GENEVA – Chicago based blues harmonica player Rob Stone learned his trade at the feet of such legendary musicians as Sam Lay, who was recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as one of the founding members of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band.
Lay, who some have called the greatest drummer of all time, will perform with Stone on Saturday, Sept. 19, at a free outdoor show at Fiora’s restaurant, located at 317 S. Third St. in downtown Geneva.
The concert, which will take place from 6 to 10 p.m., will also feature Chicago Blues Hall of Fame inductee Willie “The Touch” Hayes, Delmark recording artist and vocalist Katherine Davis and saxophonist Rodney Brown.
Kane County Chronicle reporter Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to Stone about the upcoming show.
Eric Schelkopf: You’ve played extensively with Sam Lay. What has he taught you?
Rob Stone: We’ve been playing together for about 20 years, on and off. Probably the most important thing I learned from him is to not try to sound like anybody else, to do my own thing and have the confidence to play my own music and not worry so much about what other people are doing.
Schelkopf: He commented on the fact that he has played with many harp players over the years and you turned out to be the best. That’s a great compliment.
Stone: I think he was being nice. Sam has played with the best of the best of the best, including the guys who I emulate and admire the most. I think he’s happy with the way I play. I don’t know where I fall in some kind of ranking.
I certainly feel honored to have had the chance to play with Sam and learn from him, and I really value our relationship and the music we made together.
Schelkopf: I understand that you bought your first harmonica at age 18 after checking out a Charlie Musselwhite show. What was it about his show that made you want to pick up the harmonica?
Stone: I really hadn’t heard live Chicago blues harmonica before. It was something I had heard on recordings, but it’s very different to hear live blues and recorded blues.
It was something cool and new and interesting to me, and I wanted to give it a shot.
Schelkopf: Were you trying to play in a certain style? Were you trying to emulate Charlie Musselwhite’s style?
Stone: Not so much. He had a style that I couldn’t approach at that point.
I started listening to all kinds of stuff and initially played along with anything that I could.
Eventually, I decided that the stuff I wanted to play was Chicago blues.
Schelkopf: What do you think sets you apart from other harmonica players?
Stone: There are a lot of great harmonica players. I feel that all I can do is play like me, and bring to the music my own experiences and my own techniques. I’ve learned from so many great people and I’ve been influenced by so many great harmonica players.
But I’ve also been lucky in that I’ve been able to learn firsthand from first- and second-generation blues musicians. Over time, it’s been those experiences that have made the difference and allowed me to play the way that I do.
We’re trying to play traditional music in a contemporary way.
Schelkopf: Do you think you have turned on younger people to the blues?
Stone: I think we have. I think we’ve had lots of opportunities to play for a younger audience, and you hope that has an impact, that they discover this music and find enjoyment in it.
It’s certainly something that we want to do.