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Erskine Ogelsby
Jamming on sax, with good friends Johnnie Johnson & Eric McSpadden

Erskine Ogelsby is one of the world class musicians St. Louis has to offer. You may have seen Erskine share the TV screen back in August with St. Louis' own Trish Brown, promoting the 1997 St. Louis Blues Heritage Festival. Erskine could be seen (and heard) blowin' sax as Trish gave us the official Festival weather forecast. Starting his musical career during the Korean war, at the tender age of 14 Erskine found himself playing with none other than the legendary Chuck Berry.

BN: On behalf of the Bluesnet, I want to thank you for granting this interview.

EO: Glad to be here.

BN: You were in the media spotlight here as a representative for the 1997 St. Louis Blues Heritage Festival. Are you originally from St. Louis?

EO: Yes, I was born right here in St. Louis on January 20th, 1937. I'm from what is known as the "Mill Creek" area. It's right down by St. Louis University, in that area there.

BN: Have you always lived in St. Louis?

EO: Yes, I have always lived here

BN: Where did you go to school?

EO: I went to Vashon high school. I went to Waring elementary school, which is about one block from Vashon. Waring was about one block from my house.

BN: Did you begin music in school?

EO: Yes, I started in school. When I was a freshmen in high school I started music under the tutelage of Mr. Stanley Henderson and Mr. Paul Overby. They were music teachers at my high school.

BN: Did they inspire your love of music?

EO: No, their teaching skills were very good, but what inspired me the most was that I stayed right around the corner from a few places. They had music going, and the music sounded so good, I just wanted to play, and just started playing.

BN: How old were you when you took up music?

EO: When I took up the sax I was 13 years old.

BN: That's young! Did anyone in particular inspire you?

EO: Locally I started playing with Chuck Berry. This was during the period of the Korean war, before Chuck became famous. At that time I was 14 years old, and I was playing old rhumba/boogie piano.

BN: So you can also play the piano?

EO: I like to tinker around with the piano. Sax is my first choice!

BN: When did you decide to pursue music as a career?

EO: Well, really what happened was I got out of the U.S. Air Force after four years, in November of 1957. At the same time I was looking for a job, at night I would go around and play music. That was the first time I hooked up with Billy Gayles and his band. It seemed the music jobs came quicker than the so called "day jobs". So I just started in and got to enjoy it. I met a lot of the local musicians, and it became very interesting and entertaining.

BN: Has music been your occupation all these years?

EO: I've done other things. You know sometimes the music game can get real slim, so I had to go out and get a job, because I was a family man. I had to maintain my family. But music was my love, I really enjoyed playing music, though. Still do!

BN: What are some of your more interesting day jobs you've had over the years?

EO: I've done everything. I've washed dishes. I worked for the YMCA as a so called "street worker", which is a job that entailed that I go out into the community and communicate with so called "hard-core unemployables". I'd bring them to more socially acceptable activities. I went to Forest park for two years to get an associates degree in social work. I worked out at the Jewish community center for about two years. But the music was like a magnet, it was always pulling me. Even though it was very gratifying working with kids, the music was always pulling me. It got so when I played music late at night, I couldn't get up in the morning for my day job (laughs), and so I had to make a choice. I don't know if it was a good choice or not, but it was my personal choice.

BN: Well, you were doing what you love for a living.

EO: I have no regrets, no regrets. There's nothing I can do about yesterday. You don't know if tommorows gonna be here, so you try to do what you can today.

BN: Tell us about your recordings, and where your music has taken you.

EO: Well, as far as recording is concerned, I've recorded with Little Milton, bands that I can't even remember thier names. As far as playing with the musicians around here, I've played with Albert King, Billy Gayles, Ike and Tina Turner, Benny Sharp, Eugene Neal, and a host of other people. Because I wanted to really get to know all the different aspects of the music game. I played jazz, I played with the quartet Tres' Bien, with Terry Williams and the Sound Merchants. I tried to have wide range of different types of music, because I enjoy it all.

BN: Back when you were with Chuck Berry, did you happen to meet Johnnie Johnson?

EO: That came after, Johnnie came after. We were just a little corner band, a guy who played a big upright blond bass, and there was Chuck Berry, and I played a little rhumba boogie piano. We had a guy, he was blind, that played drums, I think his name was Tommy. That was a little four piece, and we played around town at what I'd call little juke joints.

BN: What do you think about the recent law passed here allowing street entertainers to perform, much like what you can find in Memphis or New Orleans, where a musician can sit a hat out, and just start playing.

EO: There are a whole lot of people who have began a lucrative career on the corner, just sitting out playing. Plus it's a good way to make a little extra change too!

BN: What are your plans for the future, with music? Where do you want it to take you?

EO: Well, you know when you dream, things never come out like you want them to. But they can come close. It has taken me further in the last three or four years than it has most of my life, I guess because I've been more into it I really don't have a lot of aspirations of being a big time star. If you give me the choice between fame or fortune, I'll take fortune. Give the fame to somebody else.

BN: iN 1997 you were a spokesperson for The S. Louis Blues Heritage Festival, and were on quite a few Channel 4 spots with Trish Brown. How did you feel being in the spotlight like that?

EO: Well, I try not to be overcome with vanity. Musicians can be very vain people, because they attract attention, and at certain times everybody is looking at them. I really don't want to be overcome by that. I like being a regular guy, just like entertaining.

BN: Who do you like listening to?

EO: You know what I like to listen to? I like to listen to a lot of new music thats coming out. Some of the new guys, like Kenny Latimore and Whitney Houston. Mostly I like that the music is well structured, you know, with the new electronic sounds like the synthesizer, and what can be done with those instruments. But there are times that I like to change the mode, and I'll put on me some B.B. King or Bobby Bland, then another time I'll want to put on some John Coltrane and some Cannonball Addeley (sp). So it's all according to the mood, I enjoy it all!

BN: Looking back, all the way back in your history, to the beginning of your musical career, what stands out as your favorite or most memorable performance.

EO: God, I'd have to sit down and really think about that, because as soon I think about that, something later comes to mind. Traveling in Europe was real nice, you know you get a chance to know other people. You get a chance to see the world, and you see how small the world really is. You think about goin' to Europe, "it's a long way, you know", but if you fly to Europe or drive a car to Detroit, it takes about the same time (laughs).

BN: European audiences tend to love the Blues. What kind of reception did you get over there?

EO: There are instances where people in Europe will come out and dress up to attend a blues concert much as people here in St. Louis will do to attend a show at Powell Symphony hall. They love the Blues!

BN: It's interesting that it's taken English rockers like Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones to re-introduce Blues music to American music lovers.

EO: There was a time in my life were I was very stereotypical about the blues. I equated it with being down and out, suffering and all that. But when I saw so many people liking it, I thought maybe I need to take a different look at it. Let me sit down and rethink this, and listen real good. And I started liking the Blues. When I sat down and evaluated myself, I realized that this is inborn, I can do this with ease. It's a feeling, an emotion, and it doesn't necessarily have to be a negative.

BN: Arty "Bigfoot" Dwyer (bass player with the Soulard Blues band) said it well once, when he said "Blue is a happy color.....blue skies, blue oceans.....they ought to call them the grays"

EO: Well, see, they have so many types, just like they have so many different types of classical, of jazz, whatever, they have different types of blues! Some of it is well constructed harmonically and melodically. Some of it all you hear is a bass/drum beat, a guitar, and singing!

BN: Erskine, again, on behalf of the Bluesnet, thanks for your time today. We'll see you soon out spreading the Blues gospel.

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