When Lightnin’ Malcolm’s in the house, you better believe you’ll know it. The born and bred Mississippian cut his teeth in the ride or die juke joint scene of the American south, and grew a reputation for making so much noise, people didn’t believe it was coming from just one guy. With his One Man Band format– playing guitar and drums simultaneously, while singing– he puts lesser bluesmen to the shame. Even his genre can’t be contained, his self titled “World Roots Music” a swirling mix of rock, funk, soul, gospel, reggae and more, tethered by his blistering brand of Hill Country Blues.
Malcolm took the blues scene by storm in 2006 as a duo with Cedric Burnside, but by 2009 Malcolm earned himself solo recognition as well, winning a Blues Music Award for Best Debut Artist for his critically acclaimed release, Renegade. He’s since shared stages with Robert Plant, Jimmy Buffett, Buddy Guy, Gary Clark Jr., Charlie Musselwhite and many more.
Malcolm’s latest album, Foot Soldier, brings him back to his One Man Band roots, and comes out April 15th on Shakedown Records… But we’re not so patient here at Elmore when it comes to the blues, and we’ve got an exclusive stream for you today.
We were also lucky enough to chat with Lightnin’ about his globe-spanning career, famous collaborations and the origins of that infamous One Man Band. Follow him on tour via his website here, and stream Foot Soldier at the bottom of the page.
Elmore Magazine: You’ve said that your music was “developed on America’s dance floors.” Can you talk a bit more about that?
Lightnin’ Malcolm: Well, I really came up in my music starting out in yard parties and juke joints around Mississippi and New Orleans. I traveled all over, but this area had the biggest impact on my style. It was a beautifully rough environment that was all about raw rhythmic power, basslines popping on the guitar… and singing every word like you mean it… no pretense or inhibitions… the wildest characters joking, drinking moonshine and dancing, stuff breaking everywhere and falling off the walls. It’s a heavy Funk that exists between where African slaves landed in New Orleans and where rock n’ roll was eventually born in Memphis. In a poverty stricken, violent paradise of sexual mayhem, communication (singing) can be a matter of life and death, and your reflexes had to be sharp. I’m sure being the only “white” guy for miles around only helped strengthen me up. It wasn’t like the nice big theaters I play nowadays. People were partying like there was no tomorrow… this was where the most fun and best times were… and there was definitely the feeling of nothing to lose!
EM: How does your reputation as a “one man band” define you and the music that you make? What differences have you experienced between playing by yourself and playing with a band?
LM: One Man Band (guitar, kick bass and snare drums, vocals) is how I started out, and it really works great for me on the raw stompin’ Juke joint stuff. It really gets a great reaction from the crowd, because maybe they can’t believe one guy is making all that noise in the pocket I guess. Ironically, I’ve noticed that the people usually dance more on the One Man Band shows… I think maybe it’s a secret mojo or special history from thousands of nights in the Magic Zone…
When I’m with a band (usually just a full drummer), I can move around and get more wild onstage, and get more into textures and more complex beats, and styles such as reggae, soul, rock or pop. The biggest rush in music is feeding off of someone else, improvising and reading each other’s minds (this happened constantly with the older blues legends whose structures were original), where you pull a lot of stuff out of each other to keep it fresh and new. Overall career-wise, I prefer the band, but there’s something special about the One Man Band that gets the people moving. I been getting many requests to make a One Man Band album like this, so on Foot Soldier we took the time to try to get it right.
EM: So, what can we expect from the album? Can you tell us a bit about the recording process? As far as the sound, what’s new and what’s stayed true to your roots?
LM: Foot Soldier was recorded live in the studio with foot drums and guitar amps close mic-ed, as well as distant room mics which I’m a big fan of, and really capturing the “Band” sound in the room as it happens. Bleed and all. This style of music came from juke joints, where we might have three guys plugged into one amp, so what I like to do is take the one guitar signal and run it into three (or more) amps and get a bigger, widespread sound and vibe. I’d say the timing is probably tighter from years of touring on festival stages where time is controlled, as opposed to 30 minute jams on into the night like the juke joints… So in that way I hope to try to capture the best of the new AND the old and still keep it pure and direct.
EM: What’s up next for Lightnin’ Malcolm?
LM: Well I’m always on tour, and I love bringing the music to the people live. I’ve been writing tons of new stuff, which is more ambitious as far as arrangements and textures. I’ve gotten some great jams in with Gary Clark, Jr. lately, and maybe we will get a chance to record some soon. I’ve also hit it off pretty good with Robert Plant on some worldwide tours together last couple of years. He’s a great icon– I really respect his love of real music. We have a similar interest in West African grooves and Zambian musician. Juldeh Camara from his latest band and I have been writing some. So who knows what all might happen. Now that I’ve got Shakedown Records going, my plan is to record as many albums for as long as possible… I’ve got about eight albums in all different styles mapped out in my head right now.
I’ve been blessed to live a really unique life, which has taken me for a hell of a ride all over the world, from the bottom to the top and back again. I’m always looking, listening, and learning along the road and now I’m harvesting all that experience into the songs. As much as I love performing, playing and singing, I think my strongest contribution to the world will be songwriting.