio. Then we added some things and I edited it. Now, with Timmer, we’re the “Andrew Matthews Band.” We’re doing a bunch of demos and I’ve been getting into music from like, Son House. I’m delving into the Delta blues, and the CBA invited me to play – solo — to open the next meeting. A cool opportunity.
CBA: What do you think of blues now? Where do you see it going in the future?
AM: From what I’ve seen, it’s in pretty good hands. Also, the internet and social media are important. Without that we’d be stuck hearing the same radio pop songs. Yet there are guys like Eric Gales — insane guitar, plus the local guys like Ben Rice, always coming up with new songs.
CBA: And blues songs are almost always about the stories that grab you. So, you feel hopeful about the blues’ future because of how it can tell new stories.
AM: And there are always cycles that come back around. There are some great songwriters and musicians out there you can find online. It’s important to know that there’s no end to it! And also to remember that there’s always somebody better than you, so there’s no point in comparing yourself to someone who’s way ahead. You can best compare yourself to …. yourself.
CBA: Yet you’ve been so devoted to guitar that it must impact any social life.
AM: Yeah, if I was going out with friends, having a real social life, I probably wouldn’t be playing guitar.
CBA: Maybe it’s a little easier for you because of the prime goals you’ve set for yourself? Thank you for sharing so much of your time. It is very much appreciated.
AM: And thank you! But is it OK if we let my dad take a picture?
CBA: You keep working Dad pretty hard, huh? (Laughter.)
Find information here on other endorsements for -and from- Andrew Matthews:
And Timmer Blakely? Yeah, he’s really true to form . He tells you exactly what you need to know.