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Rich McDonough

Rich McDonough is a name synonomous with great Blues guitar, a fact long known to Blues lovers around town. Rich can be heard spreading his hot guitar sound throughout Soulard, and down at the Oyster Bar and BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups.

STLBlues: Thanks for finding time for this Bluesnet interview.

RM: Thanks for having me.

STLBlues: Always a pleasure. Let's start off by finding out where you are from.

RM:I was born here, in the 44/141 area, out by Fenton and Valley Park. I went to school out there.

STLBlues: Did you begin playing guitar while in school?

RM: Yes, I was 12 when I began playing the guitar.

STLBlues: What made you choose the guitar as your instrument of choice?

RM: Well, I played the piano when I was really young, but there was just something about the guitar. I don't know what it was, maybe the bending of the notes. It was pretty cool.

STLBlues: That's the time to learn, when you're a kid and still have the ability to soak things up. Once you get a certain age, it sometimes seems there's no more room on the hard drive.

RM: I know some guys who started later in life. Actually I learn quicker on the guitar now than I did back then, probably because I can learn by ear

STLBlues: At the age of 12, what kind of music do you remember enjoying?

RM: I was into the music that 12 year-olds get into, rock & roll! Any kind of rock that was playing at that time, I was into it! When I was about 16 - I had heard blues before - I saw a commercial with BB King in it. I heard him play just a couple notes on the guitar, and I thought "Man, that sounds really hip, I like that". So I kind of gravitated that direction. Then I heard Albert Kings "Live at the Fillmore". The opening notes on that slow blues just blew me away, kind of took me over. I used to follow Tommy Bankhead around about 15 years ago, when I first started. He's probably one of my favorite guys around town.

STLBlues: And he's still out there playing!

RM: I just sat in with him the other night down at BB'S.

STLBlues: When did you first realize music would be your career?

RM: Well, I had a job from 16 until I was 22, and I've been playing music ever since for a living. I decided when I was 17 or 18 to make it my career, but nobody would take me serious (laughs). But that made me determined, gave me a "I'll show you" attitude.

STLBlues: So how did your professional career begin?

RM: Actually, Tommy Bankhead let me sit in with him. From there, he let me fill in for him a couple weeks one time. And then I met Keith Doder, and ended up playing with him a couple years. Then I met Rondo, and ended up playing with him for 5 years.

STLBlues: Was that as a member of Blues Deluxe?

RM: Yes, and then I just played with different folks. I've been with the Soulard Blues Band for over a year now. I really like it, they're a busy band. They've been playing at the Grizzly Bear a lot, and latley a lot over at the Soulard Ale House. And of course Mondays at the Broadway Oyster Bar, they've been playing there since 1979.

STLBlues: Oh yeah, it's a legendary Monday night jam session, you never know who's going to sit in.

RM: Yes, there are some night we end up having 3 or 4 bands form, people just sitting in.

STLBlues: Do you have a favorite style of guitar you like to play?

RM: Well, I like slide guitar blues. I guess my favorite artist would be BB Kinghe's one of my all-time favorite artists, and also Albert King. I like the traditional electric blues. It can get too showy sometimes, when you lose the blues end of it. I like blues to have a strong feel.

STLBlues: Lots of people classify blues as one particular sound, when actually there's a multitude of styles within the blues genre. From New Orleans to Memphis to Chicago, from Mississippi to St. Louis, each region has it's own unique style.

RM: As long as they are playing it with a strong feel, there's all kinds of ways to interpret blues. The chord changes don't have to be traditional, that's not exactly what makes the blues. It's all in the feeling of playing the notes, the blue notes.

STLBlues: After playing all these years, does the music still enthuse you?

RM: Oh yeah, I dig it more now than I ever did. It seems the more I play it, the more I like to play it. You do play a lot of gigs where you can't do exactly what you want to do. Then it does seem like just a job, but you have to do that if you like to eat, you know. I've played some jobs here and there that require that you put your expressions kind of "in check", you know.

