BILLY SUTER chats to Durban blues guitarist and singer RUSTY RED, who joins Durban band The Black Lapels as a special guest in their Bruce Springsteen tribute show at Pietermaritzburg’s Hexagon Theatre at 7.30pm today (Saturday, July 22). Tickets cost R125 at Webtickets. Rusty will also be the music-maker from 6pm to 9pm on Monday (July 24) at BBC Beats, at Berea Bowling Club in Brand Road, Glenwood (admission R50; more details at 082 499 8636). Also, don’t miss his excellent Crossroads – Clapton and Friends, which is headed for the Umbilo branch of the Rhumbelow Theatre soon. Catch it at 8pm on August 4 and 5, and 2pm and 6.30pm on August 6. That show has Rusty alongside drummer Chris Melling and bassist Skippy Kubheka. Besides Clapton classics, expect numbers associated with John Mayer, Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Jimi Hendrix and others. Tickets cost R150 each and booking is at Computicket or by calling Roland Stansell at 082 499 8636. (Note: the review of the Clapton show, which premiered at Tina’s Hotel in Kloof recently, is listed under MUSIC on this site).
WHAT IS YOUR REAL NAME – AND HOW, WHEN AND WHY DID YOU GET THE MONIKER ‘RUSTY RED’?
My parents named me Luke Timothy John Wyngaard, which is a bit of a mouthful… but I don’t dislike my name at all.
About a year ago, I was thinking about how our parents name us and how we have no say in that – and it led me to think what I would choose as a name for myself.
I tend to lean a bit towards introversion and for a while, in my teens, had crippling social anxiety. I wasn’t like that as a child. Children tend to just go for whatever they want and they’ll talk to anyone if they want to, but down the line I lost that somewhere.
I became a bit ‘rusty’ when it came to social interactions and other areas of my life, where I used to have child-like curiosity and persistence.
So I chose Rusty. And Red for more obvious reasons.
DISCUSS YOUR ‘CROSSROADS – CLAPTON AND FRIENDS’ SHOW.
We’ve done a lot of work trying to fit in as much as we can. Clapton is a bit difficult because he’s had such a long career, so the idea is to show a bit of his evolution while still playing songs people will know. We also wanted to feature some of the great artists he collaborated with over the years.
It’s a bit of a juggling act for us, but I think it will be fun to watch.
We may have a few mystery guest appearances too… but you didn’t hear that from me.
IS THIS YOUR FIRST SHOW AS THE MAIN ATTRACTION – AND HOW/WHY DID IT COME ABOUT?
As Rusty Red it’s my first, yes. I’ve wanted to do a blues show for about three years now, so the idea has been running around in my head for a while.
I didn’t want the show to be just any old blues show that would only attract a blues audience. I wanted it to have a hook – or a bridge between the blues in general and what more people would know. Clapton and Friends seemed like it could be that bridge so we’re running with it.
I’ve learned a lot about putting shows together from doing the Creedence Clearwater Revival tribute with The Black Lapels. Rob and Garth Warren and Gareth Gale are all very encouraging, and have been very instrumental in pushing me in this direction.
HOW OFTEN HAVE YOU, SKIPPY AND CHRIS WORKED TOGETHER – AND HOW DID YOU MEET?
I met Chris Melling at Marshall Music Midlands in Pietermaritzburg about eight years ago, when I moved there from Johannesburg.
At the time I didn’t sing at all. I was a socially awkward teenager with a chip on his shoulder, who’d been given slightly too much encouragement in the guitar direction. I genuinely thought I was the best guitarist in the world.
Chris never indulged me in my arrogance at the time, and I think that’s a big part of the reason we became friends. He’s a calm, gentle human being who really loves playing and we get along so well.
Skippy I met a few years later, also at Marshall Music funnily enough, but it would be another two years or so before we’d start playing together.
Our first gig was at what was The Red Door in Pietermaritzburg. Jamie (who ran the place then) phoned me and said he’d like me to play one night, and I got the crazy idea to do a blues-trio thing.
So I phoned the guys and asked them if they’d do a couple of 12-bar blues songs with me and they were keen. So we did it. It was messy! We had no rehearsal other than the sound check that day, but there was something special between us that hasn’t gone away yet. So onwards we fly!
WHAT HAVE YOU BEEN UP TO MOST RECENTLY, ON THE MUSIC SCENE?
Over the last year or so I’ve mostly been doing shows with The Black Lapels. There are other groups I play with from time to time, such as The Kickstands, for whom I played bass at Splashy Fen this year. I also play in a duo called A Frame.
Other than that, I work at a studio with Rudi Greyvenstein of The Kickstands, called Vervet Underground. The studio keeps me occupied when I am not doing shows.
At the moment I am trying to get to the point where I can play more often as Rusty Red, with Chris and Skippy.
WHERE AND WHEN WERE YOUR BORN – AND ARE YOU FROM A MUSICAL FAMILY?
I was born in Johannesburg and lived there until I was 16. My parents are both Anglican priests (as is one of my brothers) and they all play musical instruments.
I didn’t get the holy genes (every family needs a black sheep, or at least a ginger one) but I did apparently get the musical genes.
My mother sings and plays keyboards, my father is a bassist, my late brother Andrew was a drummer, and my brother Richard is a really good guitarist who taught me basically everything I know about playing guitar. He protests when I say that, but it’s true.
