Big Dave McLean is not just a player of the blues, but a fan, too. He’s toured with the likes of Muddy Waters, taken guitar lessons from John Hammond, recorded with Colin James, and does his best to keep the “old guard” alive through his own music, which is steeped in the rugged energy of the early Delta blues. Prior to his performance at the grand opening of Big Al’s House of Blues, Mclean answered a few questions for Vue.
Vue Weekly: What have you been up to musically?
Big Dave McLean: Well, I just got back from a little Western Canada tour. I’ve been out with a drummer named Brendan Nagle and we’ve been doing a duo with just guitar and drums, and it’s been working out really well.
VW: Do you still play with the Perpetrators?
BDM: Oh, yeah, definitely. Jason [Nowicki] is a good friend. I haven’t played with them for a while. I went to Europe with them a couple of years ago. We went to Belgium and France and Germany and Holland and had a ball. I still see Jason around once in a while. He’s basically the Perpetrators and then whatever rhythm section he wants to use makes up the Perpetrators.
VW: Do you have any plans for shows with them in the near future?
BDM: We don’t have anything on paper, no. We could easily do something together if he had time open and I did and we wanted to do something, but I have some working coming up through the summer. I’m going to be touring with Watermelon Slim and that’ll be a good time.
VW: Your last album was released in 2008. Do you have any material in the works for a new one?
BDM: Oh, absolutely.
VW: What drives your songwriting these days?
BDM: I like to write about personal experiences. I suffered a bit of a loss in the family and that’s inspired me to write on some along with a bandmate I lost a year ago—I think I’ve written a fairly sensitive tune about losing people. I have other songs that I’ve just written about hanging in there and keep-your-shoulder-to-the-grindstone kind of thing. I seem to get inspired, every once in a while I go through a certain period of, ‘Oh, boy, I feel like writing,’ and I start writing and ideas come to me from out of nowhere and I’ll wake up in the middle of the night and write them down, and in the morning I go, “What the hell did I write that down for?”
VW: Has the songwriting process changed for you over the years?
BDM: No, not really. I’ve never really put myself out there as a songwriter. I’ve always reinvented tunes by other players. I never play them the same way they play them because then you may as well be a DJ and just play their records, but I do my own arrangements of other people’s songs and I always appreciate when people like my arrangements.
VW: What are your thoughts on modern blues music and how it’s evolved?
BDM: Well, I like good music period, you know? Not just blues, but all styles of music. For blues, I’m more of the old school, but I appreciate the new stuff. Blues seems to keep evolving. You know, you go to Chicago, you don’t hear the Chicago blues like it was back in the ’50s and ’60s because they kept changing it around—it’s a lot funkier now, but it’s very cool. But I’m more hooked on when the Delta came to Chicago. That’s my style—the early Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williams and that crowd.
And then I write my own stuff, too. I do some original material. I like getting my own feel on things, but it’s important for me to keep some of the old-guard tunes alive. They’re great songs and I don’t want to see them overlooked by everybody.
Sat, Jan 25 (7 pm)
With Jimmy & the Sleepers
Big Al’s House of Blues, $15 (advance), $20 (door)