STLBlues: One thing fans love about the Soulard Blues Band is they weave a spell, and have the crowd in the palm of their hand.

RM: Yes, Brian likes to do that (laughs).

STLBlues: What are some of your favorite gigs around town?

RM: I like playing at the Grizzly Bear & the Oyster Bar. That's where you're going to hear us just play. And I like playing at BB's, it's a great stage and a fun place to play. I would say those are my favorite places.

STLBlues: Looking back on your career, what stands out as truly memorable?

RM: Going to Europe, for sure! I've been there twice, most recently back in April of 1998. I played a festival with some guys from over there. They had heard about me over the internet. I had met these guys back before I was with the Soulard Blues Band. Back in 1991 I played in Norway, Holland, Germany, Amsterdam, and the Utrecht. Lots of good "churches" in Amsterdam (laughs).

STLBlues: Yes, I read about those churches a long time ago, I think it was High Times magazine.

RM: When I tell people I went to Holland, the first question is "did you go to Amsterdam?". Actually it's neat place outside of that. Another great moment was when I opened up for Albert King at the Kiel. And I got to open up for Robert Cray in Kansas City once. It was fun for us, I don't think Albert had a good time, but we did. He wasn't feeling well, it was shortly before he died. I saw him 7 or 8 years prior to that, and that was when he was really hot. I wanted him to be really on that night, but he was really bad. That was before I knew he was in bad health. The first time I saw him he just blew me away. It was like being in church, and he was preaching all the right stuff. He's idolized by blues guitarists.

I missed seeing Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, never got to see those guys. Jim "Ribtip" McClaren (of the SBB) saw Muddy, and got to meet him. Coming up, I thought there was plenty of great guys around here that I really dug, like Tommy Bankhead, Fred Grant, Silvercloud, Rondo and Doc Terry. Those guys were really bad. I think St. Louis really gets overshadowed by other cities because nobody is really saying "we've got this guy here and that guy there!" Nobody's going out like they do in Memphis, New Orleans, & Chicago and Nashville. Cities like that, they can use that tag to get you places. There's really nobody pushing you out of here, you really have to push yourself.

STLBlues: Tom Maloney (formerly of the SBB, who's down performing in Texas right now) described it well when he said "If Berry Gordy had lived here, St. Louis would have been MoTown".

RM: It's too bad too, because a lot of these could have been world famous!

STLBlues: Have you done much recording in your career?

RM: Oh yeah. We released "Live at the Grizzly Bear" back in May 98. It's on the King Solomon, and can be found at Streetside records and Vintage Vinyl....or buy it at one of our shows.

STLBlues: Sounds like musically you are where you want to be!

RM: Yes, I love it!

STLBlues: Were your parents musically inclined?

RM: Not really. My dad owned a guitar, but he never really took to it. I'd get it out of the closet occasionally and blow the dust off it, or I'd use a broom! Anything that looked like a guitar.

STLBlues: Your first instrument was a piano?

RM: Yes, but it's hard to lug a piano around, and you can't bend the strings. My brother played drums a month or two. He said to me "this is crazy, I don't know how you can do this for a living" (laughs). We had some nice records around the house - I've still got them. We had Ray Charles and a Hank Williams Sr. record. I still listen to those records, and they still sound good. I went through a phase when I was younger where it was nothing but blues. I like really traditional country music, that old stuff. Hank Williams Sr. I've got everything he ever recorded, I believe. He's great. Patsy Cline too.

STLBlues: It seems there has been a resurgence in blues popularity over the last 10 years or so.

RM: Yeah, when I first came around there weren't as many bands out there. There were some great ones, just as many.

STLBlues: Rich, I want to thank you for taking the time out to give this interview. We wish you the best success life has to offer, and look forward to seeing you around town.

RM: Thanks, it's been my pleasure!

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