AT WHAT AGE DID YOU FIRST BECOME INSPIRED TO PLAY THE GUITAR – AND WHAT OTHER INSTRUMENTS CAN YOU PLAY?
I was about 15 when I first seriously picked up the guitar. I had piano lessons at school as a child but lost interest when, as a teenager, I figured out that you could make more noise with drums.
I also play bass guitar on the side as an extension of having learnt to play the guitar, but I don’t consider myself a bassist. Skippy is a bassist. He has the groove.
WHO ARE YOUR MUSIC FAVOURITIES, BOTH LOCALLY AND ABROAD?
Queen is my favourite band and probably always will be. I was also quite strongly influenced by John Mayer, who led me to Stevie Ray Vaughan and a bunch of great blues players – of which Clapton is one. I secretly love Ed Sheeran (but don’t tell anyone because I am supposed to be a purist).
Locally, I’m a big fan of Dan Patlansky and Albert Frost because they’re doing the blues thing and doing it well. I also really like Rowan Stuart and think he’s a fantastic songwriter, and his guitar playing speaks for itself.
I’ve had the privilege of playing at the same events as all of the above, and also with Laurie Levine and Josie Field and a couple more great South African acts. We have so much great music.
WHAT HAVE BEEN CAREER HIGHS TO DATE FOR YOU?
In 2013, I got to play some Queen songs with the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra, alongside Joseph Clark. I’ll never forget that. Joseph does Freddie so well that I almost thought I was on stage with Freddie. Anyone who knows me knows that I have an irrational love for Freddie Mercury and Queen, so that was a highlight of my life, never mind my career.
On several occasions I’ve played in front of large audiences with The Kickstands, but I think the most memorable was when we opened for Mango Groove last year. That was spectacular.
In 2012, I played Splashy Fen with The Hairy Legged Lentil Eaters. It was the Friday, about 8pm, and we were all somewhat ‘well-oiled’. To dat,e I don’t think I have had so much fun on stage.
It was particularly significant for me at the time because those guys were my mentors and had metaphorically raised me in the music world. So it was a coming-of-age sort of experience.
WHAT FIVE WORDS BEST DESCRIBE YOU?
Passionate, argumentative, creative, stubborn, Rusty.
WHAT SOME THINGS ABOUT YOURSELF (HOWEVER TRIVIAL) THAT PEOPLE ARE UNLIKELY TO KNOW?
When I was a child I wanted to be an Irish dancer, like in Lord of the Dance. I even took lessons and danced in competitions until I was about 14. I was pretty good at it
Also when I was a child. I had an imaginary spider that lived under my shirt on my chest. I used to take it out and show people. Then one day my brother killed it. I never forgave him.
YOUR MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT ON STAGE?
I try not to have those. I can’t think of any right now – it was probably so bad that I blocked it out of my memory.
THE MOST FAMOUS PERSON YOU HAVE MET – AND WHO WOULD YOU GIVE GOLD TO MEET?
John Cleese. I was an extra for a day for the film Spud. He’s quite tall. He’s funny in real life too. If I had gold, I’d give it to meet Brian May of Queen.
HOBBIES, PASTIMES AND FAVOURITE THINGS?
I made my biggest hobbies my job because you only have one life and you might as well just have hobbies and not work. My favourite things are guitars, studio equipment in general, bars, taking long drives to the mountains, having long arguments about the meaning (or lack thereof) of life, cheese, biltong and olives.
One of my favourite things to do now is to go out to bars alone and walk up to strangers and talk to them. I’ve made some good friends doing this and it’s helped get rid of some of that crippling social anxiety I mentioned earlier.
It’s fun. I’d definitely recommend it.
WHAT THINGS WOULD YOU LIST UNDER ‘VASTLY OVERRATED’?
Dance music, reality TV and Facebook.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST SURPRISING THING SOMEONE HAS SAID OF YOU?
Someone once told me that I was the most interesting person she’d ever met. I thanked her…and told her she needed to meet more people.
WHAT HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR YEAR SO FAR?
Recently, Chris, Skippy and I did a show in Eshowe, The Great Zululand Music Festival. It was one of the most fun times the three of us have had together. Small towns are the way to go!
WHAT ARE YOUR FEARS AND PHOBIAS?
I fear not having done the things I most want to do in life before I die. I also fear that in chasing those things I’ll fail to cultivate and nurture my most important relationships. Ok that is a bit deep. I meant to say I don’t like spiders very much.
WHAT TRAITS DO YOU MOST DISLIKE IN OTHERS?
Arrogance and general negativity. I’ve heard that we dislike in others what we dislike about ourselves.
WHAT ARE TWO OF YOUR MOST TREASURED MATERIAL POSSESSIONS?
My car and my guitar, Mary-Lou, made for me by a fantastic guitar builder from Pietermaritzburg – John Soderlund (www.jgsguitars.com).
IF YOU COULD CHANGE SOMETHING ABOUT YOURSELF WHAT WOULD IT BE?
I think the only major thing would be to have been born with perhaps a larger nasal cavity, or something, so that I could have a richer voice more naturally. I found it much easier to learn to play the guitar than to learn to sing.
WHAT IS THE WORST TROUBLE YOU HAVE EVER BEEN IN?
I have never been in trouble. My mother says I am a very good boy.